Author Archive

new york, new york: this space is NOT for rent

This week Jeremy and I went up to New York for a digital music conference, as well as meetings with accounts and the guys we work with at Warner, our parent company. I’ve been to New York before, but only once, and only for a brief period of time. I never really had the chance to experience the city before, but this week I did!

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One of the things that stuck out to me about New York is that they have PERFECTED the art of not wasting space. They are space “efficientists”. Vacancy is a scare resource, and they use every square inch of it. Buildings are squeezed together impressively tight. If a road curves or angles, the building architecture curves and angles with it to make the most of all the real estate. Sidewalks are a good 15 inches narrower in New York than any other city to grant more internal square footage.

They say the only place to build is up, and New Yorkers do this well. Of course they have the skyscrapers, but anything and everything can be put on top of another building. Watertowers, and playgrounds, and basketball courts are launched upwards, and the buildings themselves are additions to the decades-old foundations, creating a continuous inseparable concrete / metal mass running the length Long Island.

There are 305 million people living in the United States. 150 million of those people live in New York City, and 100 million of them are cab drivers.

As we were heading out of town in our taxi we drove by a house in Queens that had a short little wrought iron fence outlining a tiny yard the size of a Fiat. In it were piled a trampoline, a bicycle, a push lawn-mower, a swing set, a toy tractor, and a jungle-gym.

There was a little seven year old boy playing in the backyard… actually he was just looking out the living room window smiling, imagining what it would be like if he had room to play in the backyard.

Sometimes there is an architectural oversight and a property owner is left with the smallest piece of vacant land after his building is erected. In this case the city immediately claims eminent domain, paves it, and lays down a set of solid yellow lines to convert it into a parking space.

Actually, this rarely happens as there are only 7 parking spaces in New York City. 2 are in lower Manhattan, 3 on the Upper West Side, 1 in Greenwich Village, and 1 is a park-and-ride up in the Bronx.

If by some act of the Almighty you are blessed with finding one of these spots, it will take an equally supernatural force to lift and place your car into a space the size of a twin-bed.

It’s impossible to park under your own power, though some have tried, resulting in over 700 million deserted cars strung up and down the streets of the city. Their owners just got up and walked away. The cost of the car was less than the cost of time spent trying to maneuver into a spot.

That’s actually how Hertz Car Rental got it’s start. A couple guys from Jersey moved in, threw up some big yellow signs on street corners and started renting out deserted cars to travelers for 70 bucks a pop.

And that’s why everyone started taking taxis in the first place… they couldn’t find a spot to park their rental, so they just gave up and hailed a ride into the city.

readings update

I’m not much for book reviews, but I did commit to reading 24 books this year, so here’s a little update on what I’ve been partaking of. I know this is a long post, but if you find something in here that interests you, or baffles you, or infuriates you, leave a comment and we can discuss:

The Shack by William P. Young
As a rule I try to avoid these Christian pop-culture type books (yet somehow I always end up reading them anyways). This book has caused such stir and I decided I needed to give it a look so I could make some decisions for myself. There are two types of reviews for The Shack: I would say that most people who read it claim it is the most insightful, life-changing, incredible most wonderful book ever that grants them a completely new picture of who God is. Then there are those who denounce the book as complete heresy.

I’ll say this – it’s a well written and intriguing story that forces you to ask questions about the relationship between God and mankind, and the relationship of God within the Trinity. It poses thought provoking illustrations of God, but it would be a stretch to say it outlines scriptural truths. The primary gripe people have with The Shack is that God the Father is portrayed as a heavy-set, gregarious, black woman.

At first my thought was, well, who I am to say what God does or does not look like? He’s God and He could just as easily present himself as a white-haired, elderly gentleman or as a gregarious, black woman, right? Well, the issue isn’t whether He could or could not. The issue is that we are ascribing images to God the Father that we do not have the right to ascribe. I didn’t fully understand the ramifications of this prior to reading J.I. Packer’s book Knowing God where he demonstrates the danger, and commandment against, creating images of God whether they be physical, pictorial, or textual.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth”. – Exodus 20:4

The danger is that when we make representative images of a God who in all literal terms defies comprehension and is beyond our realm of reality and vision, we end up containing God, and limiting his omnipotence. The very act of ascribing a representation to God places us in danger of making the created image the focus of worship, and elevating the image above God Himself.

