It's getting, it's getting, it's getting kinda hectic

Moving in! It's happening! It's kind of a complicated process because the new place still lacks some key things (like a stove and curtains) but hopefully it will be done fairly soon!

In the meantime, here's a couple of article I thought were interesting but didn't have time to actually write posts about:

This one is about the music market in Japan. Japan has been notable because it's resisted digitization, but guess what's happening right now? Oh, yeah, digitization is happening with a vengeance and all the Japanese labels are being caught out because they thought that Japan was the one market that would never, ever change, so why should they prepare?

I also have to point out something that has always annoyed me with reporting about the Japanese music market: People always report the revenues. So they say (or rather, they used to say), Oh, the Japanese music market is so much better than the U.S. music market because evil, awful digitization hasn't happened there so their revenues are still high!

Anyone see the problem there? Revenues are not profits. If I sell something for $10 that costs me $8 to produce and ship, I have revenues of $10 but profits of only $2. What's so nice about digitization (be it music or books) is that you can sell something for $5 or $3 that costs you next to nothing to make. So yeah, your revenues go down, but who cares?

That one is about dodgy on-line reviews. Businesses are starting to sue people who post negative fake reviews for defamation--something to keep in mind if you're ever tempted to trash someone via sock-puppet.


Well, this explains why I don't listen to the radio anymore

I thought it was just because Seattle radio sucks donkey balls compared to NYC, but according to the Wall Street Journal, this is the wave of the future:

Faced with growing competition from digital alternatives, traditional broadcasters have managed to expand their listenership with an unlikely tactic: offering less variety than ever.

The strategy is based on a growing amount of research that shows in increasingly granular detail what radio programmers have long believed—listeners tend to stay tuned when they hear a familiar song, and tune out when they hear music they don't recognize. . . .

The top 10 songs last year were played close to twice as much on the radio than they were 10 years ago, according to Mediabase, a division of Clear Channel Communications Inc. that tracks radio spins for all broadcasters. . . .

"[T]aking risks is not rewarded, so we have to be more careful than ever before."

Aiiigggh! (And double-aiiigggh! because that last quote is from someone who works for an NYC radio station.)

Ok, now that that's out of my system: That seems to be another common effect of digitization, right? I mean, that's definitely what's happening to publishing--the traditional publishers are getting more and more risk-adverse.

I guess it's OK as long as there are ways for indies to make money--it's harder for musicians to get top-40 radio play nowadays, just like it's harder for writers to get tradpub contracts, but if they can make money selling on their own, who cares?

I just hope my iPod never breaks, you know? I actually wound up listening to the radio in my sister's car during the holidays, and I heard maybe one song I didn't already know--and it's been almost a year since I stopped.

Wow! It's just like a Kris Rusch post!

You know how Kris Rusch has, like, a thousand horror stories about publishers deliberately killing the sales of a book because the author is out of favor or because they want an excuse to fire a particular editor? And of course you might think that wouldn't happen, because it's in the publisher's best interest to sell as many books as possible, but the fact of the matter is that short-term considerations and politics often take the fore, in publishing as in other businesses.

Fascinating reading, of course, but pretty much not my problem, what with my being indie and all. Sure, sometimes Amazon glitches up, but I never thought I'd actually witness this kind of thing happening myself.

Except that, you know how I run that Block B Web site? I have a page that lists where you can buy their music. They just released a new album (under their new management company), so I was updating the site and thought I'd make sure that the retail links are all up to date.

Guess what? Their last album, which sold quite well when it was released under their old label last year (you know, the label they sued and quit), is not nearly as available as it used to be. Indeed, it looks like pretty soon you'll only be able to find it among the Amazon resellers and maybe on eBay.

Interesting, isn't that? I mean, it would seem a no-brainer to have their last album out and available for purchase, since a new release typically stirs up a lot of interest in whatever you call a musician's backlist, and backlist is so profitable.

Given their label's track record, I'd say it's a coin toss between incompetence and spite. And it's just more evidence that, in any industry, handing over all the business power to someone who isn't you is probably a mistake.

If you won't sell it to me, I can't buy it from you

It's fall, which is apparently the time when Korean groups release music (whereas an American artist might release an album with 20-odd songs once every two years, Korean groups tend to release smaller "mini-albums" more frequently).

Anyway, at this point I'm familiar with a lot of these groups and have favorites, which means that I'm coping once again with the frustration of having music released--complete with videos and all kinds of expensive marketing--that I cannot buy, even though I want to.

Why not? Well, digital music is really big in the United States, but it's less big (or regarded simpy as a form of piracy) in Asia. In addition, Korea really exists in an alternate universe when it comes to the Internet--I assume because the market is small and wasn't really a priority for the big Silicon Valley firms, different companies have established themselves in Korea as the default Web sites. Koreans don't Google things, they Naver them. They don't socialize on Facebook, they socialize on CyWorld. Making things even more insular, in some cases you can't access entire Facebook-like categories of sites unless you register with your...Korean Social Security number! Which of course you have, because there are no non-Koreans anywhere on the planet!

