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Ramsayings

A Blog About Nothing in Particular

Finding the Good in 2016

2016 was a tough year. I broke my leg. My basement flooded. Rather than dwell on the bad, I took the start of 2017 to think about the things I enjoyed and be thankful for those experiences.

  • The Felske Files: when the Phillies were good, there was literally a bracket-full of Phillies blogs competing for attention. Then 2012 happened. It’s been a slog ever since, but last year a light switched on. The first full year of the Felske Files, a Phillies podcast hosted by John Stolnis, was one of my favorite things in 2016. As the Phillies rebuild, he’s brought in smart guests and great insights to the conversation about the future of my favorite franchise. The Felske Files is the sports podcast the world’s been waiting for.
  • Iggy Pop at the Fox Theatre: I’m not someone who ghoulishly tries to check boxes on legendary artists. I’ve never seen Neil Young or Bob Dylan or Dolly Parton or Diana Ross or Aretha Franklin. But after Bowie’s death last January, I felt compelled to see Iggy Pop when he came to his hometown. I wasn’t disappointed. The band, led by QOTSA’s Josh Homme, was impossibly tight and they stuck to a setlist that not only highlighted Iggy’s classic work, but complemented the new material perfectly. The crowd was amazing, too.
  • Bruce Springsteen at the Palace at Auburn Hills: considering I once wrote a piece called, It’s Time to Fire the Boss, I found myself enjoying every minute of his tour behind The River. Everything everyone loves about Bruce is true and, see above, I’m glad I got to see him live. A few weeks later at a Parquet Courts show, I found myself tapping my foot waiting for the band to come on stage at 11 pm. I mentioned to my neighbor that Bruce had been on stage for 3 hours at that point.
  • Chartreuse: is it possible that one of Detroit’s best restaurants is underrated? If you’re visiting Detroit in 2017 — and you seriously should; the New York Times says so — Chartreuse is can’t miss.
  • LVL UP — Hidden Driver: it was an anthem for me all year.
  • Pitchfork Festival: I hadn’t been to a music festival in 20 years until last summer. Pitchfork Festival was worth the wait. Not only did the lineup keep me engaged and entertained — Blood Orange was a personal favorite — the weather was completely beautiful and the people were friendly and fun to be around. Bonus: meeting members of Super Furry Animals made my day.
  • My neighbors: when Grosse Pointe Park was hit by sewer backup on September 29th, we weren’t the only family affected. 200-300 homes were hit! We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from our friends and neighbors, who helped us clean up and get back to normal.
  • My family: when our basement flooded this summer, we lost everything in a deluge. 3+ feet of water wipes out a lot of memories in the blink of an eye. It was a challenging time, but we all pulled together and looked forward to the future, rather than dwelling on what we lost. We were safe and had only lost things, precious though some of them may have been. My seven year old remains the most resilient, loving kid I know and his spirit really carried us through.

As I wrap up this list, I find myself reflecting on other moments and experiences I omitted. It’s reassuring to know that 2017 is a new year and a fresh opportunity to make new memories.

#PublishADraft

Here’s a little secret to kickstart your personal blog: publish a draft. Surely, you’ve been agonizing over some post for ages. It’s right there in Drafts. Pick one, clean it up a bit and publish.

In fact, I published one last week. It was there the whole time!

 Stop being such a perfectionist. Let Twitter be your channel for #hottakes. Let the world know you can be thoughtful again and #PublishADraft. If you do, you’ll feel amazing. Promise. 

Use the hashtag #PublishADraft and let’s see if we can’t reboot a personal blog or two.

Fixing a Hole in the Social Web

Last summer, my friend Karl Martino shared this post from Scott Rosenberg on Facebook some time ago and I got a little excited. Could blogging really be back? I’ve written about the death of music blogs and Jeremiah declared the golden age of tech blogging dead back in 2011. What Rosenberg hit on in his follow up — the migratory patterns of the “hive mind” — made me think less about platforms and more about the singular tool that enabled blogs to really become popular: RSS.

Google Reader rode off into the sunset back in 2013. Nothing really replaced it, despite a race to rebuild it. Before anyone declares blogging’s back, let’s be honest with ourselves: RSS made the bloggy core of the web possible. Right now, I have a bunch of tabs open and I’m clicking through to additional posts and forming thoughts and responses. This was only possible using “read it later” tools.  In the bloggy heyday, I would subscribe to countless blogs and refresh Google Reader endlessly to keep up as they collected throughout the day. You’d think I was describing Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook, but these leaky networks are sieves compared to the net RSS provided.

Two reflections:

  1. the social web created the sense of FOMO that keeps us refreshing feeds ceaselessly so we make sure we don’t miss a thing. It’s impossible to be a part of the dialogue if you miss it completely.
  2. The notion that “if news is important, it’ll find me” is true only if you hope to cement your solipsism.

