IRL & AOL

Been recognizing when I feel like I’m not enough or could be doing more. Nothing unsafe, just a part of being human or at least human as I know it. I wonder how much of this lacking feeling is driven by social media (after taking a 2-month break I can confirm: most of it). By FOMO. By the desire to be recognized (liked). By capitalism.

My social media break helped me rediscover this stuff doesn’t need to be as real as it feels and that I’m totally enough. I know that the only way to get noticed or heard or read is doing your work prolifically and doing it for you.

Folks work hard to build up themselves online. Not like roofing in 100+ degrees hard, but white-collar hard. If that’s you, props. I know it takes a ton of work. Unfortunately, social media and its ties to capitalism would have us all thinking we can/should be getting recognized at these levels too. And they trick us into thinking it’s easy. Making it easy to feel less great IRL.

Reminds me of some of the folks I used to run into when I was hitting lots of estate sales. I used to like to show up early to score records and clothes. Then I had a few experiences with people elbowing their way past me to get in first, running around someone’s house grabbing things and looking them up on their phone in a corner before anyone else has a chance to see them.

And I get it. This is work. For me, even having made money selling this stuff for a bit, I opt to work a job, get paid, and spend some of that money driving around buying weird stuff. That’s my choice, where some folks make a job of estate sale-ing and all powers to them—just not the way I want to be.

Same goes with tunes. I’ve been lucky in that it never needed to pay my rent, so I was always able to get as weird as I wanted and just do me. I can hear folks—for me mostly rappers because I notice them more—I can hear when it’s more about business. And with rap sometimes it’s 100% explicitly about business. Making money on songs is ridiculously hard so again all powers to them.

My choice is still to work a job and get to make art at my own pace around that. I try my best to look deeply here and own/honor this decision—making sure it’s not an excuse or something that’s easy to say when you’re not getting paid for art.

I think about artists I love. Prolific rappers. Folks I haven’t seen release stuff in a while. I hope they’re feeling amazing and just making art but I also often wonder how they’re supporting themselves. This said there are sooooo many ways to work in and around art without being the star. One being the day job in documentary film I’m lucky enough to have.

Been giving space for these thoughts and working on recognizing what’s real. Thinking about my classiest art heroes. Thinking about the dopest stuff my art has done. Where has that happened? Why do I need someone I haven’t talked to in a few years to like my stuff online? Why does it feel so good when they do?

One of the coolest things to happen with my art in recent memory is Andre 3k screen printing a shirt including my band logo. This had nothing to do with social media. He just wanted to learn to screenprint and liked the art. As a band, we sucked at social media. We did a year-long road trip with one fake Facebook account and a busted hard drive of photos to show for it.

We made a name for ourselves by playing lots of shows and dialing in our sound. A dear friend happened to be friends with the head of one of our favorite record labels. He introduced us IRL. We recorded our album in a beautiful mountain cabin without sharing any photos of the magic (thinking back I don’t think we even talked about it once). We worked on the tracks, got them mastered, and sent them over to our new boss. He was psyched enough to come up with a tracklist for a 10″ record.

It helps me to remember all of this happened off social media. It also all happened without talking about $. Our first ‘payment’ was a couple of stacks of records, a huge tote full of tapes, and a bunch of label gear and patches. Just saying this out loud again helps me ward off the inner-capitalist.

I love reminiscing about the pre-social media days when you’d connect with artists by doing shows, meet people at bars and coffee shops, and while making flyers or zines at Kinkos—the unexpected late-night artist hangout. You could do a few shows and support others doing shows and in time a community becomes visible. You give props, someone returns them, and the phone rings about a gig.

In the early 2ks, I was weirdly anti-myspace without any great rationale. Milo and Open Mike Eagle met there. Klip Mode started there (Suzi Analogue, Devonwho, Mndsgn). I was busy hating for no reason, in the basement, smoking, drinking, making a lot of music but only sharing it with friends and people on the bus that one time we decided to press like 600 CDRs (You want the ColdComp!?!)

I was lucky enough to have internet access in the mid-90s and remember reading Geocities and Angelfire pages, spending hours on Davey D’s Hip-Hop Corner (anyone?), and learning to DJ on a pre-YouTube site full of short RealVideo clips of how to do certain scratches. My RealAudio collection was popping (whatever happened to the Real lexicon?)— full of all the Wu-Tang freestyles I could track down on whatever I was using to search at the time. I also have a distinct memory of my brother and me reading posts about how Tupac was still alive one night when my parents went out for dinner and left us alone with AOL.

Somehow with all this interesting and relevant stuff happening on the computer in my house (I never thought of it as a separate space, as ‘online’), teenage me gave equal time to shit talking in AOL chat rooms. Jumping into sports pages to say “FUCK THE PACKERS!!” for the easiest ding-dong-ditch ever.

I’d join hip-hop rooms too and instead of engaging with folks I’d usually toss out a “WU-TANG FOREVER” and let that be my contribution. Having a real conversation online wasn’t something I ever thought about. I didn’t realize I could let my ego go a bit and be a part of a community. I’m not sure how many deep conversations I was involved in IRL either. Feels true to say all my interactions were clouded by anxiety around being accepted, cool, and depending on the group, holding or supporting the power.

