Chapter 7 – For Sale: Bill of Goods

While it’s quite possible that I flubbed yesterday’s lesson, I will say in my defense that proverbs are fraught with problems, as they require human interpretation. The moment you bring perception into the equation, all bets are off. To make matters worse, metaphors borne from India don’t always translate well. I mean, if god blesses a Donkey and it becomes a wrestler, I would have to know that Hindus view Donkeys as useless and wrestlers as great. I, not being Hindu, read that and think it’s a lesson in opportunity. If god blesses you, whether with talent or a bankroll, you can pretty much do what you desire, the caveat being that you must operate within your talents and your bankroll. In Kanish’s case, both seemed in high supply.

I might also point out that there’s another Hindu proverb that states: “If you need a job to be done, be prepared to fall at the feet of a Donkey.” Which makes one wonder, who would fall at the feet of a useless animal? If the Donkey can help get a job done, and you’re prepared to fall at the Donkey’s feet, then it can hardly be considered a useless animal, regardless of protests from Kanish.

To make matters worse, I’m searching for these proverbs on the Internet, and for those of you who haven’t figured it out by now, you can’t rely on some of the information you find there. Believe it or not, people make shit up, and as a result, I really have no idea whether I’m reading a proverb that was written by some schmo today, or by some schmo from a thousand years ago.

To be perfectly honest, I had half a mind to toss yesterday’s lesson as presented in this diary and make one up that wouldn’t be such an embarrassment. That would make me no better than the assholes who invent shit on the Internet. And since the misunderstanding was merely an issue of translation, I’ve decided to keep the lesson as is, even if that means I must endure the sniggers of a billion Hindus. I could only be so lucky.

I’d given quite a bit of thought to all of this last night. In particular how opportunity relates to talent. This can happen when you smoke an exceptionally powerful Fatty—you often find yourself pondering. At least, I do. I shouldn’t assume this happens to others, but I dare say it is a known side effect of Medicine. Some would call it the purpose.

No matter what your background, if you have talent and the drive to go along with it, you can achieve some modicum of success in the Music Business. If you have something to say, and a good way of saying it, and if you can tap into just the right cultural vein at precisely the right time, people will react. That will never change. That’s how art works. But only the Creators are in a position to strike that kind of chord. Even when this business was at its most robust, that was a long shot, which is why some of us became Producers.

As a record Producer I act as a facilitator. I help the Creator to deliver her carefully honed message in the most musically effective way possible. I also get many bites at the apple in this regard. If one record doesn’t work out, there’s always the next. Even the most successful Producer has more duds than winners; it’s just that no one has ever heard the duds, and nearly everyone the winners. As a result, it can be rather deceiving to review a Producer’s discography. The only names that will pop out are the familiar ones.

As much as I pshaw Kanish’s attempts to elevate my stature on a project that I recorded well over twenty years ago, we can’t discount the opportunity the album has generated for me over the years. Just by virtue of the fact that Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde was awarded Gold status by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), I went from a $10-per-hour house engineer to ten times that, literally in a matter of a day.

Regardless of success, the more time that passes after an album’s release, the less power that album has to directly convert into gigs. A successful and beloved record made decades ago is judged within the totality of my career, which is expressed in the form of a discography. Current records prove my relevance. Older records verify my longevity. Of course, if you’re just getting started, then you need to learn what you’re doing first.

Most recording professionals who got into this business before the mid-aughts were mentored to one degree or another. Recording was a trade passed down from master to student. Those days are over. Mentoring in this industry is all but dead, as large, for-profit schools have taken over the job of preparing our next generation of recordists and Producers for an industry that is already fully saturated. It really doesn’t matter what the intentions are of a for-profit school: if the institutions are spitting out more students than a particular trade can sustain, then they are by their very nature predatory.

The problem is that we don’t have an organization that attempts to restrict the number of recording trade graduates exported into this industry. You would think that NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) or AES (Audio Engineering Society) might provide this service so as to protect their membership from oversaturation. They don’t. And while the US government is now starting to crack down on for-profit trade schools, it’s probably too late.

