We had breakfast in Monterey, a beautiful and quaint upscale coastal town with remnants of an edge from another time. It’s best known as the setting for John Steinbeck’s popular book Cannery Row, a story set around the sardine-canning industry.
For much of the early twentieth century, fishermen pulled sardines out of Monterey Bay by the ton—a quarter million tons per year at the height of World War II. The idea that the Monterey Bay might one day run out of sardines was preposterous. That is, until it did. Now you see them, now you don’t. By the 1950s, the local fishing industry summarily collapsed, destroying the livelihood of an entire town in the process. It was unsustainable.
This was a cautionary tale. A warning. That our resources are finite and require replenishing for purposes of sustainability. It’s also a lesson we’ve yet to properly heed. The fish are back, I’m happy to say, but now we have other more pressing issues to deal with here in California. Like, we may be running out of water.
Years of drought have taken their toll on California’s water reserves. The Sierra’s snowpack is gone. Most of our aboveground reservoirs are now dry lake beds. And while it’s true that we have one of the largest underground aquifers in the world running beneath the San Joaquin Valley, that water is currently being pulled out of it an alarming rate. Satellites allow us to track the rapid change in underground water mass. What has yet to be determined is exactly how much water is left.
To make matters worse, water shortages are not relegated to California. Groundwater is being depleted throughout the world. HBO’s Vice—the best news program on television—recently reported that without significant changes, India likely has only fifteen years of underground water left. If that’s true, we’re in big trouble. There isn’t a person on this planet that won’t be affected by such a calamity.
Part of the problem is, there are large swaths of overpopulated India that do not have infrastructure for the removal of sewage. As a result, the rivers and reservoirs in those areas are noxious with human waste. An unsettling percentage of India’s population is literally surrounded by human shit. Meanwhile, and much like California, the farmers there are also pulling groundwater at an unsustainable rate.
Scientists are now warning us that all the aquifers in the world could go dry one day. Meanwhile, the world’s largest reserve of potable water is wasting away into the Arctic Ocean, yet we continue to do nothing about the problem. It’s all related, of course—the ice melting and the water tables disappearing. Personally, I’m more concerned with running out of fresh water than I am with the effects of rising salt water.
We had two routes available to us for our return to Redondo. We could head inland and haul ass on the interstate through miles of monotonous farmland. Or, if we preferred a magnificent view painted by Buddha himself, we could take the winding coastal route above Big Sur. At times the road runs a thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean, and it has to be the most mind-meltingly majestic and awe-inspiring ride you can take. And so with the top down and the weather gorgeous, our path was clear—we took the coastal route.
Along with the spectacular views comes some danger, of course. Erosion is a part of daily life in California, and as a result, sometimes rocks submit to gravity. Sometimes an entire section of road falls into the ocean. Parts of Palos Verdes—the Peninsula that forms the natural southwest corner of Los Angeles Bay—fall into the water all the time. Just ask Billon-hair Donald Trump.
In 1999, Donald Trump rescued the Ocean Trails Golf Course from bankruptcy after the eighteenth hole slid from the edge of the Peninsula into the Pacific Ocean. Three hundred meters of fairway and the entire green—gone. And just a week before the course was set to open, too. Trump reportedly purchased the distressed property for a paltry $26 million—$100 million less than it cost to build the course.
The eighteenth hole was repaired at a cost of $20 million, making it the most expensive golf hole ever built. Frankly, I’m surprised Trump got off that cheap. This was a massive geotechnical project that required 1,250,000 cubic yards of earth mixed with other materials in order to promote stabilization. According to Trump, the eighteenth hole is precisely where he would want to be in the event of a California earthquake. That’s where I would want him to be too. Personally, I’d rather be in a different State, but then, I lived through the Northridge tumbler, and so I have some concept of what a powerful quake feels like. I doubt Trump does.
Then there’s Paseo Del Mar, another rim road located on the San Pedro side of the Peninsula. A twenty-five-foot portion of that road slid down the cliff in 2011. As a result, the pavement ends rather abruptly as you make your way along the peninsula to San Pedro. There is some talk of taking down the safety fences and rebuilding, but there’s even more support for just giving up. The land is unstable. Not because of man, but regardless of him. They can build another road farther back, but it’s still going to end up in the ocean in the foreseeable future. At what point is it not worth trying to maintain? Apparently, this point.
