Vol 4, Issue 2: Put Up Your Dukes, Let’s Get Down to It!

Like any aspiring artist, my work has been subjected both to critical review and praise. While I’ve had listeners assert that my lyrics and music espouse “universal truths” inspired by an honest “broken-hearted aesthetic”, I’ve equally been labelled “cliché” and “unoriginal”. Suffice it to say, I came to the conclusion rather quickly that it’s impossible for me (or anyone else who dares to pursue their passions in life) to please everybody.

Let it be known, I’m TOTALLY fine with this - what I’m NOT fine with, however, is the corruption involved in this process, nor the increasingly apparent decline in some sort of “standard.”
Allow me to explain:

One of the more memorable moments review-wise I’ve endured in my career, was undoubtedly when I had a “journalist” (and I use that term loosely) employed by a highly regarded Canadian music magazine rip unrelentingly on my former band’s album, only to months later commend us for our “catchy” radio-worthy tracks and “edgy attitude” after being privy to one of our live performances…perhaps she had a short-term memory problem. She got paid either way though, and isn’t that what really matters? Note the sarcasm.

Beyond this, interestingly, I’ve also been educated in regard to my own biography from reading critiques of my work: apparently my “Ode to Tofu” is a sensational hit overseas, my primary musical instrument is the drums, and Alicia Keys is a huge influence of mine.

Out of these experiences I’ve learned two valuable lessons I’d like to impart onto my fellow artistic types:

1) Take ALL reviews with a grain of salt (moreover, with any insult that is hurled in one’s general direction, one should always “consider the source”).

2) DON’T submit material for review consideration. Opt for interviews instead, so at least you’ll have the opportunity to explain your work in your own words.

The aforementioned second piece of advice seemed to be working out for me just fine until I encountered the worse of them: a woman named Lisa Shea, her bevy of voluntary writers, and a website entitled, BellaOnline.

Now in my experience, those “employed” in unpaid positions typically exert less effort and said positions have high turnover rates as a consequence. Considering my experience with the well-paid “journalist” from the highly regarded Canadian publication, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

While I’d rather not even honour Ms. Shea to the extent of providing full lipservice in regard to what unraveled between her/her website and my management, I will state the following:

First off, one wonders why an interview was even conducted (mind you at my management’s long distance expense) if I was going to be so terribly misquoted and misrepresented. Two, I highly recommend to her and her writers a formal review of the term “retraction”; a perusal of the ethics established by the profession of journalism couldn’t hurt either. Three, Ms. Shea could truly benefit from absorbing the full meaning of the expression, “actions speak louder than words”: while it’s all well and good to have the “About” section on your website sing to the highest hillsides of one’s commitment to objectivity and professionalism, when one refuses to remove an article that has PROVEN to contain inaccuracies (both about its subject matter and the greater subject at hand, that being music), continues to maintain SUPPORT for a writer who willingly allowed his significant other to blaspheme the subject of his piece in the public domain, and then finally, when pried, merely REPLACED the piece with another written by herself that one can fairly safely presumed was influenced by the emotion of the whole situation (the disclaimer is most telling) and CONTINUES to contain inaccuracies, it’s hard to take such claims seriously. Finally, working least in her favour, Ms. Shea made short work of relieving her writer of his position, indicating to me that clearly there must be some admission of fault on her end…and yet the review remains. But let’s get to the real topic of today’s discussion:

In this industry, as much as I hate to admit it, you will frequently encounter sketchy situations about which you’re forced to bite your tongue – not because you’re in the wrong in any regard, but because unfortunately, artists, generally speaking, have a lot LESS capital to use to hire attorneys to defend themselves should they be accused of making “slanderous” or “libelous” remarks. Though, as noted by the Canadian Bar Association, one is ONLY liable of being charged for “defamation of character/reputation” (of which slander and libel are subcategories) should their statements prove to be FALSE and deliberately MALICIOUS, when it comes to the music biz (much like any other corporately-structured industry anymore), “money talks.” Further, this entire biz is based on “appearances” and who you know. With this said, you need to know how to “pick your battles” if you wish to be able to pursue your aspirations.

In this case, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ve worked too damn hard to allow any “random joe” who thinks they can run a website to insult not only me and my work, but further to misrepresent me to such an extent that it could prevent music listeners from potentially giving me a chance.

In conclusion, while the internet has demonstrated itself to be an effective tool for indies in regard to having the potential opportunity to promote one’s material to a worldwide audience (for a nominal cost, too), beyond the whole illegal downloading fiasco, it clearly has many fallacies; scam artist promoters barely scratch the surface. Suffice it to say, I can now state with absolutely certainty that I fully understand exactly what my girlfriend/fellow artist Ash Keenan meant when she said that her reason for refusing to write any further music reviews was because she felt she had become “part of the problem.”