So, yeah, you can rock marketing and selling to a Korean audience and be completely pathetic at marketing and selling to everyone else. You know, kind of like authors can rock at reaching other writers and suck at reaching readers--it's those "affinity group" blinders.

In addition, there's what looks an awful lot like "windowing" going on--the practice of not selling music (or books) in all formats right away on the theory that doing so will cannibalize sales.

Bullshit. Like I said before, if it ain't digital, I don't listen to it. I'm certainly not going to buy it, especially not at the prices they charge for import CDs.

As a result, there's been album releases that I really wanted to buy the moment they came out. (coughcoughZionT'sRedLightcoughcough) I'm sure other people did, too, and that might have led to some nice chart-topping visibility of the kind Jay Park recently experienced.

But nooooo. I had to wait months to buy Red Light, and of course I didn't know when it came out digitally, so I bought it when I found it (and it's lucky that I remembered to buy it at all). There goes your surge of buyers and your bestseller-list visibility.

And I'm sure this is a self-reinforcing thing. Zion T's label (the musically very fine Amoeba Culture) is going to look at his digital sales and say, "Well, that's not worth pursuing." And they'll never realize that the problem is that they're not doing it right.

Who is doing it right? You can imagine how much it pleases me to say that not only is Block B back, but they're doing it right! (Whoo!)

What are they doing? Well, they've pre-released a song off their upcoming mini-album, and they did it like this:

1. They offered it as a sponsored free download.

2. It's on sale at iTunes.

3. It will be on iTunes again, I'm sure, once the mini-album is released.

So if someone grabs the free download and then buys the mini-album, or they buy the single now and the mini-album later (since there's usually a discount on an entire album), Block B gets paid twice for the same song.

Do you think they read Joe Konrath's blog? Because this looks familiar. And the added bonus is that they're maximizing revenue in a way that does not make fans feel like they're getting ripped off--it's a free song! What's not to like?

Sorting out a Web audience

So has been chugging along, which has been interesting for me. I've been a firm believer in half-assing my own online marketing, but while this blog serves multiple purposes (and marketing myself isn't really one of them), that Web site was created for the sole purpose of marketing. So stuff like checking Web stats, which is just an amusing diversion on this site, is actually important there.

Originally, when I made the Web site, I had a certain audience in mind: Myself, when I first discovered the group. There were a lot of Web sites catering to obsessed fans, but I wanted to serve people like me: American native-English speakers who didn't know much about Block B and wanted to find out more.

Well, one of the first things I realized was that, duh, the people who go looking for a Web site called already know quite a bit about Block B. What got me hits was adding to the free mixtape songs available on the Music page. It can be kind of a pain to find those songs, so the more of them I put in one place, the more helpful the site was. (And I probably should keep adding songs, but OMFG THERE ARE SO MANY that editing that page is a major hassle.)

The other thing that I've noticed is that I get hits from people all around the world--Asia, Europe, you name it. That's been the cause of some reflection: If I'm writing for native English speakers, I should feel free to use more-sophisticated language (especially because I don't want to reflect poorly on Block B by sounding like an idiot). But if I'm writing for people who speak or read only a little English as a second language, well, then, I should make things easy on them, right?

I haven't changed the language, but what I have done is to list fan sites that translate the group's Korean Tweets into any other language, not just into English. I didn't do that before, because how the hell would I know if someone is doing a good job translating Korean into Chinese or Arabic or Hungarian or whatever? But given who is coming to the Web site and the response to that particular expansion, clearly it's needed.

Some of the cultural stuff isn't going to change--you'll notice that there is absolutely no mention of how handsome/cute/attractive the guys are (except for Jaehyo, because he was pretty much Miss Korea for a while there, and that's a lot to leave off a resume). This is very uncommon when people talk about Korean music, because looks are considered extremely important in that industry. But 1. I'm 43 years old, for Christ's sake, and 2. as the above statement implies, I'm American, and I know that to Americans it's a huge turn-off when people start talking about how musicians look instead of how they sound. "He's soooo cuuuute!" is basically taken to mean, "I'm 14 years old, horny, stupid, or otherwise entirely without critical judgement!" The American market is really big and really worth aiming for, so I'm not going to cater to the teeny-boppers (who have eyes and can decide that a particular young man is soooo dreamy!!! all on their own) because that will alienate everyone else.

I think I'm getting a migraine....

It must be from the way I've been banging my head against my desk.

OK. Let's back up. Remember how I said that I was switching from listing books directly with Kobo to going through Smashwords, since apparently Kobo can't manage to pay people? (And I did shortly thereafter.)

You might think that I'm a tad oversensitive on this topic, but it is a policy for me: I do not do business with those who make a habit of screwing others over, because I am certain that they will eventually get around to doing the same to me. That's why I pulled out of Google Books back when that was a thing. As I've said before, I regard this policy as major reason I was able to survive as a freelance writer for so many years.

Backing up once again: Remember how Block B was totally screwed by its label? Well, they managed to buy their freedom and are planning to release new music soon. (Yay!)

