Friday, August 28, 2009

Backstage with Michael Jackson

News that Michael Jackson's death was a homicide (a deadly drug overdose administered to an addict, even if by a Doctor, is still foul play) reminded me that after his death I wanted to put a little backstage story up here about the time I worked with him.

I was working in the audio department at the Shrine Auditorium in LA for the 25th Anniversary Soul Train Awards, and Michael was one of the performers. We'd heard that he was very picky about his monitor mix--that he liked it loud, so we had a cue to roll in some extra side fill during his performance. So he shows up (late) and does his rehearsal, and he doesn't look happy, so the mixer sends me up there with my headset to relay any instructions the King of Pop might have for the monitor mix.

I walk up to him, and he looks up at me, see's the head set and says (in his high-pitch voice, almost stereotypically) "You Audio?"

"Yes, sir, Mr. Jackson." They hired me for a reason: my southern-school manners.


"Yes, Michael, what can we do for you?"

"Make it louder."

"We've given you all the side fill we can, Michael."

"No, make the bass louder. I want to feel! it! right! here!" (hitting his chest with both hands with each "!").

"OK, Michael, I'll have him boost the bass."

"That's not going to be enough. You're going to need more sub-woofers."

"OK, but there's already two."

"More! Right! Here!" Pounding his chest again.

I went to get the last two subs in the building, cabled them up, had the monitor mixer (Kevin Wopner, maybe?) patch them in, rolled them out and stuck them next to the side fill, focusing them right at his skinny ass.

When I was ready, he does the number again, and I felt nauseous from all the bass, and I wasn't even in front of them. He's out there, center stage, with two huge sidefills and four giant subs focused right on him. It was so loud I couldn't hear the carpenters working. I could see him smiling at me.

When it was over, I walked up and asked how that was, and he spun around on one foot very dancer like, and slapped his chest again: "Perfect!"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Discount Everything

My philosophical instincts tell me to take everything I hear with a grain of salt. Everyone steps up the voltage of what they want to communicate, and if you want to get an unbiased view from what you're told, you should always run things through a step-down transformer. Of course, if you ever run across an honest person and do that, you've watered down the truth.

In terms of economics during hard times, though, discount everything is a strategy for survival. Discount as an adjective here plays into the age-old marketer's plan of enticing people into action by promising to take less money out of their pockets for something they value. I've been doing it for people who realize the return on investment they can get by hiring me to get higher search engine rankings for their websites. They've been doing it as a way to get people to see that they can save money and take that Hawaii vacation or get food delivered to their crew in Los Angeles.

We've put an ingenious twist on this idea into Volunteer on Vacation in Hawaii, by offering volunteers a 5% discount on stays at this Maui bed and breakfast, and an additional 5% donation to the organization for which you volunteer. Save money, earn money for a worthy cause, and do something ethical during your Hawaii vacation! Sweet.

How about an ethical honeymoon? While staying at the Hale Hookipa, and volunteering for one of the many organizations that need you, you could take a little time out and get married! Destination weddings have become even more popular as people cut back on the big, expensive ceremonies that were so popular during boom times. One fad I've heard is that people run off and get married, then travel to various cities visiting relatives: this lowers the carbon foot-print of the wedding by not having so many people fly in from all over, and can increase the value of wedding presents, since the people giving the presents didn't have to shell out so much to actually go to the ceremony (Maui wedding packages start at $300 with this Maui weddings planner).

Even caterers have been getting into the discount everything mindset. Our favorite Hudson Valley caterer down in Woodstock has been doing smaller and smaller gigs (weddings included) as the recession has spread like a blight across the land. Culinary Delight Catering in Los Angeles has even created a discount wedding catering package to fill the demand for a less expensive wedding reception.

Providing less for less is the driving force during a recession for any business that wants to stay in business. But how does that affect someone like me, who's job it is to get people to the top of a search for their keywords? It's not like I can just do less. It takes x amount of work to get a site to the top, and any less will get that site something less. Considering the rate at which clicks drop off for sites in the 7th position as opposed to the 1st or 2nd, that's no value for the discount.

I have to find a way to provide the same value in less time: become more productive. I've been doing this for years, and squeezing any more productivity out of what I do is damn near impossible. A lot of it is creative, especially the writing part, and you can't just shave a few minutes off that process to save a dime.

So, in effect, in order to make sure I get the jobs, I've just been bidding lower, which means I'm working for less, which means I can pay less for things, which means the people who provide those things will have to offer discounts which will provide me with less, which means I have to work more, but since I'm doing that for less, well... Vicious circle. Discount everything means less for everyone, and that sharing of less is the real legacy left behind by George W. Bush and all the idiots who voted for him.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Calling Things What They're Not

When we moved up here near my wife's sister's and husband's restaurant near Cooperstown, we did it to be near family during these hard times of little income for me. But if you looked at me now, you'd think it was for the birds.

Because I've become a backyard bird watcher. 41 species out these glass doors on our back porch so far! I have a feeder with black oil sunflower seeds, one with suet, and another for humming birds. I never gave much of a damn about the feathered ones before, but this past winter, it became my new favorite thing.

The Orange Mohawked Woodpecker (AKA the red-bellied woodpecker)Our favorite species we call Ziggy (as in Stardust). It's the red-bellied wood pecker, which should be called the orange Mohawk woodpecker. The hairy woodpecker is just feathered like the rest. The purple finch looks like it was dipped in Burgundy--not really purple. And so on.

Now, a lot of the bird (re)naming went on back when white men cutting out across the continent practicing biological and good-ol'-guns-n'-butter warfare. I haven't found a resource with the Native American names for these birds yet, so I call them as the early musketeers did. Like the Lincoln Sparrow: not for the President, but the first guy to shoot one. Call it red-neck bird taxonomy (of course, red-neck comes from the Battle of Blair Mountain, in which the workers were the red-necks, and the good guys, and were the only US Citizens ever bombed by the US Army, so the term "red-neck bird taxonomy" fittingly misfits).

So, when a bunch of gun-toting, evolution denying, climate change causing, pollution spewing, superstitious, KKK loving lynching parties call The President of the United States a socialist, I just look at the history of bird naming by racist white guys in this country, and I figure, well, they've probably got it wrong. Again.

Banksters Beware!