Saturday, March 27, 2010

Oh yeahhh

I apologize, finals and such captured me and then work has and now I am working on the Socialfist website to get that up for Friday and then there is Easter and hargle blargle business. After Easter I will resume the regularly scheduled program, if not earlier.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Akira the Don: A Grain of Sand In The Ocean

What follows is my final paper for English relating to online advertising for music and Akira the Don. I got a rather awesome response from my teacher and as I posted my other marketing papers, I feel obligated to post this along with annotations. Video will be up later this week. Also you can replace most strategies for music with webcomic terms and come off with the same idea.

If you post a song online, it is like dropping a pebble into the ocean. It makes a tiny plink for a second and unless you look for it hard, you will most likely never see that pebble again. Look at Myspace which at the start of 2008 had over 8 million musical acts (Owyang, 2008). This means that in 2008, there were more bands on Myspace than there are people in all of Israel (The Central Intelligence Agency). Consider the fact that most of those bands might - on average - contain 3 or more people. This means 24 million people are involved in bands -- which is only slightly less than the entire population of North Korea according to The CIA World Factbook. Forget just dropping a pebble into the ocean. That is like looking for a grain of sand in the ocean. If you want to make it as an online musician without a record deal, you are going to need to be out there, branding yourself, making music and being fully dedicated to what you are doing.

Akira the Don is one of many artists who is working on finding a way to make a name for himself online and who has been decently successful as of yet. He had started posting mixtapes and songs on his website in 2004 and caught the attention of Interscope (Narkiewicz, New Subject!).

For those who are unfamiliar with the music industry, Interscope is the corporation are the people behind the start of Snoop Dog, Nine Inch Nails, Beck, Elton John and countless other bands (Wikipedia). This would be a big break for anyone. Akira planned on being the next big hip hop artist and the label had the same belief that he would reach his dream.

Akira had previously come out with a song called “Oh What A Glorious Thing” which sort-of sampled a bit of the guitar intro from the song "These Days" by Nico (Narkiewicz, Path of the Nerd). Akira then turned the sample into semi-poppy ballad about loving life and all of the things that happen in it, both the good and the bad. The label loved the song and gave him the record deal and Akira set to work on putting together a complete album.

Instead of getting crafting a lot of semi-rap songs about loving life and true love and sentimentality, Akira also got political on the album. He discussed AIDS, the World Bank and the media conspiracies, along with his time living with junkies and seeing the world for being the bad place it can be (Narkiewicz, When We Were Young). Unsurprisingly the label was not happy about this turn of events. They wanted happy songs, a full CD of music that would help people ignore the problems in the world. An album where you discuss losing your religion, in the theological way, not rather than the R.E.M. way, might be a hard sell and so the label decided not to release the album. Luckily the song that got the deal for Akira in the first place ended up saving his skin.

Ivan Reitmann, the director of classic films such as the Ghostbusters, had heard the song, “Oh What A Glorious Thing” and loved it (Narkiewicz, New Subject). At the time he was directing My Super Ex-Girlfriend and wanted to license the song for use in the movie. The resulting payment allowed Akira to buy back his entire album from Interscope and then release it on the indie label Something In Construction. Of course this all happened in about a year and Akira soon found himself without the financial security he had been expecting from the deal with Interscope. He was back where he started but he had more fans. Those fans became his saving grace for the rebirth of his career. After losing the record deal and subsequently returning home to London, Akira simply returned to what he loved doing - making music. While he is not yet solely living on his music alone, he is still making music and putting it out there for people to hear which brings us to the first point.

How to brand yourself: or, how to sell out while maintaining your ideals just enough to survive. It can be a hard thing concept to grasp. Few artists who actually love making music would want to be considered sell- outs (Narkiewicz, Path of the Nerd). Still, if you expect to make it online you need to do a few things: make yourself open, produce content, have a schedule and don't be afraid to ask for help. These are things that people who have made it online in the past have done regardless of the creative endeavor: whether it has been for music or comics or blogging.

