J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Month: September 2015

Preparing for No-Car Month (and a Driverless Future?)

Thanks Fiat! You were great (except for the falling-off hubcap and bumpy passenger ride).

Thanks Fiat! You were great (except for the falling-off hubcap and bumpy passenger ride).

In a few months we’re coming to the end of our lease on the Fiat 500 (our family’s only car) and we’re committing to getting around for at least one month without owning or leasing another car. We’re considering using any and all of the alternatives below:

  1. Bicycling, transporting goods in either panniers/saddlebags, or backpacks.
  2. Using Lyft and/or Uber and/or Flywheel.
  3. Using City CarShare and/or Zipcar (both have locations within walking distance of our house).
  4. Increased reliance on local public transit (BART, AC Transit, MUNI, the ferry, etc. — using Clipper cards for universal payment).
  5. Purchasing or renting a small motor vehicle like motorized skateboard (see demo below).
  6. Using a grocery delivery service like GoodEggs or Instacart.
  7. Renting a car for day trips and road trips.

Transportation challenges will include visiting friends in Marin (difficult to get to via public transport) and Santa Cruz, transporting groceries and other bulky/heavy purchases, dropping off/picking up our daughter at play dates and time with her grandparents, getting to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco (challenging even with a car) and client visits all over the Bay Area. While in some cases we’ll solve transportation dilemmas by having things delivered, meeting online, etc., in most cases we’re planning to take the challenges head-on: how to do we physically get ourselves and our things from one place to another without owning or renting a car?

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How To Get Rich Slowly Without a High-Paying Job

There are many advantages to getting rich slowly.

There are many advantages to getting rich slowly.

Today’s topic is how to get rich slowly, with a little help from Google Sheets.

Why write this post? In college I was just starting to save money from my part-time jobs, but I had no idea what to do with my savings. My parents had some savings and property assets, but no positions in the stock market or bonds, and nothing approaching an investment portfolio. I had no advice from them, nor did I know which questions to ask.

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Helping People — A Realization

Rescue: specific, well-defined, limited help

Rescue: specific, well-defined, limited help

Yesterday I received an angry email from a reader that gave me pause for thought. The reader asked me to do something I wasn’t comfortable doing and I declined. The reader became frustrated and let me know in no uncertain terms. Their argument went something like this: Why was I presenting myself as someone helpful if I wasn’t willing to help them?

It wasn’t a terrible interaction — just a frustrated person venting — but it did get me thinking about what I’m trying to do here. This blog is subtitled “Systems for Living Well” and that’s mostly what it’s about. I share my own experiences, insights, and knowledge, and hope this blog benefits others. In the past I’ve framed that as “helping people.”

But I’m wondering if “helping” people often leads to dysfunction and codependence. How much responsibility should the “helper” take for the circumstances of the “helped”? Is there a danger of the person being helped surrendering their own power and agency to the helper?

“Helping people” has been a core value of mine since grade school. To reevaluate and possibly jettison this guiding principle is a big deal for me. It’s not that I want to become less altruistic or less giving (especially in relation to friends and family), but I think the old language doesn’t work anymore. I need to replace “helping” with more specific verbs, in both my thinking process and in terms of real life actions.

Some thoughts re: the future direction of this blog:

What I Want to Retain or Move Towards

  • writing posts that educate, inspire, and/or entertain readers
  • sharing personal experiences that might benefit others
  • providing specific, clearly defined assistance to others when I am moved to do so, when it is mutually beneficial, or when I am being compensated

What I Want to Move Away From

  • helping others out of a general sense of obligation, because I have a “helper” identity
  • writing blog posts (or anything) that prescribe or recommend a particular course of action (“you should” or even “how to”)
  • presenting myself as an expert or authority
  • taking responsibility for other people’s actions or choices

I’m thinking out loud here. I don’t want to be less generous just because a few people feel overly entitled. I have no problem setting limits. Still, I may need to be clearer about what I’m offering, and where those limits are.

I hope you found this post educational, inspiring, or at least mildly entertaining!

