Archive for June, 2013

post-scarcity part 8: the intrinsic fraud of the prestigious internship

A few days ago, Sam Bakkila posted an interview with Sarah Kendzior about why you should never have taken that prestigious internship, by which one of course means unpaid internship.

They’ve become common to the point of being standard, and are, of course, inaccessible to anyone but the upper-middle-class or above. Sarah, in the interview, elaborates about the moral bankruptcy of this unpaid economy; how it devalues education – a process that started with the strangling of affordable college education – then devalues skills, then people, essentially in the interest of making entry-level/starter jobs cost ’employers’ absolutely nothing.

I wanted to talk a bit about the similarities I see between this and music in the post-scarcity environment that I’ve spent so much time writing about. I wanted to talk about how it’s a lot like what musicians have been expected to go through, starting around the advent of high fidelity recording and peaking with the end of scarcity and digital reproduction. The thousand-fan model is, after all, a form of prestige economics – but one that can be turned into income.

Which is, of course, the rub. Always.

As I was outlining that essay, Nicole Dieker of Hello, The Future! posted On Going Places, wherein she talks about learning Ruby on Rails, a web-developer programming language. She’s doing so because, as a multifaceted writer/musician, she sees the price of words being bid down to zero – a phenomenon which has not yet reached code. And minutes later, Klopfenpop posted his IndieGoGo project to raise money, because key studio equipment got stolen and his wife’s teaching job at a private school is hourly, doesn’t pay into unemployment and – just like those herds of barely-paid adjunct professors out there – if she’s not picked up, well, so much for dosh.

Throughout this series, I’ve tried to be ruthlessly realistic, but optimistic. There are ways, as an artist, to build and a community, and from that, possibly, a living. I’ve talked about ways that people are making this work, in bits and pieces. Much of what I’ve talked about boils down to building fanbase and community, a set of people who value what you do and are willing to pay you to keep you doing it. Get enough of this, you can pull many small donors into a salary, of sorts. You can create and then leverage your prestige, often by giving your work away.

But here? I am having none of it. Here, I come not to praise this model, but to bury it.

A few reasons are obvious, of course. Unpaid entry-level “interns” have damned little opportunity to stand out as artists. Development? Hardly. Oh, maybe, here and there, but mostly – in the modern application – it’s all about doing scutwork for people who don’t want to pay for it.

And, obviously, they have absolutely no opportunity whatsoever to build the thousand fans. That’s by design. The opportunities, generally, are limited to finding a mentor here or there, or sucking up to a manager or three, doing their work and a job above your level for a while, then – if you’re lucky – getting hired to do that same job for some pittance of actual pay.

Plus, building you up? Ha! Building out your own existence apart from the organisation is antithetical to the entire concept of these internships. Even in theory, these internships are about fitting in and making connections in an organisation while you work and they don’t pay you for it.

Are you going to learn how to build something around you, yourself, in this environment? Hell to the no. These are huge and difficult lessons to learn, and even people really good at it and talented – like Nicole and Klopfenpop – find it tremendously difficult, as the above proves. These internships, by design, divert people away from all the lessons they actually need to be learning.

But even were none of these fatal flaws present, the system would still be intrinsically self-defeating. Its core internal contradiction destroys it: by making this “prestige” a mass requirement, it makes attaining that prestige impossible, because the entire point of prestige is atypicality.

Making prestige typical dilutes the concept past the point of meaning. Everyone is famous; no one is. I suppose that’s the dirty little secret of the independent path: the value in it still comes out of scarcity. It’s not the recordings any longer which are scarce, but the willingness and ability to build the reputation and the fandom. To build your self, or, at least, the self which you present to the world. None of which is meaningful or possible in this internship environment.

In short, the “prestige” supposedly allocated by this unpaid labour is fundamentally a cynical fraud of the worst sort.

It’s no different than making you pay to get your paycheque. It’s just another way to steal from the already underpaid. You aren’t working for prestige, because it is literally impossible to attain in this system. What you’re working for is for not getting paid, and not one damn thing more.

Nick Mamatas is well known for reminding everyone of Yog’s Law, originally coined by James D. Macdonald: “Money flows to the writer.” Money also flows to the artist, and to the intern. If it doesn’t? It is a fraud. And nothing but.


eta: HI TUMBLR! I’m Solarbird; welcome to the Lair. We’re supervillain musicians who also blog a lot. We have some free download tracks if you care to sample – and thanks for reading.

This is Part Eight of Music in the Post-Scarcity Environment, a series of essays about, well, what it says on the tin. In the digital era, duplication is essentially free and there are no natural supply constraints which support scarcity, and therefore, prices. What the hell does a recording musician do then?

podcast podcast

A reminder that the June 2013 Geekmusic Podcast is up; go listen. We’re also taking material for July. Deadline is July 1st for news and events which will happen late July and August. I’d prefer to need less lead time, but with all the shows coming up (Clallam May, Greenwood, etc) and work on the Bone Walker soundtrack happening, I need more space! Time! Spacetime! One of those.

