annie zaleski

we learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school.
Recent Tweets @
Posts I Like
This Rolling Stone piece, "Industry Tries to Survive Summer Concert Season Without Superstars," is super interesting. Raised some red flags, though:

1. Overtouring. From the article: “The sheds, meanwhile, are jammed with aging stars: Lionel Richie, Chicago/REO Speedwagon, Peter Frampton/Doobie Brothers, Foreigner/Styx, Backstreet Boys, Journey/Steve Miller Band and Kiss/Def Leppard.” Save for a few of these acts, all of these bands have toured the U.S. quite a bit in recent summers. (With mixed ticket sales.) Where’s the real impetus to see a band again you may have seen a few years ago?

2. Aging acts. At some point, most of the bands listed above are going to stop touring. Sooner rather than later. What happens then, especially since the concert industry seems very dependent on a group of acts who came of age decades ago? I worry about this a lot, as there aren’t a lot of huge acts taking their place.

3. Causation? Again from the article: “Five years ago, the Great Recession kicked in and crushed the concert business, discouraging cash-strapped fans from buying tickets to overpriced shows. As a result, tours from Rihanna to Lilith Fair had to cancel dates or give away piles of free tickets to fill seats.” The key word in that paragraph is “overpriced.” Blaming the Recession solely for the concert business downturn is a bit unfair; while it absolutely had a part, perhaps inflated ticket costs also played a part. Plus—at least in the case of Lilith Fair—it was traveling in a far different climate than the late ’90s. Weekday attendees would’ve had to take time off work to go to these shows—and they were no longer kids with free time, but adults with day jobs. (At the show I attended, things definitely filled in the later it got in the night.) I think Sarah McLachlan overestimated her ability to draw as well.

4. Shifting trends. This article only touched on it, but things that used to be big draws—rock bands—are no longer a guaranteed seat-filler. Country has absolutely become a tour de force in terms of the summer concert season, seemingly immune to the overtouring problem noted in #1. Livenation has also done smart marketing things such as the MegaTicket to entice fans to buy early, which helps. The company knows well who is buying tickets to these shows, and targets them; I’m not so sure the rock audience is as well-defined (or has as much disposable income) as in the past.

5. Warped Tour. Warped continues to be a huge draw—in huge sheds. I feel like it’s almost taken for granted now. But I think its ability to survive (and thrive) is a testament to the enduring power of younger ticket buyers.

I covered the Rock Hall ceremony for Ultimate Classic Rock. (See my archive here.) Had a few thoughts beyond that, though…

1. Quality. Last night’s show, while long, was of much higher quality than others I’ve been to/seen. I don’t think it was a coincidence, and I think it was because all of the performers are still active, touring musicians. There were no awkward forced reunions. I imagine we’re going to see more ceremonies like this in the coming years, when more modern acts get in. Sure, the HBO broadcast factor plays into it a bit—they want to make it good TV as well as an entertaining night—but it felt far less fusty than in past years.

2. Jett. Wondering if Joan Jett’s presence might mean she/the Runaways might finally get into the Hall. Not that they need the validation to be considered an influence—but it would be nice to see them get the respect they deserve. Jett too is still an incredibly vibrant artist making energized music. And her with the members of Nirvana was great—so delightfully subversive.

3. Women were the performing stars of the night. Not usually something you associate with the Rock Hall, no. The Nirvana tribute was inspiring. (More on that below.) The Linda Ronstadt tribute, on the whole, was really lovely, and showcased the depth of her songwriting. (In fact, she had five of her songs played—more than any other artist honored.) Carrie Underwood really impressed, and Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt were understated and gorgeous. And Stevie Nicks had the line of the night, about the song “Different Drum”:

"I heard that Linda Ronstadt song and thought, ‘That’s what I want to do! I don’t look that good in cutoffs, but I’m doing it!’"

4. That Nirvana thing. This could’ve been a mess, let’s be honest. Or cheeseball city. And it wasn’t. (The after-party was pretty great, too, it seemed like.) It felt like a celebration of Nirvana’s music and legacy, a bunch of pals playing some tunes for old time’s sake. After weeks of mourning Kurt Cobain’s death, it felt like a relief to hear the music sound so alive.