And what is the guy who ran their old label doing? Giving interviews explaining how he doesn't regret a thing and how everything bad (including the lengthy and no doubt expensive court battle Block B just had with the label he owns) just kind of happened. It just happened. Like the weather. He certainly had nothing to do with it.

Why is this guy giving these kinds of interviews? He's put together a new group. A bunch of people looked at everything that was happening to Block B--not getting paid, having money stolen from their families--and said, "I want that to happen to me!" (And for the record, this guy doesn't run some HUGE company that you simply must sign with. He's had one successful group, and they just ran away as fast as their little feet could carry them!)

Yes, Virginia, apparently a sucker is born every minute.

Varieties of inertia

Random Life Crap has come up again, but hopefully tomorrow will be better (and the bathroom is almost finished). In the meantime, Kris Rusch has a good post comparing publishing to the music industry. There's an interesting bit about how off-putting it is to consumers when producers refuse to be flexible or adapt. I've whined about how much it annoys me, but none other than Kanye West has provided the data to prove that it can hurt sales:

For his latest album, he did almost no appearances (very important in music), and had no advance streaming [i.e. free samples] or preorders. As a result, his first-week sales were at a career low for West, and went down 80% in the second week.

Meanwhile, Jay Park told me on Facebook yesterday that he's going to release a free single tomorrow. Just saying.

What else is happening? Well, I realized that I never updated my covers on my Facebook page. Then I thought, "I never do anything with that page! It just sits there. I should take it down!" And then I realized that it doesn't matter that I never do anything with that page, it costs me nothing to have it up, and even if only one person uses it to get updates, well, then having it is doing more good than not having it. Which is kind of my entire social-media strategy, such as it is--just have it, but don't drive yourself crazy with it. Even doing it poorly is better than not doing it at all, and takes about the same amount of effort. So I'll just update the graphics later today.

You may have noticed that....

There's a few random things going on.

Thing #1: The paperback books are gone!

Exciting, isn't that? That's because I redid the covers--CreateSpace now takes your books off the market until the new covers are OK'd.

They didn't used to do that. Changing covers is free with them, and I think they got tired of indecisive people changing their covers a gazillion times. So now you have to go on a time out so that you can think about what you've done.

I also got my first payment for paper books, like, ever. So I do occasionally sell paper books--I even sold a large-print copy! But it doesn't happen enough for the time out to bother me. The other impact is that if you search for Trang on Amazon, the large-print cover shows up. Eh--still don't care.

Thing #2: The paperback books are still gone!

I got the proofs back from CreateSpace today, and oy. It's a bunch of piddly getting-the-hang-of-GIMP stuff that needs to be fixed on all the covers. Crap like, if you scale the jacket copy to make it the right size, it's going to be blurry.

So, that will be tomorrow's task. Believe it or not, I was actually reading through Trials today in preparation to (gasp!) start writing again, but that will have to wait until after the covers are sorted. Still, what I read today didn't suck, so that was nice....

Thing #3: There's a new tag!

I went ahead and made a tag for the posts on music. I'm not trying to turn this into a music blog, but from an industry perspective, there are a lot of similarities--musicians basically went through what writers are going through now a decade ago, so their experiences can be instructive. (The "audio" tag will still be used for audiobook-related entries. Presumably I'll start making those again, someday.)

Thing #4: Speaking of covers....

OK, this isn't a thing of mine, but Isobel Carr has a nice post up about making a cover for a historical romance. That's a genre where cover expectations are fairly rigid and potentially expensive, but although Carr hired people to do her cover, she approached it as a learning experience (imagine!) and wound up with some good pointers for those who can't afford to do much more than jazz up stock photos.

The other Jay

The very evening after I wrote my post bitching about Jay-Z's latest release, a post popped up in my Facebook feed notifying me that Jay Park's latest EP was out and giving me a link to where it was on iTunes. I clicked on the link, previewed the songs, and bought the ones I wanted--easy-peasy.

Then I wrote up an addendum to that post to contrast the two experiences, but I decided not to post it. I mean, we all know who Jay-Z is--people who know nothing about hip-hop know who Jay-Z is--and we all know that his album already sold a gazillion copies before it was even released. If you don't live in Asia, however, you've probably have never even heard of Jay Park.

So you know, he is a Korean-American singer and rapper who tried to go the traditional K-Pop route but ran afoul of his label and is now basically independent (he works with labels, but he's not owned by them the way Korean musicians so often are). Since he was born and raised in the U.S., Park really understands the way Americans use the Internet, plus his first language is English. He's really got it on the ball when it comes to social media and the like. When I was trying to figure out how I wanted to do my Block B Web site (NO, the domain name doesn't work yet, God damn it! I don't know what the fuck is wrong with Hover, but I am calling them tomorrow--AGAIN. ETA: OK, I called--apparently the problem was the "name servers," whatever the hell those things are. But the person was lovely and supposedly it will be working within 48 hours. EATA: OK, now it's functional), Park's Web site was the one I looked at. And he has a Facebook page that updates just often enough so that I know it hasn't been abandoned, but not often enough to annoy me--plus it provides me with convenient links to his new music the minute it is available for purchase.