(Inspector? Why I hardly…)

Also, for some reason last night I dreamt I was staying in a hotel room with Leannan Sidhe and Alexander James Adams, and Alec started playing Gershwin on piano, and wanted it in the act.

First, what act? Second, that wasn’t even Gershwin, except in my headspace at the time. Third, who has giant upright pianos in hotel rooms, anyway?

Honestly, brain, what.

two followup items

John Scalzi announced the results of the Carl Brandon Society pledge matching effort, launched by him in response to the huge collection of SFWA fails as of late, particularly those of white supremacist Thomas Beale. There’s still opportunity to be involved, should you be so moved.

Also, in a guest post over at Here Be Magic, Angela Highland calls on fathers to cut some of the bullshit and lead by example here.

She’s talking specifically about the kind of dumps SF readers take on romance-genre readers, but there’s a more general point to be made about ingrained and enduring sexism issues in SF, gaming, film, software, and, hell, life in general. Even that part of “men’s rights” activism that isn’t flat out about hating women comes straight out of sexism.

It all falls out of the the persistent devaluation of anything women do. Women are fond of Skyrim? Suddenly Skyrim is “a casual game” (see above), and, “casual games” (like, oh, Pac-Man) aren’t “real games,” all because girl cooties. Software development was a low-paid clerical job; all the early programmers were women. Then men moved in, it became valuable and highly-paid, and women aren’t “real” developers and don’t “really” know tech*.

And while that’s ingrained into women pretty well too – millennia of this sort of thing will do that – it’s made worse by and defended most fiercely by men. A lot of the recent upswing in both degree and fury is caused by reaction against progress, but progress is not guaranteed.

So, yeah. Frankly, a lot of fathers have a lot of stepping up to do. Not just in genre; in general.


*: From real-life stories: A few of of us were sitting around at Norwescon, talking about music software. I’m asked whether someone could run some piece of software – I think Ardour – on their Windows machine, and I said no, and started talking about cross-platform binary executable (compiled programme) compatibility issues, saying it’s difficult tho’ occasionally doable, and this guy sitting over from us leans over and tells me that I’m wrong, binaries aren’t platform-specific, they work on any machine.

I go “what?” and say, “No, we’re talking about platform binaries, not…” and he interrupts me again to tell me YOU ARE WRONG BINARIES ARE NOT PLATFORM SPECIFIC. He keeps doing this, interrupting me and using small words reserved for the stupid, until I stand up and yell at him, “I WAS A SOFTWARE DEVELOPER FOR THE MICROSOFT CORPORATION FOR MOST OF A DECADE. I HAD CODE IN THE WINDOWS BOX. YOU HAVE OWNED AND QUITE LIKELY RUN MY CODE.”

At which point he kind of stammers and says that he thought we were talking about data files, which, of course, we weren’t, at any point. And I’d told him that, or tried to, but because I was Some Women Who Doesn’t Get Tech, he didn’t bother hearing it.


This is part of a series of posts on sexism and racism in geek culture.

Collection: Music in the Post-Scarcity Environment

Starting in the autumn of 2012, I started a series of articles on doing music – and, really, anything creative – in the post-scarcity environment which digital reproduction has created. It got launched by my reaction to an NPR commentary by an intern who noted she’d bought almost no music in her entire life, and went on to explore how one might build a new-model career in an environment where there is no actual constraint on supply.

These were popular enough that other people made link collections to them, so I made my own. I add to it as I write new instalments. Enjoy:

And while these are not directly a part of that series, they are strongly related:


First rehearsal with Leannan Sidhe tonight. I’m doing six shows with them at the Greenwood Renfaire at the end of the month, filling in for an assortment of people for a little while. Thanks to Plumbing Implosion 2013, I haven’t gone over this material much the last couple of days.

Which really means I need to get the hell off this blog and go, you know, rehearse. Except I’m kind of filling time while I wait for the wallboard repair guy. So, yeah. I know the material, I’ll be okay, I just have to spend a lot of time on the solos. I’m doing flute in a show. I haven’t done that in ages. Wish me luck!

still around

Meet Carol Kaye, bass goddess of the The Clique, a.k.a. the Wrecking Crew, the semi-famous group of top-level session musicians who could play anything, anywhere, for anyone, and generally did. You’ve heard her work many times if you’ve heard anything from the mid-20th century.

Here’s a bit of work where she’s featured, on YouTube – fuck yeah bass melodies! – and here’s a cool exercise for bass she invented I should adopt because it’s awesome, also on YouTube. I didn’t see a video of her demonstrating this exercise herself, or I’d’ve linked that instead. She’s still around, too, which is awesome.

For those following along on plumbing adventures: yeaaaaaah that … was not cheap. But not as expensive as it could’ve been. And! No greywater in the ceiling anymore? A bargain at twice the price. Today I start meeting up with drywall repair. We’re going to have to change the wall a little bit. That won’t be cheap either.

somewhat past time

So once again, SFWA has an explosion on its hands – in this case, Theodore Beale/Vox Day has used SFWA’s writer-promotion Twitter account to promote a virulently racist attack on N.K. Jemisin, a writer of colour, who is also a SFWA member.

