Chapter 18 – The Futilism of Feudalism

When it comes to the creation of art, there is nothing quite as useful as money.

There is an inherent irony—a disconnect, even—that goes along with being an Artist in a Capitalist world. On the one hand, the Arts are the lifeblood of an intelligent society. Art is how we describe ourselves, and it helps to spark societal conversations necessary for improvement, if not for survival. I would go so far as to say that pop art is the ultimate reflection of society.

Don’t think about that too much. It’s too painful.

On the other hand, it seems no one wants to pay for their art anymore. The increasing attitude is that art belongs to the commons—although I doubt it’s that well thought out—and many view the purchase of art as nothing short of obscene. Why buy a book? That’s what Torrents are for. Why buy music? That’s what Streaming is for.

And while it’s true that downloading a book from a Torrent site is theft perpetrated by the consumer, and Streaming is Big Tech legally taking advantage of technological loopholes caused by stagnant laws and even more stagnant lawmakers, the results are the same: Artists don’t get paid.

Unfortunately, this produces a great many “starving Artists,” which tends to propagate the meme that it is through an Artist’s suffering that she bears her art. Which is true. But there are a great many ways to suffer that don’t necessarily involve being poor. Rich people suffer too.

It’s not poverty that drives one as an Artist. I mean, would Picasso—who had a Middle-Class upbringing, and who was arguably the most successful visual Artist in history—have made a better Artist were he poor? And wouldn’t a comfortably wealthy and world-famous Picasso be precluded from continued success? And how would we explain Seward Johnson, one of the Heirs to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, whose unique brass sculptures can be found adorning yards all over central New Jersey? Of course, his art is generally panned as kitsch, but that shouldn’t diminish my point—that is to say, you don’t have to be poor to reflect the world from an unusual angle.

I’ve always wondered how great life must be for those who win the MacArthur Genius Grant—officially called the MacArthur Fellowship. The grant of $625,000 paid out in $125,000 installments over the course of five years is awarded to people in a wide variety of fields, mostly within the Arts and Sciences. According to the MacArthur Foundation’s Wiki page, “the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential.”

How the fuck do you invest in someone for their potential without proof of concept through past accomplishment? That makes no sense. It’s Rrritarded, even. There has to be something worthy of notice. I mean, is the foundation just going to hand the award out to some random person with a nice smile? Here. Congratulations, Walmart shopper! You won a MacArthur Genius Grant today!

The most intriguing part about this fellowship is that the nominations for the award are made by a top-secret board, which includes an unspecified number of members. They’re like the Illuminati of the grant-giving world, and thereby nearly impossible to lobby. I suppose the best one could do is make a public spectacle of himself in the hopes of getting their secret attention. As you can imagine, I’m manifestly beneath such things.

Ahem.

Still, these were not times for grant envy. As nice as it would be to see $125K in my bank account, it would only be half as nice as the quarter mil deposited by Willy Show this morning. MacArthur MacSchmarthur! This was no handout. This was big business.

Of course, my Douchebag banker was desperately trying to get ahold of me. He made all sorts of offers designed to pay me a little money so that the bank could make a lot of money without any risk. Such are the perks of being too big to fail, I suppose. And as nice as it was—as secure as I felt seeing that quarter million in my bank account—it wasn’t my personal money, even if it was in my personal account. Those funds were designated for my business and were nothing but a down payment on a massive prize should we prove successful. In all honesty, I was starting to get a bit overwhelmed.

You see, it is now painfully apparent to me that we are in way over our heads. I say this because Willy Show has made it quite clear that we are being left to our own devices until we prove that the Douchebag Song can garner a reaction. Unfortunately, we have no infrastructure with which to push the Song. Technically, we still don’t even have a business yet, although Aardy did file the paperwork to incorporate. We chose the name C@taclysmic Group Inc., which had much to do with Aardy’s relentless sharing of kitten videos. At all times, kittens were on the mind. Besides, C@taclysmic Group Inc. just seemed perfectly appropriate given that our Distributor is Easter Island Records. What could be more C@taclysmic than extinction?

