Music + Technology + Random Nonsense from the Music Industry by Ethan Kaplan, VP Product, Live Nation

The World Loses Good People

In the last few weeks the world has lost a few good people and a dog.

Rest in peace Bill Doss and John Walsh. Bill I only knew through his wife and the town of Athens.

And his music.

John was a family friend who I knew since I was 12. It was 8 weeks from his cancer diagnosis to his passing.

Sugar was my sisters surprise gift to our family, she lived a great life, and died a peaceful death.

See you on the other side all of you.

SXSW Post Mortem

SXSW is over. I completed 90% of the 10 day mission I was supposed to undertake in Austin, my last day cut short by a health situation back at home.

I have never stayed for music before, nor had I ever been to SXSW where I didn’t have “artist” responsibility.

I had an amazing time, which surprised me given all the “SXSW is over” rhetoric from last year. And I get that rhetoric. One of the most common phrases you over-hear at SXSW (in both music and interactive) is “shit show.”

Were there shit-shows this year? For sure there were. But the key to shit shows in Austin was to learn how to avoid them. Thankfully, due to a few developments in technology, software and my own application thereof, I made the best attempt to minimize the shit show and enjoy myself.

Here are some tips:

  1. Stay downtown – For the first week, I stayed downtown at the Hampton. After that, I had to move to the Doubletree. I figured this would be OK since SXSW was running shuttles. However they don’t tell you clearly that this SXSW shuttle costs $20 bucks each way. And that cabs are hard to find. I walked the 2 miles back to my hotel a few times at 3:30 AM
  2. Make your own SXSW – This was key for me. Last year I was turned off by all the social media marketing type people around. This year, I chose to ignore them. I didn’t go to any marketing panels. I didn’t go to any marketing parties. I kept my SXSW to a curated list of followed people on Path, Foursquare and Twitter.
  3. Don’t schedule anything – I only broke this rule twice, but as a practice I didn’t make any set “meetings.” I told people to follow me on Foursquare or Twitter and we’ll meet up when and where ever. IN general, considering how many people were in Austin, this worked a lot better than I expected. I don’t think there was any person that I didn’t get to see during both Interactive and Music.
  4. SXSW is chaotic, just roll with it – I realized this year that I wouldn’t see everyone I wanted to, go to every party I wanted to, go to every panel and keynote I wanted to. It wasn’t humanly possible. Once I surrendered to this though, the experience became almost zen like. I wandered in and out of panels, parties, shows, etc. I managed to see more than I thought I would, and miss less than I suspected, but with half the anxiety as last year.
  5. Batteries – The worst thing about SXSW every year was that our sci-fi tricorders would die throughout the day. It made us pavlovian in our search for anything to plug a charger into. Sure, there were battery packs that you could attach to the phone to juice it up, but these small battery units didn’t lessen battery anxiety. You were still acutely conscious that power was running out. I brought with me a HyperJuice 100 watt hour battery in my backpack. It weighs about as much as a Mac Book Air, and can power one for a day. It can also charge an iPhone about 23 times. I had a black iPod cable hanging out of the backpack and could juice up the iPhone whenever I felt like it. I became very popular at around 2:00AM
  6. Tolerate No Lines – There is always something to do without one, and the line you are waiting in likely won’t be there by the time you come back.
  7. Hold office hours in places with good beer – So, Ginger Man. I spent five hours there on Saturday and it worked out very well.
  8. Take a moment to get away – After the weather cleared up this year, I decided to take an afternoon run on the Lady Bird Trail. It was perfect: only locals, none of the crowds, badges, or lines. Just a ton of locals, some nice scenery and an eight mile run.
  9. Dont’ wear dress socks – I ended up hobbling around for three days because I made this mistake after doing #8

Over all I think this year to me was the most fun SXSW yet because I just let myself go into it without expectations, and I came out with a bit of liver damage and a lot of fun had.

A Note About a Train Trestle

Eleven years ago when I was 21 years old and a student at UC San Diego, I was running an R.E.M. fan site ( Some friends in Athens one day posted that the city had started dismantling the train trestle that was on the back cover of R.E.M.’s first record Murmur.  I posted the e-mail address for the mayor, made a t-shirt and ultimately the trestle was saved and over $2,500 dollars was donated by R.E.M. fans for the cause. In November of 2000 I went down to Athens, GA to present the city with a huge check.

The night before, the band called me to thank me and the community for what we had done.

So it is of some dismay that the band was misquoted in a story in the Wall Street Journal today about the train trestle. The story is that the city doesn’t know what to do with the trestle now. When I was interviewed for this story, I told them that while I stepped in back in 2000, I wouldn’t do so now. Politics wasn’t my thing, R.E.M. isn’t a band any longer and the city has more means of self-rallying than an R.E.M. fan site can or should provide. I gave it my best when I was 21, and the community did as well.

The quote in the story made it sound like the band couldn’t care less. They could and did and still do. While R.E.M. isn’t a band any longer, they still all as individuals and a remaining company support the town that calls them sons and they call home.

