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The Best in the World (of Warcraft)

December 1, 2009

Recently Yahoo! Posted an article that reported a Taiwanese gamer by the name of “Little Grey” as being the first player in the world to achieve all 986 achievements contained in the popular MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) World of Warcraft.While the article mostly lauds his unprecedented achievements and dedication to the cultish fantasy game, I can’t help but be a little disturbed by this report.  The article mentions that creators of the game have estimated that it would have taken “Little Grey” upwards of 12 hours a day of gaming for an enitre year to reach such a feat.  I am all for dedication to ones hobby but to me this seem absolutely ludacris and serves as an alarming example of the increasing obsessive gaming culture that currently exists.  The fact that someone has dedicated half of an entire year in front of a computer screen to achieve upgrades of ficticious weaponry and spells rather than spending time with family, friends, or on schoolwork is something that not only is bothersome, but also is common around the world.  As games become more and more intricate, lifelike, and challenging, gamers spend an increasing amount of time interacting within these worlds, and les and less with reality.  Don’t get me wrong, I do find myself enjoying a game of Madden or Fifa once in a while but when a game becomes a dominant part of one’s life it simply is a problem.

The term video game addiction has been picking up steam in the last couple of years and it has proven to be an increasing issue within current society.  The term is being considered to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical  Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) While there is no current diagnosis available for the addiction, it is stated as an excessive or compulsive use of computer and video games that interferes with daily life.  Additionally this addiction is also considered to “cause users to play compulsively, isolating themselves from, or from other forms of, social contact and focusing almost entirely on in-game achievements rather than broader life events.”  Particularly with games such as World of Warcraft, up to 40% of players have been considered to be addicted to the game.

While many people are able to balance their game play with everyday life, video games do represent an outlet to many people that reduces their social interactions and allow them to act within a fictitious world without real consequences.  Many people who become obsessed with these types of games are able to substantially remove themselves from the real world, significantly reducing their ability to interact within everyday society.

As video games become more and more prevalent within society, particularly with the younger generation, the issue of finding a way to reduce game play must be addressed.  A trend of obsessive game players should not be allowed to continue as excessive game play can lead to poor health due to lack of exercise, and an increased lack of socialization that is essential in conducting a productive life.  I’m not saying that video games are evil but I do think that obsessive gaming really can present detrimental social problems to those who take them too far, particularly at a young age when people are still developing social skills and habits that will shape their personalities and livelihood.

Ultimately, what it comes down to is the parents regulating their children’s video game use and educating them on how to balance leisure activities such as video games with other day-to-day activities.  Video games are positive in that they do increase crittical thinking and also can provide positive social interactions where people with common interests can meet and play with one another, but when the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred by an overuse of the game, the consequences can be costly, particularly when someone becomes addicted and dependent on a game.

LMFAO, OMFG!

November 20, 2009

The 2010 Grammy Award nominations were released yesterday and I can’t help but be a little put off by some of the nominations.  Granted, Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift’s several nominations did not come as a big surprise, but LMFAO and the Lonely Island?  I almost had to do a double take when reading these particular nominations.  LMFAO, of “I’m In Miami Bitch”, and “Shots” fame was probably the farthest from my mind when considering who would be nominated for music’s greatest accomplishment.  LMFAO has been nominated for best dance/electronic album while the Lonely Island, SNL satire rappers of “I’m On a Boat”, have been nominated for best rap song by a duo.  The fact that a group such as this is even nominated is somewhat disturbing due to the rudimentary style of their self-proclaimed “party-rock” style which uses simplistic synth-heavy beats to support their even more simplistic rhymes in which they encourage partiers to guzzle down as many shots of Patron as possible while girls “take off their polka-dot bikinis”.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for partying and having a good time, and while I can remember attending countless parties where these particular songs are played frequently, I certainly don’t think that their popularity amongst drunken college students warrants a nod from the Grammy organization.  Yes, I realize that it is for a “dance” record but even so, where have the Daft Punks and Michael Jackson’s of the world gone.  It seems that now much of the quality music that has been frequenting the dance floors in the past has been replaced by overproduced songs that glamorize debauchery and honestly could be written by any number of my fellow fraternity brothers.

