Monday, June 18, 2012

Emily White vs. David Lowery - Today is Today


I saw two interesting blogs today.  One was by a woman named Emily White, an intern at National Public Radio, outlining an accurate portrait of today's music consumption among a younger demographic - namely, not paying a dime for it.

The second was a lengthy reply by a professor from the University of Georgia named David Lowery stating the case that they should, in fact, pay many, many dimes.

I encourage you to read both posts, and arrive at your own conclusions.  

Here's what I've got.

David says:  Musicians on average make 35 grand a year without benefits.  

Emily says:  I've only bought 15 CDs in my life.  

David makes the case: that if musicians actually got paid for their tunes, this would be better.  

Emily says:  Nobody is ever going to do that.  

I agree with David's numbers.  They paint an accurate, if grim, picture.  Album sales are down, artists are starving, and things are not looking good.  It's darn hard to make a buck in the industry.

Emily wins the argument hands down, however.  David's numbers prove her right.  People generally don't buy stuff when they can get it for free - as much.  If they didn't at all, iTunes would collapse tomorrow.  So people still pay - they just pay a lot less.  I don't buy music, either, and I'm a musician!

What strikes me is this:  Emily is stating how things are, David is stating how things were.  It's very understandable, especially when there's data to back it up.  However, upon closer inspection, they're really comparing apples and oranges.

The debate is framed as a moral one.  However, the train has left the station, and it won't be coming back.  It should be instead - what the heck are we going to do to survive?

Sure, it would be great to have a musician's utopia where artists are paid based on merit, and if people actually paid their dues.  

Will a girl please get me a sandwich?

Oh wait, back to reality.  The business model doesn't apply any more.  If musicians are making 35k a year on average - doubling album sales (with the simplistic math of it doubling our income) only puts us at 70k.  Now, I'd love to be making a cool 70 g's by playing my guitar, but here's the thing - I think we can do better.  I don't know about you, but if I have to convince the human race of fairness, not only do I want to be paid a heck of a lot more, but I'd rather end war or solve hunger first.  Maybe we should stop looking so closely at what the numbers are, and start envisioning what they could be with a good bit of self and industry re-invention.

Perhaps us musicians live in an entitlement culture.  Every time I turn around I hear someone wishing they got paid for what they were worth.  "Oh, nobody appreciates the arts."  Actually, all you hipsters who say this - my grandmother has been saying this for as long as I can remember.  Famous painters have had to burn their paintings to keep warm.  This isn't a new blight on our artistic society.  This isn't a problem that sailed into Pirate Bay.  And this isn't a problem that the tech world seems to have.  

Perhaps we should concentrate on service, and bringing the coolest thing ever to town.  
Maybe an album is the just the beginning of a participatory experience that immerses the fan in a new world. (Trans-Siberian Orchestra magic, anyone?)  If reality TV can thrive, why shouldn't we be able to?  There's photos, there's YouTube, there's blogs, there's fan remixes, there's international concerts over video chats (Daria, anyone?), there's weird music videos (OK Go), and so much!  

I was thinking about this blog on my drive home today.  I saw a guy in front of me bobbing and dancing in his car so much, that the whole vehicle was moving.  If we can gain access to people's minds and nervous systems, I think we can monetize it with very little trouble.  

The point is - If musicians have only $35,000 a year to aspire to when people are moving thousand-pound chunks of metal because they want to, there is a disconnect, something is wrong, something is broken, and it's up to us to fix it.  I'll venture to say that we can make more money while moving more people with a reinvented industry.

Maybe it's power.  
Don Corelone, granting a favor to kill two guys (who really had it coming) to an angry father, tells the man "Someday, and that day may never come, I'll call upon you to do a service for me.  But until that day - accept this justice as a gift."  Ol' pops didn't worry about a fee, but his power and influence grew even more that day.  That's intriguing, and some darn good networking.  As music seems to shift from a revenue-based model (pay for music) to a traffic-based model (hits and views), how can we apply the lessons of the Don and the usefulness of power?  I could see an old school musician in that room:  "OK, we'll take care of one guy for $10, and we'll throw in a T-shirt and the second for $25."  Somehow, I think the Family would have been far less effective.  

In closing:  

I am very, very excited at the possibilities of the challenges that are staring us in the face.  Yes, they're grim, yes, things look bleak - but you know what - an empty canvas could be described as bleak, too!

I'd like to thank both Emily for pointing out how things are, and David for verifying it.  I think with all of the talent, creativity, and hard workers in this field - we'll be able to build an even better future than we had imagined.  I look forward to working with both of your viewpoints.  By the way, I'd like to take both you out to coffee in DC.  My treat.  We will, however, be paying for the drinks, regardless of what I think about business models.