There are two points which need to be made here. First, SFWA has been stained yet again by virulent sexism and racism. SFWA removed the tweet as soon as they saw it; but more importantly, they now need to remove Theodore Beale.

That’s because it is time to stop referring to Mr. Beale as a simple racist. Mr. Beale is, absolutely, a racist. He’s also overtly and virulently misogynistic – from his blogging, it’s clear that he really hates women, except as subservient breeding objects – and proudly homophobic.

But racist… racist does not go far enough.

Theodore Beale is a white supremacist.

It’s a loaded term, but correct, and should be used, because it carries real weight. In this one particular post, which Amal El-Mohtar has captured in screenshot form, Mr. Beale asserts Africans are not capable of building a civilisation. He asserts that stand-your-ground laws – which are applied in notoriously racist fashion – are necessary and good, to allow “whites [to] defend their lives and their property from people, like [Ms. Jemisin], who are half-savages engaged in attacking them.” Note that Ms. Jemisin merely wrote a column, but is invoked specifically; one may read into this what one wishes. He declares Ms. Jemisin to be an “educated, but ignorant, savage;” and that because of her race, she can be nothing but that. And he asserts that non-whites – and in particular, Ms. Jemisin – are “not equally homo sapiens sapiens.”

These are not merely the language and beliefs of the Ku Klux Klan. They are that of the national socialist. And not just of the national socialist, but of the would-be slavemaster. There is not room for a sliver of onion skin between the racialist beliefs, theories, and justifications of the slavemaster, and those of Mr. Beale. So it is time to use the proper terminology: white supremacist, with all that implies.

One who got 10% of the SFWA vote for organisation president. Which brings us back, of course, to SFWA.

How much further harm is SFWA willing to allow Mr. Beale to perpetrate? I think he’s created far more than enough, myself; I suspect he will be expelled, then declare himself a martyr. That last cannot be helped; I think at this point he desires it. But after this is over, SFWA needs to realise that this is not the end of it. SFWA cannot expel Mr. Beale and consider their work done, because SFWA have become a painful embarrassment to the entire speculative-fiction community.

People are starting to delight in SFWA’s failings. Once the internet delights in your failures, you are in real trouble.

All hands on deck, SFWA. The ship – it is aflame.
Angela Highland has suggestions on how to support Ms. Jemisin with your money, and John Scalzi and several other writers have started a matching-fund for donations to the Carl Brandon Society. You may wish to consider these responses, if you, like me, are not a member of SFWA.

This post is part of a series of posts on sexism and racism in geek culture.

water dragon

In Monday’s post about clearing out my old glass art studio, I mentioned a completed piece called Water Dragon. A reader on Dreamwidth asked for a photo. This is a phone photo, and the piece is very dusty in it; I’d clean it up, of course, before any sort of handoff:

Water Dragon

I want the unclaimed pieces out, so like I said, make an offer.

ALSO! The YouTube version of Episode 3/June 2013 Geekmusic Podcast is now online, for those of you who like your podcasts with captions. Soundcloud, too. Enjoy!

episode three june 2013

The Geekmusic Podcast, Episode 3: June 2013 is live! We play a track from Boston band Local Midnight’s first live album, chat with Death*Star and Klopfenpop about music and culture and art and generally cut up in the studio, there’s geekmusic news including a surprising project from The Heather Dale Band, and more. Enjoy!

MP3 download version only, so far; the YouTube version will follow hopefully in a few hours, we hope, but we wanted to get this online right away. YouTube version timing depends upon what happens with the Surprise Plumbing Event today.

You never, ever, want Surprise Plumbing Events. In case that was in any doubt.

Anyway. Clickie!

a tiny bit late

Hey, everybody – sorry, but the new Geekmusic Podcast is going to be a tiny bit late. I’m still going to try for tonight but it isn’t likely, because we have the talented Sunnie Larsen in today to record fiddle for the Free Court of Seattle/Bone Walker soundtrack album! We’re doing two tracks today, we hope.

Also, I admit, it’s because I didn’t get finished editing last night. I swear, it wasn’t being distracted by Nintendo and Sony doing that doubles dance over the remains of Microsoft’s gaming console reputation. (Goddammit Steve Ballmer, you made Sony the good guys again. YOU MADE SONY THE GOOD GUYS. HOW IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?)

But I digress. In this episode, we have Vicka Corey from Boston band Local Midnight, we play a song from their new live album, and Klopfenpop and MC-3P0 and C0splay come by again as well. I’ll try to finish it tonight, but it probably won’t be uploaded to YouTube until sometime tomorrow. The mp3 will be available as soon as it’s finished – watch the Podcast page!

PS: I used to be a glass sculptor – gallery shows and everything – and I’m clearing out my old studio. Take a look, see if there’s anything you like.

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