The last time I was here, I was being constantly interrupted by the kids who were hanging out in the same living room I was trying to write in. Naturally, I was really keeping an eye on them more than I was writing, so this time feels a bit special because I don’t have much that could take me away from writing at the moment. This is good because there’s a lot I want to talk about.
I am preparing a pretty cool year-end update for TantrumNiche.com and JohnMaxfield.net; and I am excited to say that the updates extend outside of my two websites and include updates to nearly abandoned third party sites like Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud… even MySpace, iTunes, and Spotify. Why has it taken me so long to get everything looking and sounding up to date and in tip top shape? Well, there are a few reasons I can give you, though I hope those reasons do not register as excuses. I’m not apologizing for what’s up there, not up there, or about to be up there- though it may interest you to know that to date, pretty much everything I’ve ever done is available for free on my websites somewhere.
Since I have my own sites, I can upload audio, video, photos and blog posts such as this- in the written word, without anybody worrying about approval or some sort of violation. As it is, the only people I have to answer to are my third party web hosting folks at DreamHost, who only complain when traffic is insanely high and I’m using too much of my unlimited storage space. This creates bandwidth problems for them, because they started me out on a server that was designed to handle up to 100 people downloading at the same time. That was actually good enough for the first two years or so. Then they had to bump me up to something that could handle 1,000 simultaneous downloads… then 10,000, and then 100,000.
It’s not that I don’t like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, SoundCloud, and all the other applicable social media sites. There’s even a few music-related social networks, like ReverbNation and SonicBids, which I have not been active on in quite a while, though I do have profiles registered. Ditto that for ThumbTack, which was a pretty good way to pick up students for private lessons when I was living in Kansas a few years ago. There were a few artists that came through and had me engineer some recording sessions for them as well, though for the most part- these sites and services feel like a tremendous waste of time. Using the websites and their related apps feels wasteful, updating them seems pointless, and mostly because the activity on my own servers is so much more significant in terms of plain numbers, and I’m not ever in trouble for what I put up on my own sites, minus how many people might simultaneously be accessing it. SoundCloud, for instance, has informed me that I uploaded a song by John M. Maxfield who is registered to ASCAP and owns the copyright on the song.
I have repeatedly had to contact them and let them know I am sick of algorithms not understanding that I am, in fact, John M. Maxfield from ASCAP and Tantrum Niche Records. The buck stops here. Every time, they have to do some kind of investigation where a computer system flags me and waits for a live person to make sure that I am who I say I am and I own the rights to my own song and all that good stuff that does not apply when I simply upload an MP3 or WAV or whatever to my site, and there it is. I can put the link to it anywhere on social media, without having to worry about Facebook or some such entity thinking that they own it because of some End User License Agreement I didn’t read. On my own site, every day, I can and do view reports on my network traffic, and I can see what people are downloading, in what kind of quantity they are downloading, and where they are in the world. Logistics from other sites seem either far less detailed, inaccurate, or both.
With YouTube, I mostly want to put up songs and albums- maybe an occasional music video such as “Smile.” As much as I enjoy watching other people doing on-camera chit chat (more listening to them than watching them) I don’t like the results of experimentation with doing similar stuff. I thought about doing the year-end video with recommended books, records, and video games- and though I still plan to make those recommendations- I’ll probably stretch it out over the course of a week or so as Twitter updates and one compilation of the recommendations on this blog in a future post. The whole production, however, of me sitting or standing in front of a camera and talking to it just doesn’t look good to me, even when a lot of time is put into editing it all to a fine polish. If I am NOT on camera, and you just hear my voice… guess what; I don’t like that either. It’s odd, because I don’t mind doing radio shows- though I can’t do them on the internet legally- I have to do them at an actual station that has paid licensing fees to use the music I am playing. Despite all of the constant so-called piracy of all music that is taking place right now to the tune of 140,000,000 terabytes per minute (if not much more), it is likely that I would get into big trouble and fast if I streamed my radio show as an internet pirate.
EVEN IF the whole thing is designed to be educational and promotional, the musicians registered with performing rights organizations such as ASCAP (America’s PRO; I am a member) and BMI (friends and label mates use the British version of pretty much the same PRO) register with said organizations on the premise that they will collect their broadcasting royalties. The PROs are set up to make sure that no unpaid plays take place on FM, AM, or XM radio. I use a whole other company for anything internet related, and I have been so disgruntled with ASCAP that I won’t say much more about them than if you are a musician, chances are you will (and should) register with ASCAP, and they may or may not send you a check for up to $12 every year or two for the couple of spins you got on a college station somewhere.