Rock on!
- Josh


Tuesday, June 12, 2012



  TODAY is a  very exciting day, and that is not just because I've downed a Mountain Dew and an oatmeal creme cookie before lunch.  Man, I don't feel so good.  No, it's exciting because...The new music video is out!

I've assembled quite the special forces of promotion - the "social media spetznaz", as I call 'em.  (Interestingly, I think I spell that word, meaning Russian special ops, differently each time.  It was either Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson who said "I have nothing by pity for the man who only knows one way to spell a word" or something like that.)  These folks are posting the video on Facebook and Twitter, and sharing it with their friends.  Comrades, I salute you!  This Revolution sure is fun, and I get to "fight" alongside some great folks!

  Hey, I urge you to join in!  Share the link on your page, tweet it (join in the fun using the #Trollboy hashtag), blog about it, send it to your crazy Uncle, whatever!

Now, here's some inside scoop about the song, the vid, and the idea.

 I'm usually high strung, but have spent the last year especially freaked out.  I was talking to my mom one day, and I was fretting about something.  (Ha, guitar player pun!)  She said "Josh, I think everyone is freaking out.  If those guys we just saw would stop drinking for a second, they'd see they're in the same boat as you."

  I'd been struggling with songwriting, but that just seemed to click.  The song Desperate Situation emerged slowly, through much distracted pacing, ADD checking Facebook, face scrunching, and guitar jamming.  But  it was written, recorded, and then it was time for the video shoot.

  Have you ever thought about writing a music video?  It's trickier than it seems!   The idea was finally reached, and shooting took place on Easter Sunday:  My subconscious mind/fears/life splits off from me, calls me on my phone, and unsettles me at first, as I'm walking along.  I've been called "Trollboy" by family and friends before (for obvious reasons.)  This was the theme for that subconscious/fear/life person to be represented by a troll.  I took an old shirt, glued leaves and sticks all over it, put mud on my face (freaked out a neighborhood kid during the filming as I was digging in the leaves.  She was like "man, what the heck is going on!"  (didn't say anything, but must have been thinking it)) , and ran around crazy like as I called my "real self" on the phone.  A brief note about the mud:  I said to Noah "I'd like to put mud on my face."  "Where you gonna get mud?"  "I don't know, there's got to be some around here!"  "Why don't you dig down through the leaves, troll-like, and find some?  We'll camera it!"  "Ooo, great idea!"

 My brother Zakk was the body double wearing the other colored Chuck Taylors (the Troll wears black chucks, the Josh wears pink chucks.)

  In the second verse, my "real self" decided to call the Troll back and talk at him.  

My brothers were filming the video for me.  Noah was walking backwards with the camera, encouraging me to really get into the acting.  The idea took hold, and I started running - forwards.  Surprisingly, he was able to run backwards, keep his footing, and get the shot.  Look for it in the second verse.

There's an old pumphouse down the road from my house.  I had found it on a walk, and figured it would be a great location for the bridge.  Chucks don't really stop nails, but good thing I wasn't stomping around then, and felt the rusty spike before I stepped completely on it.  I spent the rest of that shoot gingerly stepping around while trying to look like I'm rocking out.  Noah really went to town with his artistic camera work, and I think it came out way cool!

  At the last part, the Troll runs out of the woods, chasing Josh up the hill.  I've always been accused of having a silly run, and seeing the footage, man, I say..."guilty as charged!"  Zakk portrayed Josh, I was the Troll, and poor Noah had to zip along running sideways like the biggest crab you've ever seen to get the shot.  It was hard at first, and then I said "OK, now let's try it running."  Everyone was like "whaaaaat?  I'm out of breath already!"  

  Josh continues to run up the hill, looking over his shoulder, and then the camera goes black.  We all are in a desperate situation, after all.  But, like the song says, we've gotta "See where we are to see where we wanna go."  and "We've got to do something!"

  It was great fun, and a rockin' way to spend Easter!  I'm lucky to have such a creative, talented, and supportive family, and all of you to share it with!  I hope you enjoy it, and I'd like to sincerely say - Thank you!  

Now, go do something with your life to make sure that troll stays far behind.  Better yet, call him up and talk to him.  And don't forget to tweet the vid.  #Trollboy

- Josh  

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Operation Northwind


  HOLY SMOKES!  3 gigs in 24 hours!  That's a fun weekend, let me tell you.  OK, so I was halfway through a lame blog saying "well, I had some water to drink", and I'm like DUDE this is LAME.  