By making yourself open, you lay the groundwork for keeping your fans around for a long time. Picture if you will for a second being a kid again and having an idol. It could be a cartoon character, a relative or what have you. If you got some form of feedback or encouragement from that idol then you would be set and you would be more likely to keep enjoying your idol’s work. On the other hand if they were mean towards you or unresponsive to your fan letters, you'd more often than not be more likely to thrown them to the wayside. The same idea exists today but it is a lot easier to return contacts.

Pretend you are the idol in question - an artist or actor or singer - for a second and you got a letter from a fan. You read it, you appreciate it but hey, you’re are busy. They wrote out a four page painstaking letter to you and you want to give them something back for their effort. You are in a quandry though, you got the letter weeks ago and you finally read it. You could send them a filler letter with a premade note and they'd be fine but this was a well thought out fan letter. This was not just a sentence or two telling you how wonderful you are. You can write your own letter back but when will you do it? Can you match the level of quality in their letter? One thing leads to another and your fan never hears back. One letter turns to two and then ten and then fifty and a hundred. There was a reason a lot of musicians kept their addresses private (Narkiewicz, Ustream). Now a hundred and fifty unanswered fan letters, in this day and age, could be a hundred and fifty lost fans.

Luckily we live in the age where waiting times are shorter and communication is a lot less formal (for better or worse). If your fan emails you, you can pop back an email and informality is to be expected. If a fan sends you a Tweet on Twitter, you only need 140 characters to return the favor. Even if you just add them as a friend on Facebook gives them the illusion of actually knowing you. Personalizing your response can lead to even more success in building your fan base, as word of mouth spreads about how well you treat your fans.

Akira the Don is aware of making himself socially available and has been doing it for the past 6 years. He worked on associating with his audience through his blog, responding to fanmail and generally being an open person. He has a large base of dedicated fans making him fanart, leaving him remixes of his stuff and reciprocating the love. He even gained enough fan remixes to make a fan remix mixtape in December of 2008 (Narkiewicz, Mixtapes). That is a true sign of dedication from the fans but things are still changing for Akira and he is working on new ways to market himself. He declared that 2010 would be an amazing year for being open and out there for the crowd (Narkiewicz, Outage). The first step in this new accessibility would be Ustreaming weekly.

Ustream for the people who are unfamiliar with it is an online website that allows people to broadcast themselves. These people who broadcasting people break down to three main groups: the Corporates, the Artists and the Attention Whores. The Corporates are the people who solely do the Ustreams to reach out and try to get ads advertising, whether it is a local news station rebroadcasting their reports or Capcom, the game company, posting their idea sessions (Ustream). The Artists are the people who draw or make music during the show and respond to their fans. Akira falls into this category of Artists. The Attention Whores are the people who try to market themselves without having any actual talent. The Ustream setup allows a direct feed to the broadcaster or their computer screen accompanied by a chat window where people can chat all that they want.

For his Ustream, Akira has decided to play the part of the a radio DJ playing music from his wide knowledge music base and talking to the fans. The format works because the people in the chat window can make requests, talk to each other and they can talk to Akira. Following the radio DJ theme, he also allows people to dedicate songs and he reads out the dedications. The shows are then recorded and uploaded to his website,, so that the people who missed the show are able to listen in later. Of course, making music in general is an important part of being an online musician.

Every musician got to where they are by making music. To become successful, it is required that they continue to produce material or at the very least continue to perform. Quality rarely even factors into the affair as seen in some mainstream artists who are panned by critics and yet continue to make millions. In fact, nerdy folk musician Jonathan Coulton got a majority of his publicity from a project called Thing-A-Week where he created a song every week. The value of this was, to quote Mr. Coulton:

(a) to push the artist's creative envelope by adopting what Coulton describes as a "forced-march approach to writing and recording";

(b) to prove to himself that he was capable of producing creative output to a deadline; and

(c) to test the viability of the internet and Creative Commons as a platform capable of supporting a professional artist financially. (Box indent this quote, and don’t forget to attribute properly either with quote on at end of paper)

In the end the project garnered a lot of publicity for him and allowed him to become a full time musician. (JoCopedia)

When Akira became aware of the strategy for production working well for Mr. Coulton, he decided to one-up him. From the start Akira has frequently been posting new music in formats ranging from singles to albums to mixtapes and has even offered his services as a producer or guest artist. He had created 19 mixtapes in the 6 years prior to 2010 (Narkiewicz, Mixtapes). To continue this tradition, Akira decided to release a mixtape or album every month for all of 2010 (Narkiewicz, Outage).