Bertis’ full quote that should have been printed:

The trestle was  a very important part of the imagery of the first R.E.M. album MURMUR back in 1983. We
have always loved that image and it represented something essential about our band and our town at the 
time. Over time, people have attached significance to the trestle,  partly due to the association of it with our
first record and partly because it is a damned fine piece of design and execution, reminiscent of a bygone
time we all think we remember.  We have never been on the Save The Trestle bandwagon, so to speak,
figuring it might be a bit unseemly to advocate for a monument to ourselves and preferring to spend our
charitable impulses in smaller chunks spread around a lot of places.  Many have held out hope that the
Murmur Trestle would become a part of a rail/trail greenway and we have certainly supported that on grounds
of preservation and good alternative transportation planning.  But if it is not to be, due to logistical, budgetary
and safety concerns, okay, so be it.  Hope that clarifies our considered position.  The people in charge of our
town’s main historical protector, the Athen-Clarke Heritage Foundation, say it most clearly in their opinion piece     
last Sunday in the local paper:

meanwhile,  a massive Big Box strip mall on a parking deck downtown . . .?   HELL NO!

I’ll be sad to see this trestle fall, if it must. I visited it when I went down to Athens to send off the band, and I have been to it many times in the years between now and 1999 when I first went to Athens. But time goes on, and the tradition of the south is for time to be visible rather than be continuously replaced by the present. I had hoped one day to go to Athens with my family and show them this trestle that their dad had helped keep up. I may not get the chance, but as the band who exposed this piece of history to the world says: “time, I can not abide.”

R.E.M. – R.I.P. – Some final thoughts

Bertis Downs, Mike Mills


Note: this was published in the last ever R.E.M. Fanclub Newsletter. I wrote it after I went down to Athens, GA for their final (I hate that word) release party for Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage.

I am an R.E.M. fan. For me, driving into Athens, GA is synesthetic. Heading up from the Loop on Oconee you hear songs fade in and out as you pass by landmarks. At every corner you see something or hear something that is tied to a piece of music. A Church Steeple to Gardening at Night. The train in the distance to Driver 8. Dudley Park to the entirety of Murmur.

The town is the living embodiment of the collective works of a band that, on September 21st, 2011, announced they would cease being R.E.M. and return to being John Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck. They were preceded in this by Bill Berry.

I came into town to celebrate the band that was. I’ve been going down to Athens for over a decade now, sometimes every year, sometimes a few years in between. In the last five years my visits were under the guises of a label executive. This time, it was purely as a fan and friend.

The news of R.E.M.’s disbandment wasn’t a shock to me, but it still struck a blow. It’s a band I dedicated more time out of my life to than I did any other pursuit. I started a fan site for them when I was 16, worked at their label. I even met my wife because of one of them. The closure of the chapter of R.E.M. was thus a closure of a part of my life, a part that I’m immensely proud of and grateful to have had, but still nostalgic for. Yet we all move on, and while I got married, got a great job, had a kid and left that job, this band has managed to consistently deliver the joyful noise that surrounded every one of my life ocassions.

As with every record since Automatic for the People, the band and the town of Athens, GA (through various charities) was holding a release party. Given that this would be the final one, I thought it as good an ocassion as any to head down south and pay my respects.

The parties were awesome. The tribute concert a joyous ramshackle affair full of friends and family (and staff) who put pretence asside to show a genuine appreciation and love for an amazing body of work. The fact that Mike Mills (“always the ham” as he said) couldn’t help but run on stage at various turns was icing. The fact that a tanned and fit Bill Berry watched from the balcony with his family was sweet.

The next days two parties had a feeling of a joyous wake. It was the last time to celebrate new material from a band that had given so much for so long. Cine held the Taste of Athens charity event, while the 40 Watt Club, yet again held a listening party full of auctions, videos and fans.

But overshadowing the events was something more.

This was more than a band. While the work they produced was in the form of music, video and art: the entity of “R.E.M.” transcended far beyond that.

It was family, in the way the band members parents and siblings were present, in some cases to continuously snap photos to send to them via text messages. The pride expressed not only in words, but in the obvious emotion and pride from seeing their sons and brothers on screen, on record and on stage.

It was friends, in the countless neighbors, office staff and spouses, children and towns people who came out many nights in a row to show their love.

And more than anything, it was fans. People from Europe. People with tatoos of lyrics (and band members!). Fans who knew all the words, all the demos, all the videos and all the history.

This mix of family, friends and fans was there to not just celebrate R.E.M. In a way, they were R.E.M. The band that was so much more than a band. They were a band made whole by the friends, families, fans and town that supported them.

R.E.M. is no more. The demos on my hard drive will never become songs (although I’m happy Instrumental 4 from Dublin became “A Month of Saturdays”). I will never again see them live nor feel the anticipation of the first listen to a new record or song. But we have not lost them.

R.E.M. is alive in the friends I’ve met. It’s alive in the fans I’ve met. It’s alive in the friendships with the staff, the band and others that I’ll hold dear for the rest of my life.

The only time I became a bit choked up the entire time I was in Athens was while watching the retrospective video in Ciné. During the part that chronicled the Georgia Music Hall of Fame ceremony, there was a moment when myself and my wife Amy were on screen, smiling ear to ear and singing along. Thinking back on how fun that moment was, and all that preceeded it including how I met her made me realize that while a band can be finite, their impact never will be.

