Sunday, July 3, 2016

YIKES! Creative Industrial Complex Craps Out Another Lame "List" Article

<The Book Of Lists (Original Edition, 1977)> 

If you're a child of the '70s and '80s, you'll remember when tomes like The Book Of Lists, and its related spinoffs (People's Almanac, anyone?) took the publishing world by storm. Like so many millions of others, I spent countless hours devouring the quirky subject matter of these books. From favorite sex positions, to rogue nations and serial killers, you could get lost on any page -- and, of course, memorize nuggets to give you the sheen of being an expert at something, right?

All the original three volumes are long out of print, though there's bound to be a few floating around on eBay, I imagine. Today's digital era, of course, is a different beast. Fewer people, I suspect, would have the time (or stamina) to slog through the 521-page Book Of Lists, let alone its 529-page sequel, The Book Of Lists 2 (or the truly sprawling People's Alamanc 2, weighing in at 1,416 pages).

Nowadays, we've got something more insidious going on -- the "list" article, which sites like have polished to perfection. But the results are often hit and miss, especially if penned by a representative of the Creative Industrial Complex -- such as a best-selling author, big shot remixer, or cranky blogger for hire -- who often doesn't bother disguising the agenda they're grinding.

Case in point? Today's exhibit ("9 Things NOT To Do With Your Next Song Demo") comes via, the CD/DVD duplication and manufacturing company that now owns the online music store, CD Baby. The overall tone, as one of the commenters (see link below) notes, is "drama-king offensive," such as the first finger-wagging tip against overlong intros: "If every song had 45-second intros, that would be 187 minutes spent waiting for the damn songs to start! Think about it."

As that same commentor retorts: "If it’s that bad, please retire or do something else for a living." The same advice, presumably, applies to tip #4, about putting the artist's name that you're pitchig in the subject line: "
The subject line is how the receiver will find a song among so many emails. That’s called common sense." Glad to see that we've cleared up how that big, bad Internet works, eh?

The best part, however, is the total logic implosion that occurs when Tip #2 (don't submit a poorly produced track) collides with Tip #8 (don't overproduce your demo). So, which is it? Are two Dixie cups and a spool of thread sufficient, or should we consider tossing a kitchen sink or two (sonically speaking) into the rough mix?

As commenter Matt McCourt snorts below, "This whole thing reeks of an ADVERT for a book rather any real tips." He then cites some advice from an exec that seems closer to the mark (" is the song...if it is any good, a boom box recording with you and a guitar will show us that"). Of course, these types of articles are often written in the brain-scrambling "compliment sandwich" style that every hipster loves -- just add a "but" after every other clause, and you, too, can speak the language! (As in: "Hey, kid, I love the song,'s sounding a little dated. Can we get a more contempo feel in here?" You get the idea.)

All this bet hedging often plays out over multiple weeks. For example, I've seen many a self-publishing blog that runs a headline like this: "Stop Presses! Print Books Are Dinosaurs! Embrace Your Inner E-Book Warrior!" Come next week, though, you might see a totally opposing banner headline: "Five Reasons Not To Ditch Printed Books Yet."

In the end, I do what jurors probably do when they're confronted with the farce of dueling experts for hire (Defense Expert: "Mr. Jones's toilet training at gunpoint is the primary factor to understanding why he chopped up his entire family."/Prosecution Expert: "Not a single study establishes a correlation between abusive toilet training and mass murder"). With a shrug, I give up trying to figure out who's right, and go with my gut. Works well enough for me.

The main problem with all these insufferable "list" articles -- other than the logic leaps I've cited -- is that they encourage a lot of formulaic thinking, while devaluing the impact of real writing. I remember coming across Elmore Leonard's "10 Rules Of Good Writing" on a literary blog. His first one is: "Never open a book with the weather." To which one of the more perceptive commenters responded: "What about George Orwell's 1984, which starts: 'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen"? I don't think anybody's asked for their money back yet on that one. 

One of my longtime mates put it best, when I told him about my plans to riff on this topic: "Here's the thing with those types of articles....they make it sound like you can mathematize, or rationalize, what's popular, and that's what they play on. the end of the's the public that decides what flies, or what doesn't." Or, in my gut. Works well enough for me. --The Reckoner

Links To Go (Take With A Barrel Of Salt, Then):
Discmakers Blog:

The Huffington Post:

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