The WalMart Effect by Charles Fishman
This was a truly fascinating book about the largest, most powerful, and successful company in the history of the world. It was a very insightful look into the company from all different angles including suppliers, manufacturers, competitors, enthusiasts and dissenters, employees, ex-employees, shoppers, non-shoppers, and so on.

The book doesn’t take sides, but rather offers a careful analysis at both WalMart’s positive and negative effects on local communities, regions, the country, and even the world at large. It’s neither a pro-WalMart book nor an anti-Walmart book… but it forces you to think twice about how you shop, and where you shop. And above all it portrays WalMart as the very thing it strives to be… a retailer that provides “Always Low Prices”, regardless of the cost to vendors, economies, and even the customers.

This one is easier to sum up in some fascinating tidbits of information:

  • 97% of the population of the United States lives within 15 miles of a WalMart
  • Each week 100 million Americans shop at WalMart
  • From 1997 to 2004, the US added 670,000 new retail jobs. 480,000 of those — 70% — were at Wal-Mart.
  • When WalMart institutes changes that result in lower cost-of-goods, they pass the savings to both the vendors AND the customers, but not themselves.
  • WalMart won’t pay to speak with vendors: vendors are required to provide Wal-Mart with a tollfree number, or accept collect calls.
  • Of the largest 10 suppliers to Wal-Mart in 1994, five subsequently went bankrupt or failed.
  • WalMart isn’t just Proctor and Gamble’s largest customer — they’re as big as P&G’s next nine customers combined.
  • Consistently, as companies increase the share of their business with WalMart, their operating margins decline accordingly.
  • Does WalMart create or take away jobs? Both. A new Wal-Mart may hire 300 people, but on average, 250 people at nearby businesses will lose their jobs, and about four local businesses will close.
  • A study of Iowan small towns showed that restaurants near WalMarts had 3% increases in business, because of increased traffic, but nearby towns without WalMarts lost 47% of their retail sales, as customers drove out of town to shop at WalMart.

The book goes on, and on, describing in incredible detail how all of WalMart’s behavior – their good behavior, and even their seemingly evil behavior – can be explained by the fact that the company is simply pursuing it’s vision of “Always Low Prices”. And that one consuming idea has shaped with profound effect an entire nation of consumers and their economy.

The War Within by Bob Woodward
This one was a tough read for me, not that the content wasn’t interesting, but that it was just a dry read (well, listen). It’s about the enduring conflict that is the war in Iraq and the war of ideology, strategy, and policy within the Bush administration that has amplified the painful effects of the conflict. It’s not a book about why we went to war, but about the fact that we are at war and we need a new strategy to get out of it.

The war has been so convoluted and confusing that it’s hard for me to draw hard line conclusions about it, especially before, but even after reading this book. Some basic thoughts that have solidified in my mind though:

  • President Bush throughout this entire war truly believed in the mission he was pursuing, knowing his decisions weren’t popular, but in their difficulty were the right thing to do.
  • This absolute confidence regarding the war were both President Bush’s strength, and his downfall.
  • In spite of his resolute stance towards the war, the “mission” was never clearly defined, the goals were never discussed at length within the administration, and success was never outlined for the public.
  • This lack of clarity around a reason and mission for the war is what has made it so difficult for me to support the last few years.
  • Everyone has made personal judgments about the war over the past several years, and we’re entitled to those judgments because we live in America; but I know I want to be cautious about condemning too much because there is so much that we don’t know because there is so much classified information that won’t be made public fo years to come.
  • And so whether it was “right” or “wrong” to go to war, I’m unwilling to say because I simply don’t know, and don’t ever expect to know.
  • Regardless of whether it was right or wrong, Woodward gives credit to Bush for seeking out new strategy when it was apparent that the war was stalling out in 2006/07, and this “surge” strategy was at least partially responsible for the decreased levels of violence in Iraq throughout 2008.