And whaddya know, Park's EP debuted in the top 10 of iTunes' R&B list in fifteen different countries, including hitting #4 in the U.S.

In other words, a few days ago the #4 bestselling digital R&B album in the United States was by a guy you've never heard of. And was largely not in English.

Hey, I guess I get to make a post out of this after all!

I mean, think about it--who's the writer equivalent of Jay-Z in this day and age? Stephen King, Scott Turow--all the folks who did it the old way, who can coast off their existing reputations, and who can rely on large corporations to throw enormous bags of money their way regardless of the quality of their work. They do things a certain way, which makes sense for them, because they've already made it big. It's not a path that's actually available to someone who hasn't made it big yet.

But what Park has done? That focus on lowering barriers to entry? Making purchasing beyond easy for the consumer? Samples? So something indie writers can do.

On minions, piñatas, and open wallets

Someone got very excited about one of the new Jay-Z songs, so I was going to give the album a listen, but it turns out that it's only released to Certain People, and I am not one of The Chosen.

I realize that was supposed to make me all excited about this album (OMFG! IT'S SO EXCLUUUUSIVE!!!! OMG! OMG! I HAVE NO SELF-ESTEEM! OMFG!), but frankly, it just annoyed me. I feel like Jay-Z's output is completely uneven these days, and this whole thing just underscores the impression I have that he's really kind of lost interest in music. I mean, if he's getting paid by corporate deals in advance of actual album sales, and money is all that matters, well, why should he break a sweat and make good songs? He gets paid the same for crap, and making crap's a whole lot easier.

And it turns out things aren't working out so well for The Chosen, either. The app is buggy and annoying, and it's asking for personal information, which people resent. Quoth that article:

As apps gain popularity, musicians and companies are feeling their way through the new rules of digital etiquette. Michael Schneider, co-founder and chief executive of Mobile Roadie, a popular supplier of music apps, says that requiring users to share their app activity on social media is especially problematic.

"Top of the list is don't force people to log in. I think that's wrong and it turns fans off," he said. 

I would say it turns fans off, plus it turns off would-be fans who resent being treated like big, open wallets that some wealthy entertainer feels entitled to vacuum out at their whim. I don't much care for the music of Barbra Streisand or Justin Beiber, but I actively despise the way they treat their fans--it's money-grubbing manipulation worthy of any cult leader. I don't love Kid Rock's music, either, but I don't avoid his output at all costs because I can't stand the very idea of him, you know?

Obviously, I'm all for artists being able to make a living. But I think there's always a temptation (for authors as well as musicians) to treat fans like little minions who shall do your bidding, or like piñatas that you whack with a stick whenever you want some more money. And when you do that, and you discover that you have fewer fans than you did before, you can even delude yourself into thinking is a good thing, because those are your true fans. But in reality, what you are doing is 1. developing a personality disorder, and 2. finding people whose personality disorders further enable your own. Read Mommie Dearest if you want to know where that's going to take you....

Know your freaky sub-genre

This is an (awesome) article in the Wall Street Journal on what is called hick-hop, which blends hip-hop with country music and delights me to no end. (Some of it's straight-up novelty rap--coughcough"Rodeo"coughcough--but some of it's true fusion, which is always cool in my book.)

What's interesting about it from a business perspective is how they've figured out how to sell it. They're using services like Pandora to literally map places where people like hick-hop, and then they're holding concerts and selling CDs there.

Selling CDs? Yeah, well, it turns out that country-music fans still buy CDs (you know, because CDs are so homey and traditional), so Wal-Mart was willing to try carrying hick-hop, and by George, it worked!

It's fascinating to me because not only does it once again prove that people don't just want to eat Big Macs no matter what the "experts" think, but it also shows the fallacy of one-size-fits-all marketing strategies: If you look at the music industry as a whole, CDs are a dead end, but if you look at the country-music industry, CDs are doing great. The more you know about your particular audience, the better off you're going to be. And if you don't know that much (perhaps because it's such a new genre), try to find out what fans of similar genres do and see if yours do the same.

Bad vs. legally actionable

So, it's not like I'm trying to turn this into a K-pop blog or anything, but Block B recently had its lawsuit against its label dismissed. The case reminded me a lot of the failed class-action lawsuit against Harlequin in that the company being sued was engaged in behavior that clearly was very bad, but that, for various reasons, was not considered by the courts to actually be lawsuit-worthy.

In Block B's case, the label:

1. Did not pay members until the members started to sue.

2. Owes the members a substantial amount of money (roughly $400,000).

3. Hired as CEO a man who stole money from the member's families and then committed suicide.

Not shockingly, the members of the group feel that their label is Not A Good Label. (In fact, they are going indie now, which honestly I think is probably the best thing--in the Korean music industry the performers are typically just talking heads, so it's pretty standard for a band's legal relationship with their label to closely resemble that of a monkey to an organ grinder.)