Kanish drove the Stingray with great aplomb around the dangerous hairpin turns on the top of Big Sur. Honestly, though, I could have walked faster. Somehow, we once again found ourselves behind a fucking Prius.
“Douchebag!” Kanish yelled in frustration.
Mile after mile we crawled behind this Prius-driving Douchebag. There was nowhere safe to pass along the serpentine stretch of coastal road, and it didn’t matter how closely Kanish rode his ass—the Douchebag refused to pull over. As a result, I had time to come up with a Ditty, which I sang to Kanish the moment I’d perfected it.
Just another Douchebag driving in a Prius
You drive so fucking slow, I know you see us
If you’d pull over, that would free us
Just another Douchebag driving in a Prius
“I love it!” Kanish yelled. “My turn!
Kanish repeated my chorus back to me almost exactly as I had sung it to him.
“How the hell did you do that?” I asked.
“Repeat my little song back perfectly like that?”
“I don’t know. I learn things quickly. Is that unusual?”
“It’s certainly impressive.”
“We should make this song!” Kanish exclaimed.
“You mean record it?”
“But it’s nothing but a Ditty.”
“A Ditty? What is this Ditty you speak of?”
“A Ditty is a short simple song.”
“Ah yes! This is indeed a Ditty. Which we shall now turn into a hit song!”
Kanish and I began to sing the Ditty as loud as we could without actually screaming. There is no doubt the Douchebag in the Prius could hear us. I know because the passengers in the two cars behind us were now joining in on the serenade. It wasn’t long before the entire mountain was in full chant, and the Douchebag really had no choice but to finally pull over.
“You see!” Kanish exclaimed. “It’s a vehdy effective song! Those people behind us were singing it too. Not only could it be a hit, but perhaps it will also alter the driving habits of Prius drivers.”
“We can only hope.”
While the concept of shaming Douchebags driving in Priuses all over the world over was admirable, what I really wanted was a conversation with Kanish about his goals, particularly how they related to the Music Business. I’d been putting off this conversation for the better part of four days, and I wasn’t to be sidetracked again.
“Let me ask you a question, Kanish”
“Please do. I love your questions! They are so revealing!”
“They are? Never mind. So, my question is this. What are your goals?”
“My goals,” Kanish parroted.
“Yeah. What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?”
“I have no idea!” Kanish exclaimed excitedly, as if he were happy about this.
“You have no idea? Why are you here working with me? What’s the plan?”
“Ah! Now I see where you’re driving at. The plan is simple. To learn to record.”
“Why do you want to learn to record?”
“So that I may make music.”
“For what reason do you want to make music?”
“What do you mean, for what reason? To make moneeeey, of course! Why else would I make music?”
The way Kanish drew out the word money, he sounded like Kevin O’Leary, one of the “Billionaires” from the hit TV show Shark Tank. According to the Internet, Kevin O’Leary is really only a third of the way to his first billion, which certainly explains why he did the show. He could use the money, if not the notoriety. Fame, after all, is the ultimate aphrodisiac for money.
Kanish gave the wrong answer. You don’t go into music for the money. You didn’t when I was a lad, and you most certainly don’t now. Of course, when I entered this industry you could actually make good money as a technician, particularly in the upper echelons of the business. That’s why I moved to LA—for proximity to the big Artists and their big Labels. There was a time when some technicians—like mixers—could even command a percentage of the sales, often called points. These days, those kinds of agreements wouldn’t be worth the paper they’re written on. Without sales there are no points, and without the possibility of profit sharing, good luck ever retiring.
The investment necessary to build a proper commercial studio today is far beyond the prospects of any real profitability. All you can really hope to do is to break even for long enough that the real estate value allows you to profit. As a result, commercial studios have become the playthings of the pleasantly rich. Kanish was nowhere near pleasantly rich. He was filthy rich. As far as I’m concerned, filthy rich puts him in the Mogul’s domain.
“There is no money in music, Kanish.”
“That is a ridiculous notion! You don’t know where to look!”
“Okay. You’re right about that. Correction. There is no money in recording music anymore. It’s just a job. You really aren’t a candidate for a job. There will be a time in your life when you’re making more interest in an hour than you could ever get paid recording music. You know what I mean?”
“I see . . . I should be a mixer!”