In many respects. the social web has evolved into the online equivalent of Jacques Lacan and Judith Butler corresponding in public via academic journals. We can all read the articles, but they’re not really talking to “us.” Sure, the social web enables us to participate, but that participation too often feels like tweeting at celebrities, in the hopes of the odd fave or retweet.

I’m not sure anything can be done about that last bit. Part of the problem of saying “blogging is back” in any meaningful way ignores how the scope and velocity of information online without new ways to capture a daily digest of what happened. Remember when you’d check Google Reader and it would be loaded with updates from every blog you followed that reflected the latest press release hitting the wire? Now the social web is the same echo chamber that reverberates to reach every time zone online. What’s missing from the social web today — and what made blogging in the early days so great — was that period where it felt like you “knew” “everyone” online. To borrow from Benedict Anderson, we can’t recapture those “imagined communities” that created a sense of intimacy and shared understanding on the web.

The closest I’ve seen anyone come to acknowledging this gap is ThinkUp, which takes stock of your activity in the social web. But quantifying activity isn’t the same as changing behavior. Benedict Evans tweetstormed about “discovery” and I think it sums things up nicely as it relates to how conversation has evolved online. I’ll end here.

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Playlist

When Music 2.0 first arrived on the scene, it treated users like data entry clerks. Sure, everyone dressed it up as “user-generated content,” but it all hinged on some motivated individual updating a database for a service that wasn’t paying them. Those services mostly died out, either because people lost interest or something newer and shinier replaced them. In any case, they asked way too much of users.

The music services that survived from that era understood fundamentally that their users chose their service because they wanted to listen to music. Beats Music takes that a step further; rather than focus doggedly on “discovery,” Beats recontextualizes the music you love. For me, that means Beats recommends artists whose albums languished for too long at the bottom of a box in a closet. Now I can fall in love with them all over again.

But that on it’s own isn’t enough to distinguish a music service from the rest of the pack. Curated playlists and push notifications do. Plenty of services offer the same library, give or take, but none were especially good at anticipating what I wanted to hear. You could go searching for things, but that’s overwhelming. Beats Music makes it simple and offers suggestions. Instead of searching endlessly for a particular album, I just dive into an introductory playlist of an artist I’ve overlooked.

Best of all? They hired really outstanding critics to pull together fantastic playlists. Beats didn’t just hire them to create playlists willy nilly; there’s real strategy at work. Try as I might to listen to everything, I still sought critical shortcuts or a point of entry into an artist’s body of work. If you’re a recovering completist, you can familiarize yourself with Luke Vibert one moment and Waylon Jennings the next. It doesn’t hurt that most playlists were curated by the same critics I came up with in the Aughties.

Mostly, I’m just jealous of kids who get to experience music like this. For more, here’s Eric Harvey’s essay on the development of streaming music over at Pitchfork.

The Art of January Releases

Malkmus and Jicks

It’s March and SXSW is wrapping up in Austin, which is the kickoff to the spring push in the music industry. What am I still paying attention, too? The latest Jicks record, Wig Out at Jagbags. What else? The Against Me! album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues.

Why? The answer is simple. Both are January releases. January is a great month for media Moneyball. The owned the media cycle for a quiet month and nothing really rose to dethrone them in February, at least from a coverage perspective in the social streams I follow. Will these albums be overlooked or given short shrift come year end? Sure, but who cares? How much are year end lists worth in 2014 anyhow? (Could be a lot; tell me if I’m wrong.)

January is the perfect month to release an album. Ever since LCD Soundsystem released their debut in January 2005, I’ve asked why more bands don’t do this. Break away from the March and October cycle, make as much noise as possible and then tour if you can. This is especially genius with a “legacy” artist like Malkmus, who has a pretty well-defined fan base. Maybe this bought him some additional exposure. January offers more “runway” for an artist than the commercial claustrophobia of March.

But why is it so smart to push an album before March rolls around?

A few reasons:

  • Critics are just like us! They make resolutions! Things like “I will listen to more music this year.” Put out an album in January and you’re the sole beneficiary.
  • There is no other news. I must’ve read 4 or more fantastic, generous interviews with Malkmus and probably twice as many with Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace.
  • Release an album in January and you get expansive “narrative space.” Malkmus’s story is nowhere near as gripping as Laura Jane Grace’s, yet the narrative that he’s been with the Jicks longer than Pavement shone through and the coverage humanized him unlike ever before. The interplay with his kids’ listening habits was fantastic and the image of him singing to Avicii in a minivan amazed me.

If you still think release dates are meaningful inasmuch as it allows you to prepare for a news cycle, break free of the old methods. To apply some business speak from Havard Business Review, adopt a blue ocean strategy and get your client out there in the open. To bring it back to Billy Beane, find the market inefficiency and take advantage.