Dear Spotify, Apple Music, et al.: I’m Not the Guy from Steppenwolf

Dear Spotify, Apple Music, et al.: I’m Not the Guy from Steppenwolf

I’ve had an ongoing battle for the last five years behind the scenes…

Out of nowhere, one of my fans will hit me up with something to the effect of “Hey, I just saw that you’re playing in Atlantic City in a couple of weeks at the casino! Me and the wife will be there, dude!”

My response? “Um, I’m not booked in Atlantic City. Where are you seeing this??”

“It was posted on your Facebook page.”

I check my Facebook page. Sure enough, there’s my picture along with an event link, advertising that I’m playing in Atlantic City in a couple of weeks.

I immediately delete it.

Why??? Because I’m not booked in Atlantic City. The other John Kay is! The other JK is best known as the singer, songwriter, guitarist, and frontman of Steppenwolf.

Does anyone under 35 even know who Steppenwolf is??

Either way, his social media team has been linking his events to my accounts for years. I’ve reached out to them to resolve the issue, and they can’t figure out why it continues to happen.

That is the reason I changed all my social media handles to @TheRealJohnKay. It’s not because I’m pretentious, there’s a serious confusion here!

In fact, just yesterday, I went to my local health foods store, and was checking out with my regular cashier when she and I got to talking about what’s going on with me music-wise. After a brief chat, I wrote down my website URL and gave it to her.

“TheRealJohnKay.com, huh? Like the guy from Steppenwolf??” she remarked.

Anger, rising…

I smile, “Haha! Yeah, that’s an ongoing thing…”

I’ve been getting this my whole life from Boomers. “Oh, your name’s John Kay? Hey, like the guy from Steppenwolf!”

No. Not like the guy from Steppenwolf.

I’m tired of playing along with the “Oh, like the guy from Steppenwolf?” comments.

From now on, I’m going to say…“…Who?”

The guy from Steppenwolf is 73 years old, released “Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” in 1968, had his last hit in 1972 (Boomers, can you name it without Googling??), and hasn’t released a studio album since 2001.

And, according to his Spotify analytics — which I was granted access to! — his fans also listen to Savoy Brown, Grand Funk Railroad, Leslie West, Robin Trower, Mountain, James Gang, Humble Pie, Johnny Winter, and Alvin Lee.

In other words…NOTHING NEW!!

This isn’t meant to derogate him or his fans. Hell, he’s essentially been touring since he first formed Steppenwolf in the ’60s. Good on him, and if people are coming to see him, all the better.

But the confusion and the cross-pollination has to end. As much as I appreciate his fans’ cursory exposure to my music by way of its misplacement on his pages, and welcome any of them who wish to enjoy my songs and see me perform, I’d much rather separate our catalogs.

I’ve been in touch with Spotify, who have been assisting me with this ridiculousness, and they have since gone ahead and created my own dedicated artist page.

And yet, my music distributor has been continuing to submit my songs to each of the streaming platforms as if I were the other John Kay, which means my new song “Hate U Back” was released under Mr. Steppenwolf’s artist page on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Google Play, and the lot this past Friday.

So, this is my public cry for help. Since the streaming platforms rely on the distributors to place their clients’ music correctly, and it’s not happening in my case despite repeated efforts…we need to take this fight to the streets.

To that point, I’m asking that you do these three simple things:

  1. Create a Spotify account if you don’t already have one; it’s free.
  2. Follow my actual artist page here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7Lx9QDuqrvKCyr1jr1Q324
  3. Finally (and most important!) set up this playlist to play on continuous repeat: https://open.spotify.com/user/22qcpuhhd2wlo4lwvhh6yvnii/playlist/25xZUV2uGPOQ5ZA7eQSZij.

You can even mute and minimize Spotify in the background as you do your thing, just keep the playlist going.

The point is to rack up as many spins of MY music as possible in the next 24-48 hours to perhaps get the attention of Steppenwolf Guy’s team. (If you use another streaming platform, feel free to make your own playlist of my music, or humor me and sign up for Spotify just for this!) Maybe that will effect a change here.

Thanks in advance, everyone! 😀

———
Visit the archive: https://therealjohnkay.wordpress.com

Website: https://therealjohnkay.com
Music: Spotify Artist Page
Podcast: Get After It w/ John Kay on iTunes
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2017 John Kay, All rights reserved.

