Wedding Poem

by Jeremy Hoevenaar

What's on the table today is what we've put on the table.
We come to the table as experiencers trained and partially equipped.
Sound drips down from a fountain of proposals to fill our cups.
Our cups become plates. Spinning, our plates become hands
and our hands are brains waiting for a mind to wire
the divide between them by an awareness of the distance.
What's on the table today is a score generated by its own performance.
Today we assimilate, tomorrow we sample. There are absences ample
enough to receive all impulses.

This isn't the world. It's a laboratory for the development of new
communications technologies. It's the marriage of what happens
with what makes it possible. We eat only hinges and let events
swing freely from the sides of our heads. We've gathered here
today to hammer the malleable metal of a calendar,
to flip the switch from imprint to potential.
With this ring, I thee pivot.
I thee spine and then unspine and vibrate and open infinitely.
The cover is always the last page.
The last page is the curvature of a sermon.
A seminal mounting. Count on it. Start counting. Reach a number
I have never heard and hit print. Take that and divide that by
the frequency of a mutual breathing. Writing an esoteric text
on the alchemy of a plucked string, we find that the plectrum is a fulcrum
and that events are the performance of the physics of leverages.
The angle of ascent determines the sweep of the shade.
Discourse embraces the flummoxed arrythmia of a curved chain of mirrors,
the chain breaks and solos scatter and cohere into a lattice of interactive facts.
The answers are asking the questions.
All best guesses kept for the guest consciousness.

What's on the table today is a model city.
What's on the table today is the method of measurement.
What's on the table today is the body of a language struck animate
by the sky and speaking a new collaged hypothesis,
a grass-fed mathematics,
a map and a habit of unhindered extrapolation,
a song played loud to explore the source of hearing.

June 5, 2010
photo by Chad Nicholson


Are Record Labels Necessary?

photo cred

This is a question that I've been asking myself a lot lately. It seems clear that musicians have more access than ever before to all of the resources that record labels traditionally offer (distribution, marketing, recording facilities, design, replication). But for some reason when you look at the CMJ Charts, the new releases in Rolling Stone and Spin, on "subculture" magazines like Fader or Vice, or even in most high profile blogs and websites (Pitchfork, Stereogum, Brooklyn Vegan) they are still filled almost exclusively with "signed" bands. When a band like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah blows up with a self release it makes headlines that repetitively trumpet the "liberation of the artist in the internet age," yet these are still headline-worthy events rather than standard occurrences. Also artists like Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Jill Sobule do really well with their fan-funded projects, but what is rarely mentioned is that all of these artists had the enormous help of record labels in developing their brands and cultivating their fame. Now they are able to capitalize on all of that but it still puts the record label at the core of artist viability. In this article I'm going to try and parse the continued relevance of the Record Label from the habitual reliance on it as a model for success. I believe that ultimately labels will start to look really different, and I think that figuring out why they still exist at all will help us develop a better model that connects musicians to the future of the music industry rather than the past.

(Full Disclosure: I'm working on developing a new model for my own label, but I'm writing this as a self-releasing artist, which I always have been)


So let's start out with what record labels do, and how that has changed because of digital technology...

What Labels Do: Record Labels traditionally connect artists with merchants and locations in which to sell their music both online and in stores.

Why we don't need it: Tunecore.com has basically blown this wide open with a flat fee for worldwide distribution. Within 24 hours an mp3 you record in your bedroom can be purchased on itunes around the world. So while getting your music in a Record Store is still difficult, it is increasingly irrelevant. Almost all young people discover music exclusively online, and so easy access to Digital Distribution has now made this once essential function of the label largely optional.

What Labels Do: Labels are able to offer capital for print ads, professionally designed marketing campaigns, branding and social media outreach.

Do we need that? Well, through social networking one could make an argument that you have all you need to promote a release but unless you already have a large committed networked fan base or a viral video you will still need to spend some money on marketing. This is why most musicians are wisely turning to making videos as promotion. Most "Indie PR" firms seem largely ineffectual from my end, and since they are pay to play rather than "curated" like labels, they don't seem to carry very much influence.

Recording Facilities:
What Labels Do: Labels have access to established producers and studios that are able to produce consistently high quality recordings. These resources help recreate the aesthetics of recorded sound that artists and labels have codified through decades of experience. In other words they can make records that sound like what people are used to hearing. Labels also are able to hire professional mixing and mastering engineers that make a huge difference in the final product.