So, here's the report of the crazy Revolutionary weekend.  Too bad for y'all - I just saw the final installation of the Bourne trilogy.  It's the same info, international action movie inspired!

Beep beep beep beep Friday, La Plata, Maryland, Panera Bakery, in the blazing sun

"Comrade Ben, how are you, sir?  How's college?"

"I'm good.  Growing the hair out, I see!"

"Yep, I guess we're swapping styles!"

Guitar strings were procured, Ben's songs were listened to and given the highly deserved praise - they rock!

Beep beep beep beep 3 Hours later, Ebenezer's Coffeehouse, Washington DC, USA, 2 blocks from Union Station  

There's me.  There's a young Adele.  There's a young Taylor Swift.  There's...there's...Florence?  Hard to say, so you should just check out the host of the showcase I played at:  She'll make you sit down and say "holy smokes!"  Actually, all of 'em would.  Their names were Orla, Camille, and Margot.  I was representing the fellas, they were representing the ladies, emotion, love, life, and giving voice to the soul.  With all due respect to myself, a laundromat was mentioned.  The evening was an honor.  It was also worldwide on Google +.  THANKS, Rob, for your guidance with the audio!  (There was a bit of an issue.)  THANKS, Kevin, so the in-person house sound was rockin'!

Beep beep beep beep 3 Hours Later, somewhere between Washington, DC, and Indian Head, Maryland, USA

They played "Radar Love" on the radio.

Beep beep beep beep Way too early, Saturday Morning, Indian Head, Maryland, USA

The alarm clock went off.

Beep beep beep beep 9:00 AM, Accokeek, MD, USA  

String cheese, a gallon of water, and a single banana were procured.  The cashier was told that I didn't rip it off the bunch.  I wasn't lying.

Beep beep beep beep  10:00 AM, I-270 North, Maryland, USA  

They played Radar Love on the radio.  Again.

Beep beep beep beep 11:00 AM, 2 hours north, outskirts of Frederick, MD, USA

A threatening photo appears on Instagram.  It shows an idyllic field and a distant city with the warning "Watch out, Frederick.  Revolution time!"

Beep beep beep beep  11:30 AM, dusty parking lot, Fairgrounds, Gate B, Frederick MD, USA

Revolution time, indeed.  Steve and Josh's old west guitar show, from the looks of the funky platform and tarp tent rig at the Great Frederick Maryland Flea market.  It was fun, the lot was overthrown, CD's were sold, hands were shaken, stories were told.  Josh's German side kicks in, worrying that the next gig fifteen miles away and two hours later might not be able to happen on account of the distance.  Steve's logical side kicks in, assuring Josh he's out to lunch.

Josh accidentally sets off car alarm.  Steve says from the stage "Josh Urban, ladies and gents!"

A photo appears on Instagram:

Speaking of lunch, Josh realizes that string cheese, a banana, and water just aren't cutting it.

Beep beep beep beep  2:30 PM, headed northwest towards Brunswick, MD, USA  

Josh's GPS refuses to shut up, perfectly emulating it's owner.  It interrupts the communication "Steve, I'm stopping to get a sub."

Beep beep beep beep 2:50 PM, Highway sign on Rt. 340 West appears for venue  

A Revolution first.

Beep beep beep beep  3:00 pm, gas station complex five miles outside of Brunswick, MD, USA 

A tweet appears from @dontjoshme:  "If I hear banjos, I'm running."

Beep beep beep beep  Ten billion hours later, after every good ol' boy has his order

"Sir, what order number are you waiting for?"


"Uhhh...I think someone took your sub."

Josh 0, Rednecks 1...or...

Estimated number of residents of surrounding areas who are vegetarian, and who like pesto along with swiss cheese:



Beep beep beep beep 3:30 pm, Beans In The Belfry, Brunswick, Maryland, USA  

"WOW!  What a cool old church turned into a coffee shop!"

Beep beep beep beep 4:00 pm - Operation Wired commences

Josh gets cup of coffee while Steve's onstage.  Pounds it, decides he needs more.  Gets half a shot of espresso.  Feels much better.  Or...FEELSMUCHBETTERHAHAHAHA!

Beep beep beep beep  5:00 pm  

A fierce jam on Stormy Monday happens, which was not part of the plan, but from now on, will be.

Beep beep beep beep  5:45 pm, load out finished, downtown Brunswick, MD, USA

"Hey man, I'm going to watch some trains.  They always get by me, but I'm gonna catch one on camera this time!"