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Hate U Back

Hate U Back

https://youtu.be/LunHybOKIjU

Our culture right now is all about attention (as I wrote last week), and Eminem got everyone’s attention for a good 24 hours and more. Whether or not that was his intent, who’s to say? The point is, he succeeded.

Why???

First off, like it or not, Eminem is a thought leader. He has a gift for using the English language in a visceral, commanding fashion, and he uses this gift to express himself in a way that is simultaneously vulnerable, honest, succinct, and powerful. His fans appreciate his candor and his willingness to draw a line in the sand and take a position, especially at a time when most musicians are scared to take a position on anything.

Second, the quality of his content. He wasn’t rapping about getting laid, or being drunk in da club, he was speaking out on the current state of our country in a way most artists are afraid to do for fear of alienating fans or, more to the point, losing their corporate deals.

Finally, he was authentic! He straight up bodied a freestyle in a parking structure, in an age where most superstars use backing tracks and lavish productions. He didn’t need a beat. He didn’t even need a microphone. He simply looked down the barrel of the camera, at US, and spoke truth to power.

It was what we’ve all been waiting for — an undeniable musician willing to speak out against the current administration, and put their name on it!

Speaking truth to power…hey, that’s what real artists are supposed to do!!

And I’m probably going to have people give me the whole “he should stick to rapping” bullshit like they did when I wrote about Meryl Streep last year (“stick to acting”). But that just shines a spotlight on their ignorance…

Understand: rap and hip-hop began as a way to give a voice to the powerless, to reveal the injustices in the African-American community, to preach positivity in the face of hopelessness, and help the disadvantaged find the strength and courage to stand up for themselves and demand what’s right in the name of humanity.

Over time it morphed into a fluid art form which would come to be criticized for its derogatory lyrics about women, its glorification of violence, and its promotion of drug dealing/use. And yes, Eminem is guilty of including those subjects in his oeuvre.

But this past Tuesday night, his freestyle about Orange 45 was about giving the rest of America a voice, fulfilling hip-hop’s foundational intentions.

You see, Eminem may not be putting out music as often as he used to, but in America, hip-hop rules, and Eminem is rap royalty. He’s on the Mount Rushmore of rap with Tupac, Kendrick Lamar, and Dr. Dre, as far as I’m concerned. He can go away for 10 years, come back, and sound just as fresh.

Yet, CNN commentator Matt Lewis says “he’s an aging guy who is clinging to relevance.”

Hardly. Eminem isn’t worried about relevance.

Because Eminem knows he has INFLUENCE.

Plus, he’s white! And he champions black culture and has a deep appreciation for it, unlike our leader.

And now my inbox is gonna blow up with those of you who think race isn’t a large component of what’s going on in this country right now.

But notice how the president has yet to fire back at Eminem on Twitter??

If he does, it will be a Pyrrhic victory: As Touré wrote, Eminem has pitted “whiteness against itself,” and now a good portion of his fans have to go to the bathroom…because that’s where the mirror is…and take a long, hard look and decide in which tribe they truly want to be…

“And any fan of mine, who’s a supporter of his, I’m drawing in the sand a line: You’re either for or against.

“And if you can’t decide who you like more, and you’re split on who should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this: FUCK you!”

I feel the same way about my fans. And friends. And family members.

It seems as though people think that at a certain point, depending on what type of career you have, how much money you do or don’t make, and how big or small of a celebrity you are, you don’t have the right to speak your mind on the politics and the goings-on of our country and culture.

Where is this sliding scale?? The truth is, it doesn’t exist — every one of us has the right to speak our mind.

We are living in a crazy time right now, and we need more people of true influence to speak out against injustice, racism, sexism, and the lot.

Influence is the key word here — anyone can be concerned about what’s going on, but if one doesn’t have the means or the resources to actually influence a change in what they’re upset about, they’re like Sisyphus and his boulder, forever exerting energy in an effort doomed to fail.

Focus on your circle of influence, not your circle of concern, as the late Stephen Covey wrote in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Find out what you can do to make a positive impact in the world, based on your particular circumstances, and do it. We need you!

Don’t just sit at the computer or peck at your phone with complaints on social media about they way things are or how they should, take real action in the real world and make them so.