But all that is pretty much irrelevant to the court. Why? Because the court is trying to determine if the label's actions are so bad that the contracts have been voided. And the court said no.

Why? Well, the court looked at the above points and said, Yeah, but once you did sue, the label paid you. And yeah, they still owe you money, but it sounds like they're planning on someday paying you that, too. Plus, there's no evidence that the label underpaid you because they were trying to rob you--it's more likely that they underpaid you because they're completely disorganized and keep craptacular records.

You might think that that sort of thing wouldn't happen here, but rest assured, it does: What a court considers Bad is often far below most people's Get Me the Hell Out threshold. It's kind of like the difference between someone being a bad driver and someone having their license revoked--there's a whole grey area in there where you don't let that person drive your kids around. And it's something to keep in mind before you go a-signing contracts with a publisher or other company that may or may not actually prove to be of service to you.

Really random link

This is a Wall Street Journal interview with Kid Rock about how he's pricing his concert tickets at $20 but still hoping to make s---tons, or perhaps even f---tons, of money. Interesting stuff--basically he's hoping that by lowering the barriers to entry, he'll 1. sell more tickets, making him more fans in the long run, and 2. make more money, because he'll be getting a share of T shirt and beer sales. (And he's got very high expectations for those beer sales.)

Do you want people to enjoy your work, or build a shrine to it?

So, I'm back home, and I'm going to try to get gradually back into the swing of things. Emotional issues aside (because those are so very easy to ignore), as a practical matter my brother's death puts quite a bit of responsibility on me, so let's just say I don't expect to be brilliantly focused. And I may just need to switch projects for a while--like I said before, Trials is kind of a rough book with a lot of loss in it, and it may just be too much right now. I really, really, really do not want to produce my very own version of Accordion Crimes.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago Dialectrix, who is an Australian hip-hop artist who I happen to like a lot (listen here), posted this rant about how people should not buy his music digitally, because then you'll listen to the songs out of order and ignore his beautiful cover art and won't be able to display it on your shelves so that all your friends can see it.

And wow, the whole thing is both totally misguided and coming from a place I can totally understand. The minute you finish a major project, be it an album or a novel, you feel really entitled to some serious love! You don't want to think about, say, giving it away for free (a strategy, I should note, that has been working just fine this past month despite receiving zero attention from me), or people ripping your songs out from their careful order and mixing them up with a bunch of other music like they were some kind of radio DJ or something!

"I see the convenience in newer technologies," writes Dialectrix, but he's kidding himself. What he doesn't see is that if the technology isn't convenient, I won't use it. At this point, if the music is not on my iPod (which I can plug into both my home and car stereo), I simply don't listen to it. And that actually predated my getting the iPod--I increasingly was not bothering to buy CDs or to listen to the ones I bought because it was kind of a pain. (Just like I was increasingly not buying paper books, come to think of it--it's the clutter factor.)

The way things are now, I listen to Dialectrix all the time--in fact, I listen to him even more than I really want to because my iPod has fallen in love and plays his music every other song. (Easy there, iPod--he's a married father. And I think he may be a little prejudiced against your kind.) If I did what Dialectrix wanted, I would never actually consume the media he produces, which seems rather counterproductive

And of course, Dialectrix is risking pushback from fans who feel insulted and put upon by these sorts of demands. At least Dialectrix is still making his work available digitally (unlike Stephen King who seems to be actively wooing pirates). Nonetheless, it's easy to get pirated digital media for free, and I think the last thing you want to do is tell the people who do pay for your digital media that you don't appreciate it.

How I probably should be doing social media

Adding to yesterday's chemical-induced excitement was the fact that Zico of Block B released another single. (That you can't pay for. Because it's a remix of another song. That you can't pay for. Because while the label went to the trouble of making a music video, they never actually released that song to iTunes or anything. Did you know that the Korean music industry has a huge problem with people illegally downloading songs and not paying for them? I wonder why that is?)

I found out about the new song through the English translation of Block B's Twitter feed, which I check religiously at this point. (Another song came out today!) The group is currently on hiatus as they sue their label, but as Zico writes (translatedly), "Who said it's an absence period when things are coming out all the time [Korean character indicating laughter]."

Anyway, this got me thinking about the fact that, hey, I do check this random Korean hip-hop group's translated Twitter feed pretty much every damned day. And that's something, because 1. it's not like the translators update it every day, and 2. I'm incredibly lazy about Twitter and never follow anyone on it who I don't actually know--I've certainly never followed a music group before. (Yes, if you follow me, I will follow you back. And then I will totally ignore you. I am a Twitslut, sorry.) In addition, people keep remarking on how Block B has managed to maintain its fan base despite the fact that they're on hiatus and not doing standard promotions, and I think their use of social media has a lot to do with that.

So, I thought I'd take a crack at analyzing how Block B uses Twitter, with the vague, gauzy notion that, if I were a more-industrious sort of person, I'd actually apply these lessons to my own use of social media. Keep in mind, though, that what I see is the English-language feed, and that's both compiled and curated by these guys.

