Burning Man Explained, Part 2

Demand has met supply.  Last year was the first year Burning Man sold out and although it was by no means immediate (it sold out roughly six months after tickets went on sale), it dramatically changed its fate…

Even for consumptive and conformist institutions, people at the foundation pride themselves for having a hand in its development and regale in the good times before the popularity of that thing.  For Burning Man, which touts radical self-expression as one of its primary tenants, that sentiment is significantly more intense.

Right now is particularly bad timing for this tipping point to occur. After two and a half decades, many of the originators and die-hards are getting ready to move on. So there appears to be growing polarity between those at the foundation who are ready to call it a day for their once sacred event and those who are prepared to see it through its current metamorphosis.  Just like any successful man-made social institution, Burning Man has been in a constant state of growth and change, but when it sold it’s last ticket at the end of July 2011, it crossed an event horizon that is antithetical to its nature… For once, there was a limit to the abundance.  There was scarcity.

In an attempt to create an egalitarian system for the 2012 Burning Man, the organizers, Black Rock City LLC, created a tiered-price, lottery system that made them infamous for the disastrous fiasco that ensued upon implementation.  Because of the scare mongering that ensues from a luck-based system, many people created multiple accounts to increase their odds of winning tickets.  As a result, only 30% of those who applied got tickets, splitting up well-established camps. Like any society, people gather to perform tasks that they can not accomplish themselves and that product is greater than their combined individual input.  Accordingly, to split up camps is to diminish their effectiveness at an exponential level.

The convoluted ticketing system was contested for months by hundreds if not thousands of participants before it was implemented and was not recalled after it immediately and obviously failed, but Black Rock City LLC forge ahead.  In true Burning Man nature, many of those individuals who contribute so much on the Playa, offered their services off of it as well.  Many people proposed different systems, a substantial amount of people who won tickets offered to let go of theirs and start over with a new system, and some people offered their own ticketing services for free.

Now that there is scarcity, there are opportunists; this was the first time that there was a market for scalpers.  Once the results from the lottery came out, that the majority of applicants did not get a ticket, many people’s initial reaction (including my own) was to look to ticket resellers and ebay to see if Burning Man was being exploited.  This was the markup for a $400 ticket.

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Burning Man Explained, Part: 1 (by a person with fairly limited experience at Burning Man)

Last summer over 60,000 people traveled from the ends of the planet to form a giant, mile-wide, circle, around ‘The Man,’ a ninety-foot-tall wooden effigy, just to watch it burn.

It took months for the afterglow to fade, but it remains in my memory as the single best experience of my life.  I am frequently asked to explain what Burning Man is and despite my limited experience on the Playa I am going to try and explain it, as I understand and experienced it.

In recent years, music has become implicit in the term festival. While Burning Man is a festival (in the most literal sense) and while music is ubiquitous there, it is better defined as a celebration…

Disclaimer: I stole the following metaphor.

Imagine a 60,000-person potluck dinner, but instead of food, everyone brings the most interesting, fun, or beautiful thing they know how to make, and they bring a ton of it.  In fact everyone brings so much that there is too much to go around.  Like a potluck dinner, you don’t pay for each scoop of mac n cheese, bowl of soup or serving of lasagna, you just take what you want because it looks good.  The person who made it gets gratification out of the fact that it is being enjoyed, while at the same time he or she enjoys everyone else’s offerings.  The same is true at Burning Man, nobody is taking anything that isn’t being offered to everyone, and everyone recognizes that while the host prepped the location, the event could not occur without everyone’s mutual collaboration.

Because of the abundance and generosity, there is no money, and no need for it (with two exceptions, Burning Man organizers sell ice to keep drinks cold/food fresh, and for some reason which I don’t understand, coffee).  Therefore, there is no scarcity and without scarcity you get rid of many of the facets of existence that make humans contentious.  From the Nevada desert -a place of almost complete desolation- emerges the Playa, a place of abundance that often crosses into opulence.  And people come together to be unabashedly,  genuinely happy.

Upon entering Black Rock City, you are given a program, a short, square book, over one hundred pages thick with the week’s activities. During the day hundreds of things to see and experiences to be had, are built and ran by volunteers.  You can do yoga at sunrise, get your ass spanked while getting a cup of coffee, get a ten-minute spa treatment, a Mohawk, sno-cone and a massage, you can go to a dance party, make a dance party, and play with a flamethrower, all before noon.

As the sun descends the art, both static and motorized, come alive.  A motorized oasis on wheels lazily transports people in hammocks across the Playa.  A 120-foot yacht sails through the galaxy at the center of black rock city. 