What seems even more troubling than that the Grammy’s have chosen them as deserving of a nomination is that sadly, LMFAO may deserve a nomination due to the lack of quality popular music that exists today.  The fact that LMFAO can grab a nomination only goes to show the scarcity of music that can compete or even eclipse the poor quality of music that groups such as LMFAO and the Lonely Island are putting out.  Hopefully occurrences like this will motivate someone to start making better music, both for my sake, and the sake of the Grammy’s reputation as a reputable judgment of today’s best music.

Tweet Marketing

November 12, 2009

Recently popular online magazine Slate posted a list of its Big Money Twitter 12.  This list was comprised of Slates top 12 companies who are using twitter as a marketing tool most efficiently.  To determine this particular list Big Money, as stated in the article, took into account, “number of followers, growth from September through November, number of tweets, and whether the account is doing anything besides providing a transplanted RSS feed.”  After compiling a list of 32 sites that fulfilled this criterion, the list was then reduced to the top 12.  Topping the list was The New York Times for it’s high number of tweets per day (around 39) and it’s increasing number of followers, which have already eclipsed 2 million.  Other companies that joined the times on the list were Whole Foods, Jet Blue, the NBA, and the entertainment news network, E!.  All of these companies used twitter in various ways, many providing links back to their main webpage or announcing exclusive deals that there company is currently offering through their numerous “tweets” over the course of the day.

I will be the first one to admit that when twitter first came out I thought it was one of the more useless social media programs out there.  I mean seriously, who wants to know what Ashton Kutcher ate for breakfast? Or when Shaq decided to have his own name shaved into his head.  I certainly was not interested.  But after watching twitter immerse itself further into today’s media climate it has proven to offer much more than simply letting me, and every other user, stay updated on the menial details of our favorite celebrity’s lives.  The “twitter 12” list only reinforces this idea as it shows how these companies have effectively taken twitter and implemented it as an excellent self-marketing tool that also provides users with useful information and services.

By ushering in over 141 million visits per moth by members twitter has shown that not only can it generate a large amount of viewers, but it also can provide companies with an effective channel to reach their fans and keep tabs on their competitors.  All 12 of the companies mentioned in the list garnered well over 1 million followers and are able to instantly communicate to these followers everything from coupons for products to customer service assistance.  While the offers that companies provide through twitter may vary, the responses appear to be the same.  Followers of these companies twitter pages continue to take advantage of the simple and concise content that is provided to them through these tweets, increasing traffic to not only the twitter account itself, but to the external sites of the companies sponsoring the page, in which ad revenue can be made and products can be purchased.  While the actual profits earned by companies using twitter can not be determined, it is clear that at the very least the constant updates to followers through twitter has produced stronger brand loyalty for companies by creating a stronger connection to it’s fans.

Twitter provides companies the ability to communicate to followers often and develop somewhat of a relationship through the personal service they can provide.  Companies such as Whole Foods use twitter as a tool to connect customers with representative from a particular followers local store by directing them to the corresponding twitter account. These representatives are then able to answer any questions they may have regarding their store or products.

As the article mentions, just because a company uses twitter account doesn’t mean they are using it right.  Many companies have failed at implementing twitter as an effective tool and instead have turned followers away through their unappealing, and many times flat out irritating tweets.  The companies that have found an effective way in which to use twitter are the ones that have been able to provide useful services and updates to it’s followers in a manner that makes the followers feel important and not simply saturated with advertisement.  The tweets that resonate with twitter users are the ones that address the actual concerns and desires of the follower.  By addressing these concerns and desires a company can prove to it’s followers that it values their support and that maintaining a relationship with them is a serious priority.  Whether it is personally replying to a tweet a follower may have sent or providing relevant, insightful information to followers interested in staying up to date with a company, twitter can provide an effective communication tool with customers in a world where keeping the attention of consumers for even a split second has become an extremely daunting task.