I choose to make my impact through my art, regardless of medium.

To that point…

Back in April, I released “Don’t Mess With My Routine,” which was written from the perspective of the folks in the red hats.

“Hate U Back” is written from the opposite perspective, and I am happy to announce that it is streaming on Spotify and the other major streaming services as of today!

If you’re like me, you’ll have a puff, put on your best headphones, and turn the volume up to 70% (protect your ears!).

I hope you dig it. 🙂

“Hate U Back”: https://open.spotify.com/album/62Cs1prjQ2mVYcDNY1kHP2

P.S. Since we’re living in an attention economy, I appreciate you taking time to listen to my music. Thank you in advance.

P.P.S. That said, I’d rather hear “I hate it” than nothing at all, so feel free to let me know what you think of “Hate U Back” by emailing me at jk [at] therealjohnkay [dot] com.

P.P.P.S. In order to make the most impact possible, I’m asking that everyone listen to “Hate U Back” on Spotify three times in a row in order to help get it included on some of Spotify’s playlists. Do this, and I’ll love you even more than I already do! 😀

———
Visit the archive: https://therealjohnkay.wordpress.comWebsite: https://therealjohnkay.com
Music: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Podcast: Get After It w/ John Kay on iTunes
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2017 John Kay, All rights reserved.

Bob Lefsetz’s Tom Petty Playlist

Bob Lefsetz’s Tom Petty Playlist

I LOVED Tom Petty, but you wouldn’t know it by my music collection.

I’m still really upset and puzzled over his passing. He was just here in Detroit back in July, and instead of going to see him perform, we had band rehearsal.

We debated skipping rehearsal and going to the show, and reasoned that we’d catch him the next time he came to town.

But he’s never coming back…

The weight of that last sentence hit me the moment I typed it. It birthed a sinking feeling in my gut, a hot sensation rising up and throughout my entire body, finally exiting out the extremities and filling the room with a stagnant energy I can only describe as blanketing.

Yeah, I talk about mortality a lot, but didn’t Benjamin Franklin say nothing is certain except death and taxes??

We all have mortality in common. And when someone dies whom we care about, we each grieve in our own way. The way I grieve is to reflect on their life, and learn from the impact they made on the world.

But I didn’t know how to start to do that with Tom Petty.

Of course I know the hits, and I own Hard Promises and Damn The Torpedoes on vinyl, so there are a few non-radio cuts I appreciate. (“What Are You Doin’ In My Life?” and “Letting You Go” are two of my favorites.)

Still, when I heard the news, I wanted to dive into an ocean of his music and listen to the tunes that spoke to the essence of a human who lived a life! Where to begin?

Thankfully, since I subscribe to the Lefsetz Letter, I received a link to a Spotify playlist of 40 songs which cover Petty’s entire recording career, showcasing his growth and range as an artist. It’s missing my all-time favorite Petty song, You Don’t Know How It Feels, but all in all, it’s a soothing ride from top to bottom.

If you’re mourning the loss of one of the great songwriters of our time, give this playlist a listen. Even though it made me miss him all the more, it helped.

May it help you.

P.S. I highly recommend subscribing to the Lefsetz Letter if you’re a rabid music fan. His analysis and missives are relevant, insightful, poignant, and from time to time, comical.

———
Visit the archive: https://therealjohnkay.wordpress.com

Website: https://therealjohnkay.com
Music: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Podcast: Get After It w/ John Kay on iTunes
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2017 John Kay, All rights reserved.

Spotify, Las Vegas, and Tom Petty: Welcome to the Attention Economy

Spotify, Las Vegas, and Tom Petty: Welcome to the Attention Economy
How do you pay attention these days?

It’s worth asking because…we can access anything we deem more interesting than whomever or whatever is in front of us by simply reaching into our pocket and pulling out our smartphone.

You see it all around you, always. Whether at home, with friends, at work, at the bar, at sporting events, at concerts.

Even at the movies, which I don’t understand; people will spend over ten bucks to sit in front of a screen but would rather look at the one they brought with them??

There are even certain groups of people who, when out to eat, have unwritten rules regarding their devices, even if they don’t realize it. (For example, I learned last year that it’s silently understood that if a group of five people are out together and conversation is happening, devices are a no-no unless at least three people are actively engaged in conversation. In a group of seven, at least four people have to be engaged.)

