Monday, October 29, 2007

lovesong for the cassette

I was going through our storage locker a handful of weeks ago. Came across an old tape, a cassette to be painfully accurate. It was a live concert of my friend, Matt Trowbridge (formerly "Trowy", now Dr. Matthew Trowbridge) performing at Eddie's Attic in Decatur, GA. Back in the day, Dr. Trowbridge was a gifted singer/songwriter (I'm sure he still plays. I'm certain. Well, hopeful.) and at my insistence had given me a copy of this show he'd done. A relatively quick set of 7 or 8 songs, but it's gold. It's worth it just to listen to the earnestness of the introductions.

Anyway, I found the tape and have played it a number of times since its resurrection, but it got me thinking about the idea of tapes and specifically of "mixes" and the craft of making a great mix tape. In the iTuned mp3 world we live in now, making a mix tape requires almost nothing of the mixer. It's literally dragging tracks from a library to a folder and then fiddling with the order. But such was not the case 15 years ago, when putting together a tape for friends, or a girl, or as catharsis for yourself actually required commitment.

My process was (and still is to some degree) always the same. First of all, there was a need to understand the rules (spins on which can be found here and here). My rules are simple:
  1. no repeat artists - there's enough great music out there that you should never need to rely on one band twice per mix
  2. think about variety and experiential arc - I don't prescribe to fast fast fast. slow slow slow. I listen to the ending of one track before finalizing the next one. It's got to flow. That might mean strings to strings or drumbeat to drumbeat or it might be a HUGE wake-up after an earned moment of silence. It just has to feel right.
  3. stay away from compilations - they are for cheaters. no mixes should be stolen. Yes, the soundtrack to Garden State is great. But don't copy half the songs and give them to me as your thoughtful contribution.
  4. don't give up - if you're tired of the process, go do something else and then come back to it. It's an artistic process. It requires something of you. Push though it or know your limits, but don't just stop and don't just throw six Stevie Wonder tracks on the end because you know they're killer.
And it is with those things in mind that I make my list. I would go through all my tapes and 45s and make a giant list of all the tracks I loved for that mix, and note the speed (fast, slow, med) and play time when possible (you've got to be aware of what you can fit on one side of a 90 minute tape). Then you start planning possible playlists. Each side is its own playlist. Each side must be considered separately. The two sides should connect from the standpoint of mood, but it's like the band came back from a break and had to get the crowd from moment one again.

Again, contrast that to today when a decent playlist takes maybe a couple of hours. It's still fun, but not nearly as meaningful. The connection to the mix is gone. Not to the music, there's an important distinction. The music is still moving, engrossing, alive, but the time, the pain, the song that was longer than you thought and got cut off, the starting over, the ruined tape because somebody hit record, the hours of planning and planning and care...they are lost in the drag-and-click model - gone the way of the cassettes that get locked up in storage lockers and lost to garbage cans.

One step further would be to look at all artistic processes. The value is coming back around for artisans. A hand-made chest of drawers. Personally tailored clothing. Original pottery. Photos taken and framed by someone you know. These things have value not just because they are "one of a kind", but because being "one of a kind" usually means that somebody poured their heart, energy, and attention into the construction of that object. I think we need more of those. Lots more. It's worth the extra time.

Now, if we could only get it all to fit neatly on side B.

Monday, October 22, 2007

"J" Joe Jeans and his Jellybeans

Watched a Sesame Street alphabet video with my 4 year old this weekend. I haven't stopped singing this little ditty since.

I have long been obsessed with the genius of Jim Henson. On college entrance essays he was consistently included within my responses to: "who you'd invite to dinner/who would you like to meet living, dead, or fictional"? As I watch this video now, the power of it hits me on a handful of levels.

Level One: nostalgia. I'll tell you there's just something about the quality of those voices. It's like coming home. Voices that change only very slightly regardless of the muppet they're representing. Those are the voices of my childhood. It doesn't take much to put me back in front of the television as a 6 year old in our old house on Sycamore Terrace.

Level Two: staying power. This video is from 1971. My daughter is watching it for the first time and loves it. The song literally transcends time. Like much of Henson's work, although appearing (and musically being rooted) within its distinct decade, the heart, the lesson, the crux of what's on display is absolutely timeless.

Level Three: talk to kids/talk to adults. Long before the Simpsons and Family Guy laid claim to the notion of appealing to kids through the medium (cartoons or puppets) while appealing to adults through the subtlety of the writing, Sesame Street and the Muppet Show were all over this. I laugh at an aside Grover throws away in one sketch and the kids laugh because the bald blue dude with the mustache can't get the "numero dos" without it spilling on the floor of the restaurant during the musical number "Granada".

Level Four: education. I am most inspired by the fact that this creativity was all developed in the name of education. As my daughter logically guesses that some words start with "G" rather than "J" (which both have the same phonetic root), I take comfort in "J-Jane jumping down the lane" singing a song about "J".

I guess what it boils down to is my admiration for the ability to use artistry for a greater purpose than selling something. Be it education, green technology, cultural innovation, or social connectivity. Every once in a while something comes along to remind you that once upon a time, someone just got it right.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Offsetting Innovation

An AdAge video promotes the partnership between Brooklyn Brothers and the Versus TV cable network as being "pioneers" for developing a software program that allows them to track how much tonage of carbon emissions they use on a commercial shoot. The tonage is then offset with a purchase of (I'm guessing here) RECs (or, renewable energy credits).