30-Day Experiment: How To Double Your Current Music Knowledge in a Month

WWLlogoBack in May Marc Kate (a good friend and host of the Why We Listen podcast) emailed me with some thoughts about current music and his own relationship to music:

I’m finding that the trap of Retromania, the ubiquity of nostalgia, the lazy, daily choices we increasingly make in our playlists are contributing to music’s stagnation.

I mostly feel like some of the most exciting music I’ve ever heard is happening right now, but I also can’t rightly defend any of it as particularly new. I’ve always prioritized music that is cutting edge, but I can’t say I’ve really heard any in decades.

He followed this up with a proposed experiment and invitation:

So, I want to see what happens, what I learn if I eschew music that is even slightly old. Even if it means I’m actually just listening to wholly historically derivative music that was made last month.

Instantly I was in. Even though I disagreed that music was stagnating in any way, and I’d been finding plenty of new music I loved, I wanted to take the new new music experience to the extreme. For the month of June, Marc and I agreed we would ONLY listen to music released no more than one year ago (and this could not include re-releases or new releases of old music). There would be exceptions only for listening experiences out of our control (like music piped into grocery stores, public spaces, etc.).

Listen to the JD Moyer episode of Why We Listen.

Music Search

The first problem I confronted: how would I find this new music? Some I could find by browsing sales charts on sites like Beatport, which have a high turnover rate and rarely include music more than a few months old. But this would only lead me to new electronic music, and part of the idea of the experiment was to expand my musical taste (or at least exposure) into genres I might not otherwise consider.

I hit upon a solution about a week in. While preparing a giant playlist for my birthday party (with a new music theme), I hit up friends and acquaintances on Twitter for their favorite album of the year. I got a 100% response rate — it turns out people love to recommend music. I love to discover and recommend music as well (it’s one reason I co-founded Loöq Records) … it may be a near-universal desire to want to share music that has touched and inspired us.

There are three main ways you can discover new music in this internet age:

  1. You can rely on algorithms (such as Pandora’s) to lead you to new music based on music you already like.
  2. You can be a “Knight of the New” (to borrow a phrase from reddit) and actively research new bands and releases (at the record store, on youtube, on music sales sites).
  3. You can rely on your friends.

Option 1 is the laziest. Option 2 requires time and dedication, and also listening to lots of bad music in order to find the good stuff (not being in love with this process was one reason I gave up DJing). Option 3 is probably still dominant among the <30 crowd, but in my circles and at my age (forty-six) there are more conversations about kids and schools than there are about new tracks and music videos. But I found it wasn’t hard to steer the conversation back in that direction. With a little prompting I received a flood of recommendations — more than I had time to listen to.

Thoughts on Streaming

First digital downloads replaced physical media, and now streaming is replacing a large percentage of downloads. Each wave cut music industry revenues by half or more. Piracy has of course played a role, but the replication/sharing revolution is the main factor.

Nimble players, like my own label, can survive by cutting costs. Vinyl production and shipping were huge expenses, and when we dropped vinyl our profits-per-release shot up. Even though revenue is low, we can keep releasing music we love and make a little money in the process. But I do miss vinyl …

What about the consumer side? Previous to this experiment, my preferred mode of listening to music was still removing a slab of vinyl from its cardboard sleeve, placing it on the Technics 1200, and dropping the needle on the record. Music just sounds best this way. But none of my favorite albums (like Tycho – Awake) had been released in the past year. So I signed up for a 3-month free Spotify trial and jumped into the world of consumer streaming.

It’s amazing what you get for the price of an internet connection and a few cups of coffee. I was able to find 100% of the music recommended to me. It was easy to set up as many playlists as I wanted. Obviously Spotify isn’t the only streaming service but they have a great interface and a huge library. While they may not pay artists as generously as they claim, Spotify is a great deal for the music consumer.

Effects of Only New Music

I listened to so much new music in June that is was overwhelming. I didn’t get to know any of it very well. Of the many recommendations I received, only a few stuck. It’s good that there’s a huge, highly diverse universe of new music, because tastes diverge just as much.