On that note, I’ve seen many couples out to eat and each of them are on their phones, not talking to the other, for almost the entire meal.

It’s become almost compulsory as soon as there is a lull or awkward pause in a conversation — the moment we begin to feel the s-l-i-g-h-t-e-s-t hint of boredom, we go online.

What are we all paying attention to??

Whatever we want, whenever we want — each individual has the ability to create his or her own bubble, and it’s harder each day to pierce the surface and make an impact.

And Big Business knows this, which makes getting your attention, and keeping it, their top priority.

To that point…

At a recent event in London, Drew Lam, who works in Spotify’s Artists and Management Resources in the UK, told an audience that the music industry is now a world of “attention economics.”

The music industry, Lam said, was “no longer in a retail model. We work on attention economics. The more attention you can get, the more streams, the more consumption.”

He’s right. But it’s not just music. It’s everything.

Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy,” Louis CK opined on Conan this week in 2008.
Fast forward to October 2017, and the world has become even more amazing. The opportunities are boundless.

Yet, people are much more unhappy, angry even, some are downright vicious. We’re more polarized.

Maybe it’s because we’re retreating within our respective bubbles, paying too much attention to ourselves, and not focusing our attention on creating value for others and making a lasting, positive impact in the world.

I don’t know. Just a thought.

One thing is for sure, though. Today, it’s far easier to get attention by spraying bullets from an assault rifle into a crowd of country music fans from a Las Vegas hotel, than it is to follow one’s Muse and work hard at a craft, to create something of actual value to the world, something that resonates beyond simply dominating the news cycle for a mere week or less, something that stands the test of time.

Like Tom Petty’s music.

You see, true greatness compels our attention, it doesn’t demand it.  True greatness is undeniable because it speaks to a deeper part of who we are meant to be. It resonates with the core of who we are.

I tell people all the time, Millennials and Plurals don’t have short attention spans, or “ADD,” they just have highly-developed antennae for greatness!

Think about it: a large portion of our culture has never known a life without a broadband internet connection.

This means they’ve had access to the greatest films, literature, music, paintings, novels, photography, comedy, even food recipes…for their entire lives. They know within 5-7 seconds whether or not something cuts the mustard, whether it will resonate with them or not.

Bottom line, if it doesn’t have the lingering scent of greatness, they move on quick.

Unless, of course, trickery is involved.

And that’s why mainstream music and commercial radio “all sounds the same,” why it’s being written, recorded, and produced by the same major players using proven formulas: they purposely manufacture earworms — sugar-filled, candy-coated, hook-laden productions designed to “grab a listener by the throat” (as one music exec told me in 2016) and hold them captive for the duration of the song, preying upon and exploiting the human brain’s most natural tendencies.

But is that what stands the test of time? Earworms?? Songs that get stuck in your head not because you love them, because they speak to your soul, but because they are mathematically and scientifically designed to infect your mind???

Well, we’ll see in 20 years if people are still listening to Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do.”

But I’m not trying to be in the earworm business.

When one of my songs impacts another, I hope it’s due to the quality of the content, the meaning of the message, the depth of it all, not because I used some formulaic brain hack or blindly followed trends or wrote for a particular market. That’s how Petty did it.

Sure, the Bullfighters do collaborate in my creative process, and they play a special role in helping shape and inform my work.

But they don’t dictate it! Most importantly, they don’t presume to! They respect the craft and my Muse when offering their feedback, and although my music doesn’t have Taylor Swift-like numbers of streams, the future looks quite bright.

“When we talk about music at Spotify now,” Lam went on to say, “We need to think about the artist. How do you go from idea to pen to paper, to the studio — how does that then go to market? How do we help you find your listeners, and turn them into fans? They’re the ones who’ll buy your vinyl, your T-shirts, come to your shows.”

Lam went on to outline some of Spotify’s functionality. With its Spotify playlists, he said, “we wanted to get music to listeners as quickly as possible without any human curation.”

But at least as important, he said, was Spotify for Artists, which provides in-depth analytics to artists on how their music is being listened to, potentially helping them to plan tours, reach their most hardcore fans, and understand contexts in which people listen to their music.

