Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Riff 'N Ralk Music Tock. A Reflection After One Year.

Roughly a bit longer than a year later and this project still stands and functions.  Frankly after so many other failed projects I am astounded that it has survived this long.  It has been a fantastic year and I am excited for what the future holds for Ryan, myself, and our guest contributors.

To give some back story, this was not the first time I had attempted music journalism by any means.  In fact this has been the culmination of many failed attempts at getting something off the ground and producing quality content.  As you may recall, my Junior year of highschool was a time of musical awakening, where I would finally find a band that I really connected and gelled with.  It was an amazing period for my ears and has led to many great friendships, experiences, and ultimately this little piece of internet hell.

I recall reading the school newspaper and seeing the occasional album review, often for bands I had never heard of nor cared for.  It was a frustrating experience to not see any journalism for bands that I actually cared about (which was frankly maybe three).  I recall one issue had an album review for The Mars Volta's Scabdates, a live album that did not win too many favors from the public due to its strange sound collage and unorthodox presentation.  I loved the album and so did the reviewer and it was a moment that made me feel that this was something I could do.

I recall my first attempt was a weekly blog post on my Myspace page, which, much like Myspace, deteriorated and was quickly forgotten.  The drive was still there, but I lacked an avenue.  Eventually in my Freshmen year of college I was given a chance to writer for a blog called Obviate Media.  Suffice to say only a few postings by yours truly ever surfaced before I decided it was clearly not the right fit for me and tried my own thing, the very shortly lived Dozen a Dime which was my first attempt at a collaborative music blog.  The problem, crucially, was the lack of anyone having any interest in collaborating and it too dissolved into nothingness.  Somewhere in the ether of those days exists an album review for Sparta's Threes and a strange meandering end of 2006 wrap up where I chastised the reforming of The Smashing Pumpkins and said the tambourine is the devil's instrument.  In retrospect I was right about both.

The year before I had become familiar with the British runaway success Top Gear, a car show that was more about the personalities than the cars.  Presence, and presentation are key to the shows endless success as the program continues to this day.  The lessons were not lost on me as I finally realized that the key to success was not in playful word play (which at the time I sorely lacked in), but in brash verbal prose.  I fiddled around with a very cheap microphone, the free software Audacity (which we still use to this day), and produced The Final Mix (originality is a strong point of mine as we can see).  With a lack of knowledge of most rock music history I paraded forward, and while the show was short lived (I think there were five episodes over the course of the year) some ideas were cemented in place that would survive into Riff 'N Ralk Music Tock.  Primarily the use of music to illustrate the point and the common three album format that Ryan and I typically adhere to.

Again, the project floundered after a lack of effort and vanished into internet hell.  I still have an episode sitting on my hard drive.  I've clicked through it once, wincing at its rough quality.  A lot of lessons have been learned, mainly how to manage audio levels (sort of) and how to not talk so fast (sort of).  There was one episode, however, that set the stage for the future where I invited college friend Aaron to join me in a review of Era Vulgaris, an album I actually did not finish but still felt inclined to share my opinion on.  What I do remember is that our interplay helped elevate the episode to something more than my typical mouth foaming rants and provided some sanity to my typical off the rails demeanor.  It was good chemistry and while The Final Mix was a bomb it provided some good lessons to carry over.

My music journalism for the most part staid dormant for the next few years.  I spent two years in college radio which was one of the greatest periods in my college life.  I learned a lot about myself, developed some wonderful skills in terms of communication such as learning to slow the hell down, and I can not forget the great connections I made with my fellow DJs.  For two semesters I helped The Indie Rock Show change from a love letter to small label bands into a carnival of general insanity by introducing my co-hosts and listeners to some of the most off the wall bands I could find, and by turning typical radio banter into something more mutated and bizarre including a whole episode where we time traveled to the fall of the Berlin Wall (in order to "kill off" one of our hosts who was leaving for South Korea) and creating a whole segment for the worst music I could find called "So Indie It Hurts" (Which, in retrospect, was mostly an excuse to get Throbbing Gristle on the radio).  Had the managers Kate and Mark less sense to keep a finger on my typical avalanche of Kaufman-tier shenanigans you can imagine there would be nothing more than a smoldering crater where the radio station was.  Having great leaders reminded me of the art of restraint and that not every idea is one to engage in.  Restraints are great learning tools that help you have a sense of form and structure before you start going off the deep-end.