The recording Industry is currently littered with thousands upon thousands of newly minted graduates desperate to make a living producing music. Predictably, this has managed to suppress prices, often below a living wage. Some would argue that the job market will eventually correct itself. Perhaps it will. But at what cost? A certificate from a recording school is not transferrable to any other school or job, and a “correction” in this case would have to look more like a mass exodus. I mean, if you peruse the long lineup of former A-list mixers now teaching master classes, it’s pretty clear that there’s more money in teaching recording than there is in the industry itself.

Here, Mixmaster #10, let me give you thousands of my hard-earned dollars so that you can teach me in under a week how to succeed in a business that even you can’t make enough money in anymore.

That doesn’t bode well.

Meanwhile, because music is so readily accessible, it appears as if opportunity abounds. One can find an endless supply of new songs being generated by Independent Artists looking to be the next viral sensation. But as I’ve already pointed out to you, if it requires $7 million to blow up “Blurred Lines,” then an Artist’s only feasible chance to break is to get in bed with the Major Distributors. Same as it ever was.

All of this got me to thinking about opportunity outside of this business, particularly as it relates to my nineteen-year-old son in comparison with Kanish. Surely a Billionaire’s Heir would have far more opportunity available than my son, just by virtue of his wealth. But money alone isn’t enough to fulfill a prophecy of success, certainly not if we’re to measure success in terms of happiness. Of course, sociologists suggest that money has no influence on one’s overall contentment in life. Even if you buy into that crap—and I don’t—I have no doubt that most of us would risk bliss in exchange for an ungodly sum of money. I mean, if wealth has no bearing on our happiness—if it truly comes from within—then you may as well take the money, right?

The big problem with a windfall of funds is that it doesn’t necessarily come with an education. That’s the social contract of the Trust Funder. The money is handed down along with the tools necessary to prosper, and that’s mostly a function of education. I mean, were I a Billionaire, teaching my child high-level money management and business would be my number one educational priority. Delivering an enormous sum of cash to someone who hasn’t even been taught to count change let alone assess risk is an absolute recipe for failure.

This is why the professional sports leagues provide mandatory classes on money management. Because very few of their young athletes coming in (especially the teenagers) have the tools necessary to deal with that kind of income. Hell, most of us don’t have those tools, and if it’s proof you’re looking for, you need only to look at the dismal financial record of mega-lottery winners, many of whom ultimately return to their natural state of destitute bliss.

I don’t denigrate someone who suddenly wins millions and then proceeds to lose it all. The pressure must be intense, as everyone in your rapidly expanding sphere needs help and has two friends who need even more help, each of whom has two more friends, in what ends up an endless procession of friends and family in need.

You find out that your second cousin is diagnosed with cancer and can’t afford the surgery. You’re hit up by an in-law who wants to go back to school so he can provide for your favorite nieces and nephews, all of whom desperately need braces. Your newest, bestest friend has a great idea for an invention and wants you to invest in his sure thing. You hand out far too many loans, none of which have any structure or any feasible path for repayment. Your investment portfolio is wiped out one Monday because you didn’t understand how to properly hedge your bets in the market. Then there’s the thousands upon thousands of charities that hit you up, most of which are totally worthy causes. And so you give and you give and you give, and you forget to make, because that’s not how you were programmed. You’re not the moneymaking kind of animal. You spent your childhood watching money go out faster than it came in, and that’s familiar to you.

While the cost of Kanish’s education at Eton and Oxford was a pittance for a Billionaire, I would say it came at a much higher price. Kanish had spent his early teenage years without his father’s influence. Obviously, I have no idea how Paneer is as a father, nor could I possibly judge. All I know is that I couldn’t imagine sending my child thousands of miles away to boarding school at the age of thirteen and for the remainder of his teenage years. But then if I were an Indian Billionaire, I might feel differently about that. And although my son won’t start off with the financial security afforded to a Billionaire’s Heir, he most certainly has the one advantage that he can’t rightly lose: American citizenship.

There’s a reason why we love to declare the United States the land of opportunity. Because opportunity isn’t a handout. It’s a moment to prove yourself. It’s the American Dream. If you work hard, you can succeed in life, regardless of whence you came.

Of course, that’s utter bullshit.