Rookie premieres the previously unreleased Bikini Kill track “Girl Soldier.”

Audio of Nirvana’s Halloween 1993 show, Akron, where Kurt dressed as Barney.

What can i add to the Cobain remembrances that hasn’t been said? it was spring break for me, eighth grade, when he died. i remember hearing about his death via radio (RIP 107.9 The End) while standing in my kitchen, the station fuzzing in and out of range. i remember watching MTV all day while on the phone with my friend Bernard, both of us shocked and upset at what had happened. we were both pretty big Nirvana fans (he was the bigger one, as he had bootlegs); i bought Nevermind as part of a Columbia House haul, and when i was mad at my parents i would sulk in my room and start the record at “Territorial Pissings,” turned up as high as my quasi-rebellion would let me. i still remember being bummed because I couldn’t go to their Akron Halloween show in 1993, but i was well below driving age and there was no way my parents were driving me an hour for a show. but i received In Utero for Christmas ‘93; i found it really obtuse and hard to take. (in many ways, i still do.) and i stayed up late to watch their Seattle New Year’s Eve show broadcast on MTV, which still looks like a hell of a catharsis even today.

The point of this is, my experience with (and relationship to) Nirvana played out all over the country in bedrooms, high school hallways and concert halls. Twenty years ago, so many of us felt different and unique because we were Nirvana fans. The band validated our feelings of otherness and angst, made it okay to feel misunderstood. Today, reading scattered remembrances and emotional recollections of what Nirvana meant, hits home that us weirdos were far less alone than we thought.
Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas.

A close friend of mine works for a tech startup. She is an intensely creative and intelligent person who falls on the risk-taker side of the spectrum. Though her company initially hired her for her problem-solving skills, she is regularly unable to fix actual problems because nobody will listen to her ideas. “I even say, ‘I’ll do the work. Just give me the go ahead and I’ll do it myself,’ ” she says. “But they won’t, and so the system stays less efficient.”


This appears to be echo chamber reporting at its worst. I have to wonder if any of the aforementioned outlets could provide independent reporting or confirmation of this $25 million figure. Most of them appeared to simply use the sensational $25 million as click bait, while disclaiming in the fine print that it was “according to”, and linking to the source. It’s an ugly gut check for a content farming industry that was once known as journalism. But the truth is, for many outlets and at some times, it doesn’t seem to matter what’s verifiable. If it’s sexy and you can blame it on a different media outlet if it turns out not to be true, fire up the CMS!

This smart paragraph right here sums up so many of the problems with online “journalism” today.

a) No editors to add in a dose of healthy skepticism to reporting (or to ask, “Who’s your source?”). Or, really, no editors looking over stories at all before they go online.
b) The increasingly common mindset that if it’s online writing, it can be “fixed,” so no real worry to get it right the first time
c) The problem with sourcing content from less-than-reputable/mainstream places. While there are people doing good work on (I know at least one good reviewer/photographer myself), many aren’t.
d) The inability to think about far-reaching consequences of an article beyond pageviews, reach or whatever other metrics you want to use to measure the “success” of a story. The internet has made it very, very easy to have tunnel vision about writing and forget that what you are writing about has real-world implications beyond, say, your immediate social network.
e) Daily quotas that make it difficult (if not possible) to do the kind of actual reporting/question-asking that helps debunk false information. When you need 10 posts a day, no matter how that happens, rigorous fact-checking falls by the wayside.

Etc. Etc.

Also, I’m glad it wasn’t my imagination that the whole Gaga promo campaign seemed like a witch hunt from the start. There was so much negativity stacked against her from day one, and while I thought the record had musical flaws, it didn’t stand a chance in public perception. People wanted that record to fail—and unsourced facts like these just reinforced what people wanted to believe. Internet hivemind at its finest.

The internet is no longer a place where there is divide between those who make and those who consume. The culture of blogger and reader is obsolete. In the same way that blogs opened up publishing and turned readers into writers, social media and micro-blogging platforms like Tumblr gave the remaining blog readers that weren’t already blogging a platform to become their own bloggers, curators (though I won’t open that whole can of worms debate here right now) and content hubs. Someone that would have typically read a blog, left a comment and moved on now reads a blog or any other content platform and can take content (anything from a photo to a bigger concept) and carry that back to their home (be it a Pinterest board or an Instagram feed) and make it their own in some way. Or they can just carry it back and re-post it there without any commentary. Like it or not (and I spent most of last year sulking about not liking it), this is the way the internet has changed and we all have so much to learn from this trajectory.