Further problematic is the fact that we still haven’t received the contract from Willy, and while it’s not unusual to negotiate the fine details of an agreement like this well after work has begun, the terms—as I understood them—seemed to be morphing, much like in a game of Calvinball, in which the rules are made up as you play the game. This is precisely why we put agreements in writing, to lock in the terms. Inexplicably, Kanish and I were now somehow completely responsible for unlocking radio through a viral Internet campaign. And here I’d thought this was going to be a two-pronged attack.

Then there’s the video, for which we had no director, nor the time to hire one. Aardy, Kanish, and I were all in agreement. We couldn’t take the chance. It was critical that we beat Rev out of the gate, but were we really the ones to make a video? What happens if it turns out that we suck at conceptualizing and directing our own music videos? Would that kill our chances to blow up the track? Can a song spread virally without a video? I don’t know the answer to any of that, yet here I am making decisions as if I do.

It gets worse. We have no idea of the demographic that would be attracted to this song. We haven’t filed with a Performance Rights Organization like SESAC, ASCAP or BMI who would collect Performance Royalties for us. Before yesterday, we didn’t even have stage names. Hell, we technically didn’t even know who the Artist was until Willy dubbed us DJ Produsah Mixerman and Knish Knosh Too.

At this point, I must acknowledge that we literally have no fucking plan whatsoever. We’re just making this shit up as we go along. But then, that’s no different than before—it’s just that now we have what seems like a sizable chunk of money to burn in the process. And I do mean burn, because a quarter mil isn’t nearly enough to accomplish our goals. Volatile human viral reactions require an enormous injection of cash and manpower at just the right moment, and if we’ve learned anything throughout this journey, it’s that it takes $7 million and a full staff at Universal in order to blow up a song by a proven commodity. Which begs the question, how much does it take to blow up an unproven one?

We have no support whatsoever from our Distributor. We’ve never spoken to any staff at Easter Island Records. We’ve never been to Label headquarters. Our only relationship is with Willy—who we always meet alone at Mel Odious Sound. And thus far, all that he’s really offered us is a little play money. That alone wasn’t going to break us. We needed significantly more resources for the task at hand.

I can assure you it’s a bit unsettling to realize that you’ve somehow managed to metaphorically hike miles into a deep dark cavern, only to get precisely halfway through before you run out of light. But let’s face it, aren’t we all kind of in that situation? Aren’t we all just groping around in the dark right now? Everything has changed so rapidly in this business—in life, really—that the old way of doing things rarely seems to apply. Except for one thing. Money. Money is still king, and it’s worse now than it ever has been.

Say what you want about how great the Internet is, say what you like about how it’s changed the way we consume entertainment and how it’s opened the doors to entrepreneurship. Argue all that you might that anyone can now break through from any position, so long as they have a great product. Tell me all day every day how anyone can be discovered on the Internet. The reality is, you need more money than ever before in order to break into the collective consciousness of society. And while that may happen out of nowhere from time to time, the odds of achieving widespread artistic success without substantial backing is about as likely as winning the lottery. Yes, people all over the US win the lottery every day. The odds of doing so are still astronomical.

Yes, our task was simple in its impossibility. We had to reach large swath of listeners with the Douchebag Song in order to spark a viral reaction, and we didn’t have enough resources to reach a tipping point. To make matters worse, we had but one shot at it. This was the longest of long shots.

Fortunately, despite my own doubts, Kanish was undeterred.

“Forgive me, but it is time to now stop fucking around,” Kanish announced as he tossed four darts toward the board, all of which crashed spectacularly midair before careening to the floor.

“You both are vehdy, vehdy wonderful at what you do, but I do not believe that either of you are to be Moguls. It is clear to me that Willy has left us to man this ship ourselves, and so it is now time for us to shuffle the buffet tables.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell Kanish that the ship sinks after the shuffling of the buffet tables. The deck chairs too. As hurtful as it was for Kanish to crush my dreams of Moguldom, it was really only a matter of time before he figured out the truth of the matter, and that time was now. Indeed, Aardy and I were not to be Moguls.