A few albums that will stay in my playlists:

  • Fort Romeau – Insides
  • D’Angelo – Black Messiah
  • Jooris Voorn – Nobody Knows
  • Galantis – Pharmacy
  • Dan Sherman – Places EP

(The last one is a Loöq Records release, but it earned its place on the short list.)

How does this compare to the amount of new music I usually add to my active playlists (not just my library)? At the most I really fall in love with no more than one new album a month, so it was a big increase. I’m still getting to know the albums above, but they’re all keepers.

Since there wasn’t any discomfort involved in listening to only new music, the month went by quickly. Marc had a similar experience. One month might have been too short of a time for this experiment to feel the full effects.

Overall the experiment was a good kick-in-the-pants to expand my listening horizons.

Enter Marc Kate …

WWL30smAs I mentioned above Marc is the host and producer of the Why We Listen podcast. While the typical format is Marc asking the guest to choose three songs – any three songs, for any reason they like – to share and discuss with him, our episode featured a broader discussion about music centering around the June listening experiment. You can listen to our discussion here, or as soon as it posts on iTunes.

Here’s Marc’s take on New Music June:

We live in a world that is changing rapidly, and music isn’t keeping up. It seems to be content with aping the Beach Boys or combining Afro-Beat with post-punk, or looping Italo-Disco album cuts, or discovering faux genres (Yacht Rock) or any other strategy that has been mined for decades. If I’m sounding cynical, it’s because I am. I’m deeply excited about a lot of music I’m hearing, but deeply disappointed in how conservative it all sounds. Complaining that all new music sounds the same is a tired position to take, but it it has never been truer in my lifetime as it is now. If you disagree, I challenge you to point me to five minutes of music that wasn’t possible or is indistinguishable from music that we could have heard 15 or more years ago.

I was raised believing what Jacques Attali said: that “Music is prophecy.” Music is the weather vane, the barometer and the compass. Through it we can know where we are and where we are going. However, for the past few decades, it seems that music mostly reminds us of where we’ve been.

I started my podcast Why We Listen as an excuse to meet with interesting people to learn about their listening habits and learn how music functions for them relative to how I understand music to function for me.

What I discovered, as I spent so much time immersed in this kind of research, is that music really has stagnated. And I’ve been complicit. My listening habits had stagnated too. I’d become lazy and undemanding, settling for middlebrow delights and not asking to be challenged. Technology has made it easy for us to be collectively conservative. We’re surrounded by the music of our grandparents. Public space is more likely to play music that is 30 years old than anything contemporary, and contemporary music is more likely to sound like music that is 30 years old.

This doesn’t sound like prophecy. It sounds like a history lesson, like we’re trying to describe this chaotic new world with dead languages.

So, inspired by JD Moyer’s ‘lifestyle experiments’ as I think of them, I thought to detoxify for a month. I wanted to do my best to purge vintage sounds from my personal soundtrack and see what that would do to my attitude.

What I discovered is what I already knew:
That there is a lot of really fun new music being made with very traditional goals.
That there are some people out there pushing at the edges of what’s possible. Just little nudges. Nothing revolutionary, but promising gestures of discovery.
That there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that some sort of sonic revolt is waiting around the corner.

But I’m patient. And I’m listening.

I’m more optimistic about the current state of music production than Marc, and we have some good back-and-forth in the podcast (as of writing this I haven’t yet heard it, but Marc promised he’d edit out the bits where I sounded like a complete idiot). If they made the cut, I also shared some of my own experiences and frustrations writing and releasing music that inspires me, but isn’t necessarily targeted at any particular audience or market segment. How does your music find its people? And what if those people don’t exist? Should you change your style, chasing what’s popular? Or just do your own weird thing and hope a few other people will like it? Twenty years writing music music and running a record label and I still can’t give you a good answer to this question. I guess it depends on what your goals are, as an artist.

Marc Kate’s most recent album, mentioned on the podcoast, is File: #08, now available from Computer Tapes. His forthcoming album Failing Forms will be released in November.

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