What do we have: High Quality Recording technology is available for extremely cheap which means there are thousands of talented producers that have very humble resources but, with practice, can produce a product indistinguishable (by a mass audience) from a professionally produced recording. Mastering and mixing are also getting cheaper and easier though no less important.

Videos and Visual Design:
What Labels have: Labels may have established relationships with designers and artists that help design artwork, produce videos, design web sties, and style photoshoots. Most importantly Labels have capital to hire all of these people.

What we have: All of this has become more accessible through computers, cheap camera technology, and wonderful sites like cashmusic.org. Though creating something visually iconic, viral, and/or brilliant is still a high art that requires some resources.

What Labels Have: Traditionally labels were able to print massive quantities of recordings for mass consumption.

What we have: There are dozens of replication facilities that will produce as few or as many CDs or vinyl as you like. Ulitmately though the CD making businesses seem to be in trouble. They got a big boost as artists starting self-releasing but I can't see indie artists shelling out for printed CDs for much longer.

Licensing and Placement:
What Labels Have: Relationships with music supervisors, film studios, and ad agencies is one of the most important things that labels have and are working very hard to maintain. These institutions and individuals have become de-facto tastemakers for indie music. Getting your song placed on Grey's Anatomy, or an iPod commercial (Chairlift) has become the new way to "be discovered."

What we have: There are sites popping up that offer artists a chance to get licensing opportunities, but I'm not sure how well these work. I'd love to hear anecdotal evidence in the comments. My sense is that a lot of music supervisors read blogs and are constantly on the look out for "it" bands of the moment. I'm sure there are areas of licensing that are democratic, but it also really depends on who you know. If I were a music supervisor I wouldn't necessarily want to use a site where uncurated acts submit there music for a fee. It's easier to find music I like on blogs. This area seems to be where labels still might have sustainable clout.

Tour Support and Booking:
What labels have: Here's an example of the mystical power of a label. A booking agency is very unlikely to take on a totally independent act without the support of a label. But the minute you get signed to a label you'll most likely need a booking agent, even if you still have little draw. The agency will assume that your label will help you develop a good following. Also venues will take you more seriously if you are on a label they recognize.

What we have: Booking was one of the first elements of the music business to move completely online. No one sends packages any more. You send emails and based on your perceived online hype and could feasibly get a gig anywhere. Venues are often democratic, if you can get people in the door they will book you. But again, do you need the label to help you get people in the door? I find that booking is something anyone can do, but it is also one of the most time consuming jobs that takes a certain skill set and a lot persistence. Labels still give you legitimacy in the eyes of established booking agents.

The Status Quo:
What Labels Have: Seems to me that the biggest advantage that labels have (which may also be their downfall) is that they are connected in the old machine of the industry. So for instance, it would be so great to self-release and not print CDs. However magazines and radio stations still require hand mailed hard media. This means that distributing your self-release with a good chance at showing up on college radio and in music magazines is prohibitively hard for most small artists. Ultimately I guess these institutions will go online for submissions. I think part of the reason we don't know what record labels are going to be like in the future is because we don't yet know what records will be like in the future. To me the video world is the most clearly ascendant force, and perhaps a full length video (like Kanye West's Runaway) will be the standard "packaging" for a musical release.

What we have: We can decide for the future how music will be released by doing it ourselves in whatever way we want. But it might be a slow climb trying to get Spin Magazine to read your unsolicited emails.


So on looking at the list above it seems like labels offer 2 fundamental things: Resources and Status.

Resources: Resources may come in the form of money or access to some or all of the things listed above. The range is wide (but definitely don't sign to a label unless they are offering you some of those things.)

Status: The Label is still one of, if not the, most powerful curatorial force in the music industry as far as I can tell. Being signed basically means that someone has decided to put resources behind you. This is valuable to the musician undoubtedly, and useful to the writers and venues that are sifting through thousands of artists. The question I have is: Is it worth signing away 50% of your profits to gamble on whatever status you may or may not achieve through the label. Most artists take the oppurtunity to sign with a label still because "50% of something is more than 100% of nothing."

An established artist actually fundamentally shouldn't need a label. If an established artist can raise money through fans or from personal wealth he or she can do essentially everything that a label can do and then keep all of the royalties from sales and make potentially ten-fold what he or she might make from a label release. In fact an established artist that ditches the label and then goes independent might get all sorts of indie cred. This is great news for famous people, but what about artists that aren't already famous?