Like many, I do realize many company’s ability to abuse social media outlets such as twitter or Facebook to bombard users with useless information that simply floods your account, usually ending to users dropping the company or their twitter account all together.  In today’s media market we are oversaturated with media as it is and to many twitter simply represents another irritating advertisement ploy for companies with accounts.  Luckily many companies have realized this fact and have found that the only way to stay relevant with their followers is to give them what they want, when they want it, ultimately putting the power back into the hands of the consumers.  The life of media sites such as these is limited (I’m looking at you myspace) as technology progresses at lightning speed, and in order to get the most out of the opportunities that twitter present, companies must follow the lead of the “twitter 12” and utilize twitter in an efficient, useful manner that interests it’s followers and doesn’t simply let them know when they are planning to clip their toe-nails.

Musicians In the Political Realm

November 10, 2009
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Music and politics have always been linked.  Whether hearing stories from my parents of the influential Bob Dylan or currently witnessing another African aid counsel involving Irish rocker and U2 front man Bono, both music and musicians seems to be inextricably linked to political expression and social movement.  While most would not deny the existing bond between artists and diplomacy, many would question musicians’ political credibility and further, their right to make their political opinions known to their audience.  While artists have always used their popularity and stardom as a platform for discussing, supporting, and many of the times opposing political issues, many would posit that this is an abuse of the fame they have achieved through music.  A fame and fortune that should not be considered a validation of the political views and commentary expressed both through the music they make and general comments they choose to share off the stage.  Instead, politics should be left the “experts” who are more educated and knowledgeable of political issues and artists should simply stick to making music.

Normally I would agree with the aforementioned arguments for leaving the debates to the experts, but in this particular case regarding musicians it simply does not make sense.  Yes, Coldplay may not have a political science degree from Harvard but it doesn’t matter.  The bottom line is that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and just because musicians opinions are able to reach a much larger audience than mine doesn’t mean that they should bite their tongue so that Bill O’Reilly, a political “expert” can tell me who my next president should be.  Let’s face it, all media, especially political media function under overlying agendas and influences that make them just as credible if not less, than many high-profile musical artists.  The underwriting created by wealthy advertisers and corporations for these “informed” experts is enough to consider them just as slanted as any highly opinionated musician that exists today.  Musical artists represent human beings that embrace creativity and imagination.  These are properties essential to a forward thinking mind, and certainly are useful in times of conflict and adversity.  Why not allow these kinds of people who embrace innovation and creativity to stir the pot and contribute their ideas rather than simply relying on those who further only reinforce the status quo in order to satisfy pre-existing agendas?

I’m not saying that Zach de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine should be an advisor to President Obama, but I do believe that political activism by musicians is not only warranted but it is necessary.  Ultimately, popular musicians are able to represent a voice within society that holds enough power to reach a significant amount of people.  Whether this voice expresses valid ideas or opinions is up to the audience. Either way, the political credibility that comes with musicians expressions is not what is important, rather the dialogue that it creates.  Musicians owe it both to society and to their fans to take advantage of the platform success has provided them, and use it to discuss issues that concern both them and those who listen to their music.  It is nonsensical to think that artists should navigate away from societal issues and focus solely on their music, as the music they create is born from those same policies and issues that permeate the society and culture in which they live.  Without reflecting a relationship or connection to these existing issues music becomes a lifeless craft that lacks a connection to the audience and simply promotes an artists ability to relish in their own accomplishments and ability to separate themselves from the fans that purchase and follow their music.  By including their own personal views and opinions regarding politics, a strongly emotional and thought-provoking subject, music then becomes a platform for discussion and critical thought.  Whether this discussion is a negative critique of current policies and decisions or a support of them, the discussion that is created is a necessary one.

It would be easy to say that all artists are self-centered, egotistical characters that are spoiled with fortune and are not an accurate representation of beliefs held by the average citizen.  But, what better person to express their ideas than someone who is passionate about what they say and are not afraid to take a firm stance in their beliefs due to their abundance of self confidence?  Looking into history most all leaders could be considered radical and you would be hard-pressed to find someone who contributed to social progress that didn’t possess a fortitude that most high-profile musicians have. These artists are famous for a reason and they achieved the success they have through a dedication to their craft and a heightened sense of confidence that allowed them to garner attention and respect from their fans.  Most musicians were not born into royalty and the struggles and concerns that the average person has regarding political issues are still present within most artists, only they possess much better means to express these views to the public through the wealth and status they have obtained as well as the strength and poise in which they carry themselves under the heavy scrutiny of the public eye on a daily basis.