I mean, we have essentially segregated an entire swath of the population, jailed half their fathers, and funded many local economies on the backs of the poor through insidious taxes in the form of oppressive fines manifesting as veritable debtors’ prisons. As if that’s not enough, we have refused to provide our inner-city youth the tools necessary to succeed in life through a relevant education. And we do all of this as if slavery and segregation never happened. Fifty years after the civil rights march in Selma, we continue to perpetuate this travesty upon our young black and brown children, and it all becomes nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy. How could it not? Yet we still have people insisting all you have to do is pull yourself up by your bootstraps. What if you don’t even have boots?

Anyone who says there isn’t a caste system in the United States is absolutely delusional. Practically speaking, and barring the occasional exception to the rule, you have very little shot of rising more than one caste above that of your parents. Even that’s a feat. Immigrants who own businesses are the most successful at this, and that has little to do with work ethic. I mean, picking produce twelve hours a day, seven days a week is the very definition of a work ethic. Yet it pays less than the minimum wage. Merely working hard doesn’t pull you out of poverty. Owning a successful business does.

The problem is that what we constantly see around us doesn’t necessarily match reality, which distorts our perception of things. For instance, you can’t watch television, or pick up a magazine, without exposing yourself to well-known multimillionaires. In fact, if you take a moment to write down all the names of the millionaires and billionaires that you hear about every day, and if you compare that list to your Facebook friends, the millionaire column will surely have the greater number of names. Seriously, try it. I’ll do it too.

Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paris Hilton, Will Ferrell, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Kevin Spacey, Al Roker, Brian Williams, Kobe Bryant, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Eli Manning, George Stephanopoulos, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Larry Johnson, Derek Jeter, George W. Bush, Poppy Bush, Chris Rock, Kanye West, Sting, Jude Law, Madonna, Kevin O’Leary, Daymond John, Mark Burnett, Barbara Corcoran, Robert Herjavec, Ashton Kutcher, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Tom Hanks, any and every Kennedy, Donald Trump, David Koch, Charles Koch, Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, George Soros, Paul Allen, Mark Cuban, et cetera, et cetera. The last ten are Billionaires, and this list is entirely off the top of my head. I can easily surpass my personal acquaintances with known millionaires.

Between the carnival barker nature of our society—in which the winner, winner, winners are pronounced and paraded about with great fanfare so as to perpetuate the dream—and our overt obsession with wealth as a society, it appears as though more than half the people in our lives are rich. And yes, clearly, we can consciously separate the reality of those that we interact with personally from those whom we merely watch from a distance. But make no mistake, the American Dream appears alive and well when half of the people that you can name are millionaires, and it doesn’t matter whether you know any of them personally.

Really, this illusion is probably worse now than ever, because we live in a world in which Facebook allows us to hoard past acquaintances like trinkets in the junk drawer. These people have about as much direct interaction with us as the millionaires who are trotted before us on the newsstands, on the radio, on the television, at the stadium, in the movies, in the bookstore, and of course, in Congress. The fact of the matter is, you can almost certainly name more winners of the American Dream than you can personal friends, even if you include all of your acquaintances.

This means, every time we see yet another famous person on TV, we are likely watching someone who is the beneficiary of the American Dream. And some of those Dreamers may even have a good story about how they rose from poverty to achieve their accomplishments, which is often held up as evidence that you, no matter who you are, or from whence you came, with hard work, can become a bona fide multimillionaire.

No, you really can’t. It’s a mirage. A charade. A farce. An illusion, in which a long shot is presented as if it’s even odds.

To make matter worse, when you look at how the media treats and discusses matters of income inequality in this country (let alone the world), the argument that it’s good for 1 percent of the US population to control the predominance of the wealth is, most inexplicably, given equal time and weight as the argument that 99 percent of the country is getting royally screwed.

Until the 99 percent says, “Enough,” none of that is going to change.

Frankly, I shudder to think about just how bad an economic calamity we must face before we wake up. Apparently, the last collapse wasn’t enough.

It was a lazy day on the mountain. Which is fine with me. After all, I’m experiencing a kind of financial freedom I haven’t had in quite some time. Not only do I have the year covered, I don’t even have to pay any expenses.

Should that trend continue, I may actually get ahead.

Now, that’s a dream I can buy into.


Chapter 8 – The Code Shack