For Akira the term mixtape is a mixed bag. He might put in two songs that he has created along with a collection of other songs on theme like Shoes (ATD18), a recently deceased artist (ATD 17 and 19) or he might produce an hour of all new music and remixes as with (ATD 15 and 16) (Narkiewicz, Mixtapes). In the past the mixtapes have been well reviewed for their variety of genres, flare and general quality because while anybody can put songs together on a disc but it takes a true talent and knowledge base to make ones mixes that transcend that their components and becoming become their own piece of art. This talent for compiling songs as well as making them is the reason why Akira is called The King of the Mixtapes (Narkiewicz, Ustream).

Of course the mixtape release schedule being solidified will be part of the reason for success itself because it deals with having a schedule. On the Internet, you need a reason for people to come back and helping to know when to return is even more important. The fans to be expecting something upon their returns and the time they need to return for more content needs to be brief.

The same idea applies to most Internet content. If you run a blog where you review movies and only update it once every two months on one movie that you rented, you have a problem. If you have a webcomic that one updates once a month and you only spend 5 minutes making the comic, you have a problem. The problem that you will have is audience retention. As a musician fighting the 8 million other bands out there with an Internet presence, retention is important.

Akira updates his website on an almost daily basis with fresh links and blog posts, not to mention the weekly comic he is now doing. This is in addition to the Ustream recordings and the music that he already is putting out monthly. The point is he is making a lot of content on a schedule to inspire people to visit daily if not more frequently. If anything, it might be too much content but it is out there at least. Of course he has friends to help with this and that leads to the last point.

The artist needs help. Jonathan Coulton did gain publicity through the Thing-A-Week project but he needed links. The big link for him was the webcomic Penny Arcade (Holkins, Prinny Please). On that note, the nerdcore rapper MC Frontalot was also linked by Penny Arcade and then gained more popularity (Holkins, PSO Revisited). MC Frontalot then assisted several smaller webcomics to gain popularity.

In music, collaboration is a major theme. Akira not only writes his own music but he also produces for other artists while guesting on other musician's albums and he invites others to join his musical projects (Narkiewicz, Path of the Nerd). This is in contrast to the majority of mainstream rap which often prefer to "beef" or slander other musicians solely for the sake of selling more albums or if they do collaborate,it most often is only with a few selected members of their labels stable of talent. Akira is expanding what he does and is inviting new people to help. For example, on his 21st mixtape, he invited a fan to play the guitar for a song (Narkiewicz, ATD21 – Love Life).

As of this writing, the 2010 changes are currently in the third month with two mixtapes released, 6 six Ustreams - (2 two of which are saved and recorded) and there are about a dozen comic strips (Narkiewicz, New Subject). The feedback has been positive from the fans (Narkiewicz, New Subject). According to Akira there has been a major boost in the amount of site traffic. Still it is rather difficult to tell when or if it the changes will finally allow Akira to financially succeed but the keys are there. Akira is open with the fans. He is incredibly busy producing tons of content. He is sticking to an update schedule and he is working with people and getting their help. He is doing everything he can do to market himself and build a fan base and only time will tell if he will be as successful as he hopes to be.

Works Cited

Holkins, Jerry. "Penny Arcade - Prinny Please." Penny Arcade. 3 Sept. 2006. Web. 05 Mar. 2010. .

Holkins, Jerry. "Penny Arcade - PSO Revisited." Penny Arcade. 18 Mar. 2002. Web. 09 Mar. 2010. .

"List of Former Interscope Records Artists." Wikipedia. The Wikipedia Project, 1 Mar. 2010. Web. 2 Mar. 2010 .

