Elements of a Good Band Website

Okay, so here’s a rant that I’ve had boil up in my head for the better part of a year or two, and finally, well, I’m here.

If I made a band’s Web site, I would have, at a minimum:

  1. Lyrics to the songs. This is so unbelievably important, and it’s so unfuckinglybelieveably frustrating that more bands don’t do it. Let me give you a hint, bands: hiding your lyrics from the Web will just have some fanboy put them out there for the world to see, and the people who will get the traffic [and the ad revenue] are the shady jerks with the “Congratulations, you have won a free Nintendo Wii!” ad that screams at you the moment the page loads. You want that traffic. Why? You want them to know who you are.
  2. Tour date listings. Essential. It’s a pain to update them, I know. There’s many apps out there for that, but I would choose Yahoo!’s Upcoming if I were you. Upcoming is searchable, scriptable, extensible, and also pretty darn easy to update. Then there are folks like me who use All Crazy Style to mash up Upcoming data with Last.FM plays to find out when bands I like are playing near me. Real simple: you load the data in Upcoming, and you can spit it out on your site. You can update Upcoming from anywhere.
  3. Links to listen to your stuff. Don’t fire music at me when I load your site. I know you’re a musician, but the Web is largely about text. Let me choose to listen, and give me that option, but that auto-load bullshit is for MySpace. [And don’t get me wrong, MySpace has value.]
  4. Links to buy your stuff. These need to be everywhere: main site, discography pages, album pages, individual song pages. If you create a page per song, that individual song page should have a link of a place to buy that song—iTunes, eMusic, what have you. You want to cater to the fan coming in to Google some obscure lyric they heard on a commercial or in a Zach Braff vehicle—they’re gonna buy that shit if you give them half a chance.

The way to think about it is this: most people aren’t going to load up your main Web site and have that be their entry point. They just aren’t. Google is going to send them to you. So, think about a song you really love, Mr. Band Guy, and Google that. So, if you love Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, you get Last.FM’s page for the song … which has … BINGO … iTunes link. Last has done the heavy lifting for you here. But they’re gonna do that for Page and Plant … chances are they won’t for your garage band.

Some thoughts: if you get a song picked up for Grey’s Anatomy or Kyle XY or whatever, you want to 1) have that fact listed on a page about that song, and not just in a news feed/blog 2) lyrics of the song on that page, so the Googlers who are bad with names but good with ears for mumbled lyrics can find it and 3) a quick, fast way for them to buy that song and 4) relevant links on that page to find out more about you. The scenario is this: “I heard this killer song on Scrubs last night. Let me find it on Google … ooooh, there it is. 99 cents? Sure, I love that song. Hmm … who is this guy? Let me read more about him …”

It’s hell getting found in the music business. It’s hell getting found in the blogging world, too—which is why this entry is named like it is. Chances are that, if you’re not one of my regular readers, you got here from the Goog, too … so you should be nodding your head.

Okay, okay, okay, examples.

Bad: M. Ward: LOUD MUSIC, can’t find shit. Damn shame, because I love M. Ward.

Poor: Shearwater, which has a lyrics page for their stuff, but … in PDF. I know, you want art. I want to cut and paste the lyrics into iTunes. Don’t make me work, dammit.

Okay: The Mountain Goats, who have lyrics for The Sunset Tree available, but that page does not get you anywhere on that site. There isn’t a link to be found—not to the rest of the site, not to a place to buy the song you Googled, nothing. Kudos for posting the links, though.

Good: Andy Osenga, and not just because he uses some of my photos on the site. But he’s still not to great, because lyrics … Andy Osenga lyrics on Google don’t get you anywhere near him. [Or, for that matter, near andrewosenga.net, which is a problem Chris Hubbs and I should fix…]

Great: well, hell, no one really comes to mind. Leave suggestions for good band sites in the comments.

Folks, I know … this shit is hard. But it makes you money, so you better work at it.