One last thought about all this: We think short term about the war because, obviously, we want it to be over and we want our troops to come home. And truly, I do hope the levels of violence in Iraq do quickly lessen, but we’re fooling ourselves if we think America is going to provide a quick fix and suddenly withdraw and everybody gets to come home. The situation in the Middle East is a long term problem and now that we’re there, we’ll likely be there for the next 50 years. The radical terrorism that breeds in the Middle East is not unlike the radical communism that bred in Eastern Europe 50 years ago, and if throughout this whole process in Iraq the United States can start to influence the region with democracy and begin to root out radical terrorism, then that is a positive outcome of this whole thing.

two disturbing discoveries and one unsettling experience

I came across two disturbing news stories today and one unsettling experience. This left me feeling, well, quite dissettled:

First, Iceland is bankrupt and it’s government has failed. I had read that the country’s banks were going bankrupt in October, but it seems as though things have really taken a turn for the worse today with the Prime Minister resigning and “disbanding the government”. I don’t even understand what that means – disband the government. This makes me sad.

Second, Steph and I are fans of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. Yes, he’s got a bit of a foul mouth but his shows – Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen – are fantastic, and the guy has a culinary gift. That said, recent reports seem to indicate that there have been some financial issues creeping up on him, including two years of back taxes past due and the imminent sale of two of his under performing London restaurants. The report goes on to stir up a storm about supposed marital infidelity, but the facts here seem a bit contradictory. All that to say, I wish the best for Gordon and his family and I’m hoping the reports error on the side of the sensational, and that he comes through all of this in weeks to come.

Finally, I ate at Taco Bell today. As I’m waiting for my three crunchy tacos a guy who has ordered a single burrito proceeds to start a hissy fit at the counter because his order was not placed on a plastic tray. He picks it up, goes to sit down at his table, and then returns to the counter with his wrapped burrito where he engages in an argument with the cashier about how “I ordered this for here and you’re supposed to put it on a tray! I paid for a tray! So put it on a tray!!” He smacks the burrito down on the counter and waits to be given the greasy, brown plastic tray he deserves. The cashier proceeds to hand him a tray, and gingerly places the burrito on it. Weird.

Thanks for reading about my dissettling day.

resolutions v2.09

I generally don’t make New Years Resolutions, and I’ve never written any of them down before. But, well, I’ve got a few on my mind, so I’ll jot them down and we’ll see what happens over the next 12 months:

Resolution #1: Read 24 Books In 2009
I enjoy reading, but since college I’ve been taking a long sabbatical from reading books. I made a little progress here last year with the reading of “4 Hour Work Week” and “Surprised By Hope”, but two books is certainly not enough reading. I also “discovered” audio books, and when I say discovered I mean I finally got myself over the mental hurdle that “listening to a book isn’t really reading it”. I still acknowledge that listening isn’t nearly the same as reading, but I don’t have time to read everything I want to, and listening is better than nothing at all.

So, when I say read I mean that I will either read or listen to 24 books this year. My hope is that this reading will be diverse – business, theology, fiction, etc. I’m part of a men’s Bible study this year, and within that we’ll be reading 6 theology books, so that’s covered. Business books are easy to do on audio book – I’m currently listening to ‘The WalMart Effect’, and it’s absolutely fascinating. I’ll probably update on others as I knock them out.

Resolution #2: Work Out, Or Do Some Physical Activity, For At Least 5 Minutes Each Day
I just have to face facts. I’m basically the most lazy person in the world. And I know that ‘working out’ for 5 minutes a day is hardly working out, and I know that it’s a really sissy thing to write down on this list, but I have to start somewhere. I’ve tried to make resolutions of sorts before regarding health and fitness, and I always fall far short of what I hoped for. Five minutes is intentionally an overly-manageable target, and hopefully it will turn into more than that.