“I have come to the conclusion,” Kanish continued, “that we need a marketing plan for the Douchebag Song. I have some tricks up my sleeve, let me tell you. But our first goal is to put out a video that will bring to us some attention, is it not? I believe I know precisely how to do that.”

Aardy shot me a look, as if to say, Who the fuck is this? I wasn’t sure myself, but I liked him vehdy, vehdy much.

“As Mixerman is fond of saying,” Kanish continued, “the Douchebag Song is an Everyman song. The party nature of the group chorus is inviting to all who hate Douchebags. And we do all hate Douchebags, especially when they are driving slow in a Prius.”

“There’s no arguing with that,” I agreed.

“I ask you this. If the Everyman will sing this Song, then why shouldn’t the Everyman make our videos, too?”

Yes, of course! Why shouldn’t the Everyman make our videos too?

Kanish was describing the business model of Big Tech. Get the user base to create content, which generates eyeballs, which advertisers pay to reach. In exchange, Big Tech shares just enough of the ad revenue with their largest content providers to make it appear as though it’s a viable business model for the rest of us. This is nothing new, mind you. It’s really just a modern spin on Feudalism—the Lord of the Manor exploits us lowly Serfs to work the land in exchange for our own meager sustenance.

It sounds so terrible when I put it that way, doesn’t it?

Kanish was right. It makes no sense to create our own video when we could get all sorts of submissions for no money down. This would reserve that quarter mil for much more important expenses, like promotion. As Kanish pointed out, we would only need one good clip. What better way to find it than to take advantage of desperate would-be Directors looking for a break?

Hey, as fucked up as it may be that many of us are now living in a modern version of Feudalism, we do have to operate within the structure that exists—fair or not, and it’s never fair. I mean, look at me. I sell more books than 98 percent of the authors out there, yet I’m posting this story for free. Granted, that’s partly because of my agreement with Paneer, but I can assure you that I would have done so anyway. We’re all getting so crushed by rampant Copyright Infringement, there’s almost no choice. The only way to actually make any money is to reach millions of readers, and that requires some modicum of fame. As far as I can tell, there really is only one viable business model anymore: Get famous. Capitalize.

“Here is my proposal to you both,” Kanish said as he laid his darts on the Raven. “There are many, many young video Directors in need of much notoriety. I would suggest we put the Song to a clip that simply says ‘Your Video Here,’ in bold letters. It seems to me vehdy, vehdy foolish to make our own video when we could get ten for free by the end of next week.”

Certainly, most of those videos would be atrocious, but we only needed one of them to go viral. The problem is that the most atrocious video could be the one that takes off. Still, we’d take what we could get. Viral is viral. We have but one goal—to generate $5 million in revenue before any of the others. What with Produsahs the El Capitan and GQ due to get their very own Billionheirs, we would soon have plenty of competition.

“Now,” Kanish said as he took a swig from his beer, “we should discuss our next order of business. Our Billionaires’ Heir infestation.”

I must admit, I have not been as careful with my words as I probably should have been around Kanish. I accidentally let the term Billionaire’s Heir slip a few days back, and much to my surprise, Kanish glommed onto the term as if it weren’t almost slur-like.

“I spoke with Mukesh earlier today,” Kanish continued. “As I surmised, I do indeed personally know the Billionaire’s Heir arrivals. Whether we are all friends or not is debatable, but all four of us are certainly quite friendly. As it turns out, it is Mukesh who has been spreading word of all the available Producer Internships in this city.”

The way he’d said it, I was half wondering if he’d come across a Craigslist ad:

Producer seeking Billionheir to make sweet music. Apply within.

“Now, I’m afraid I also have some vehdy, vehdy bad news,” Kanish said as he lit up a Fatty. “It seems there are more Billionheirs on the way.”