How ironic: people were screaming for years that streaming was going to kill the music industry, and today it’s heralded as being responsible for the industry’s resurgence, all while its leading company is innovating new ways to help artists truly connect with their fans.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Spotify for Artists recently, and they are currently creating my own Spotify page so that when someone searches for me, they will find me, not the guy from Steppenwolf.

And it’s good to know that Spotify has my back, because I’ll be working with them to include my music on some playlists, because…

We live in an attention economy…

And it just so happens that playlists are getting the most attention…

So it goes without saying that to increase the impact of my music, it needs to be on playlists.

But for me, at the end of the day, it’s not about attention…

It’s about connection!

P.S. My newest song, “Hate U Back” is officially Bullfighter-approved, and will be streaming on Spotify and the other major streaming services beginning next Friday, 10/13. The song is part two of a two-song set; click here to listen to part one.

P.P.S. I’m currently rehearsing a band to perform my music, and will begin booking intimate house shows within the next couple of months. If you’re interested in attending (or hosting!) a house show, or simply want to know if we’ll be performing in your area, send an email to shows [at] therealjohnkay [dot] com.

P.P.P.S. I had many people reach out to me after my last blog post to tell me they don’t view my missives as being negative, just honest, and to reassure me to keep doing what I’m doing and not worry. Thanks again for all of your kind words. I appreciate you very much. 🙂

P.P.P.P.S. Interested in becoming a Bullfighter?? The fan club is being migrated to a new online hosting service — Patreon — and will go fully live on November 1. In the meantime, you can send an email to fanclub [at] therealjohnkay [dot] com to get signed up ahead of time. Bullfighters get everything! 😀

———
Visit the archive: https://therealjohnkay.wordpress.com

Website: https://therealjohnkay.com
Music: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Podcast: Get After It w/ John Kay on iTunes
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

Let he who would move the world first move himself. — Socrates

Copyright © 2017 John Kay, All rights reserved.

The Email That Made My Day

The Email That Made My Day

Last week, I received an email from one of the Bullfighters (fan club members). Her name is Heather, and she lives in Houston, TX.

“Good morning!

“Haven’t seen a blog email in a bit, so I hope it’s because you’ve got just s***loads of irons in all kinds’a fires, and that 2017 has, so far, been kind to you. Had your music in the rotation more lately, if that means anything to you.  🙂

“Hope you and your queen are doing well, and still enjoying homeownership! 🙂 It’s not without its faults, when you realize that, when something breaks, no onsite maintenance crew is coming right away, but I think it still means more to have your very own place. 🙂

“Take care of yourself, mister, and have a great f***ing weekend! :D”

That email made my day!

First, she’s right, I hadn’t blogged in a bit. Since Inauguration Day, I haven’t been compelled to write until the shenanigans regarding the layoffs at 89X.

I’ve been doing a lot of behind the scenes grinding, but not every single thing I have been excited about came to pass. I’m tired of blogging and telling people what’s going to happen, and then having it not come to fruition, which erodes trust and credibility. I don’t want to be the king of empty promises — the world is already filled with talkers; we need more doers.

Instead of blogging about every small advancement, development, wrinkle or hurdle along my path, I’d rather wait and talk about what is actually happening.

Second, Heather in Houston must be clairvoyant, because I indeed have many irons in many fires . . .

When it comes to new music, I’ve got three songs, each in different stages of production, to share with the Bullfighters for feedback before deciding whether to release and perform them. Those will be sent out as they are finished.

Also, I’m excited to announce that band rehearsals will begin on April 13!

I spent much of the past year meeting with and interviewing potential members, and we had our first official band meeting last week, during which we clarified our long-term vision as a group. There are seven of us getting ready to rehearse, and we are all multi-instrumentalists. (It’s funny sometimes how things work out — I’ve known all but one member since they were teenagers.)

Here’s another special announcement: my podcast Get After It with John Kay is now on iTunes!