Resolution #3: Go On A Mission Trip
Steph and I have been wanting to do an oversea missions trip since we started attending Grace a few years ago, and timing / finances haven’t come together yet. But this year we’re going to do it – don’t know where yet, or how, but we will. In fact, Steph is filling out her application right now.. looks like I better find my passport.

best albums of 2008

We’re 7 days into 2009, so I better get this done before it becomes completely irrelevant.

Honestly, wasn’t all that thrilled with the albums of 2008. There were a few stellar winners, but I was pretty “meh” on the rest of it. Here’s my Top 10… and if I’m honest, #9 and #10 are stretching it.

#1. Coldplay – Viva la Vida
Finely executed, perfectly produced. A full album listen from start to finish, and in my opinion Coldplay’s best effort yet. I’m particularly fond of “Lovers In Japan” and “Death And All His Friends”. I pre-ordered this album on iTunes and received with it an acoustic version of “Lost” and “Lovers In Japan”. It’s rare that bonus tracks, when tacked on to the end of a record, flow seamlessly with the rest of the content, but with this one they did just that.

#2. Sigur Ros – med sud i eyrum vid spilum endalaust
My favorite Icelander’s. This album wasn’t necessarily a depature, but it was different than previous releases, starting with “Gobbledigook”, the opening song that sets the tone and pace for the album. It’s hard to describe Sigur Ros – anthemic, ethereal, epic, and moody are words I would use but don’t seem to capture it. For me Sigur Ros is like going on a evening hike across a glacier in the middle of winter, north of the Arctic Circle, with the wind to your back and the Northern Lights to your face.

#3. Radiohead – In Rainbows
I called out a friend for including In Rainbows on his ’08 list, but like I said, ’08 was a little lacking, and since mass release via retail did occur in January 2008… well, it’s on my list. This is another one of those great soundtrack-esque albums that sets a mood and demands to be listened from start to finish. “Reckoner” is a favorite of mine and reminds me of cloudy fall days, but I also have to mention the fantastic stereo guitar work on “Bodysnatchers” which must be listened to with headphones on.

#4. La Rocca – OK OKAY
Sophomore effort from La Rocca and it’s pretty decent. They’ve got a good Irish flair to themselves like U2 and others, but it’s not so in your face, and as much as I like soaring arena rock it’s nice to tone things down a little bit with something more along the lines of The Frames. That’s where La Rocca usually sits – more at ease in a pub than a stadium I’m sure.

#5. Low Vs. Diamond – Low Vs. Diamond
I’ve been waiting for this album for a while since Low vs. Diamond released a debut EP in 2007. I suppose it’s along the lines of La Rocca as above, but probably a little more brooding and moody… the sort of thing that you’d hear at the climax of an episode on the CW… oh wait, that’s where I heard them first.

#6. Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Cardinology
Dang, this guy can crank out the songs, and somehow it doesn’t all just sound like same ol’ same ol’. “Magick” is probably one of the most different songs on the album, but I really like “Cobwebs” and “Fix It”. The only thing missing on this album is Adams randomly shouting out “guitar solo!!” That should have been worked into “Magick” at some point I think.

#7. Jon Foreman – Spring
It was fun to be involved on this project back at EMI, and Spring is just 1/4 of a great series of “seasons” EPs released over the last year. I think Spring is one of the more diverse EPs he released, and delves into some very Sufjan-esque styling, such as on “March”. As are all the tracks within the “seasons series”, Spring is aptly titled with a collection of brighter, more energetic tracks… much needed considering my propensity for darker moodier music.

#8. Eric Hutchinson – Sounds Like This
This was a bit of a late discovery for me in 2008, thanks in part to recent radio success with the single “Rock & Roll”. This album is just fun, with some great blues / funk / gospel / soul influences throughout. It’s a little Marc Broussard, a little Jason Mraz, a little Robert Randolph.

#9. Killers – Day & Age
I was really looking forward to this album, so it makes the list more as a result of anticipation than actual worth. I love the radio single – “Human” is a great track, pulsing and driving, with some sort of ’80s thing going on. Frankly the rest of the record was a little lacking. Maybe if Killers, Keane, and Snow Patrol just release a compilation together next time we’d be better off.