An octopus sporadically shoots flames from its tentacles as it meanders through desert.

Art is literally all around you; the sky provides an ideal canvas for it… A string of balloons miles-long, each with a bright blue LED cross the whole of the sky above the Playa.  A laser that utilizes the clock layout of the city is so powerful that you can see it bending along the horizon. The Man rests at the center of the clock, while the temple glows eminently at 12 o’clock.


Emerging from the rings of camps (if you were to uncurl of all of the “roads” between the camps and put them in one straight line, they would be 40 miles long) you encounter a wall of multicolored lights stretching from one end of the Playa to the other, some static, most shuffling to and fro.  While the horizon is filled with light, the space between the things emitting it is surprising distant.  It feels strangely like a page out of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where you bounce from space oddity to dance party, then hitch a ride on a two-story stereo before arriving at a bonfire that spins through the are like one of the pirate ships at carnival.

As you notice the dark shades of blue creeping over the mountains and you realize the sun will be overhead, beating down in a few hours.  You race back to camp and try to squeeze in a few hours of sleep before the light and the heat in your tent become unbearable.  But back at camp, the muddled thump thump thump thump of house music permeates the thin walls of your tent and lull you to sleep before waking up and starting a new adventure.

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Evolution of the Music Industry Part 1

I wrote this about six years ago, and what was true then is truer now.  I didn’t get it totally right and I admit, it is kind of childish, but it is still interesting to look back.

The illusion of a status quo is rivaled by the constant progress in technological innovations.  Just when we have adjusted to the newest thing we can’t live without, something new comes along that shocks our collective reality.  As a child of the information age, I was fortunate enough to grow up in between the generation that resisted the proliferation of the personal computer and the generation that takes its ubiquity for granted.  I am twenty years old now and my family got our first pc (a Macintosh Quadra 610) when I was 8 years old.  The technological advances in home computing and the capabilities inherent within, has revolutionized practically every sector of industry.  One of the strongest sectors affected has been music.  The propagation of the Internet has facilitated the music industry’s demise. The consequences are not a result of the Internet itself, but the stubborn perceptions of the leaders of the biz.

Fortunately, the advances in technological innovations didn’t leave us out of luck.  Because the leaders of the music industry (currently, Sony BMG, EMI, Warner Music Group, and Universal) have traditionally been the only means to record a quality album, it would make sense that their demise would infer the demise of quality music.  In fact, the exact opposite is true; instead of allowing music to stagnate, its rebirth will be the reaction to the oppressive concentrations of power within the music industry.  That’s right: the musical revolution is right in front of us.  It differs from a conventional revolution in that the forces overthrowing the old oppressive regime are latent forces. In the words of Manny Sanchez (record executive at EMI Records), “There will always be music, there won’t always be a music industry.”

Napster’s innovative means of sharing digital music was the backlash that brought the leaders of the industry flying high on unprecedented record sales at unprecedented prices to its knees.   Creed’s album Human Clay had just gone diamond (record sales upwards of 10 million) when Napster spread like cancer to every computer hooked up to the Internet.  I am not judging Creed and their loving fans (everyone is entitled to their own opinions and tastes), but when monopolistic media institutions such as Viacom and Clear Channel decide that Creed’s music deserves their support, a little goes a long way.  Following my second summer working for Columbia Records, I was made very aware of the grease the flows between their wheels: I discovered that Sony BMG had just agreed to pay $10,000,000 as a result of being caught in a payola scandal.  That is, Sony BMG had been paying off major radio stations and media conglomerates for extra coverage of their artists.  These discrete and corrupt practices were hitting the music loving population from all angles, and we endured it when we felt compelled to walk into a music store to shell out $20 per CD.  Like any other aristocracy, they had it too good for too long, and began to feel entitled to the party that was the music industry.

The stronger the grip the RIAA tried to keep on the downloading of free music, the more control fell out of its hands.   New and different types of file-sharing programs have been developed since Napster, illustrating the flexibility of the music-loving population to work around the all-too structured paradigm that exists in the minds of the leaders of the major record labels and the RIAA.  Perhaps, if the leaders of the music industry could conceptualize a new, adaptable business model, the amount of major record labels would not have fallen from hundreds to four.