“Not a mixer either.”
“I’m graduating to Producer already?”
“Well, maybe Producer, but really, I think we can set our sights just a bit higher.”
“Tell me! What is higher than a Producer? I will set my sights as high as the farthest visible star!”
He could be such a fucking enthusiastic card.
“I think you should be a Mogul, Kanish. More specifically, a Music Mogul.”
Kanish snapped his head and stared me down, which was brilliantly theatrical, but perilously dangerous, seeing as we were still teetering a thousand feet above the ocean. I reminded him to keep his eyes forward.
I’d given all of this plenty of thought, and the fact that he was already scheming on how to turn a little Ditty into a hit only bolstered my point. Kanish was meant to be a Mogul. He has the money, he has the interest, and he clearly has the hustle. If that doesn’t describe a Mogul, I really don’t know what does.
Of course, anyone who suggested to her childhood career counselor that she wanted to be a Mogul would surely be admonished on the spot. You can’t just willy nilly make up jobs that don’t exist. And besides, one doesn’t set out to be a Mogul, one just is. It happens naturally. Over time. And while it’s true that it’s rare to achieve such Mogul status, given the circumstances, it was most certainly a goal worth pursuing.
Let’s face it. Ultimately, with Paneer’s blessing, Kanish could fund any music that caught his fancy. He could even put the same kind of monetary weight behind a track as that of the Major Labels, if he chose. All Kanish would need was just one of his father’s $42 billion. Just one, and the kid would have to be considered a major player in the Music Business. After all, in the grand scheme of things, music isn’t all that expensive to make and promote. It’s the videos that cost a fortune.
“You really think I’m Mogul material?” Kanish asked sheepishly.
“I think if your interest is music, then you may as well skip all the other steps, and jump right into becoming a Music Mogul.”
“What does a Music Mogul do?”
“A Music Mogul makes money making music, of course.”
“But that’s my goal.”
Kanish remained deep in thought as he drove down the 101 South, due east through the San Fernando Valley. The sun was scorching, and I couldn’t wait to get over the mountain and into the basin on our way back to Redondo.
“So you don’t think that I should learn to record and produce?” Kanish asked unsurely.
“Why would you? You can hire people to do that for you.”
“What will I do, exactly?”
“You make it all happen.”
“But how do I make it happen?”
“Well, the first thing you need to become a Mogul is to find a great song.”
“And then you find an Artist to perform the song.”
“And what if the Artist wrote the song?” Kanish asked.
“Sometimes the song and Artist come together, sometimes you have to put them together. Either way, once you have your song and your Artist, you hire a Producer to record it. Then when you get the record back, you either shelve it and try again with another song and Artist, or you spend obscene sums of money to promote the shit out of the record until it’s reached enough people to garner a reaction.”
“It’s that easy?” Kanish asked innocently.
“Sure it is!”
It’s not even remotely that easy, and frankly, I felt like I was in high school the way I was explaining this. I don’t care how much money you have—you can’t spend your way to a hit on any old song. The track has to be catchy, relevant, and ultimately must invoke a widespread viral reaction. All promotion offers is the opportunity to reach enough people to get a reaction in the first place.
“I have made a decision,” Kanish announced. “I would vehdy much like my first song as a Mogul to be the Douchebag Song.”
“Dude, that song is kind of a joke, you know?”
“This is no joke, let me tell you. These drivers of Priuses can really be Douchebags.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
“Look, Kanish, Iit’s not a song without a full lyric.”
“This is not a problem. Besides, I am certain the Pharcyde will want to write their own rhymes.”
“Oh my god.”
“Oh my god what?”
“Oh my god, you think that we’re going to get the Pharcyde to perform this Douchebag Song!”
“You see? You’re Music Mogul material. I should introduce you to Willy Show,” I said half-jokingly.
Willy Show, the former Super Producer, is currently the president of Easter Island Records. I’ve made a number of records with and for him in a variety of capacities, and if anyone could explain Moguldom, it was Willy. Kanish was busting at the mere mention of him, and insisted—much like a spoiled child—that we go to him immediately. Still, I found the reaction somewhat endearing.
“I’ll tell you what. Take the exit coming up, and we’ll drop by Mel Odious Sound and see if Willy is in.