#10. Meiko – Meiko
I’m still listening to this album, not sure if it really should get the last spot on the Top 10 list or not… but honestly since I don’t like Fleetwood Foxes and Bon Jov Iver like everyone else did last year I’ve got nothing else to slip in. From the few times I’ve listened to Meiko I like it though – has that laid back, singer-songwriter Ingrid Michaelson thing going on, but without the images of Old Navy sweater commercials running through my head.

advertising in a recession

Advertising messages are becoming more and more complicated as we dive into this recession. The message used to be:

“You like this product. Go buy this product!!”

But now it’s getting messy. For instance, on the radio last night I heard a commercial from a local jewelery company. If I can remember correctly, I think this is the basic premise of the message they were trying to communicate to me:

  1. We are in a recession and times are tough.
  2. And you don’t have as much money to spend on Christmas gifts this year.
  3. Therefore you need to make sure you are getting the most of out of your money in the gifts you buy.
  4. You get the most out of your money when the gifts you buy really make your loved ones feel special.
  5. Therefore you need to show your loved ones you really care about them by shopping for a fine piece of jewelry from our store.
  6. You’ll find that while our jewelry is not the cheapest in town, it is extremely high quality.
  7. Your loved ones will feel special by receiving such a high quality piece of jewelry, knowing you went to great lengths to sacrifice during these difficult times.
  8. And making your loved ones feel special is of course the true spirit of Christmas… isn’t it? Isn’t it??

Christmas certainly got messy this year didn’t it?

i want to be like that

I just received the kindest, most genuine, most encouraging and uplifting email from one of the men I most admire and respect in this world.

I used to work with this particular guy. He is an executive within the company, well respected across the industry, and certainly at the top of his class in his particular field. He is brilliant, passionate and intimidating. You don’t want to sit across the table from him. Not necessarily the type of person you’d generally expect a kind, genuine, encouraging email from.

And yet in the last few years I’ve gotten to know this man, I’ve come to realize that at his core he is a person who cares deeply for other people. He is compassionate and wise. He speaks with truth into your life, directly and honestly. That’s not to say he is putting on an outward front in his professional life – he really is brilliant and intimidating, and that is the result of how much he loves his job.

But it’s been incredible to get to see this personal side of him the last few years. Humbling that I get to experience this side of him. And I think to myself, ‘I want to be like that’ – to exude such grace and encouragement and kindness to other people, and to do it without hesitation. Who am I but just a little guy in his eyes – he’s an important executive – but he doesn’t care… really don’t think he even sees that. I’m just a friend, a brother to him. Just amazing to me.

I’m uplifted by the fact that I am encouraged by other people like this. I observe these traits and I want to see them in my own life.

I think that takes practice.

stop online piracy in five easy steps

This article popped up in my feed yesterday… all I could do was roll my eyes and share it with you. At first I was going to blame this on Reuters (mainstream media) attempting to offer insightful commentary on the music industry. Then I looked closer at the article credits today, saw Billboard was involved, and realized we’ve all been royally punk’d.

Anyways, according to people that think-they-know, these are the “Five Easy Steps” to cutting short the leak of your new hit record on the internets, including such worldly wisdom as…

COMMUNICATE WITH FANS: In cases where the leaked album is not the final version, artists and labels should get the word out to fans that what’s available online is not the finished product. The goal is to convince them to wait for the final, official version by promising better sound quality or other bonuses.

I mean, you’re kidding me right? Tell me these people aren’t serious. This article treats online piracy like it’s a couple four-year-olds screwing around in the back seat… “OK kids, settle down, or I’m turning this car around!” And seriously, the article title – Five Easy Steps To Plug Online Music Leaks – Really? Really??