With constantly diminishing record sales, it would make sense that in the end those downloading music for free have facilitated the death of music.  That is, the inability to maintain high revenues would correlate to fewer and fewer artists and bands being able to produce and distribute records.  The record label’s inception marked the last phase of evolution in the music industry.  The paradigm changed such that all the money and resources needed to create and proliferate music was concentrated into the record label.  Labels loan out a huge sum of money to an artist or a band meant for the specific purposes of writing, producing, manufacturing, marketing, publishing, and distributing a record.  Just like anyone loaning money from a bank, there is risk involved and the band can default on its contract and go bankrupt (weary to invest more money into Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magic, Warner Music group almost accepted the death of the Red Hot Chili Peppers; in the end they made the right decision, pushed the record, and their fifth album remained on Billboard’s top 100 for 100 weeks!).  As such, there is a lot invested in bands and artists on the part of record labels.  However, developments in home computing have absolved practically all of the costs inherent in producing a record and put those powers in the hands of the general populace.

For the last decade the standard in music production has been Pro-tools, a colorful, user-friendly piece of software that until 10 years ago was only found in music studios.  With relatively cheap hardware interfaces such as their portable mbox, Digidesign (the company creating Pro-tools software and its necessary hardware components) has converted the bedroom into a home studio.

Additional advances in digital music production software not only make creating music easier, but are furthermore ushering in a new conception of instrumentation.  Programs like Reason and Ableton Live are ideal for mixing beats and modulating sounds in real time.  Their simple user interface makes it so easy to compose good music that in the future it will seem archaic to spend your time starting from scratch with actual instruments (want to see how music will be made in the future? Check out the reacTable).  This is not to say that the standard way of making music (drums, guitar, bass, keyboards, etc.) won’t be present, but it will take the equivalent position of the symphony in relation to the contemporary standard band today.

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Evolution of the Music Industry Part 2

The computer will become the new, standard musical instrument; and when we as a society let go of the apprehension associated with this formulaic innovation, the result will be a myriad of ways to make and modulate sounds. As such, we will need to devise a new system with which we gage talent. No longer will ability be based solely on new ways to harmonize contrasting melodies, as it is today. Talent will be redefined as the optimal way of harmoniously combining the most obscure sounds due to the infinite ways that these new technologies can compound on themselves. We as a society are still reluctant to both make and appreciate this new evolutionary step in music. Stemming from the underground Hip-Hop and Electronic scene, we see the beginnings of this new phase of music from bands like Sound Tribe Sector 9, Glitch Mob, Ming + FS, RJD2, Elliot Lipp and many more.Sound Tribe Sector 9

In addition to creating a unique and innovative step in musicality, there will be corresponding progress in the culture associated with music. The death of the music industry will imply a redistribution of wealth from the music loving populace to a broader spectrum of those producing music. There will be a dramatic increase in the amount and diversity of music, and such revenues will be collected by a customized choice of method by each band/artist. For example, as of October 6th 2007, Radiohead having left their record label (EMI) announced that they will put the value of their album in the hands of its fans. Unrestricted by manufacturing costs, Radiohead offers their music available for download at whatever price their fans feel they should pay. Loyalty pays off. Radiohead’s fans are voluntarily paying about the equivalent of what they would pay on the iTunes music store, but by distributing the record themselves at practically no cost, Radiohead stands to make exponentially more money than they would have with EMI.

Another example is that of Sound Tribe Sector 9: due to their novel performances and perpetually changing set-lists, STS9 has attracted loyal fans not only to their shows, but to their website as well. In addition to collecting revenues from ticket sales, Sound Tribe makes stellar-quality versions of every show (with the energy you can’t get from a studio record) available for download for $10 direct from their website.

With record labels on the descent, there will be (at least initially) no easy means to advance to the likes of Britney Spears, 50 Cent, Kanye West, etc. Their careers will inevitably fizzle out (maybe not Kanye) and the artificially manufactured pop star will die. Eventually, an industry will develop similar to record labels that will capitalize on the combination of people’s talent and laziness. Until then, the amount of work required to make a solid career out of music will prevent those solely in it for the fame, money, and bitches (I am clearly referring to fiddy) to embark on a livelihood in music. In this respect, nobody has been truer to the cause than Jay-Z when he says, “I am not a business man. I am a business, man.” As this mentality grows, there will be a short but glorious moment in music history when only those who really care about music will be willing to create it.

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Music! Yeah!

Hello good-looking, music-listeners of the world!

If you have stumbled on to this website it is obviously because you have impeccable taste in music and an insatiable desire for more. Well lucky for you, I have that which will quench your parched music-loving earholes!

Ad Infinitum, the new Album by IDEA, has been millennia, NAY eons in the making! It has been forged from the vibrations of the sprawling outer universe and packaged into two convenient discs that will soon be available for purchase.

BUT if you simply can not wait another week or two you can download it for FREE (here)

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