The moment we got to four Billionheirs, I knew it was only a matter of time before there would be more. It seems everyone wants to Produce music these days, and the Billionheirs are the only ones who can actually afford to do so. It was predictable that the Billionheirs would arrive in droves. Still, I wasn’t happy about it.

“How many more Billionheirs are on their way?” I quipped. “And who are their owners?”

“I’m not sure that’s nearly as interesting as the nature of the Billionheirs,” Kanish replied.

“The nature of the Billionheirs? What the fuck does that mean?”

“It means they are not Indian Nationals. One of these Billionaires’ Heirs is English, one German, and another American,” Kanish said as he handed me the Fatty. “It has become a problem of international proportions.”

Damn. A Limey, a Kraut, and a Cowboy were coming to town.

“Let me see if I have this straight,” Aardy piped from the back couch. “As far as we know, there are four Indian Billionheirs teamed up with four Produsahs and two Moguls. Correct?”

“Present company included, yes,” Kanish replied.

“And now there are three more Billionheirs coming into town from Western countries, each of whom will have their own Produsahs as well?”

“It vehdy much seems to be the way.”

“Do you know what Produsahs?”

“I do not as of yet.”

“Do these new Billionheir-Produsah teams have Distribution?” Aardy asked.

“Indeed they do. Two of them with Willy Show. One with Marv Ellis.”

“And you waited all day to tell us this!” I barked.

“This is my way,” Kanish replied.

It was his way, too. And it kind of drives me more than a little crazy. Kanish just springs shit on me, and thus far it’s been really good shit—so how can I be mad at him for it? But couldn’t he give me just a little bit of a heads-up? Must everything be fully on a need-to-know basis? I don’t even understand how he does it. Seriously. How the fuck does this kid keep this sort of information to himself? I’d be busting!

“Kanish,” I said, “you know how your Dad cut you off?”

“How could I forget? What a ridiculous question,” Kanish replied, sounding more like his father at that particular moment.

“What are the chances that all seven of the other Billionheirs are also cut off from their fortunes?”

“This concerns you, does it?”

“Well, I shouldn’t have to tell you, my friend, but despite our massive head start, we might be at a significant disadvantage on the funding side of this race. And I may not be Mogul material, but I do know that large sums of money could mean the difference between winning and losing even larger sums of money, regardless of who comes out with the best song and video first.”

“Yes. I am well aware of this, and I would suggest that you worry no longer, my friend. I have a plan.”

“Any chance you might share that plan?” I asked innocently.

“It would be best if I did not,” Kanish concluded mysteriously.

As I wrap up this particular chapter of our story, and I reflect upon all that we’ve been through thus far, I can’t help but smile. The moment Kanish Kanish acquired his rightful position as leader of this operation, he had taken his first major step toward Moguldom. I don’t think I could be any prouder of him. For Kanish now understood the obvious: that I—his Guru—was well out of my element. That I could only lead him so far down the path of Moguldom, and that wasn’t very far at all. And for the first time since we began this journey, we were finally all in our proper positions. Aardy as advisor. Kanish as Mogul. Mixerman as Produsah.

It was nearly midnight, and I was now the newly crowned Redondo Beach Open Beaver Champion. I somehow eked one out in a squeaker.

“Do not even consider retiring before delivering my lesson,” Kanish insisted as I packed up the darts for the night.

“The Jackal and the Hyena live best safely behind the Bengal Tiger,” I mused.

Mixerman

Are you enjoying the story? I would ask you to kindly Share it with your friends. There are thousands of you reading this so far, and much like The Douchebag Song, it requires Sharing in order to reach a tipping point. I request your assistance with this goal. So, if you’ve made it this far in the story, I have to assume you like it. Please click on one of the social icons to the right in order to Share. Retweet. Pinup. And post, so that I might continue to Share with you now and in the future.

Chapter 19 – Making Mountains out of Mogulhills