Here's what I notice:

1. They talk about something other than themselves. In their case, music. As a result, the feed never degenerates into boring pictures of what people ate today. They don't assume that you're there because you're an obsessed teenaged fan with no life--they're willing to assume that you and they share a common interest, which is not How Totally Awesome They Are, OMG, Squee!

2. They both fulfill and subvert expectations. The members of Block B still must cater to fans (and expectations in Korea are actually pretty rigid in this regard). So when fans send them presents, they Tweet pictures and thanks.

They also post "selcas," which is short for self camera--a phrase that is utterly meaningless in English, but has been adopted by Koreans to mean a picture you take of yourself. Teen idols post flattering selcas all the time.

So, when Block B's Jaeyho goes for a hike, he posts a flattering selca. And then, because he's with Block B, he posts an unflattering selca. He and the other members do that all the time--they call them anti-idol pictures. Taeil gets a bad haircut? Selca. Here's an anti-idol photo of the whole group.

3. The primary goal is entertainment. If it's funny, it goes public. Jaeyho's brother is pissed because Jaeyho won't answer the phone? It's a Tweet.

Because of that, the feed is like a little treasure hunt: You never know what you'll find, and it's sometimes really funny, cool, or otherwise rewarding. It's intermittent reinforcement, which psychologists will tell you is even more motivating for people than the predictable kind of reinforcement, and which emotionally-abusive douchebags will tell you is also way less demanding of your energy and time.

Korean music and the digital marketplace

One of my top priorities during this last trip was to not become the main player in a tragic murder-suicide. To that end, I spent a lot of time with headphones on, listening to Korean music.

Why Korean music? Well, it's new to me, and it's interesting. I'm not talking about traditional Korean music, or even K-pop, but rather certain Korean rock and hip-hop artists. (I actually feel sort of weird about lumping these groups together, because they're quite different musically. The only real similarity, I think, is a willingness to cross genre lines in unexpected ways, which probably says more about what excites me than anything else.)

So, how does a non-Asian, non-Korean-speaking ajumma living in the U.S. find Korean music? The answer is, totally randomly! As I mentioned, I started looking into the music because I was trying to extend the experience of watching a show I liked. That got me to FT Island and CNBlue on YouTube. Then I was curious if Psy was actually any good, and the answer is, he sure as hell is. (Language warning on the first one--yes, Psy lived in Boston and cusses quite comfortably in English--but not on the last one, because what sounds like "nigga" is actually the Korean word "niga," which means "you are.") Then I went to Pandora's CNBlue channel, which played this song, and lo, I discovered Epik High. Then, operating on the theory that Korean bands that have had major scandals tend to produce more-interesting music, I found the hip-hop group Block B, featuring the rapper Zico. (Let's just say they were hoping to create Korea's own Eminem, and by their more-conservative standards, they totally succeeded!)

If this seems like a haphazard method of music discovery, I KNOW. (Of course, as a rule, you never know how people will find your stuff.) Poking around YouTube is just not efficient. The band's official channels tend to be dedicated to stuff like Christmas messages to (existing, Korean) fans. Pandora has been of surprisingly limited use: The Psy channel is novelty rap; FT Island didn't have a channel until just a few days ago; and Pandora has apparently decided that if you're on Epik High's channel, you're just weird, so they'll give you some folk rock. You know, to go with your hip-hop. I fully expect to hear Simon & Garfunkel on the Jay-Z channel now.

What's been helpful with FT Island and CNBlue has been their live concerts on YouTube. They are excellent. Of course, FT Island's concert wasn't even posted by them or their label. Instead, it was put up and given English subtitles by a fan. (Which is nice, because it turns out that Mae West has been reincarnated and is FT Island's lead singer now.) CNBlue at least posted its own 392 concert, but there are no English subtitles available--and they talk and talk and talk while the audience laughs and laughs and laughs.

Once you find songs you like, there's a whole 'nuther tangle: How do you buy them? CNBlue's 392 album is $50 on CD. Presumably the songs would be cheaper (and the band would actually make more money) if you got them on iTunes, but you can't--392 is not available on iTunes.

Other CNBlue songs are on iTunes, but you'd better spell that name right. Spell it "CN Blue" like some native English speaker, and only one album comes up. "CNBlue" gets you more, but not 392. Oh, wait, you really liked the 392 live concert? They're a great live band, aren't they? I actually like the live version of CNBlue's "Coffee Shop" much better than the studio version. Too bad, though. If you want the live performances, you have to shell out $50 for a concert DVD--and forget about those little live TV appearances.

(I will say that YG Entertainment, which is Psy and Epik High's label, seems to have it waaaay more together. Presumably the success of "Gagnam Style" woke them up a little. Although they still don't have any live versions for sale (which strikes me as abundantly foolish--you can sell the same song two or three times over! What's not to like?), and they don't have English translations for the titles of a lot of their songs, meaning that once you have the MP3s, it's hard to find the particular song you wanted to listen to.)