For those interested, here’s what Ms. Shea missed by failing to conduct the interview as per the initial agreement between her writer and my management:

1) Ms. Shea’s biggest criticism of my work revolves around its lyrical content. In her view, it is cliché and underdeveloped for someone of my experience. I’d like to point out two facts one may wish to mull over when considering the validity of her argument: a) according to her biography, her background is in website/database design. Although she seems to dabble in writing, there was NO mention of her being accredited in English, Literature or Linguistics. I, other hand, minored in all three at an Ivy League university. My favourite writer is Shakespeare, and if I felt so inclined I could whip out some iambic pentameter with the best of them, but I choose NOT to with my lyrics DELIBERATELY.

Why you ask? Well, quite simply, I’m influenced by a similar notion upheld by the 60/70s pop artists when it comes to songwriting; that being to "make my art accessible to all". I intentionally keep things simplistic so that people will understand exactly what I mean. Seeing as my three main objectives as an artist are to provoke thought, be relatable, and inspire others, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to write in a style that could only be appreciated by a select elite class.

Given what I’ve just said (ie: that my usage of simplistic phrasing and imagery is intentional), it’s interesting to note that Ms. Shea still managed to completely misinterpret the meaning behind several of my lyrics.

2) As per Ms. Shea’s interpretation of the following phrase from my single “Mad World” (ie: the world seems like it’s ended…when fathers subjected kids to their abuse), I’d like to clarify here that FIRST OFF this is a direct MISQUOTATION the lyric is actually "Our RELIGION has crushed down upon us when fathers subjected kids to their abuse”.

Contrary to her conclusion that this sentence is a commentary on familial relations, it is rather a discussion of the consequences that arise from certain religions, such as Catholicism, continuing to try and uphold outdated archaic practices in contemporary society (ie: disallowance of women being able to enter the priesthood, the inability of priests to marry…don’t even get me started on abortion or gay rights etc.).

To read the lyric literally without prying into said aforementioned deeper meaning, it simply can be taken as a reference to the countless cases of fathers (aka priests) subjecting children to sexual abuse and the church’s continuous attempts to cover up said scandals.

3) A similar misunderstanding revolves around the following line in the same song ("The world seems like it's ended when whores earn more than an honest day's work") While one could interpret this as a direct reference to the prostitution industry, it’s actually meant to be taken again as SOCIAL commentary on the fact that it is far more difficult to get ahead financially in contemporary society by pursuing one’s career from an honest, moral and virtuous stance – something particularly evident in the music industry.

4) I actually got my start in music when I was four. I’m a classically trained vocalist and I began writing songs when I was seven NOT in 2001 as Ms. Shea has suggested. Though HER was my first professional rock project, I’ve been involved in music in some capacity throughout my entire life.

5) In terms of the whole “homage/rip-off” debate, not only is it listed prominently on my myspace that EVERY single one of my homages on my album is DELIBERATE, but further, one with a truly well-trained musical ear and knowledge of a wide variety of genres would have been able to easily pick up on the fact that there are between one and five homages on EACH track on the album, NOT just on my song, “Don’t”.

Secondly, to compare what I did (ie: attempt to give CREDIT/RECOGNITION to all of my major artistic influences with my debut solo album by RE-CREATING in my own version ASPECTS of their melodies/lyrics) VERSUS trying to blatantly rip off the work of other artists in an attempt to pass it off as my own is simply NOT a valid argument.

My album liner notes contain the names of ALL the artists whose work I drew upon; moreover, I’ve welcomed every single one of those artists to listen to my tracks and have received POSITIVE feedback from THEM DIRECTLY regarding this idea.

6) As for the production quality of my recording, again I’d like to call upon Ms. Shea’s credentials, which to my knowledge, do NOT consist of any background in audio recording technology. Had an interview been completed as promised, I would have been able to explain the intention of making my album come across as organic as possible.

ALL of the tracks were played live (vocals/guitar simultaneously) and the occasional vocal crack, or flubbed note was again INTENTIONALLY left in the mix as in my view, no artist should ever aspire to achieve perfection, but rather something genuinely imperfect that reflects them in their raw inspired emotional state.

7) Finally, the aspect I find most disturbing about this review is the fact that it seems as though Ms. Shea has fairly established views of what specific genres should and should not sound like and should and should not do. If I can’t be creative and challenge myself along with convention through an artform, where the hell can I? I rest my case.