Mel Odious Sound is a commercial multi-room recording complex a block from the ocean in Santa Monica. The complex is owned by a Silicon Valley quarter-Billionaire named Mel (of all things). I’ve never met Mel, and don’t expect that I ever will, as I don’t believe he’s ever there. Even if he were, I’d really only worked at the studio complex once, and that was with Willy Show himself.
Countless hits have been recorded at Mel Odious Sound over the years. But Mel, much like everyone else, seems to have far more sales awards for past successes than for current ones. The complex has several large recording and mix rooms, and there are also a number of production rooms, which are really nothing more than suites much like the one in my garage. It’s just that having a suite in a high-end multi-room complex offers considerably more prestige than a garage. My good friend Rev has a room there, one that I’ve been eyeing for quite some time. Prestige has value, after all.
Kanish and I pulled up to Mel Odious Sound, and just as we’d relinquished the Stingray to the valet, a voice came from above. It was the Rev himself, in all of his corpulence, catching the ocean breeze as he smoked a cigarette on the balcony of his production room.
“Mixerman!” the Rev called out.
“Hey, Rev! I was just checking to see if Willy Show was here.”
“I don’t think he’s here today.”
“Come on up!”
The historic building is enormous and about as old a structure as you’ll find in LA. The interior decorating in the joint was, kitschy, oversized, egotistical, and had to cost more than the acoustical build-outs in some of the rooms. The fifteen-foot walls were adorned from floor to ceiling with Gold and Platinum records dating back to the ’60s. Frankly, the place looked more like a Hard Rock Cafe than a studio.
Multi-room complexes like this used to bustle with musicians and Producers, but these days they seem to cater more to the TV executive. That’s purely for survival. I’m sure Mel would have preferred that it remain a music facility. But at the end of the day, rich people won’t tolerate losing money, even from their hobbies.
The receptionist confirmed that Willy did indeed have a session, but that he wasn’t expected. This was no surprise, as he didn’t get the name Willy Show for nothing. So I took Kanish up to see the Rev instead, who was waiting for us at the top of the dramatic, Gone with the Wind staircase.
The Rev is an icon in the Music Business. He’s also one of the most likable guys you’ll ever meet, and has a wonderfully skewed way of viewing the world, but I suppose that would describe most Producers.
It didn’t take long for the Rev’s small talk to morph into full-bore venting. The grind of the business was getting him down, but this was nothing new, or isolated. That’s just the way things are these days. Kanish began to show signs of boredom, and the Rev, being a good host, engaged the lad.
“I think I saw Lil Wayne walking through here with a watch just like that. Are you an Artist? A Producer?” the Rev inquired.
“Kanish is my Assistant,” I interjected.
“Yes, yes, yes,” Kanish agreed. “And Mixerman is going to make me a Music Mogul!”
Said like that, it seemed ridiculous.
“A Music Mogul!” The Rev beamed in amusement. “That’s very interesting. So, how does one become a Music Mogul?”
“You find a vehdy good song and Artist and then you promote the living shit out of them, of course! Is this some sort of test? I’m familiar with your work. Surely you know all of this already.”
“You know my work?” the Rev replied with interest.
“But of course. You are my best friend’s favorite Producer!”
“I am! Well, that’s nice to know. Isn’t that nice, Mixerman? So, have you found an Artist yet?”
“As of this moment, I have only the song. I am currently looking for a rapper to perform it.”
“Well, I can’t help you there, I’m afraid,” Rev said resignedly. “Have you seen any of the rooms yet?”
“I have not! Please! Take me there!”
I’m sure that Kanish would have preferred a personal tour by the Rev, who instead called down to reception and summoned one of the Interns to take him around the place.
“Show him Studio X for sure,” the Rev instructed the Intern.
The moment Kanish left, the Rev pulled me toward him, as if Kanish had superhuman hearing or something.
“You know, that watch costs nearly as much as that Stingray he’s driving. I smell money. What gives? He’s a Trust Funder, isn’t he? Are you fucking kidding me? Holy shit, you got yourself some Vanity fucking Trust-Funder record. And what the fuck is that Music Mogul shit? That’s not even a thing!”
“Sure it is.”
“You and I both know that the only reason that might be a thing is because this guy is loaded. So, what gives? You gonna get this kid to pay mid-aught money for all your little pet projects? Or are you just gonna make his Vanity album over the course of years for obscene money? Don’t bullshit the Rev, now.”