While they’re at it, they should have thrown in a #6 – Call up the RIAA and have them sue the pants off everyone under the age of 20 on the pretense they’re “guilty-by-association”.

what’s the word

OK, so I’m two and a half weeks into the new job at Word Records, and it’s been going well! Everyone I work with is great, it’s fun to work in a slightly larger team of people, and I’m looking forward to really digging into a lot of the new accounts and artists I have headed my way.

The commute downtown isn’t near as bad as I thought it would be, and so far the drive has been enjoyable. Music Row is surprisingly quiet – sign of the times, probably, and unfortunately – but it makes for uncrowded streets and isn’t anything like trying to navigate Maryland Way in Brentwood at noon-hour.

The first couple weeks has been a bit overwhelming though. There are a lot of expectations throughout the company (regarding what needs to happen with digital sales), and my head is trying to get adjusted to a new catalog, a new distribution process, and an entirely new set of relationships. But I’ve had some small accomplishments. I spent a good portion of last week crafting the official Word digital & mobile retail strategy. I’m quite happy with it and will give me some guidance as to what I need to focus on over the next year.

And that, my friends, is the word.

my thoughts on last night’s election

November 5, 2008 is the first day in the history of the world that an African American has ever been elected President of the United States Of America. That in and of itself is a reason to celebrate as a country. That is no small feat in the course of human events.

I am a social conservative and an economic libertarian. I think Barack Obama’s political policies and agendas are foolish and wrong for the country. I did not vote for him.

But I can still appreciate – and celebrate – the fact that the country has made this great leap forward as a democracy, and I am proud of us for that fact.

All that being said, America made an unwise decision last night in regards to political policy. But I’m not really surprised by that decision though. We’ve grown weary and disillusioned with the war in Iraq. The economy is in the bucket and we’re fearful for our future (not to mention whether or not we’ll have jobs next week). I was pretty mad myself for having to pay flippin’ $4.45 / gallon in gas not just a few weeks ago.

‘Change’ is a pretty simple and compelling platform in times like these.

The next 4 years are going to be rough and painful for us social conservative economic libertarians. At the same time, this ‘loss’ – presidentially speaking – is exactly what we needed.

Going into the election, I was never a huge fan of McCain. I mean, who was? How could the Republican party possibly expect to show up for the big homecoming dance with a candidate like McCain and think they could get a date. It was wrong – all wrong; he exuded too much of the ‘rich old white guy’ political party that everyone had come to hate over the last decade.

In a political atmosphere where Obama was the new, slick rock-star, the Republicans tried to compete by trying to come off more Democrat. It didn’t work.

You can’t out-Democrat the Democrats. The Democratic stronghold would never support a pseudo-liberal like McCain, and in going through the charade, the Republican party deserted their loyal base.

We could go on about everything the Republican’s did wrong the past two years. But it’s pointless to do so. Frankly, for the long-term health of the party, and the eventual turnaround of the country, I’m glad we’re in this spot. The Republican party has 4 solid years to rebuild – maybe 8, who knows – and they must rebuild.

The Republican party needs a redesign more than a Zune in an Apple store.

But it can’t be a simple facelift – some marketing ploy to make the “Republican party cool for the 21st Century”. That’s too short sighted. This needs to be an honest to goodness reorganization. A restructure that restores the faith of the American people in a party that is pursuing what’s best for the country and it’s people.

The Republican party needs to inspire and motivate us again.

Personally, the root ideals of the Republican party – which currently lie buried beneath layers of personal agenda and political mumbo-jumbo – are invigorating to me. The idea that I can shape my own destiny. The idea that my liberty is not dependent on the government. The idea that democracy is worth protecting, and spreading. The idea that freedom is a gift which enables us to be productive, generous, and gracious, and demands that we be humble.

This year, Barack Obama bought the vote of the American people through fiscal promises and uber-slick marketing tactics.

In four years, I hope to see a Republican party that compels the vote of the Amerian people through an inspired vision that motivates us to strive once again for the historic ideals of our country. Not a bleak socialistic future rooted in government reliance and self-defeat; a liberating future where once again WE are the American people.

If they play their cards right, the election of Barack Obama may very well be the very best thing that ever happened to the Republican party.