Alright, since you read this far, so I’ll divulge one more thing about ASCAP that might sound like beef. My first album came out in 2002, followed by the sophomore record in 2003, then another in 2004, and a double album in 2005, which I followed up with another LP in 2006, another in 2007. All of these records were registered repeatedly with ASCAP, because every time they changed their database, my records disappeared and I had to re-enter all of the information. During the time that my data was missing from the database, I was getting more radio play than ever previously or since in my career. I’ve been on the phone with representatives in New York, and surprise! They don’t care about anyone who isn’t on the Billboard Hot 100 chart somewhere in the top (at least) 40. How in the world can my song climb that chart when the data for it isn’t being reported? How come there is no way to audit the plays during the blackout period and get whatever peanuts to them is due to me?
I digress. I like ASCAP the way I like the USA; it’s a good idea that hasn’t fully been realized at peak potential. Without getting too deep into politics, I’m writing this on 10/1/2018; and goodness gracious is this country worked up about so much. The good news is they are trying to fix a lot of things that are very broken, and have been for an embarrassingly long time. The bad news is, they aren’t going to fix hardly any of it any time soon. There are people who thrive on the brokenness. They operate in secrecy and enjoy the exclusivity and control granted to their capable, puppeteers’ hands. I have no strings tied around my limbs, so they don’t have much use for me. A lot of what I don’t like about organizations like ASCAP, The Grammys, The Oscars, American Idol, and reality television is how bogus it all is. We don’t really get a vote for any of that stuff that actually counts.
FOR INSTANCE… How many times have you seen the “Best Picture” or “Album of the Year” award go to some work that made no lasting cultural impact or valuable change within the respective art forms? Usually- it’s a movie I didn’t like or even care to watch all of, and an album I wouldn’t even give a second or third listen to. I don’t remember them ever really getting it right. I swore off of The Grammys and the Academy Awards around about 1994 when I was about eleven or twelve years old. Why? Beck’s tremendous “Odelay” album lost to some Celine Dion record that might appeal to Clive Davis-types of taste. Award shows like those set me up for election results I’d see in my 20s and 30s. I would wonder about politicians the same thoughts I had regarding so-called musicians who are, in large part, posers. “Pulp Fiction” didn’t win best picture, either- it lost to “Forrest Gump.” Honestly, that was it for me. Any interest I had in award shows died in 1994.
There’s a lot of fuss this year about the Oscars, too- what with the #OSCARSSOWHITE hashtag and the controversial addition and subtraction of the “Most Popular Film” category- and some other nonsensical stuff that they tried to do to give “Black Panther” some sort of honorable mention without actually giving it Best Picture. I heard “Black Panther” is a good movie, but I haven’t seen it yet because I cannot stand comic book movies right now. I can’t even stand “Star Wars” at the moment, which is why I haven’t watched “Solo: a Star Wars Story” yet either. No matter how good those movies may or may not be; I am over-saturated on the franchises to the point where I cannot even feign interest.
Some people really liked “Rogue One,” but I found it pointless, boring, and don’t remember too much of it. Maybe it’s a really good movie; though even by the time it was released, my brain wouldn’t allow me to get interested in anything “Star Wars” related. To me, from what I’ve seen of “Rogue One,” it just seemed like a stock “Star Wars” script that was thrown together to make some money off of the franchise’s massive popularity as of the last decade or so.
Before I sound like I am complaining about “Star Wars” too much, I should mention here that my oldest son’s name is Anakin. I love my Anakin, and I once loved watching the original three “Star Wars” movies, though I hated the first one the first and halfway through the second time I watched it. It grew on me after I saw “The Empire Strikes Back,” which made me NEED to see “Return of the Jedi,” which made me appreciate the original three films as a series. Luckily for me, this was before the whole “Star Wars” thing broke out of its 80s and 90s niche fans into something so mainstream we’re practically drowning in it, I had a friend named Tim who managed to fit the whole trilogy onto one bootleg VHS tape, recorded at SLP (super-long-playing, a capacity of six hours.) And that, children, is how we used to binge watch flicks in the 80s and 90s. You knew a guy who made a mixtape for you. Sometimes he didn’t even make it for you, he made it for himself and he’d let you borrow it to, perhaps, dub onto a blank tape you had laying around somewhere, or a tape filled with something you didn’t mind taping over… but that’s all ancient history. It’s just fun to get nostalgic sometimes when you can remember things like “Star Wars” fans seeming like a semi-secret society of devotees; akin to the few souls I’ve known in my life who are “Dungeons and Dragons” enthusiasts. It’s plenty cool or at least okay to like “Star Wars” now, though twenty years ago- it was just as dorky (kind of ironically) as it still is to like “Star Trek,” which I do. [Or did; who knows what I would think of “The Next Generation” or the films from that era if I saw them now. Perhaps my exhaustion with “Star Wars” has rendered me incapable of enjoying any movie set in space.