Some day my son will ask me about R.E.M. and why they meant so much to me for so long.

I won’t have an answer.

They were R.E.M., and that is what they did.

2012 Goals

I hate the phrase “resolutions” because it implies the need for resolve to do things. Plus I hate what other people like. There, I said it.

First, how did I do on 2011?

  1. Get back into tennis. I haven’t played since high school and I’m in a lot better shape now than I was then. I did not do this.
  2. Maintain my work/computer/life balance properly, especially time with Eli and Amy. I did this more for the fact that I wasn’t working for 8 months than anything.
  3. Be a nicer person Debatable.
  4. Now that we know Eli can travel, we should do so! We went to Maui, San Francisco and New York, so CHECK.
  5. See more concerts Not really, but it is now a job requirement.
  6. Run another marathon A half?
  7. Make an iPhone app and a web app Web app: check. iPhone? Not yet.
  8. Organize life and keep it organized Still in progress
  9. Learn something new NOT involving computers, programming languages, etc Nope.
  10. Organize photos (both digital and analog), scan the analog in, make books Yes
Here are my ten goals for 2012:
  1. Go paperless. Anytime paper comes into the house or into my life, it’ll be scanned (or photographed) and shredded.
  2. Maintain work/life balance now that I’m working
  3. Run a marathon, a half marathon and a relay
  4. Pick up (somehow) a non-running sport.
  5. Finish our house (decoration and yard)
  6. Take Eli out of the country
  7. Continue working on my patience and ability to be “nice,” or as Amy would say: stop being so fucking grumpy all the time
  8. Adopt and maintain a system for dealing with information and task processing
  9. Try to keep one date-night a week with Amy. We’re often too busy to even think about it.
  10. See more movies in theaters, more music in venues, more everything culture related.

2011: the year that was

This was an odd year. One of those transitional years along the likes that I haven’t had since the year I met Amy, started Grad School and got engaged (2002 that was).

It began like this.

WBR Parking lot, 1-28-11

I started my job at WBR in 2005 thinking, correctly, that it was a dream come true. The four years I spent as a part of Warner Bros. Records were among my best in my life. Every day I came into work with the task being “what can we invent today to make this amazing music we have even better for more people?” I had the job of inventing the future for music, and what could be more fun?

The fifth year at WMG was not as fun. I left after that. On January 28 I pulled my car out of the WBR parking lot for the last time, my car loaded with the remainder of my personal belongings and started what would end up being a longer “vacation” than I intended.

Here in are the highlights of the time between then and now.

Collapse into Now

What would be their final record, and the final one I worked for them. I was in the studio for the final days of the recording and mixing, and I heard all but one song. Here is my reaction upon hearing it.

My reaction after hearing Überlin for the first time.

The album was released in April. I listened to it constantly up to its release, as its 41 minutes of length made a perfect four mile run. At some point I realized that this was a swan song, and the record upset me too much to listen to anymore. I’m over that now.

February, in Kid Rock’s House with Rick Rubin

I played him back Collapse Into Now

Playing Collapse Into Now back to Rick Rubin



SXSW was interesting this year as I was unemployed (and yet promised to someone). I had fun, and it was the last time I was with R.E.M. as a full band together.


My uncle and aunt and my family went to Hawaii for a week and a half. My cousin was nearly a year old, and Eli nearly 2.

Eli and Leah

Begin the Begin

In July or so, I started working on a project. That project became a “job” of sorts in August and around then, the company I had promised myself to started having discussions with another company which now employs me. Complicated, yes. In the end, August, September, October, November and December were spent planning, programming, researching and writing. A fruitful and productive time.

Midway through this two things happened that made some of the good in the way of things diminish.

One was R.E.M. and two was Steve Jobs.

R.E.M. Calls it a Day

I have been an R.E.M. fan longer than I have not. I have been the R.E.M. fan for half as long as I’ve been on the planet earth. I knew the day that did come was coming, but it still caught me unprepared. I had an e-mail from their manager asking me to call him first thing in the morning. I did and he told me the news a few minutes before the website posted it.

I sent off a text to Mike, Michael and Peter saluting them on a great run, and thanking them for letting me be a small part of it for the last 15 years, and then dealt with the website, press, etc.

It’s difficult to put into words what that day meant to me, because it would seem to be over exaggerated to some, and it trivializes it to me. It reads oddly to tell people “I have dedicated a large portion of my life to the expression of fanaticism for a band,” and yet, that’s the truth. When they cease to be, a portion of my life goes with it.

In the end: I have great friends in the band, their staff and amongst fans. I credit the work I did with and for them with more than I can summarize in a blog post, and I know that they did what was right, not what was easy or expected. For 31 glorious years.

Steve Jobs

Another day we knew was coming. I have no need to lionize the man, nor excuse what he did and didn’t do during his lifetime. We are all allowed heroes, no matter how flawed, and their passing takes a part of us that was to their credit with them, however small or large that part may be.

And Now 2012

It is nearly 2012 now. Lets show those kids how to do it fine. Fine.