Hipsters: Chapter 2

Like I said I'm publishing my first novel (manuscript of it at least), a chapter at a time.

[Spurgeon, Theresa. “Friday News Roundup.” The Music Reporter. October, 2006: Print.]

While most facets of the creative economy have performed feckless self-assessments post-Craigslist, post-amazon; essentially since the self-proclaimed digital enlightenment and sudden peril of our traditional nonchalance toward Big Industry, there remains one sector of one industry that has yet to fall on the sword of discourse on democratizing the marketplace: music journalism.

One might predict the eventual disintegration of pseudo-sycophant narratives like Almost Famous—the access, the privilege, the problematic idealization of groupie culture, and promotion of underage sex under the influence or whatever it is Rod Stewart might want be known for… Until then, we have XX, a magazine in the style of a parlor trick, founded by cultural yeowoman Alice Shimada, previously a music editor at VICE magazine, promising longform audits of the musical milieu with no room for prisoners. Predictions abound, but this reader waits with bated breath for what promises to be a smart and ruthless journal.

          Chris was on her way to Tern, to demo the latest version of our web radio player. Peter came by my side of the communal dining table and stuck a price tag on the back of my hand.

A perforated fluorescent orange bodega sticker read $.99.

“Let me know what you think of my pricing strategy,” he said, and pulled the bridge of my glasses down my nose.

I adjusted my glasses, and chuckled, told him to clear the bench for Chris, who’d be here any minute now. He started to move around papers, sifting through trash and started a keep pile. Something in the mail arrested his attention long enough to distract him from the chore and he slowly walked away toward the kitchen while flipping to the second page of what looked like an official notice. His mind walk was interrupted by someone from the kitchen, asking about a delivery of potato buns. He left the paperwork and then the restaurant, yelling back, “I’ll be back in an hour.”

As he disappeared, Chris came in, mentioning she’d run into Peter in the front. She said he seemed distracted and asked if he was ok. I suggested he must’ve run out of something important for dinner service. I assured her he didn’t need to be here for this conversation as she walked the long way around the communal table so as not to disturb the busser mopping the short end of my side. She side hugged me, squeezing a shoulder, and sat down. I touched her hand as if to greet her. While finishing typing a microblog post on Twitter—Still not sure I’m doing this right…? Officially tweeting—I asked her if she was ready to show the playback widget, and punctuated my question by closing the laptop shut, shifting my attention to her face.

She laughed.

“She wastes no time!”

Chris opened her laptop, which seemed infinitely cooler than mine, clean and fitted to a bespoke sleeve from which it emerged length-wise. My VAIO required an attache case it was so big, with a battery dock that was not optional despite manufacturer specifications; and an almost equally cumbersome DC adapter. Somehow, Chris’s Macbook had a benign power source and still had brighter resolution than my piece of shit.

She opened a staging browser, and walked me through a new radio widget, running it next to the last version and explaining that the compression of a radio feed could be higher if we were running via a local server unless I wanted a mastered musical recording, which no one was doing yet. She always emphasized “yet” when discussing technology. She selected the latest episode of my show, “X-Field on NPR”  and played it back through the widget. The segment began with a telltale intro vignette by the band Saudade, and then,

Welcome to X-Field, I’m your host and the editor in chief of XX, Alice Shimada. Today we’re going to talk about jungle fever.

I was always amazed at what NPR let me get away with, and I figured even if this were tokenism, or especially because it was, I had a duty to make the show as crunchy as possible. Tokenly, my sequence opened with groovy hip hop, though I knew fuck all about it. I left their tone deaf vignettes unquestioned. It would have been too much to expect much more than the obvious. Besides, I thrived in the obvious. It was fine. It was fun.

“This sounds great. I can’t believe there’s no buffering! Usually I have to wait ten minutes to load an episode.”

“I’m glad you like it,” said Chris.

“I kind of want my brother to try it out, if you don’t mind. Get a fresh set of ears on it,” I said. My brother, Aaron, a useless slacker, who knew way too much about sound engineering for a clerk at a CD store.

“Oh yeah. In that case if you don’t mind I’d want a couple of my tech guys to try it out too. Maybe try it on different internet connections and browsers.”

Whatever was happening in this thing she’d designed, I really was impressed, and I started to think of the grand places the magazine content would go with the help of it being so futuristically web-oriented. And it was so good that Chris then asked what I thought of us trying to productize the radio widget, to sell to other music sites who could mask it with their own brand images.

After telling her I don’t see why not, I realized that her developing this as a product meant she was asking permission to start her own business.

“Wait, does this mean you want to make this on your own, or will it be a thing we develop together at XX?” I asked.

“It’s up to you, really, but I’d want to kind of own it…?” Chris said.

“OK,” I said, though it didn’t quite sit right with me. Maybe the fact that if she was asking permission it meant I could say no and that if I didn’t, I was being a pushover, even though I did ultimately trust her.

I tried to think like a Peter, a business owner with multiple mortgages and things like “stock portfolios” and added, that I’d want to assume some kind of part ownership from the XX point of view of things since she did develop it for us, after all. But aside from using words like “equity” and “investments” I wasn’t sure how to leverage ownership of a great idea that wasn’t mine. I’d been calling Chris our “superstar” to anyone who’d had something nice to say about the magazine and she was still the only one of us actually making something digitally unique. She could have made this widget under my nose for years and I wouldn’t have noticed if she became a billionaire along the way. I was hard-pressed to imagine any thing as useless as “music writing” ever scaling to a billion dollar business.

“That’s fine. What about like, twenty percent?”

I wasn’t expecting Chris to give in so easily. Then again, we weren’t exactly the negotiating types. I thought of corporate media conglomerates usurping intellectual property conceived of by lackeys, forensic evidence belying the artistic integrity of the idle doodler because of legal statute, and dispelling any notion that corporate entities ever had anything remotely like good intentions towards their employees. XX was not a corporate media conglomerate, though, was it.

“Sure, sounds good,” I said, and just like that, we’d started a new business.

“This will be so fun! Maybe you’ll be a digital entrepreneur and a writer!” said Chris.

“I swear I thought I was running a magazine not a tech firm.”

“Same difference, soon. You’ll see.”

“The internet is the future and all that, right?”

“Correction. We are the future. The internet is ours to breed with.”

“Not if VICE has its way.”

“XX: Music Writing From the Future. Also, Fuck VICE,” Chris said. We laughed.

“You’d make a great entrepreneur, actually,” she said.

“Just promise me though, never to disabuse me of the illusion that I am a writer. I like my delusions to always be creative,” I said, as the sound of my voice continued to drone on the radio widget on her computer.

“I promise,” said Chris.

Chapter 1 < | > Chapter 3 (June 2)