This is a tricky subject. On the one hand, I applaud the idea of offsets. I am thankful that the desire here with Brooklyn Brothers, Versus TV, and ERM (the London-based enviro-engineering company that helped develop the software) is to take ownership and responsibility of their impact on the environment and, ostensibly, to do something about it.

However, carbon offsets are slowly becoming the e-z pass to corporate guiltlessness. It's like deciding the leaking roof is fixed by putting a bucket underneath the spill rather than fixing the roof.

True innovation would have been to partner not with a software company, but with a hardware company. Instead of figuring out how they could "neutralize" their carbon impact, why not work with someone to develop a camera, an editing suite, heck, how about a food services refrigerator, all that run off of an easily renewable energy source? NOW you've got me standing up and applauding and saying "pioneer".

Again, I preface this by saying that I think the idea of purchasing various offsets is at least a step in the right direction. I think it enables a person to make a gesture of taking responsibility for their (generally unwanted but necessary) eco-unfriendly actions (taking a plane, running exorbitant amounts of energy, etc.). But, I think with the amount of money, power, and leading-edge thinking out there, I think companies should be looking to do more than be able to lay their guilt aside at night. I think it's all too easy for major corporations with large factories or other significant emissions-producing workshops to buy their way to surface-level ecofriendliness.

Where are the leaders? Where are the risk-takers? Where are the dreamers? Build us a better filter, a better smokestack, a better generator, a water-based engine. Partner with those doing this work. Yes, yes, plant trees. Of course. Support solar and wind energies. Do the things that offset the world's emissions. But start making tangible, physical changes in your own backyards. THAT's the kind of pioneering I'm looking for. That would be noteworthy, new, daring, exciting, and dare I say, creative.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Deconstructing Katrina

I read about The Green Project in GOOD magazine. Definitely worth checking out. Here's the basics:


As New Orleans continues to figure out how to deal with the rubble and destruction brought about by Katrina, The Green Project is a nonprofit organization that offers a solution more sustainable, more valuable than a demolition team coming in and laying waste to the ruins. Instead, they carefully salvage and comb through damaged or collapsed buildings and gather materials (everything from doors, windows, light fixtures, pots, pans, etc.) and resells them in their warehouse store at a low cost to the community. This practice keeps excessive waste out of landfills as well as creating a local economy as well as preserving the flavor of architecture and style from Old New Orleans as the city rebuilds. Brilliant.

The other nonprofit organization I'd like to mention here is The Idea Village. They're an entrepreneurial collective based in New Orleans who work off of the mantra "Trust Your Crazy Ideas". More specifically, they are an economic development consultancy that have basically taken on the role of revitalizing the growth of New Orleans on business, cultural, and social platforms.

I learned about The Idea Village through a facebook group called "Planning for Good" - a collection of strategic planners (and their friends) using their brains to help solve problems for causes and non-profits. The first project listed was a brief asking for ideas on how to promote The Idea Village. Planners worked collaboratively and competitively to send in a strategic vision for how to help The Idea Village from a communications standpoint. I missed the deadline, but it's something I'll keep tabs on and open up to the agency when the next assignment comes out. Or, if you're feeling particularly saucy, give me a ring and I'll make sure you get tapped directly.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

the power of the innocuous moment

Life can really be divided into two categories: the monumental and the innocuous.

Let me explain:

The moments of our lives are either ones that we will stamp as worth remembering, stories we'll share with other people, or times that will be photographed and put on our mantelpieces. They may range from your first kiss to a job promotion to the birth of your children. They are the glorious events that will forever go down in history as having a certain depth of value and meaning.

The other parts of our lives can be categorized as innocuous moments. That is, the insignificant, everyday points of time that make up the majority of our lives, but which, in hindsight, are utterly forgettable. I put a band-aid on a paper cut. I picked a pen from my desk drawer. I shaved.

Here's the interesting part. Despite the fact that we would all love to experience the thrills (or even intense lows) of the monumental moments of life, it is the innocuous moments of life that truly unite us. Who hasn't almost slipped on a patch of ice, (or on a slippery floor, or inside the shower) but caught themselves and then looked around to see if anyone was watching? Those "innocuous" moments connect us on a deeper level than the major life events.

For example, many people have had a wedding. If you tell someone you got married, they are excited for you. Perhaps it brings back memories of their own wedding. But it is the fact that you stood in the mirror retying your bow-tie over and over again that connects the two of you because that's human. It's the moment of fallibility. The moment of imperfection that creates the shared experience, not the event itself.

I was thinking about this idea with regards to advertising. I think advertising has an inverse relationship with life's "memorable vs. innocuous" moments. Simply put, the more "monumental" life's actual moments are represented/recreated through advertising, the less memorable it is in the consumers' eye. AND, the more "innocuous" the life moment, the greater the memorability when put into advertising.

I will offer these two car commercials. In the one, the landscape is sweeping, the road dramatically winding, the footage downright breathtaking. The boredom overwhelming. In the other, VW has literally filmed a series of life's forgettable moments and created an impactful, memorable advertisement.



The idea is that we are, as a society, joined by these small moments of truth. Moments we don't think about at the time, but carry such emotional importance when we see them or hear them replayed by somebody else. It is the notion that we are not alone, that we all have to go through waiting for a bus, slipping through a closing door at the last second by "making ourselves super thin", or getting back the wrong change. It is by sharing the innocuous moments that we develop a sense of truth, compassion, and unity. Know what I mean?
the thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own, and are not necessarily shared by my friends, family, or employer. (though they very well might be...)