Obviously not all musical artists are able to contribute significant insight into current political debates, such as New York rapper Ja Rule’s opinion on the 9/11 attacks, but that doesn’t mean that politically charged music and statements from musicians should be discouraged.  If anything, the ideas and views expressed through music are ones that may be able to resonate more deeply within the average citizen. Not everyone involves themselves with political matters on a daily basis but most people do listen to music.  By being exposed to such issues through a source in which they respect, issues can be presented to the common person in an unthreatening, yet thought provoking manner.  While some may question the ability for many people to intelligently digest the information and views they are exposed to, that problem does not rest with the artist.  People must be able to discern the intelligent and valid arguments from the invalid ones on their own. Musical artists can and should be able to present them with the means to do so.

Are Raves Still Alive? HARDly

November 2, 2009

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend the HARD Haunted Mansion concert at the nearby Shrine Auditorium.  Consisting entirely of electronic, or for the less informed music follower “techno” DJ’s and performers, many would consider such an event to be that of a rave rather than simply a concert.  While this may be somewhat true, after attending this two-day event I came away with a much different perspective on what exactly raves and rave culture can be considered.  Many would suggest that raves consist of drugged induced teens grinding in a pit of sweat and Ecstasy induced affection for anyone and everyone in sight.  Clad in their most colorful skimpy outfits and multi-colored beads (also known as candy) people from all over the greater Los Angeles area supposedly flock to these events to lose themselves in the euphoria of amplified, repetitive beats, and intense light shows.  Having been to several of events that completely line up with the aforementioned description, I can attest to the fact that yes, these events still exist, but probably not for much longer.

The landscape of electronic music has experienced a significant shift in the last couple of years and while many “rave” elements still exist in the majority of electronic shows, it is clear that the live performances within electronic music have significantly evolved into a much more traditional concert atmosphere.  Performers are much more heavily involved within their live shows and the difference in style between acts has become significantly more defined.  In years passed, raves were much more focused on the crowd, as the performers simply catered to the crowd and facilitated an environment in which the audience would experience the music and dance with each other rather than focus on the performer on stage.  With only a small table for their DJ equipment on stage most DJs functioned as a more of a backdrop to the “raving” going on in the crowd.  In contrast, the function of DJs could not have been any more different at HARD.  With extravagant lighting and an array of props on stage the acts that played did much more than play current hits, they performed.  From the time they stepped on stage to the time that they left all of the acts were the center of attention during their performances and while they still reproduced songs through their computers and mixing machines, their hand gestures and expressions were much more focused upon by those in attendance.  Additionally, the music that they played was much more reminiscent of a rap or pop concert in that the songs differed greatly and were not mixed so as to cater to dancers, rather to those who wanted to hear individual songs with different tempos and overall sound.

Most of the crowd, me included, seemed to be more concerned with the flamboyant DJs that graced the stage rather than the intensely dancing audience around them. From the reaction of the performer to the song he was spinning or the visuals adorning the stage, most of the audience treated the event similar to the equivalent of a Kanye West concert as opposed to a traditional rave in which the stage could barely be seen amongst the masses of people in attendance.  The DJs functioned as the leader of the show, rather than the audience being the center of attention.  This change in atmosphere can be seen to represent not only a shift in the live electronic landscape but the entire genre of electronic music.  Electronic artists are becoming much more prevalent and recognized as just that, artists.  The spectacle within electronic music has shifted from that of a communal emphasis in which the rave itself was attracted the audience, to the artist themselves as being the center of attention and the prominent spectacle of this particular genre.  Artists are increasingly intent on releasing new singles that reflect new, different sounds that can be listened to like a normal single as opposed to older DJs who mainly released long mixes that were made specifically for raves.  This shift in emphasis symbolizes a shift from the group to the individual, and consequently signals a shift towards a more traditional structure of a musical genre.  Techno music and rave culture was once seen as an outcast within music, characterized by an emphasis on it’s trancelike sounds and underground events.  This shift seems to show that electronic music has begun to resemble much more mainstream genres such as rock and pop and has begun to distance itself from it’s original roots.