Things from then on again faded as other priorities took over such as learning to make my own music instead of chastising others and surviving graduate school.  It was around this time that I actually met Ryan at the local Karaoke hole.  While we did not share the exact same taste in music there was enough overlap to share some mutual joy and he was also one of the few people I had met who was brave enough to venture down some of the musical rabbit holes I had been exploring.  That is not to say he would not venture out minutes latter shaking his head in disgust, but there was a certain level of humoring that I valued.  The only other person I could get to do the same is my significant other who in turn had me listen to four hours of Garth Brooks once.  There is balance I guess you could say.

At some point I had brought to Ryan the idea of a podcast which he seemed interested enough in.  After a two minute meeting about what to name our new project (I had resurrected The Final Mix while he opted for the more ludicrously named Riff 'N Ralk Music Tock and frankly his idea seemed to match our personalities better) we were on our way.  A ditched pilot episode later we hooked up a couple Rock Band microphones to a laptop, hit record, and we were invading the internet space yet again (The pilot may surface one day, but it is pretty terrible). 

It has been quite a year to say the least, one with a lot of lessons and fantastic memories.  One of the first things you realize is just how massive the internet is and how insignificant you are as an entity on there.  Getting people to check out your page is an exhaustive exercise, one that makes you realize why most Youtube celebrities (is that a term?) hound you for likes and subscribes.   Clawing our way to our meager 131 Facebook likes also involved mostly pestering friends and family to humor us and show their support.  I don't even know how many people actually listen to our show either.  I believe in our show and what we provide, but believing in that does not generate fans.  It is a strange realization that there is so much more to success that just having something good.  I wish I had known that at the onset.

You would also be surprised at how challenging it is to get anyone to write or contribute to this project.  Somewhere around ten people have said at one point they were eager to write for Riff 'N Ralk and aside from Corey and Kenny none of them have followed through.  I understand, though, as there really is little to gain from contributing aside from some writing practice.  There is no money involved, and no one besides Ryan and myself have any attachment to the Riff 'N Ralk name.  Again this is not something I had anticipated as I figured there would be plenty of people eager to sink their teeth into a new project and had shared the same ambition I did to create a new platform for music journalism.

Not to mention there are endless amounts of music journalists too.  From the big names of Rolling Stone and Pitchfork to endless small operations that offer their own little niches.  The internet is saturated with them and getting people to come to yours is a monumental task.  You are asking that small percentage of people who follow this kind of thing to consider your brand new rinky-dink operation as opposed to something a bit more established with a more consistent writing staff and greater output.

One of the reasons I adore our project and value the people I tap to come on (whether they ever write or not) is because they are great people who put themselves into their work and not their egos.  There is no attempt to be cool, hip, or trendy because we are so painfully aware that we will never be that.  Reading other journalists opinions I get the sense that they are trying to do more than just write an album review.  They are trying to create a persona of a high and mighty opinion with an ego to be admired and adored.  The review is more about them than it is about what the subject and unless you are Hunter S. Thompson it is not likely you can get away with that.  Perhaps I am being a condescending to those writers and it may be a bit short-sited to make those claims considering they get thousands of views per article and we get 40 on a good day. 

So how do I even feel we fit in this race?  There are a lot reasons and the most of it is because of the personalities that we bring to the table and the presentation we provide.  This is an over saturated "market" and I feel we are not the same as other websites (pardon my arrogance). We are lovers of music, and not in that cliche I wear a "Music is my life" t-shirt while jamming out to top 40 exclusively.  No, we sit with crates of records in our homes absorbing more space than our roommates want to tolerate, and ticket stubs fill our drawers.  This is more of a celebration of what we enjoy and having a laugh along the way.  There is only everything to gain because we really have nothing to lose in this race.  I also know that my teammates are wonderful people that really show their essence in their writing and recording.  I find myself laughing endlessly while editing our episodes.

We start 2014 (in typical Riff 'N Ralk fashion a month late) with some lessons learned and massive ambitions.  Our website is being worked on nearly every third day and will be launching hopefully at the end of the month.  We will use it as a launching point for bigger and better things, more interviews, concert experiences, and a better polish on our product.  Ryan and I have spent quite some time brewing new ideas we want to share and we hope to find time to do so for all of you.  It is especially hard when we both have full time commitments, but we somehow find a way to provide media for you to enjoy.

Lastly, I want to say a big thank you to everyone who reads our articles, listens to our podcasts, and humors our rambunctious concoctions.  I realize the majority of you were asked nicely to do so, but the fact that you continue to read my walls of text, listen to our hour long ramblings, or listen to Kenny's mixtapes does mean a lot to us as we all know you could be doing more productive things with your lives such as learning to play the tuba.  Just know that if we ever make it to the top that you can say you can say you knew Riff 'N Ralk before it was cool and they lost touch with the fans.