Former Spin editor Mark Blackwell posted the above images on his Facebook page last night and encouraged me to share:

"From my collection of stuff…here’s a never-before-seen Polaroid of Nirvana taken as a test during our cover shoot for the October 1993 issue of Spin magazine. It’s been in a box of my old photos for over 20 years. You can see the creases where the Polaroid was folded to approximate the eventual rectangular cropping of the cover. 
Photo by Frank W. Ockenfels III.”

Mere babies.

(via rockhalllibrary)


So given that, and given that being a writer means facing nonexistent job security, probably nonexistent benefits, low pay that’s still probably much more than their value to the system, dubious prospects for advancement and few obvious routes out, the same publish-or-perish problem as academia (which shares more than a few these traits), and a peanut gallery of commenters and colleagues that’s more likely to trash other writers than the system they’re in, whether out of gossip or fear for their own careers, it’s a miracle anyone produces good work at all! The decline in writing quality, as I see it, is tied directly to the decline in work conditions and morale. I see in my own work, and I see it in others’ work, and I see it in the spaces where others’ work used to be.

I love this point, because it’s so absolutely true. to have the time, space and clarity of mind to work on a piece—REALLY work on a piece—is an absolute luxury. whether this is because you have to have a day job to supplement your writing career, or whether you have to write 8 blog posts a day to scrounge up cell phone bill money, writing well—and writing smart—is something reserved for the few.

The idea of morale is an important one, as it’s not just reserved for writers (although that’s absolutely the case in many newsrooms, virtual or not). it’s so distracting to be in a place where morale is low; it’s also emotionally draining and a drain on ambition. throw in financial insecurity—and no real good path out—and it’s a very frightening thing. This also dovetails nicely with a Tweet from Maura, which says “any ‘state of music journalism’ piece that isn’t accompanied by an analysis of where the money went (‘away’) is not worth its pixels. sorry.”

I think this isn’t just a music journalism problem—although it’s DEFINITELY felt in that area—but a problem with the way the web has devalued words. much in the way that people expect to get certain things on the internet for free (music, newspapers, etc.), people expect to get writing for free. it’s no longer a commodity just for the most talented, who are able to get book deals and write for print newspapers; anyone who wants to write can fire up a blog, join Twitter, start a publication or even self-publish a book. much like so many other things, writing has been democratized. there are many consequences from this. on the good side, it’s made it easier for people to connect. (shout out to ’90s proto-blog girl-diary culture, LiveJournal and now Twitter.) you can find kindred souls much easier now, no matter where you live. and if you have something to say—you know, kind of like this—you don’t need someone else to greenlight your thoughts. you are empowered to share them freely.

but on the downside, there are now far more people vying for a dwindling amount of paying writing opportunities. and in many cases, it’s also the fact that instead of having one budget just for, say, a print section—now there’s a blog/website that needs to be filled daily with articles AND a print section that needs different articles. it’s exponentially more writing paid out from a pool of money that hasn’t grown at the same rate. the other catch is that many publications were slow to consider the importance of a website/web presence. in some cases this was poor strategy; in other cases, i think this was a subtle dig at the idea of online writing, as its ephemeral nature made it somehow worth less than an indelible print piece. either way, prices for online pieces reflected this inattention (or this snobbishness). it’s a rather pointed psychological distinction that i’ve always found interesting.

circling back: because so much music writing lives online—or moved online in the Great Blog Gold Rush of the mid-’00s—naturally this genre was one of the biggest casualties of the wage downturn. it’s distressing to me as a long-time writer, because it’s harder than ever to not only turn out the type of thoughtful essays that are interesting, important and compelling—but also to be compensated for them. the vinyl revival has re-introduced the idea of music as a tangible object to be treasured and preserved. maybe we should re-introduce—or continue to push—the notion of books and magazines, to help writing reclaim some of the value it’s lost.