Narkiewicz, Adam. "Akira The Don's All New Weekly Doncast! on USTREAM: Akira The Don's ALl New Weekly Doncast! A Live Broadcast of the Recording, with Music, Chat, and Occasi..." USTREAM,. 4 Mar. 2010. Web. 4 Mar. 2010. donstream>.

Narkiewicz, Adam. "Mixtapes." Akira The Don. 28 Feb. 2010. Web. 05 Mar. 2010. .

Narkiewicz, Adam. "NEW MIXTAPE: ATD21 - Love Life |." Akira The Don. 14 Feb. 2010. Web. 14 Feb. 2010. .

Narkiewicz, Adam. "Path of the Nerd." E-mail interview. 23 Dec. 2009.

Narkiewicz, Adam, perf. "Outage." Rec. Jan. 2010. ATD20. Akira the Don. Akira the Don, 2010. MP3.

Narkiewicz, Adam, perf. When We Were Young. Akira the Don. Rec. Nov. 2006. Something In Construction, 2006. CD.

Narkiewicz, Adam. "New Subject!" E-mail interview. 8 Feb. 2010.

Owyang, Jeremiah. "Social Network Stats: Facebook, MySpace, Reunion (Jan, 2008)." Web Log post. Web Strategy. Studio Nashvegas, 9 Jan. 2008. Web. 7 Jan. 2010. network-stats-facebook-myspace-reunion-jan-2008/>.

"Thing a Week - JoCopedia, the Jonathan Coulton Wiki." Jonathan Coulton. 12 May 2008. Web. 09 Mar. 2010. .

United States. The Central Intelligence Agency. Office of Public Affairs. CIA - The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency, July 2009. Web. 3 Mar. 2010. actbook/rankorder/2119rank.html>.

USTREAM, You're On. Free LIVE VIDEO Streaming, Online Broadcasts. Create Webcasts, Video Chat, Stream Videos on the Internet. Live Streaming Videos, TV Shows. Web. 06 Mar. 2010. .

Monday, March 15, 2010

Epic Fail Critique

Most people that talk to me know a few fun facts about me:

1: I am easily made nervous.

2: I used to make my own comics and they were crap. Now I am working on my own comic.

3: I have a hard time explaining what art I can critique due to multiple standards. xkcd and Allan are "well drawn" while others that color, do more realistic art and more are "poorly drawn".

4: I hate putting up negative reviews since I'd rather help someone find a good comic than have another bad comic to avoid.

5: I am willing to suggest how to improve webcomics.

As this is the case I was met with a request for a review on the Youtube where, as you may recall, I posted my review of Scary Go Round. In the note was asked to review the webcomic Epic Fail and I blindly responded that I would happily review the webcomic without looking at the comic at all. I figured that if somebody would want to face my mighty judging gauntlet, ho! then they must believe in their comic. The comic must be very good..... There is a reason I am doing poorly in logic.

Epic Fail is a painful comic to read for several reasons.

1. The art is atrocious.

2. The story is confusing.

3. It is poorly interspersed with "bonus" comics.

4. It is called Epic Fail.

5. They are already planning to sell a book.

These notes were written after reading the first ten comics of the series were read and finishing the other pages, which was a long and arduous task. I ended up contacting the author who seemed to want the review for the print up of the book warning of the negative review and was met with the go ahead.

This is going to be less of a review then and more of a comic critique wherein:

A review tells you if you might like a comic while a critique tells the people making the comic what they need to do to improve.