Vanity albums are self-funded albums that have no chance of ever being heard. Typically, they are funded by someone who is either rich, famous, or both. While it’s true that just about every LA Producer has been hired to make at least one Vanity album, they are not the kind of projects you necessarily admit to. They merely pay the bills, and within the industry itself, there is a stigma attached to Vanity albums—one that tells all of your peers that you’ve just about given up on life in general—an intolerable accusation, if there ever was one.
“He’s a Billionaire’s Heir!” I scolded. “And I’m not making his Vanity album, thank you very much. Who the fuck makes albums anymore, anyway?”
“It’s okay, dude. Vanity albums are good work if you can get it. I don’t judge you.”
“Seriously, he’s here as my Assistant.”
The Rev sparked up another smoke and exhaled out the balcony door.
“So, how much do you pay your Assistant then?”
“That’s the funny part. He’s paying me.”
“He’s paying you! Son of a bitch!”
I don’t believe I displayed it openly, but I cringed as I said it. Something about an Assistant paying me sounded so fucking wrong. And although on the surface the Rev’s line of interrogation may have seemed rather forward, it’s one that I should have expected. It’s also probably one I should have answered a bit less truthfully. The fact of the matter is, the Rev got my Goad. How dare he accuse me of making a Vanity album? Who the hell did he think he was?
“A Billionaire’s Heir,” the Rev pondered. “That’s fucking awesome. Where do I sign up for that shit?”
“I guess you’ll just have to find your own,” I quipped.
The Rev took a final drag from yet another butt and then doused it in an overflowing ashtray. He was clearly deep in thought, perhaps even scheming.
Fuck me! Why the hell did I tell the Rev? I realize you wouldn’t think it to read this—the way he managed to herd me into the admission that my Assistant was a Billionaire’s Heir and all. Really, I like the Rev, but I don’t actually know him all that well. I don’t even really know what records he’s worked on, other than one, and I hate it, so why should I know about any of the others? For whatever reason, the Rev just feels comfortable whining in brutal honestly just how shitty life is, and somehow he expects me to be equally forthcoming. As if my Billionaire’s Heir is anyone else’s business.
“Do me a favor, Rev, and keep that under your hat, willya? I don’t actually want it getting out, you know? I mean, what would people think about me running around with my very own Billionaire’s Heir?”
“Of course, Mix. Come on. Who am I going to tell?”
“Thanks, man, I can’t tell you what a relief that is.”
“So, I take it he’s funding your projects then?” the Rev asked.
“Well, it looks like he might be funding a song that I came up with. It’s really just a Ditty, though.”
“Son of a bitch! You just offer up a Ditty and he wants to fund it like a it’s a song? I gotta get me one of them Billionaires’ Heirs.”
Kanish returned exuberant from his studio tour.
“This place is fantastic!” Kanish exploded. “I must work here!”
“Yeah, you should,” the Rev encouraged. “Let’s listen to some music, shall we?”
Oh my god! The phrase “let’s listen to some music” is as old as suggesting to a girl in college, “Let’s study in my room.” Neither is an innocent invitation to be taken at face value, and both involve ulterior motives. Quite simply, “Let’s listen to some music” was code for “Fund my project!” And frankly, it’s dirty pool. I expected more from the Rev—what with him edging in on my action like that. This was my Billionheir, and everyone else could fuck off.
“We’ll have to take a raincheck on that, mate. We’re pretty road worn, and it’s time for us to be heading home.”
“Sure, sure. Of course! Listen, kid, I know how hard it is to be new in town. If you ever want to come up and visit, I’ll play you some music. You know?”
“Oh, I would vehdy much like that!” Kanish exclaimed.
And with that heartwarming invitation, I grabbed Kanish and we exited stage left. I was just glad that he followed my lead. Had Kanish been in the mood to listen to Rev’s music, we would have surely been there for hours.
Kanish and I smoked our late-night Fatty on the rear deck. It was nice to be home.
“Perhaps tomorrow we’ll hear back from Willy,” Kanish said.
“We didn’t even leave him a message.”
“I’m certain the Rev will tell him. He has a vehdy big mouth, don’t you know? Now, tell me. What is today’s lesson?”
“A slip of the tongue cannot be recalled.”
Chapter 10 – Show Me The Money!
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