“Suspend the Campaign” Is the New “Sex”

So … McCain suspended his campaign, snubbing Letterman but still appearing on Katie Couric’s cameras. Then he meets with everyone yesterday, in what many felt was “a rescue plan for McCain” rather than the country. And now he’s going to the debates [which I’m glad of, even if Nate Silver might have it right on how he’s doubling-down here] … but did he ever really suspend the campaign?

Dave Letterman is right: “This is not how a tested hero behaves.” And that’s the problem—the John McCain we’re getting to vote for in five-ish weeks is not the guy who ran in 2000 or even the guy from 2007. Of course, neither has Obama kept to his lofty ideals; this has just denigrated to your normal level campaign.

So Chris tweeted: “So McCain will go ahead and debate tonight. Snarky comments from @gfmorris in 3… 2… 1… ” I responded thusly:

  1. “John saw Sarah’s “performance” with Katie Couric and didn’t want to send her in his stead.”
  2. “It all depends on what your definition of ‘suspending the campaign’ is.”
  3. “It’s amazing that, in 2008, we’re excited about an *old white guy* going to Ole Miss. James Meredith must be proud.”

Let’s look at this dispassionately: If you came in from another planet and were shown the actions of the two candidates and were told, “One of these guys has been at the national seat of government for more than two decades, was a prisoner of war for over five years, and used to command a military organization; the other guy is a first-term member of the higher house of the national seat of government, has far less experience than his opponent, and is a quarter-century younger,” and then told that same observer the actions of McCain and Obama in the last week … wouldn’t you think that this observer would figure the panicky, impassioned responses for Obama and not McCain?

I mean, if you’d told me that, less than six weeks before the election, the economy was going to crater and either Obama or McCain would be losing their shit, I would’ve bet on Obama—and I’m an Obama supporter.

The Palin Pick

Okay, I’ve had some time to digest why I think the nomination of Sarah Palin is wrong, and I’m now ready to make the coherent argument.

Coming into the conventions, Republicans who considered themselves likely voters indicated in most polls that, on average, 87% of them were ready to vote for McCain as President. Contrast this with Obama, who had only 83% of likely Democratic voters in his pocket. The reason for Obama’s poorer showing, heading into Denver, was singular: the Hillary hangover.

Let’s consider who those likely voters that weren’t with their party’s presumptive nominees were. For the Democrats, it wasn’t the liberal base: those folks have been with Obama over Hillary for quite some time, given their varied stances on the Iraq War. [Regardless of the effect that Obama’s moderation of his stance might have on those voters, Obama voters don’t seem inclined to flee him even though he’s moved to the center a bit.] No, it was three groups in Hillary’s core that Obama wasn’t reaching: working-class folks, women voters who still wanted Hillary as President [which I get, I really do; in the reverse situation, you’d probably have some black voters who were reluctant to be behind Hillary with the taste of the promise of a President Obama still on their tongues], and older voters. Joe Biden, with his age, roots, and experience, ameliorates two of those three things. And Billary probably did their dead-level best to unite the party behind Obama in Denver; sure, there are going to be some defectors, but those folks were most likely already leaning that way before Barack ever set foot in Colorado.

For the GOP, it’s mostly voters from the base, the kind of folks who think McCain is too much a maverick and worry if he’s conservative enough. Palin might have the sheen of a moderate, corruption-fighting maverick from Alaska, but the first quotes I saw about her were from Ralph Reed and James Dobson—the very folks that were wary of McCain. Palin’s history—mainly her narrative about choosing to carry a Down’s syndrome child to term—solidly puts her in the conservative end of things. I see video clips of her shooting a gun and know that my dad is sitting in Tennessee, smiling that a pro-gun governor from the west kicks ass.