What I've noticed is a very specific type of artist as the new template for success. This is what I cal the Artistpreneur. The Artistpreneur is a type of Artist who is as invested in fame and success as they are in art. And these artists have been enormously successful in the current landscape of the music industry. They work tirelessly to develop their brand, promote themselves, get noticed in any way possible. They are compulsive tweeters, social networkers, bloggers, vloggers, and emailers. The proliferation of this type of Artist has opened up a new pathway to success as a musician but I would also argue that it has created its own type of homogenization. The Music Industry has been much maligned of the years for developing formulas for success that it pushes onto its artists, but I might argue that internet culture has done the same thing. Internet Culture has created an imperative to be an Artistpreneur in order succeed. "If you don't succeed it is your own fault because everyone can make a youtube video." This whole question brings me to try and understand how does the new relationship to artist success show up in culture.

In the old model of popular music the record labels functioned like gardeners who chose which seeds to plant and cultivated them carefully. The minute anything else would start to grow in the garden they would carefully prune it and claim credit for it. Right now the musical landscape is beginning to look more like a Jungle. Sure the labels are still planting, but things are growing completely out of their control. I support the jungle of culture because it means that there is more culture available and thus more cultural conversation overall. I believe culture creates nuance and intelligence in society and is crucial for an intelligent. In the jungle culture, labels' resources are becoming less valuable, but their ability to bestow status might be becoming even more important. Basically the noise floor is raising, which means that more and more artists are being heard which makes it harder to stand out. Labels help you stand out a little, but mostly only to the extent that their reputation and resources allow.

Ultimately maybe there will be a broad wiki of emerging artists that could be a democratic ladder of recognition that artists could climb. That is sort of what myspace was about 3 years ago but now myspace is a cyber ghetto and the internet is flooded with sites trying to be the home of emerging bands. Facebook has the clear opening to be that site but it's band/pages platform is a miserable failure which has caused bands to seek out other locations. It would be beautiful to see artists able to convert hard work and online presence directly into a sustainable career, but as of now lawyers, labels and managers still hold on to a lot of power. What is also missing from this conversation is the whole design of publishing and copyright law which is still stuck with dozens of out dated rules and complications. The complexity and arcaneness of these laws also keeps record labels in business.

One online platform that is missing is one that assists self releasing artists in distributing fair royalties to their collaborators and band members. If this platform existed, established artists might be more interested in working with self-releasing artists because there would be a clear system in place for them to be paid upon the success of the collaboration.

As we move forward into the internet-based future, artists will become more empowered and labels will have a looser grip on their work. Labels however, still serve the crucial function of providing status and resources, and they consistently are a key element as artists leap from struggling to successful. The traditional label model seemingly becomes less profitable by the day but artists are still dependent on them to provide the capital for their success.

We are in a clear transition period right now, and I'm hoping for an evolution of online tools that will bring a sustainable career more consistently within reach of self-releasing artists.


Refresh - Performance at The New Museum

Kristin Lucas 2007 – 6 sections: newspaper announcement, two pencil drawings by Joe McKay, two court transcripts, and decree-changing name

I'm honored to have been invited to perform at The New Museum Saturday 12/11/10 for the phenomenal Artist Kristin Lucas. Her Refresh Project has to do with multiplication of identities in the internet age. She chose me to read because of the specific history of my name.

Refresh Cold Reads with César Alvarez
December 11th, 2010 – 5:00 PM – New Museum 2nd floor

New technology doesn’t just offer new conveniences; it also equips us with new metaphors. In 2007, Kristin Lucas told a judge she wanted to legally change her name from Kristin Sue Lucas to Kristin Sue Lucas, in order to refresh herself as though she were a web page.

Museum visitors are invited to perform live impromptu cold reads of the Refresh transcripts with guest readers who have been cast by Kristin Lucas. The Refresh transcripts document an exchange that took place between Lucas and a Judge in name change court in 2007. Lucas will be present to introduce the guest readers who were chosen based on their own life experience. César Alvarez will read for the part of Kristin because of his personal name story.