Where this gets incredibly frustrating is when it comes to Block B and Zico. The band is suing their label for what looks to be some pretty serious financial mismanagement, and Zico managed to offend the entire nation of Thailand. (But he has yet to be sued by his own mother or to threaten anyone with a gun. Work harder, Zico!) All that means his chances of finding another label or getting the acting roles and endorsements that seem to form a big chunk of many Korean musicians' earnings are pretty slim.

So what's he been doing? Putting out a TON of music, that's what! He's put out his own mixtape (Zico on the Block 1.5) and produced one for P.O., who is another rapper in the group. Of course, he's giving it all away. Yeah. And it's not the first time--the original Zico on the Block came out a couple of years ago, and those songs were given away, too.

Do you know what happens when you give music away? No one has a financial interest in carrying it, so becomes very hard to find. And when you do find it (I really had to have this song), it's at some really dodgy download sites--I ran anti-virus software on everything, but you know, if I'm going to contract a virus from a problem-child musician half my age, I'd like to at least have a good story to go along with it. I would rather pay iTunes 99 cents or $1.29 than deal with dodgy downloads. Plus, I'm lazy enough that if Zico's music was on iTunes, I'd never even think to try to find it for free.

Obviously, I don't know all the details--maybe the contract he's suing over prevents Zico from actually selling music, or maybe iTunes is not free or easy to use for musicians living in Korea. There are legal issues surrounding selling mixtapes, of course, but I would think that that sort of thing could be worked around, since it's basically a matter of getting permissions. And I feel like if you're the kind of musician who wants to focus on making music rather than looking pretty, you need to take a serious look at how to monetize the music you make. I realize that Korea is not the United States, but look at Owl City--that was literally some guy sitting in his parents' basement uploading music to the Internet until he hit it big.

That's exactly what I look like when I write!

The eagle has landed, more or less in one piece, and although I am still out of state, I now have access to the Internet.

Which means I went poking around again looking at Korean entertainment--music, this time, because I found a couple of bands that I like. (It turns out that both Shin Woo and Jeremy from the imaginary boy band in You're Beautiful are musicians in real life--and they're both actually quite good, which I was REALLY not expecting.)

Since I am incapable of not turning everything into a research project, I wound up looking up English translations to some of the song lyrics, which lead me to these extremely realistic depictions of the song-writing process of the band CNBlue. As you can see in that first photo, they all hang around in ONE ENORMOUS BED as the Muses speak to Jung Yong Hwa (aka Shin Woo), who has never heard of the importance of removing your makeup before you hit the sack. WITH YOUR BANDMATES. Not to suggest that I'm not entirely dedicated my craft, but if that were me lying there, I certainly wouldn't be writing.

How much does it amuse me that Yong Hwa's life is even more ridiculous than Shin Woo's? It amuses me a whole lot.

But this kind of author porn always cracks me up. I mean, writing is just not a really glamorous undertaking--the main risks are the health problems caused by being sedentary and not having a ergonomically-sound workspace.

People keep trying, though. When I worked for an educational publisher, we did a biography of Muhammad Ali that featured as its sizeable frontispiece a photo of a young, shirtless Cassius Clay lying on his side, pencil (of course!) in mouth (of course!) as he penned his next insulting poem about, I dunno, Joe Fraiser or someone. Of course, I can't find it now, but turn this picture sideways, put a pencil in his mouth, and have him look up and to the side just like Yong Hwa does in that second photo, and you've got the general idea.

I mean, I realize they're writing songs and short poems, but how productive can you be lying down, with no shirt on and/or several bandmates in bed with you? Why gaze up and to the side when your paper is right down in front of you? And what's with the pencil and paper? Computers exist for a reason. If you really prefer the look of writing over, you know, actual writing, just go all the way with the quill and the blotter like Will Wheaton at the 5:30 mark here,

Random linkage

Jaye Manus has a good post on how many conventions about books--even the prevalence of the novel--are the result of the economics of the old traditional-publishing industry. Take away things like the cost of producing a physical book and the limits of shelf space, and the possible formats really open up.

And this is a fascinating article from a few months ago in The New Yorker about K-pop (a.k.a. Korean pop music). While obviously performing songs is different from writing books, I do see similarities (the article exists, after all, because digitization has made it possible for an American writer to become mildly obsessed with a K-pop girls' group). The author writes:

When an entertainment industry is young, the owners tend to have all the power. In the early days of the movie business, Hollywood studios locked up the talent in long-term contracts. In the record business, making millions off artists, many of whom ended up broke, used to be standard business practice.

Of course, traditional publishing is hardly a young industry, but I would argue that owners tend to have the power when an industry is young because they're the ones who have figured out how to work the system and sell stuff. If they can shut out artists, then the same thing happens--if the only way to sell books is to get into a bookstore, and the only way to get into a bookstore is through a traditional publisher, that gives the publisher all the power.

Anyway, the punch line for the article is that, despite all the effort to sell squeaky-clean, highly-polished K-pop internationally, the first big breakout song was Psy's "Gagnam Style." Oops. Yeah, you never do know what's going to be a hit.