But here’s the difference in the calculus: if you make the argument that the bases aren’t going to defect to a third-party candidate [in this case, Bob Barr for the GOP], why not go to the center? Obama’s pick of Biden moves him towards the center, as Biden picks up the few hawkish Democrats and those in the center that were for the war but who’ve not liked how it’s been prosecuted [hello, right here] as well as helping Obama with the working-class gruffs who love that he rides the train home to Delaware every night, rather than living in Washington. [And I love that, too.] Palin, on the other hand, seems to be designed to do two things: 1) shore up the GOP base and 2) pick off Hillary supporters purely by being a female. Ummm … that seems like a grand miscalculation of the likelihood of centrists moving to McCain.

As I was writing this, Kari and I were trading emails about the Palin pick [amongst other things; our friendship is mostly based on these emails we trade when we need to talk things out, hehehe], and she pointed me to Andrew Sullivan’s piece on how Palin is not, in early polling, pulling the undecideds:

But among the critical undecideds, the Palin pick made only 6 percent more likely to vote for McCain; and it made 31 percent less likely to vote for him. 49 percent said it would have no impact, and 15 percent remained unsure. More to the point: among undecideds, 59 percent said Palin was unready to be president. Only 6 percent said she was. If the first criterion for any job is whether you’re ready for it, this is a pretty major indictment of the first act of McCain’s presidential leadership.

One other striking finding. If McCain thought he could present Palin as a moderate, he was wrong. A whopping 69 percent view her as conservative (37 percent as very conservative), and only 13 percent see her as moderate.

From this first snap-shot (and unsettled) impression, Palin has helped McCain among Republicans, left Democrats unfazed, but moved the undecideds against him quite sharply. I totally understand why.

So, who would I have picked, were I McCain? I would have taken Joe Lieberman in a heartbeat, concerns about the conservative wing of the GOP defecting and/or staying home notwithstanding. Here’s the thing: the folks on the right-wing of the GOP are scared of Obama. They don’t like his politics, but they realize that he resonates with Americans in many of the same ways that Reagan did thirty years ago. Remember, the GOP loves Reagan [and with, I would say, fairly good reason, the failures of trickle-down economics notwithstanding; all in all, I think Reagan did a very good job]; they see Obama as someone who will do the same thing for the Democrats. Also, conservative voters know that one main reason W won in 2000 was the Nader Effect. Conservatives like holding the White House, and I think that, in the end, they would’ve held their noses and voted for McCain-Lieberman.

Why do I care? Really, it’s simple: I want the best two candidates possible. I voted for McCain in the Alabama primary because I thought he was the best of the GOP field; I’m planning on voting for Obama because I think he’s the better candidate. But just because I now find myself in the Obama camp—a weird place for me, as I’ve voted Dole, Bush, and Bush since I turned 18—doesn’t mean that I want to see the GOP roll over and play dead. I want the best thing for this country, and I think the best thing for America would be a spirited, principled discussion between the two sides. And, in the case that Obama lost, I would want McCain to have the best partner in governance on his side—and I think that’s Joe Lieberman, not Sarah Palin.

If you follow my delicious bookmarks, you’ll see that I’ve bookmarked a lot about Palin already. I’m this fired up about it because I think it’s the wrong decision. I wanted the right one, because I want the best thing for this country.

Public Policy as an SAT Question

It’s clear that demand for fossil fuels, especially light, sweet crude, is now beginning to outstrip the market’s ability to supply it. Whether or not this is truly an indication of peak oil or not, we have met a point where what has long been seen as an inelastic demand curve—American’s thirst for fossil-fuel-sourced energy—has met a global demand spike. [As someone who buys high-grade aluminum alloys and stainless steels as a part of his job, I can tell you that many commodities are really on the rise given the spectacular growth in Asia.]

With this in mind, there are many proposals afoot to enable drilling for crude oil in areas currently under legal protection from doing so: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, continental shelf areas in the Gulf of Mexico, etc. Is drilling for oil at these times most like:

  1. Printing your own money during a currency crunch.
  2. Teaching an alcoholic how to build a still when alcohol taxes go through the roof.
  3. Hammering your thumb to take your mind off of your leg being cut off.
  4. Fiddling while Rome burns.

Answer and discuss.