What I’m finally getting at, if I can force a point of some sort into all this drivel, is that none of that cool-kids-table stuff matters to me, and I haven’t even bothered to aspire to that stuff in so long. Maybe you’ve read up to here and thought I shot myself in the foot with the major leagues, and I’ll never win an Oscar or a Grammy. Perhaps I offended someone, which is too easy to do these days, and now a grudge must be held onto like the very pride of the schmuck who is holding the grudge for reasons they don’t even halfway understand. Even when a sham can be a really fun, high profile sort of event- I have no interest in being any part of any such sham. I see too much focus on commerce and none at all on artistry. Sex appeal, not talent- because sex sells and talent is apparently of little use when you’re forced to compete with the sexy, popular people. I just don’t bother with them, though I don’t mind when they occasionally notice me. I don’t aspire to be in with those people, especially if they make it clear that I already have their respect.
One example from high school: one particular day, there was this really cute girl named Brittany that I’d known since third grade… that was really when I knew her. She was someone to team up with when we got into groups- always a good contributor. Years later as a high school gal, she was sitting, as always, at a table full of gorgeous young women that I can’t even do any justice in describing for all their brains and beauty. They were all beyond beautiful and every single one of them had stellar grades. They all had unique, smile inducing laughs- and the more of them that laughed together, the sweeter the sound. Being close enough to hear whatever they were laughing at might spoil it. Perhaps they were laughing at me, though I wouldn’t have minded for the sound of it. Brittany and her friend Jene’ came up to the table I always sat at with my one friend from back then (who would be the class valedictorian) and just sat with us for a little bit.
This happened a handful of times. Sometimes she’d bring Jene’ or another girl or two. Usually, they’d just ask us questions, we’d answer them with some wise-crack remark, and we’d get big laughs out of them. It felt incredibly good to surprise pretty girls with wit they didn’t suspect you to have. It was intoxicating to create even the slightest attraction and get a little hit of confidence. That was pretty much it though- it happened a handful of times that Brittany and maybe some other girls would check in on me and my friend, and it was cool when it happened, though most of the time it didn’t happen- and we never even hoped Brittany and others from the table of young feminine divinity would bother us while we were discussing lots of things that bored most people and held our interests tightly.
I’ll give you one example: I was suddenly into David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Frank Zappa, and Tom Waits (among others) and the records they all made before I was born that I was just now hearing. Some of the records I remember vaguely from the car radio being a toddler- though my friend and I were both often recently blown away by something like “Aladdin Sane,” and we’d discuss it at length, though why in the hell would anyone else in our high school have any interest in some old Bowie record? Most of them were into the country music of the day, which I can summarize accurately as “Shania Twain and All That,” and/or the pop music of the day, which I could accurately summarize as “Mariah Carey and All That.” The few people I knew who were into hip hop were all dudes who enjoyed “The Chronic” as though it were a comedy album like Adam Sandler’s “They’re All Gonna Laugh at You.” It was just something that you’d put on for a laugh while playing some Sega Genesis at your friend’s house or whatever. My friend and I were starting to go digging through all the old vinyl LPs nobody wanted back then and people overpay for now.
That was an element of the sacred bond of me and my best friend from back then; we were into the same things. We read books and talked about them. We burned CDs for each other with great music from every genre and era. We played video games online when nobody else in town our age even knew what the internet was- let alone had any access to it. We used to tie up our parents’ landlines to play all kinds of games, chat, and share music. We had a great deal of fun and we were learning a lot of new information about technology that didn’t exist the previous week or year or whatever, and we were enjoying being a part of that growing culture so much that I truly don’t think either of us really cared if we were unpopular or disliked at school—we knew the world was a much bigger place than that, and now we could suddenly connect to people all over the world in a new way. At my first job (which I held illegally because I was thirteen) I conspired to turn this mom and pop computer shop into a local internet service provider, and the guy who never officially hired me made a lot of money, bought an indoor pool extension for his house, and retired shortly after I left for a legal gig and the shop started hemorrhaging money. I was thirteen years old, and I created a budget spreadsheet and other standard tools that were not used after my departure. Shortly after that, those doors never opened to a computer shop or ISP ever again.[Hey, John- weren’t you trying to make a point about the Grammys or the Academy Awards or the Emmys or something?]
Sorry—this paragraph is the one that force-fits a bow over this whole piece and ties it together. This is that “point” I’ve been leading up to for nearly 2,472 words: I don’t care about the mainstream in the way that it wants me to.
I’ve once met Taylor Swift, and when I did- I knew of only one of her songs and what the title of one or two of her albums was. I didn’t seek out that knowledge either—to this day I haven’t really studied Taylor too closely, and I don’t intend to pick on her, though she IS a great example of a “mainstream artist” right now, who is touring and selling her ass off to a wide variety of fans who are willing to spend anywhere from $50-500 a year to feel closer to her somehow… without knowing her at all. I met her in a recording studio in Kansas City where she warmed up for a show at the Sprint Center a few years ago on the “1988” tour- which was in 2013 or 2014 in real time… something like that. I don’t even remember the year off-hand without looking it up. I don’t even care to look it up because I know it doesn’t matter.