"OK, I'll come along."

Josh and Steve head down to the tracks.

Beep beep beep beep  6:00 pm, rail yard, Brunswick, MD, USA  

(Train whistle)  "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  I'm gonna get it!"

"Run, Josh, run!"

Coffee does wonders for the sprints, but probably not for PR for the quiet townsfolk.  Maybe the yellow nikes had something to do with it.  But even though the cops were hovering, nobody bothered us.

Beep beep beep beep  6:30 pm, rail yard, Brunswick, MD, USA

"Wait, wait, did you hear that?"

"hear what?"


Random railfan:  "I think it's over there."

"I don't see it."

Josh runs off to other side of parking lot.

Runs back.

Runs to other side.

"Was it just a truck?"

"No, see that smoke?  It's on the other side."

Runs back.

Sees it.




Gets it.

"I'm still waiting for that train to come by on the other track.  It's been a green light for an hour!  I know it's gonna show up as soon as I leave!"

Beep beep beep beep  7:15 pm, Rail Yard, Brunswick, MD, USA  

(thinking)  "Guess I should go before that cop tells me to."

Walks up the street.

(thinking)  "WHAT WAS THAT?"

Runs back.


Walks up street.

(thinking)  "WHAT WAS THAT?"


Walks up street.

(thinking)  "WHAT WAS THAT?"

Nothing.  I hate flowmasters and loud cars.  Unless they're mine.

Beep beep beep beep  7:20 pm, sub-stealing gas station complex, middle of nowhere, outskirts of Brunswick, MD, USA

Is it always this crowded?  I'd better leave before I get hurt.

Beep beep beep beep  8:15, en route to Accokeek, MD, USA  

They played Radar Love on the radio.  AGAIN.

Mission complete.  

Thank you, Maryland!  And DC!  And Austin!  And the UK!  And PA!  And Everywhere!

- Josh 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


  I just got back from overthrowing Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, USA.  Assisting me were 220 high school sophomores and 90 adult volunteers.  Sure, sure, they weren't officially there to help with the Revolution, but there was much distributing of stickers, talk of Siberia, and rock 'n roll.  They were under the banner of HOBY, or Hugh O'Brian Youth leadership, a four day conference designed to teach leadership skills and critical thinking.  Thinking sure was critical, but difficult, seeing as most people including myself only got about 12 hours of sleep the whole time.

  I had such an incredible time, and learned some way cool lessons.  I was technically the facilitator for a group of nine sophomores, but I was more of a student than any of them.  Check it.

1. You shouldn't cry during an emotional program.  It's bad for group morale, especially when sitting next to a 16 year old girl.  Tears, apparently, are contagious.  Much apologies, m'am!

2.  I heard a quote the other day from some ancient Greek dude.  Just because you can't do something doesn't mean it's impossible.  There I was, surrounded by the raw power of idealism and youth, and I was going "blah blah blah", speaking from the bitterness of defeats I had endured.  (OK, at 26, there haven't been that many battles lost, but still...)  Thankfully, I snapped out of it, and realized that I was sitting in the midst of the new wave.  And just because there was another wave, didn't mean that mine was finished.  You know how us insufferable grown ups say "youth is the future", and somehow make it sound like a pathetic excuse for our failure, somehow allowing us to sit idly by while the world burns?  I'd like to say the same thing, and add I'm proud to have you join my fight to save the world.  

Shoulder to shoulder we shall battle on.  Comrades, I salute you.  Let's do this.

3.  Learning goes both ways.  I realized that I had been looking at the program as me doing the instructing, guiding, and inspiring.  Wrong.  Here's just one example.  While I was in a meeting, my group snuck up to my dorm room, and, having purchased these index cards called HOBY hugs (PAID FOR by one of the 16 year olds), covered the door in the most incredibly kind, funny, thoughtful messages.  I stumbled back to my room after two in the morning, and had my mind blown by this.  I was so touched and inspired by the kindness and thoughtfulness shown.  Lesson for me:  Everyone's a teacher, everyone's an inspiration, and every single thing we do affects each other, no matter who we are, what age we are, or what station in life we currently hold.  

In that spirit, I'm starting a new bit in my guitar lessons.  Students have the option of giving me a two minute lesson.  I tried it today with great success - the client loved it, gained something, and I learned something.  We're all in this together, after all.

Thank you, everyone.  Thank you.

4.  Man, life sure can be fun.  I wrote a little tune for the good folks back at the conference.


Thank you, Emmitsburg!  You've been a great crowd!

- Josh