Helping Our Own

Back in April, I wrote about how students at my alma mater might have to pay for room and board. Unfortunately, this is now a reality. As a result, I’m sending the MSMS Foundation $55 every two weeks [$1350/26 > to the nearest $5] for the next year. I’m only doing it this way because I’m not sure what the state will do next year. I’ll see what they do and adjust accordingly.

Fellow MSMS alumni, I urge you to consider doing something similar. You may not be able to afford to throw $55 at the Foundation every paycheck—but figure out what you can. We were given a great gift, and we need to propagate that gift through the generations.

Poking the Bear

Yeah, even I’m not terribly thrilled with gas prices these days, previous commentary to the contrary. But the point that I was trying to express back in August 2005 was perhaps better expressed by Robert Reich earlier this week, in his post about how the wage gap is fueled by the gas gap:

Low-wage workers in rural areas are taking the biggest hit, but those who work in cities aren’t faring much better. It used to be that the very poor inhabited central cities and the working class lived in the inner suburbs, but now that the rich are moving back into town, the poor are being pushed outward. Retail, restaurant, hospital and hotel employees who work in upscale cities often must look 30 to 50 miles from their jobs for affordable housing. Their longer commutes mean they need to spend more on gas.

To quote myself from 2005:

But the next SUV driver I see in Madison complaining about gas prices on the local news … well, pardon me if I feel like punching ‘em in the face.

It helps to know that Madison, Alabama is the yuppie suburb of Huntsville, itself an economically prosperous part of an otherwise economically downtrodden state. People around here drive SUVs not for sports utility but for status uplift.

[And if I could go back ten years and read my Weblog now, I’d be stunned that I was agreeing with Reich, too.]

Gas Prices and Fisking

Every so often, a piece I wrote in 2005 about gas prices gets people leaving snide comments. I thought I’d fisk today‘s, ’cause I’m feelin’ snarky.

Lets see we can go to mars. We can build a space station. You kind of get the idea.

Sure do. I work in manned spaceflight. None of this means anything, not even considering that the International Space Station is managed out of Houston, a notable oil city. Your point?

MB comes out with a car that is the size of my shoe and it only gets 35miles per gal. So why can’t we make a car that get 60 to 70 miles per gallon??? I have a 2 seater sports car that has a supper charger on it and I get 29MPG on the highway.

None of that is internally consistent. I drive a Subaru Impreza WRX wagon, and not only does it drink 93 octane, but being turbo-charged and all-wheel drive means that it’s lucky to get 27mpg on the interstate. Does it suck to fill that up at $45 a tankful? Yeah, it does. I would love it if 93 octane were still $1.45 a gallon. That would rule. But it’s not.

You can kind of fill in the blanks. I have this feeling the good old American public is getting the screw job. I don’t hear anyone talking about this on the campaign trail. But we know big oil is a big backer of our dear legislators.

Still lost as to what the point is here. And frankly, I do hear folks talk about the economy on the campaign trail—and I saw campaign footage of Hillary Clinton at a gas station. So it’s being discussed. And sure, oil companies donate lots of money to politicians—same as every large corporate strata in this country. I don’t like any of that, but I don’t see it getting fixed anytime soon.

And yeah, this is a painful cost increase to working folks. But here’s the perfect storm that’s happened, as I see it:

  • Relative economic prosperity and low gas prices in the 1990s finished the drive away from the fuel-efficient cars we saw in the latter half of the 1970s and early 1980s. Why were those cars built then fuel-efficient? Gas crises in the 1970s the last time oil prices were up this high [indexed to inflation, that is]. When oil was below $20 a barrel, the American dream of driving a bad-ass vehicle came back in vogue—you could fill up that Ford Explorer for less than the cost of steak dinner.
  • American fiscal policy has radically weakened the dollar. Even if oil was no more expensive to get out of the ground or no more sought on the market, the very fact that oil commodities are sold in dollars means that, as the dollar weakens, the price of oil is commensurately going to rise. [In fact, it would be interesting to convert 2008 oil prices into 2006 dollars for shits and giggles.]
  • American foreign policy in stirring shit up in the Middle East has everyone worried that oil production in this country or that country could be cut off, which always drives scarcity.
  • More of the world is developing, and let’s be honest, powering with oil is damn easy—light it on fire, turn the heat energy into steam, and use the steam to drive a turbine.