On the topic of the art, I hate criticizing art in general like I said. This is because a good deal of webcomics improve their art after continuing for a long period of time. Questionable Content for example had some atrocious art to start with but due to large amounts of practice and dedication, it has improved to a standard level that is well respected. This improvement took time though. About 7 years in Jeph Jacques is just now preparing to release the comic in printed form and guess what! He is redoing the art to show how much he improved. Ditto on Reiley from Dead Winter for redoing the early pages for the print of his webcomic (though he waited a much shorter period of time). My point is that the art is bad and will unlikely improve tomorrow morning. This is not saying, "Hey stop drawing comics," but simply "Hey, you have a large amount of work to do, try to improve a lot." It can be done quickly. For example, if you look at Fanboys where Scott DeWitt changed quickly from a low class artist to one able to render several comic styles. This was done by listening to critics. On this note, don't sell your comic right now in print form. It is not only a big dedication financially but you also are making a statement that can be read many ways. In this case it is seeming to say "Hey fans, give me money now while the comic is new and while I am learning how to make the comic and hopefully it will be around for a few years." This is overconfidence and greed permeating in the simple sale of a book. I honestly suggest not selling anything for the first year more than a button or something small unless you are working with high caliber artists and by this I mean people doing professional quality stuff and even then, only in moderation.

As for the story being confusing, the problem is mainly stemming from the setup of the story. I personally love starting a comic with a cold open and not introducing every character formulaically. It is rarely done well and even rarer to be done originally. The problem with the cold open in this comic is that there is not much of a focus. The comic comes off as like it believes that the readers can all easily grasp this information from reading only the comics themselves which is not the case at least for me. There is definitely a large amount of content in the comic along with inspiration from D&D. This is a fine thing for an early writer to use as inspiration. I used to write horrible stories about my characters from the D&D campaigns and even did a similar comic. With Epic Fail though, the characters are all smashed together and not given time to grow. What might have worked better for a start, would be the characters doing the mission that got them to where the comic starts with the awards and ceremony. The characters are also pretty much cookie cutter characters that have been done before while adding nothing new and the annoying thief is a blatant stand in Mary Sue type for the author. The characters need to be more real, more thought out. The story needs to be clean.

The bonus comics also come across poorly because you can not easily tell that they are not in the main continuity. It is fine to do holiday comics but you may want to move them off the main archive. I say this because there is very little difference between normal and bonus pages. To reference a good way to do the bonus comics, look at these Hanna Is Not A Boy's Name comics (story nonstory story ). There is no confusing what is going on in the main continuity or that they might carry over. They also don't distract from the main storyline and actually add a slight bit of a preview for future comics.

The title Epic Fail is a gamer reference to rolling two 1's on a d20 in row or something similar depending on the game and rules. This basically means whatever will happen will be really bad. So the comic is going to be really bad then? Why the hell do I want to read it? It is not a self mocking comic. From what I can tell it has nothing to do with actual gaming besides the loosely based D&D setting. Change it to something that inspires confidence, not a two word summary of the comic as it currently stands.

Lastly I mentioned it a bit already but don't sell the comic now. Work on it. Improve it. Find people who hate it more than I do and learn from them and the comments they have. Work on art more and more. Try to follow other peoples styles to understand how to make things. Hunter S. Thompson copied The Great Gatsby and A Farewell to Arms to learn how the authors wrote. Look at body structures and more. Just don't ask for money yet, it is a big statement and commitment.

I don't want to say anything more on the comic right now. There is a lot of work to do and it has nothing to do with merchandise.

See you Wednesday, hopefully with a video or more on Socialfist (coming April 1st!)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Because I Am Unoriginal

I have a forumspring. Want to ask me stuff anonymously - but more than usual? Feel free!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Socialfist In The Making: Spacestations

A long time discussion associate with me who I am known to talk to for topics to discuss here asked if there was a space station where the superheroes were ala the Justice League. This is in reference to the American Justice Squad who are in many ways a more complete Justice League parody than Socialfist (as the AJS have lots of members).
The short answer is no because a space station is stupid and pointless.
The long answer will involve this following scenario involving characters you have not met yet in the series and will not for several months.
The Scene: The Annual American Justice Squad Meeting, the room is filled with super heroes sitting around circular tables. In the front of the room is a long elevated platform with the leaders of the AJS, The Capitalist, Bearman, Libertyger, Democrosee and some more unnamed members.
The Capitalist: And now we open the floor to any and all questions from members. Yes, you in the back there with the giant moth wings.
Vermoth: Hi, Vermoth. Leader of the Burlington team. I was wondering, can we have a space station?
The Capitalist: Libertyger, would you like to field this question?
Libertyger walks to the podium.
Libertyger: Well, if you turn to page
Bearman rises from the seat and grabs the mic. He is drunk.
Libertyger: Ok. Go ahead.
Bearman: The reason we wont have a space ship is
Bearman passes out on the floor.