I remember reading a rad article on LinkedIn (speaking of amazing social media platforms) years ago from a CA artist/designer who I so want to credit but I can’t refind it and I’ve reached my Linkedin scroll limit about 20 minutes ago … will update this if I can find them again!

Anyways they went real blunt. Calling out artists whining about not getting paid to do work when these same artists aren’t doing any social media. Her challenge to artists: why would a company invest in random you, and how would they ever even find random you, when there are people hustling to do the work and make a name for themselves?

This is true for that Pepsi deal on the horizon but I know other options exist. If you do real work in real life and connect with real people doing real stuff it’s possible to keep doing real, fun, rewarding work. Work you’re probably supplementing with other paid work, but that’s probably going to be the case anyways. And if you’re not going full capitalism with art, fuck Pepsi? I hope that’s not being a hater against artists who have those deals. Huge props to them. Zero doubt these deals came from yearssss of hustling. Artists designing Life-Water bottles deserve every penny and are sharing their art with millions.

My old friend and coworker Jimmy aka the infamous DJ Smokey and star of 90’s commercial country radio in Portland once told me about an interaction with a DJ who challenged his artistic integrity. Jimmy said, “Look, my audience is 40,000 people every day. What’s yours?”

Maybe the other DJ played weirder stuff, but they both performed, and Jimmy did it professionally. Just 2 people making choices, drinking coffee, and one likely smoking a lot more Winston cigarettes than the other (Smokey used to go through 2 packs per shift).

“Everybody says they want artists to make money, and when they do, everyone hates them for it,” explains Austin Kleon in Show Your Work. He goes on to destroy the idea of “Selling out,” even sharing this quote from Bill Withers (and how are you doing to argue with Bill Withers???) “We’re all entrepreneurs. To me, I don’t care if you own a furniture store of whatever—the best sign you can put up is SOLD OUT.”

It’s a choice. Not one we all get to make, but one that only comes after a shitload of hard work. We can choose to hold down a weird corner of art on the internet and IRL. It can be extra niche and fun and real and a great outlet to share. We probably won’t pay bills but if that’s OK, and if it feels better to get $ another way, cool.

Or, we can hustle like the artists we see staying busy, sharing work, creating work, flexing new creative ways to share and make stuff, and clearly spend hella time on IG to put it out there. That’s a choice too. It’s not an instant success scenario. Thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of artists are doing this every day. How many are getting big deals? How many more are feeding a system designed to keep us shopping and scrolling without benefiting from it?

My good bud Jon AD aka the Grand Cooley Mr. Myiagi always encouraged our crew to stay as underground as possible. Our conversations around this are epic. He advises us to stay weird. Stay in the space of is that a joke? Is that real? Can I join? He tells us to stay there as long as we can—I think offering our crew a sly warning of the bleak, defeating, and detrimental-to-the-craft vibes lurking on the other side.

What more could we want? Putting out art. Hanging with friends. What more is really desired? Are the desires beyond that based on fame and capitalism? Or are they grounded in the truth of freaking out the masses and creating change? Is the best way to accomplish this in our circle of influence, getting weird in a park, social media? Probably all of the above…

After a recent trip to San Juan island and Seattle to visit fam, I had so much fun off my phone and in nature that getting back online felt like I wasn’t practicing what was bringing me the most joy. Hence my 2-month social media break.

I still long for more interaction around art, but it’s not what I’m getting online beyond some truly heartfelt inspo from friends from time to time. Sounds like I need to join a writing group.

I’m frustrated that they have all of us locked on IG so much. It’s not OK to me. Generations of people locked into the same thing. Amazing work being shared on that same thing. Aren’t we losing something by homogenizing everything? What has IG done to change art and is that OK? I say this acknowledging I learned about 2 of my favorite visual artists in the world right there on IG. Their work hypes me up gallore. But I suppose I would have been OK without knowing about them, right?

I hope this doesn’t come off as the TLDR version of this classic and ironic Facebook post, “Hey everyone, I’m going to go on a sabbatical from posting for a while. I’ve just found that…”

Is the spreading of our art and ideas intrinsically linked to capitalism, and is social media just a connector? Is it possible to live in an art space uninfluenced by capitalism? When I journal in a notebook, is that linked to capitalism? I mean I’m sitting in a house I pay for and eating food I bought before going to work so… Sometimes I think the only real anticapitalistic art is graffiti that isn’t instantly shared on IG.

Websites are great as they’re your own space on the internet but they can also turn into a scene of obsessively looking at ourselves in the mirror over and over. I’d say most folks in my arena of having a blog visited by a few friends look at our own site about 100x more than anyone else. Maybe that’s totally OK too.

This comes up in the film work I do too—when my spidey sense is triggered by a Q&A panelist sending me the third update for their bio. The bio no one has read even 1% as much as they have, and they have this weird idea that since it’s online the whole world must be watching. It’s not true. If they wanted a bigger audience, maybe they’d take it to social media, or, and I know this might sound crazy, the street.

TLDR(computer)LOVE