I figure that the rise of hybrids and generally smaller and more fuel efficient cars—here comes my friend Stephen to talk about his Honda Fit, which is about the size of my WRX and probably has half the operating costs—will continue as long as oil prices are high. I’d love to see CAFE—Corporate Average Fuel Economy—standards pushed ever higher, because let’s be honest—we’ve not spurred automakers to be more efficient with market means. When we’re given the ability to be cheap and lazy about our energy use, we’ll become profligate. Only when it’s expensive do we worry about it.

We’re fighting human nature here, and fundamentally, I think that’s what government does. Some certainly disagree with me, but I think that’s what it is.

[Now let’s see if linking to that old entry gets more comments with email addresses of “fuck@you.com”, eh?]

Surging in the ‘nati

Dear ESPN:

I know that it’s totally cliché to write open letters to you on Weblogs. I mean, I was probably doing it back when I ran TOTK. You know, before I had to shave. [Or before I grew the beard and quit shaving.] Anyway: my beloved Cincinnati Reds have won six straight and eight of ten. They’ve somehow dug out of last place and now are sniffing the division “chase”, which in the NL Central is best defined as “the team least averse to finishing over .500”. Sure, the Reds are 60-70 and maybe only have a 1% chance of winning the division title at this point, but … do you think that you could have found a minute or two to air highlights of their sweep of the Marlins in the one-hour Sunday night Baseball Tonight?

No? Okay. Screw you.


“I Owe the Sender a Response” Is a Fallacy

As the writer of a sarcastic five-paragraph essay on five-sentence emails, you might think that I saw Mike Davidson’s announcement of sentenc.es and had a response to the idea. Davidson’s argument is that “the time commitment difference between sender and receiver is huge … the sender will ask two or three open-ended one sentence questions which elicit multi-paragraph answers.” I have a simple, two-fold response. First: if the sender deserves a response, ask questions in return that refine the open-ended initial inquiry—force this to be a conversation and not an opportunity for you to spend a half-hour answering what is, likely, a half-formed question anyway. Second: not every email deserves a response.

Q: Why is this entry exactly five sentences?
A: http://geof.is.a.sarcastic.asshole.gfmorris.net/

Bad Infographic by CNN

Right now, CNN.com’s main page has an infographic running on the Senate results that just plain sucks:

Sucky infographic from CNN

Let’s just list the problems here:

  1. The GOP doesn’t have a majority with 50 Senators; it has control because Dick Cheney is VP. There is no majority in a 50-50 Senate; control is run through the VP to break ties, but that only provides vote-by-vote majorities.
  2. There aren’t 49 Senators and Senators-elect who are announced Democrats; there are 47.
  3. The worst of all: there are two Independent Senators: Bernie Sanders from Vermont and Joe Lieberman from Connecticut. Listing them as Democrats is wrong, because they aren’t. [Despite Joe’s proclamations.] They’re both officially Independents, even though they’ll both caucus with the Democrats.

How should this be fixed?

  1. 47 Democrats.
  2. 2 Independents.
  3. “Needed for Control: 49 Dem, 50 GOP” replaces the “Needed for Majority” text. If you want to add more info, you note that both Independents will side with the Democrats.

It’s just plain horrible work by CNN [and I’m picking on them while there are undoubtedly many other news outlets doing the same thing]; your audience is smart enough to know about Sanders and Lieberman and Cheney, so write the graphics correctly and let the folks do some thinking. The folks that won’t get it probably don’t care about this stuff anyway, so … report the facts and don’t do the analysis in the graphic when it distorts the facts even as it represents some level of truth.

Okay, gripe over.