So there you have it, intoxication stopped there from being a space station.

As for my personal opinions on the topic, I have prepared the following list:
1. Expensive as hell - space station power, fuel, food, ships, pilots, general technology
2. Travel is hard - you have to go into space and you can't launch from everywhere not to mention weather conditions
3. No Benefits - "Hey guys, lets go to the space station to fight crime. In the space station that we control."
For people who need to respond quickly to emergencies, work on a budget and who do not typically fight aliens it is pointless.
(Yes this means there will be no AJS space station.)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Plastic Beach

I love the new Gorillaz album and have been listening since it was posted on NPR. I just want to say that you should buy it. It has rapping Lou Reed on it. See you later this week.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Socialfist In The Making: The World Part 1

Setting up a world is a bit difficult depending on what you want to incorporate into it. For example, if you want a setting based on reality, ie what we live in now but with magic you need to think a bit into the scenario. Where does the magic come from? Where would it change the way things happened? Were there wizards fighting in World War 2? Were there shadow panthers fighting Nazi panzer tanks? In the case of Socialfist there was not. I do want to see this in a video game though. (send money to use this idea please)

Socialfist as it now stands is in a world that is pretty similar to ours except that at some point in the last few decades, people started to get super powers more regularly, I mean Jesus was pretty much Dr. Manhattan with hair. Probably some apocryphal text where he is described as blue. If you want, blame the powers on mercury in the water or Freddie Mercury in the water. Either way is fine for me, here are powers - some magic and some not. The thing is those with powers, at least where we are concerned, are restricted to use them. Errrr, restricted is a wrong word. Naive when using them. These people with powers did their best to go on their own ways and to just stop crime, in the local sense. This means that the world influence is pretty small. Maybe less people died in building bombings. Maybe the bombings didn't happen at all.

The divergence point though that will be relevant is the fact that there are two groups that to my knowledge have no basis in reality but a major effect in the world: The American Justice Society and the group known as Socialfist.

The AJS is your generic analogue of the all American hero teams, Justice League, Avengers or DANGERDOOM. The AJS get their funding from the rich members of the AJS (the Batmangs and the Green Arrows and the Tony Starks. In the comic I call the amalgamation Green Bat and Man). Also the government helps and as such the AJS has a large number of bases around the country. Every other country is screwed for all that you know - I'll probably cover it in a side story. These AJS bases are around large cities and there are 300 of them or so (at time of last counting). That is something like 6 bases per state, more bases for the larger populated, less for the less populated states with varying numbers of members in each bases. For example, the guy stuck in Alaska, AnchorRage, has the entire state all to himself meanwhile Cold Hickory and William Henry Horrorson both run teams of a dozen heroes who are based around Hartford CT. While AnchorRage admittedly has a sucky job, he has about a dozen super interns so he mostly just sits back and collects the government checks while watching tv. You want the American dream (according to some political parties), you are looking at it!

Socialfist on the other hand is a anarchist group (in so far as they want to destroy the current government). The currently are a collective of about 70+ people with varying backgrounds who meet in a community center for planning in a small Russian town - read: suburb. A decent amount are former KGB analogues doing science and 'ssasinations. Despite the setback in so far as numbers, Socialfist has been able to run several successful projects in the past such as the creation of Yuri, the creation of several of Tesla's dream weapons (when do Russians not build lightning turrets?) and the formation of a hidden chamber in the basement of the aforementioned community center that spans about a square mile underground.

What is the point of Socialfist though? To win the hearts and minds of the people living in Russia and the world by... being good people? Its all PR bullcrap nowadays. They want to bring Communism back is the short answer. Heck, add in lasers and you have the Michael Bay political platform - "Win Love With Lasers and Shit!"

Meanwhile the AJS keeps fighting for justice even if nobody is sure what that means.