César James Alvarez is named after César Cauce and Dr. James Waller, two victims of the Greensboro Massacre. On November 3 1979, members of the KKK caravaned through an Anti-Klan protest at a public housing project in Greensboro, NC. After verbal altercations the Klansmen pulled guns from the trunks of their cars and opened fire on the demonstrators, killing 5 and injuring 11 others. Alvarez grew up with 2 other Césars who were named for Cauce. He has lived, together with the others, in remembrance of those who died. His name has always signified the loss of a close family friend along with the hope for rebirth, healing, and courage to stand up for justice. There are many others who share the names of the 5 victims of the Greensboro Massacre. The multiplication of these names represents a ripple of loss sent through a community and the desire to keep their memory and values alive.


Re: The Greatest Love Of All

A Conversation with Dan Fishback

@musicisfreenow: Not feeling bad about yourself is a revolutionary act

@dangerfishback: @musicisfreenow keep lowering the bar for revolution and we’ll never have a real one!

@musicisfreenow: @dangerfishback that’s the exact misconception. We all create this oppressive society by hating ourselves and then one another.

@musicisfreenow: @dangerfishback Facism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia are all fed by self hatred.

@dangerfishback: @musicisfreenow this is too complicated for twitter. i’m responding on my blog: www.danfishback.com


Cesar my friend,

I am profoundly irritated by the notion that facists, racists, homophobes (etc) are all just “feeling bad about themselves.” It creates a false equivalence between the oppressor and the oppressed, casting them all as victims. In truth, while a queer woman whose life is defined by harassment might “hate herself,” the heterosexist who tortures her probably doesn’t even fully understand what a human being is – at least not in any kind of holistic, spiritual, radical way.

I think dominant culture oppressors are moved, not by self-hatred, but by self-obliviousness, and an obliviousness to the true nature of humanity in general.

Moreover, I think all this focus on the self is really counter-productive, since truly revolutionary action and thought can probably only stem from realization of the interconnectedness of humanity. Not the love of self, but the explosion of the boundaries of the self. A redefining of the self to include the entire world. Which is why “not feeling bad about yourself,” when applied to the individual self, has nothing to do with revolution at all.

In fact, I think one of the most important revolutions that could possibly happen — the restructuring of society to make our lives sustainable and eliminate the mass importation and exportation of resources — is only possible if we GIVE UP being self-involved and self-entitled. That revolution will only happen if we make profound sacrifices on behalf of people who haven’t been born yet.

The reason why these kinds of revolutions don’t happen is precisely because we love ourselves too much, to the exclusion of the outside world.

I understand the spirit of your statement — that the key to changing the world may lie in the hearts of those who are destroying it — but I think your analysis, while attractive (Who doesn’t want to feel revolutionary just by liking themselves?), is too easy.

Love & Respect,


Dear Dan,

Thanks for your response. I still have to disagree.

Growing up in a family of leftist organizers I got taught a pseudo-marxist ideology early on that humans are fundamentally good and because of that when they are cared for and provided with opportunity they become their fundamentally good selves. Over my life I started to doubt that more and more. As I became present to the atrocities, hatred, violence and oppression that takes place every day in our world I arrived at the idea that humans might be fundamentally corrupt.

I've changed my mind now though. Mostly through my own recent exploration of personal distress I've started to feel that oppressive behaviors and structures in society are a response to personal trauma on a mass scale. I believe that violence and oppression on the part of the oppressor is always connected and stemming from the violence that they themselves experienced from living and growing in a society which enacted that oppression on them. People aren't born homophobic they are taught to be homophobic by others who have been taught that. We are programmed with fear from the beginning and the pain and distress of that programming inevitably comes out as illogical (and often oppressive) action.

"Not feeling bad about yourself" isn't about being "self-involved" (in fact self-involved people feel the worst about themselves). It is about unlearning hatred and healing the pain inflicted by a violent and oppressive world. This unlearning allows you to escape the cycle of re-inflicting trauma on others and perpetuating oppression. Part of the reason it is so hard not to dislike yourself is that we are all taught that self-confidence and self-love is "arrogance" "self-involvement" and "self-centeredness" when actually those things are all modes of insecurity caused by distress.

Having grown up for thirty years watching my nearest and dearest re-articulate what revolution is, I now believe that revolution is has to include personal re-emergence from trauma. Just like it has to include culture, policy, and social justice.

This isn't just about racists and homophobes not hating themselves, it is about all people healing and unlearning the self hatred taught to them by a society that handed them that. Everyone is hurt by hatred.

I didn't say "not feeling bad about yourself is revolution." I said it is a revolutionary act. And a revolution is one made of millions of acts. Healing from emotional and psychological wounds, and learning to value yourself fundamentally, is absolutely one of those acts.

With love and respect,