The thing with Taylor Swift is she can sing pretty well, she’s sort of pretty, and because of the latter more than the former, it was possible for her to make the climb that she did. Beck, who I love, did a similar thing- and has made some real sound art and is beyond talented… though I believe the only reason he’s still around is because he still looks really good enough to be a mainstream/legacy artist. Ditto that John Mayer- who is a great guitar player, and though I’m sure I know better guitar players—they are much older and/or uglier that John Mayer, who all I can say from bumping into him is that he’s a lot taller and quieter than I thought he’d be. With some humor, he did demonstrate at LAX how it was okay for he and his touring manager to walk right past TSA and the lines like he was an invisible ghost instead of a very tall, highly recognizable musician.
I used to think: “Imagine where I would be and what I’d be doing if I had perfect teeth and could dance.” Isn’t that horrible?
So some people have looks, luck, and talent—and they make it all the way to the top. They do sellout tours, they get nominated for awards, and have thousands and thousands of follows, hits, and views. They are not only pretty, lucky, and talented, they also have the added bonus of wealth. All of this is supposed to make me want to be like them, envy them, replace them, and upstage them—but here’s that all-important point again: I DON’T CARE. You want to know what I do care about? Well you’ve read this far, so keep reading and I’ll tell you.
I mentioned Anakin, my oldest son. I love him, his mother, and his baby brother so much that it has created a disruption to who and how I used to be. My thoughts, feelings, and actions have all drastically changed for the better, and I’ve become a family man. I’m Dad now; and engaged to the mother of my children, who by happy coincidence is the love of my life. There’s a lot that goes with all of that, beyond gratitude and labors of love. There’s a lot of time and energy that goes into it. There’s a lot of patience that goes into it. So when I find myself losing more and more of my precious time to things I don’t really care about, non-family-nor-musical things, I have a tendency throughout my life to abandon ship. Being Dad on top of being John now- I don’t even get on the damn ship most of the time.
After all, I quit school once I felt like I was missing out on better, more relevant learning opportunities. I found out two years ago that I did indeed earn a high school diploma—somehow, my file has me marked as a graduate. I found out that I graduated somehow about twenty years after I dropped the out and got a GED. You know how I found out I graduated? I was asked to do a talk on career day to every student in that school that had a certain language arts teacher who had been quietly keeping an eye on my career through social media. I was flattered that she reached out and had been a fan, so I was indeed honored to talk to all those kids and happy to give them hope and some songs I performed with an acoustic guitar and no microphone. We had some town hall style discussions- me and the high school kids, and I saw a lot of spirits lifted. During the lunch break, I was given access to the teacher’s lounge- and there in what was previously heavily forbidden and mythological territory; I was quite surprised to find out I actually graduated that school somehow. They told me that it was still in their records, and I saw it for myself when I later went to the principal’s office. The principal of the high school used to be the middle school choirmaster- so perhaps she had something to do with the record showing different than what I remember- which is that I didn’t show up for my senior year at all, and how they had threatened that I’d need to do five years in order to graduate because of so many absences and incomplete assignments. Five years sounded a lot worse than three, so I just walked to my car that last day of junior year, overcome with sudden glee and confidence that I was never going back to that place as a student. I was sure in that moment I was making the right decision, bad as I knew it would look on paper… so to speak.
It might behoove me to reiterate the point and the reasoning behind it in closing this blog. The point to all of this is that I don’t care about the mainstream in terms of breaking through and being a big star that is supported by it. I am not waiting for that call—I’m too busy raising kids and making records that sound more like my own work than anybody else you’ll more often hear on your streams and radio stations. I am actually alright with that, not bitter at all, because it works well enough and can work better if I continue to work hard on it. I don’t really want to conform my sound to something some rich industry veteran believes will sell more records or raise my profile or diversify my output. What the hell does that mean? Stuff like, “Hey John- have you ever thought about acting or designing clothes? Do you mind endorsing some of these brands for us?”
I have proven this to myself over the decades of my career, and I don’t need to prove it to anyone else: I am an artist, I am allowed to grow, I can go in any direction I please, I can curse in my blog and say whatever is on my mind or in my heart to anyone who is interested—and I don’t care that it isn’t everybody or practically everybody who is interested in my work and knows what I do; I am just glad there are some people, such as (perhaps) yourself, who know and appreciate my work enough to just sit there and read more than three thousand words I just wrote. Maybe you’ll even look up some of my music, videos, or drop me a line sometime.