In most other forms of music when one goes to a concert the attention is focused on that who is performing.  People purchase tickets to see their favorite performer and while they still do enjoy the music and dance to their favorite songs, the reason they attend is to witness the spectacle of the artist performing.  Whether it is the Rolling Stones or Dr. Dre, people attend concerts to witness their favorite performers play their music in a live setting, not simply dance with strangers to the tune of “Gimme Shelter”.  In this sense, electronic music has become more about going to se your favorite DJ, rather than going to “rave”.  Most, if not all the people I witnessed at HARD seemed to support this argument as they reacted to the actions of the DJ’s on stage, rather than those around them.  People had come to see their favorite DJ and appeared to be much more enthralled with the presence of the artist performing, rather than the rave environment that would be assumed to have existed due to the style of music being blared over the loudspeakers.

This shift can also be considered a step towards to the mainstream for a still relatively underground form of music.  For people that may be wary of simply delving into this particular genre of music because of the lack of figures that permeate it, the bigger influence that individual electronic artists have within their genre will allow them to become the face of their genre and represent someone that fans can associate with electronic music rather than simply associating electronic music with raves and rave culture.  By producing artists that are come off as unique and prominent, electronic music can market itself, whether it would like to or not, as genre full of creative, entertaining artist that have much more to offer than simply facilitating raves, which many people may label as having negative connotations due to the high drug-usage and abnormality of rave culture.  By moving away from this rave heavy connotation electronic music seems poised to assimilate into the mainstream, bringing in much more fans, therefore revenue for the genre and it’s artists.

When artists begin to see increased ability to generate fans as well as money, more artists will choose to develop music, creating more artists for the genre, as well as expanding it’s boundaries as a music genre not only within it’s own genre, but also allowing it to spill into other genres, a result that can already be seen in today’s musical climate.  Many pop artists and even rock artists are using more and more electronic influences in their music, signifying the viability of electronic music in the mainstream, as well as the similarities to other genres that electronic music has begun to adopt, both when being produced, and when being performed.

Sadly, while this assimilation into the mainstream may benefit artists and event promoters, ultimately it will kill electronic music as a whole.  The further electronic music falls into the pop scene, the more it will lose its identity and eventually the line between pop and electronic will dissolve.  Unfortunately, like many sub-cultures today, this shift into the main is more or less inevitable and ultimately the people who will suffer are those who embraced electronic music for it’s communal and at times ritualistic characteristics.  The common bond formed through attending a rave may soon disappear as electronic music develops further into a popular genre in which varying types of fans both listen to electronic music as well as attend it’s events.  While a bond will still exist due to the common interest in particular artists, the cultural backing of being “ravers” will not.  When coupling the shift in style of concert with the types of people who attend these shows an entire new culture is born and the underground, unique form of rave culture will, for the most part, vanish.

Music Piracy, ARGHH!!

October 24, 2009
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Blackbeard, Jack Sparrow, and Somalia are all terms synonymous with the age-old subject of pirates.  Terms such as Torrent, Limewire, and P2P sharing, while currently not associated with piracy, should be.  Whether fictitious or real piracy has been prevalent throughout history and while now yachts have replaced wooden ships and the dollar has replaced the doubloon, piracy is still alive and strong.   Once relegated to the vast oceans that cover our planet, piracy has managed to move to a new frontier, the Internet. However, more importantly, not only has the setting of piracy changed, but its function has as well.  What once functioned as theft from the innocent by force now is able to reward both the thief and the victim.

Whether record executives would like to admit it or not, music piracy will always exist and there really is not much they can do to stop it.  The current shackles the music industry has attempted to place on cyberspace swashbucklers has done anything but made illegal music sharers end their illegal conduct.  If anything, the restrictions being enacted in order to reduce sharing has made sharers and sharing software more sophisticated and efficient in sidestepping these virtually ineffective restrictions.  But, what may appear to be a losing battle for a record industry attempting to preserve what little control they have over the content they produce, in reality is serving as a life-vest for an already sinking sector. Sharing or pirating of music through social media sites is inevitable and the media that has developed still allows for advertisement of products that can’t be pirated such as concert tickets and merchandise.  Sites that enable file sharing through hosted content such as “The Pirate Bay” offer advertisement channels in which companies can use to their advantage.  As today’s society moves further into a social media era companies are going to have to adapt to this new environment and find a way to successfully manage their digital content.  While the waters of digital content management are still murky, the role of sampling within the music-sharing realm does prove to benefit record companies in reducing costs within a competitive market.  This reduction in cost does help soften the blow created by illegal piracy, and does show some hope for the future of the music market.