Three new episodes will be uploaded in April, including my conversations with:

– Danny Muggs — Guitarist and vocalist from acclaimed Detroit blues-rock band The Muggs
– Don Slater — Bassist of Battlecross, a fast-rising Detroit metal band on Metal Blade Records
– Rocco Ambrose — Founder of the Ambrose Academy of Wing Chun Do and Grandmaster of the Wing Chun Do system of martial arts, a system whose lineage descends straight from Bruce Lee

Available as of now are my conversations with entrepreneur and InkAddict founder Jim Doyon, and drummer Matt Puhy from Detroit hard rock band Wilson. I’ve received great responses from people about the wisdom shared on the podcast by these two gents. Please subscribe to Get After It, download the episodes, and let me know if you learned anything by listening to them talk about their journeys.

[iPhone users: open your podcasts app, select “My Podcasts”, and click the “+” at the top of the screen. Select “Add Podcast”, and enter the following URL: http://getafterit.libsyn.com/rss.]

Speaking of journeys . . .

On January 21 my queen, mother, and sister-in-law traveled to Washington D.C. for the International Women’s March.

When my queen returned home, she expressed how much she wished I could have been there. I told her that if they have another march, I’ll go with her next time, to which she said that they will be having several different marches, including a march on April 29 for climate change.

SOLD. The queen and I will be traveling to D.C. at the end of April!

The thing is . . . I don’t wanna take a trip only to the nation’s capital.

There are Bullfighters in Pittsburgh, Boston, and Portland (ME), and I want to book an intimate house show in each area on the way to D.C.!***

And that’s not all! In addition to potential house shows, I have scheduled podcast interviews along the way with two people I have huge respect for — Adam Ayan, mastering engineer at Gateway Mastering Studios in Portland, and Patrick “Seton” O’Connor, Director of Operations for The Dan Patrick Show in Milford, CTI’m very excited to connect with these two, hear their stories, and share practical wisdom.

Like Heather said, irons in all kinds’a fires!

Finally, it means everything to me that my music is in rotation in people’s lives. Now that a group is ready to rehearse, we’re that much closer to getting out on the road. Consider this update to mean the wheels are in motion!

2017 has been kind to me so far, and I hope the same for you. As I look outside right now, gray skies are clearing, and the sun is peeking through the clouds.

The best is yet to come! 😀

 

John Kay
jk@therealjohnkay.com

Music: http://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @TheRealJohnKay
Instagram: @TheRealJohnKay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

 

***If you’re in any of these areas, and are interested in what hosting an “intimate house show” involves (it’s easy!), email me at houseshow@therealjohnkay.com so we can discuss the simple details. The plan is to be in the area of Pittsburgh on April 25, Boston on April 26, and Portland on April 27. I’ve reached out to all of the Bullfighters in these cities already, and they are stoked!***

P.S. As far as home ownership is concerned . . . we have water coming in the basement. We thought we fixed it by sloping the grading underneath our deck, but nope. We may put in a French drain(?) this year if it’s not too expensive a task. If so, yikes. Other than that, we love our home, and may be adding a dog to the family soon. We shall see. 🙂

P.P.S. Speaking of journeys again . . . I like the shoe store Journeys, because they stock Onitsuka Tiger, my favorite brand of sneakers. But I hate the band Journey because of what Steve Perry did to my mom back in the day. He’s a jerk. And there is no “South Detroit” — that’s Canada.

10 Things I Didn’t Know About Kurt Cobain

10 Things I Didn’t Know About Kurt Cobain

We weren’t allowed to have MTV on in the house when I was a kid — MTV didn’t play country music or classical or oldies; it was forbidden.

Nirvana changed that. They were our Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

I brought home Nirvana’s Nevermind and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger on the same day. My dad allowed me to play them each in full, back-to-back, on the home stereo while I did homework. Afterward, I asked him which he preferred, and he said “I like the Nirvana album better.”

That became my permission to watch MTV when Mom protested: Nirvana was undeniable.

But they weren’t that way before Dave Grohl joined the band.

Beyond being a powerhouse drummer, his backup vocal harmonies added more colors to the band’s sonic palette. Plus, Krist Novaselic finally had a drummer who understood groove, the rhythm section was locked in. Kurt, from what I could tell at the time, only enjoyed being a brat and was a drug addict.

My love affair with Nirvana began and ended with Dave Grohl, and continues with Foo Fighters.

With that, I have to admit, as much as I keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in our current cultural zeitgeist, I’m late to the party on some things. One of these things was Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.

I watched it a couple of weeks ago, and while my first impressions of Cobain were validated, I made a list of ten things I learned from the documentary. They each resonated with me.