How Audiobooks Work

Things have been a little chaotic here--hopefully by Wednesday everything will have settled and I'll be able to write. Anyway, I did manage to read David Byrne's How Music Works, which was interesting to me on a lot of levels.

He has an entire chapter on the many different ways to distribute music nowadays (he uses examples from his own career, breaking out expenses and revenues--he's a very open guy). That section was of special interest because while I don't mind giving Trang away as a free podcast, I'd also like to have an audiobook that people can buy if they want, plus if I record the later titles I would want to do them as paid audiobooks and not as free podcasts.

A lot of the places he was talking about just do music, because the only way onto Amazon or iTunes if you are an audiobook is via Audible, and that means going through ACX. The issue with that is that they have pretty specific production requirements--I don't know if they are impossibly specific, though, mainly because I don't know what's involved in mastering. You also have no control over price.

The other option (actually, it looks like you can do both) is Bandcamp, which is a straightforward retail arrangement--no distribution included. They charge a percentage of your sales, but other than that it's free. You can set your price there however you want, which is nice.

Serendipitously, Erin Dolan of Unclutterer, a site I often read, has produced her own audiobook. In her case, she just put an E-Junkie shopping cart onto her Web site--a click on the link takes you right to PayPal.

That looks interesting, doesn't it? For $5 a month I could sell every e-book format plus the audiobooks directly from this Web site. Well, that's going into the Must Investigate in the Future pile.

Working with other kinds of artists

So, like I said, the panel I went to today (after finding the Magical Land of Free Parking--I'm telling you, a lot of good things happened today, but that was the highlight) was really interesting. The panel was: David Brin, Jennifer Brozek, Miss Amber Clark, Michael Ehart, and Dara Korra'ti. All of them cross art boundaries on a regular basis: Either they collaborate regularly, or they do more than one form of art themselves, or their actual job is to get people from different fields to work together.

They all agreed that one of the main problems is that people from different disciplines use different jargon, so that even when you're trying really hard to explain to people what exactly you want in words, you're going to fail. In fact, it can lead to what Brozek called "violently agreeing"--i.e. you both actually want the same thing, but you don't realize it because you're using different terms.

The answer: DRAW. Even Brin draws! "If you can't go ahead and show it, it will be misinterpreted," said Korra'ti.

Clark noted that another area for communication difficulties is when people have a large problem with the work (the overall tone or whatever) and instead of saying that, they name particular details they don't like. So Clark goes and fixes those little details, but it doesn't take care of the larger problem, so they go through round after round of little fixes until finally she figures out what the person actually wants. So, you know, if you just don't like the whole thing, be up front about that and save everyone a lot of time!

(I'll toss in some observations of my own: Publishing in particular seems to attract a lot of hedgehogs, so sometimes you had artists who basically did not read working with editors who had nothing but contempt for anyone didn't spend their spare time leafing through Finnegan's Wake. It was a bad mix--the editors didn't understand that, no, the artists probably hadn't read their deathless prose, and when they found that out the reaction was often quite insulting. So I would keep in mind that there are different kinds of intelligences in the world, that you can't expect everyone to think exactly the same way you do, and that just because someone doesn't have the same proficiencies as you do doesn't mean that they don't have equally good if not better proficiencies of their own.

Another problem was the assumption by some writer/editor types that the only reason visual artists ever do anything is to be cool and pretentious. I even knew people who assumed the overhead lights were always off in the art room because the artists were trying to be cool and pretty much having a party while on the clock. (It's because working that way is a lot easier on the eyes, hello.) They usually do have reasons to do what they do, and if you're willing to talk to them respectfully, they'll even tell you!

Yet another source of conflict was that writers and editors of prose tend to be somewhat more linear and organized thinkers--it helps their art to keep track of storylines and maintain continuity and all that. Visual artists tend to be less linear and more intuitive and kind of random, which helps their art--if you look at something like this, there is stuff from all over the place, but it all makes a kind of sense. If you are a more-linear thinker, dealing with someone who is less-linear can be disconcerting: They're running all over the place, their office is a pigsty, they keep changing the topic of conversation, it's utter chaos!! And I sometimes see the writer/editor types trying to rein the artist types in as though they were rambunctious children. Really, as long as deadlines are being met, let it slide. It's OK, and it's part of their process--if you really try to quash that, you'll make it so they can't do their job.)

Korra'ti is a musician (among other things) and noted that the digital revolution hit musicians first and "writers are next in queue." Some similarities: Nowadays literally anybody can release a song, and the challenge for listeners is to find something they like. How that filtering works in music nowadays is by having, say, fellow very secret member of the Illuminati Jay-Z work with you on your song--no more Prince making his name by doing one-man albums!

Korra'ti is also doing something very cool: She's working on what she calls a soundtrack for a book that combines reading of its highlights with songs. This idea really appeals to me--you could actually create something from the ground up that integrates song and story. Basically a musical in audiobook form!