By allowing listeners to download or stream music before purchasing it consumers are able to make more informed decisions on what music to purchase.  Many people are reluctant to purchase entire albums or records because they are not certain if they will like all of the songs.  By allowing consumers to download a song on-line or get it from a social media network these sharing sites allow consumers to sample music and decide what they want to buy at no cost to the record companies.  Once consumers are able to sample the music they then remove themselves from the competitive market and go straight to the distributor to purchase the music that they want without needing to decide. Obviously the catch within this is that many consumers will just pirate the entire album instead of purchasing it but unfortunately record companies are going to have to live with this fact. Sampling allows the price sensitive consumer who is much more cautious in spending money to listen to music, decide what they like, and purchase what they choose.  If these consumers are able to sample music without cost they then are more likely to spend on the music that they do like rather than taking a chance on buying an entire album that they are not sure they will be happy with.  This then reduces the cost for music companies that must spend money to compete for these customers within the market.  If consumers are able to decide what they want themselves at no cost, companies do not need to engage in price cut competitions with other companies in order to appeal to these low-income consumers in order to convince them of what they should purchase.  Sampling does this for them.

Pirating of digital music is not going to go away.  Most people view illegal downloading as harmless and for the most part acceptable in today’s society.  This creates a very dangerous situation for record companies who are trying to combat a crime that no one views as wrong and will continue practicing due to the little risk involved.  Rather than attempting to curb such a crime record companies must accept the existence of piracy and sharing of music and embrace the benefits that this social media environment has to offer.  The role of sampling within piracy should not be ignored and while it can be argued that sampling is stealing it also has the ability to lead a consumer to a purchase that they may have not made without first sampling the content.

The Finite Worth of Concept Art

October 16, 2009

A recent editorial in the New York Times discussed the validity of concept art in today’s art market.  The author of the article, Dennis Dutton, a university art professor from New Zealand questions the staying-power of such form and posits that these types of works will eventually be rendered unimportant due to their inability to transcend the intellectual zeitgeist of when they were created.  Dutton goes on to say that purchasing such art can be considered reckless in this sense and the outrageous prices being paid for works by concept artists such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons simply are not worth it.

After reading this editorial I couldn’t help but think of the countless modern conceptual art exhibits I have experienced in the past and their peculiar nature that still seems to escape me to this day.  While I would not consider myself an art enthusiast in any sense of the word, I do believe that I have a reasonable amount of judgment when it comes to artwork and concept art simply does not make sense to me as a valid form of artwork.  Simply displaying a medicine cabinet full of medicinal bottles, as Damien Hirst has recently done, and calling it a piece of art does not make sense to me.  While I have always had somewhat of a riff with concept art I feel that recently many displays have gone too far in encapsulating a concept rather than an actual creation in their work.  Many of these conceptual artists are known to not produce their own work, such as Jeff Koons, who contracted an Italian manufacturer to create a life size porcelain statue of Michael Jackson and his pet chimp.  Contemporary art seems to be moving further and further from a skill of craftsmanship, to a unique use of ideas.

Art should be considered great for it’s ability to transcend time, and become immortal.  All of the world’s greatest art from Da Vinci and Picasso are considered to be the best for their ability to resonate with all people and not simply exist as a relic from the past, but a great work of art for all of time.  Everyone is able to appreciate the art through the craftsmanship in which it was created, the skill that the artist used to produce the piece.  Conceptual art does not possess this quality in that not only does it lack craftsmanship from the artist, but it also is permanently linked with when it was created.  Concept art is based purely off of ideas and the statement in which it makes is what gives it value and the process of creation by the artist is almost completely left out.  Concept art is completely dependent on the current circumstances in which it is created, and when these circumstances are gone and the present becomes the past, these pieces of art lose their purpose, and in turn their worth.