1. Divorce irrevocably changed his life.

Touré, in his book I Would Die 4 U: How Prince Became an Icon, explains that divorce was the cultural zeitgeist of Gen X, and even people whose parents remain married feel fallout from the divorce of relatives, friends, et al. Cobain would not have become an icon if he, much like Prince, didn’t experience being a child of divorced parents.

2. His girlfriend before Courtney Love supported him 100% while he lived an artist’s life.

How does anyone make it in our current culture without a support system? Anyone who says they became successful through their own hard work alone is deluded.

It’s true, hard work is the first requirement when it comes to achieving goals, and using time and resources wisely is important, too. But without a support system of people who believe in you, who see how hard you’re working, who help pick you up when you’re down, who have your best interests at heart, who know you appreciate them…you are doomed.

3. There is still bad blood when it comes to Dave Grohl.

Although I gained respect for Cobain while watching MOH, there is obviously still a grudge with Dave Grohl.

He wasn’t featured as Novaselic and Love were, and it was not acknowledged that the band got better when he joined, or how Kurt felt about him joining. Seems weird to me, considering his post-Nirvana success and celebrity.

4. He was constantly studying and learning and experimenting.

Cobain would sit alone in his room, playing his guitar, reading, writing lyrics and poetry, performing audio engineering experiments with his tape recorder, and more, all day long. He became what James Altucher refers to as an “idea machine”, filling notebook after notebook with his thoughts.

5. Marijuana expanded his mind and artistic capabilities.

DUH!

6. He kept his super-ambitiousness hidden.

I heard Dave Grohl say in an interview once that when the Nirvana was in their first meeting at Geffen Records, a label rep asked “What do you guys want?”

Cobain replied, “We want to be the biggest band in the world.”

That’s the only occasion I can think of when Kurt said anything about wanting fame. I assumed he was trying to be flippant.

Nope. He wanted to be the biggest band in the world. He just didn’t know what fame (and heroin) was going to do him.

7. He sacrificed everything for his band.

His band and his music were his top priorities. Everything else was dismissible — relationships, material things (except music equipment), etc. If it didn’t help his band get to the next level, it didn’t matter.

8. He was incredibly self-conscious, and thin-skinned when it came to critics.

As most true artists feel about their creative output, Kurt’s songs were like his babies. When critics were negative about his music, Kurt took it personally. His songs were him, he poured his soul out. His soul was under attack.

9. He was much better-looking than I gave him credit for.

Handsome dude, when not on drugs.

10. He thought a band needed to practice five times a week.

I found this fascinating because it revealed the true intensity of his drive and discipline.

Also, it showed that he was willing to grind, to hone, to perfect the performance, getting it down to a science, where the rules are known, and can therefore be broken at will. All musicians and entrepreneurs can learn from his example.

 

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

Music: johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay

89X

89X

I woke up today to the news that 89X, Detroit’s alternative rock radio station, owned by a Canadian company, has axed its American operations.

That means that a dear friend of mine is now out of a job.

I remember when he was still in school learning about audio engineering and the inner workings of radio. My band was one of his guinea pigs as he honed his recording chops. He was concerned with taking care of us, and making sure to do things right. As always happens when doing anything creative, there were some technical issues which slowed the session, so we weren’t able to finish the recording. But what did get recorded, he mixed and sent to me a few weeks later.

He sees his job through to the end, no matter what.

While at college he hosted his own radio show, and interned at 89X, reporting to program director Jay Hudson. Together they ran a weekly program which showcased independent artists and put a spotlight on the local music community. They held events and shows around the metro Detroit/Windsor area, and chose artists to perform with large touring acts.  (Hudson resigned in July 2016 after 10 years of working at the station.)

A year or so later, my friend and I were hanging out in my studio. He had nearly completed his internship, and was concerned that the station wouldn’t be able to hire him. He felt the pressure, worked even harder, and turned out to be hired and become a regular on-air for years to come.

And yesterday, he was laid off, along with around a dozen others affiliated with the American side of 89X.

The layoffs were part of a larger restructuring at Bell Media, the corporation who owns 89X and three other stations. According to Bell Media news director Matthew Garrow, “The restructuring is a response to the challenges we and other Canadian media companies are facing on multiple fronts: changing broadcast technologies and growing international competition, a tough advertising market, and ongoing regulatory pressure.”

That is all business-speak for “radio isn’t as profitable as it used to be.”

But that’s because nothing is what it used to be. Everything is changing. Before we know it we’ll be able to use our devices to request the car of our choice on demand, and it will show up with no driver inside. Commuting to work? Get a small hatchback. Going out for a fancy date? Get a Mercedes.

Abundance rules.

It’s already happened in music. It used to be that radio was the only way to hear music, unless you bought the record. Now, with cloud-based streaming services and customized playlists, not only do you not need to own any music, you can create your own personalized radio station! Why would you listen to terrestrial radio, waiting for them to play the song you want to hear, when you can reach into your pocket, pull out your device, and hear it right now??

And most people tell me that terrestrial radio sucks, that they play the same songs over and over and over, that the music is homogenized and pasteurized for the masses, that there’s no there there.

But that’s because terrestrial radio is run by large corporations.

The DJs used to rule when they had autonomy over their shows, were able to spin the tunes they wanted, not just the company-approved playlist. They would scrounge record stores and listen at home for songs that resonated with them, with the current culture, not just what was blowing up the charts. The great DJs took risks, they helped push music forward, they captivated their audience.

That’s what made Howard Stern so popular, he takes risks, says what others are too scared to say. And he knows the world is much cruder than it used to be, which is why he knew that satellite radio was the future, a place where he could be his authentic self without fear of the controlling corporation bringing down the hammer. (When Jay Hudson resigned from 89X, he took a job at Sirius XM.)

Corporations don’t like free-thinkers or risk-takers.

And Bell Media, rather than taking a risk and truly shaking up the format and pivoting into the Now, decided on the impossible task of figuring out how to continue doing what they’ve been doing, because it’s what they know. They looked at their profit margins, and they cut the first thing companies always cut when their profit margins are low — payroll.

Payroll is generally the biggest expense of any company, and the first line item to receive cuts when the company wants to tighten its belt. That’s the reason the car you’re going to call won’t have a driver: it will cost less. (The trucking industry is going to experience a revolution soon, as will many other industries due to automation and robotics. If a human can be replaced, they will be replaced. Humans cost too much.)

My heart breaks for my friend. He sacrificed to get where he is, he said no to a lot of things that other people would not in order to become successful in his industry. From day one, he put in the hours and the sweat equity to do his best for the station. He learned from his mistakes and his mentors, and applied his knowledge on a daily basis. And now the station says they’re moving in a different direction, without him.

But I’m not really surprised — I’ve seen this before.

My dad worked for a radio station in Detroit — W4 Country — for 13 years, ultimately becoming the station’s creative director. He was laid off in July 1995 by the parent corporation which owned the station. W4 Country was part of a 19 radio stations group owned by Shamrock Broadcasting, a division of Shamrock Holdings, which was founded in 1978 as an investment company by Roy E. Disney (yes, that Disney).

Shamrock Holdings bought a bunch of television and radio stations in the 1980s and early 1990s, and sold Shamrock Broadcasting to Chancellor Broadcasting in August 1995, right after the layoffs at W4. Chancellor Broadcasting restructured and became known as AMFM Inc. in 1999. In 2000, AMFM Inc. merged with Clear Channel Communications. After the merger, Clear Channel owned 830 radio stations, 19 television stations, and over 425,000 outdoor displays in 32 countries. In 2005, Clear Channel Communications split into three separate companies; Clear Channel Communications for radio, Clear Channel Outdoor for out-of-home advertising, and Live Nation for live events. Clear Channel has since become iHeart Media, and 89xRadio.com redirects to iheartradio.ca.

So when I saw the news this morning that Bell Media decided to lay off my friend and his co-workers as part of “restructuring”, I shook my head in disgust, but I wasn’t shocked. When it comes to corporations, it’s only a matter of time before the rug gets pulled out from under you. They are always buying and selling and merging and splitting, and they only care about profit, not people.

I believe my friend isn’t going to have a problem finding work. He’s talented, and emotionally intelligent. If anything, I’m happy for him. At least for now, he’s no longer under the yoke of a corporation.

He’s free.

 

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

Twitter – @therealjohnkay
Instagram – @therealjohnkay