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No Expectations 010: Patience Wearing Thin
Tom McGreevy of Ducks Ltd. on visa price increases for artists and the realities of touring the States for International bands. Plus, AMC’s new tiered ticket prices and a Grammys recap.
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Touring is hard enough already
If you’ve ever had fun seeing a band from another country play a gig in the States, I am sorry to say that it’s time to learn about visas. You’ve probably seen this helpful Instagram graphic from Tess Roby for the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) or read the Stereogum piece highlighting this urgent issue, but basically, the U.S. government has proposed a measure that would make touring the United States a near-impossibility for a large chunk of independent musicians in Canada, the U.K., and elsewhere. Basically, most foreign artists wanting to play shows in the U.S. need to apply for a P-class visa, which has normally cost $460 but under this new measure will be an unbelievable $1615.
When you consider that Canada back in 2014 waived its “tour tax” for international artists performing in the country, you’ll realize how prohibitive and regressive these costs are in the States. Let’s say you’re a young Canadian band planning your first U.S. tour, you’ll have to sign up to become a member of the Canadian Federation of Musicians (CFM) which will sponsor your visa application. You’ll need to pay your dues to the CFM in addition to the fees related to the visa application. If for some reason there’s a delay in the application, you can expedite it for $1,440 (under this new measure that cost will be $2500). Then when you’re on the road, you have to withhold 30 percent of what you make at the show for U.S. taxes (sometimes the venue does it for you), and then pay your band, your manager, your booking agent, and any costs that come with tolls, gas, van fixes, lodging, and food. Keep in mind the P-2 visa is not a temporary green card or a one-time cost but a work visa that typically only lasts a year.
Touring is already pretty damn prohibitive even to our neighbors up north. If these new price increases come to fruition, more and more artists will make the decision to not venture down to this country and play music. It’ll be too expensive. You can comment on the Federal Register’s site about these proposed increases and contact your representative. It’s a scary thing to imagine all of the great music we might miss out on because of a couple of bureaucrats at the Department of Homeland Security trying to pinch pennies.
To talk about the issue further, I rang up Friend of the Substack and Canadian indie rocker Tom McGreevy of Ducks Ltd., one of the best bands going right now, as he was driving to San Francisco with his bandmate to open for Archers of Loaf. “The pathway for touring artists gets narrower and narrower the more expensive it gets,” he said. “There are so many great bands from Canada who have never played the U.S. because it’s too expensive.” Looking back on the last 10 years, I’ve seen some pretty great foreign artists play small venues and I doubt many of them would’ve been able to scrape by with those costs. “The cost of touring in the US right now is not ideal even before these price increases,” he says. "But right now you can just about work out paying for the visas as a band trying to build up an audience in the US if you’re playing solid support tours or headlining small rooms, and the goal is obviously that you build up to a point where you’re headlining bigger venues and it’s financially sustainable. The margins are really thin though, and it wouldn’t take a big jump in costs to make taking those first steps into the US impossible for most bands like us.”
To McGreevy, the process for just touring the States is already too opaque, too intimidating, and prices out too many acts. If these fee increases happen, it’ll get even worse and fewer artists will take the leap to play smaller venues and build up an audience here. “I think it’s important to comment on the Federal Register’s site and contact your representative,” says McGreevy. “I feel like nobody wants this to happen except for the person whose job it is to balance the books at the Department of Homeland Security. If more people knew that this was on the table, they wouldn't like it very much. Most people don't know that it's happening.”
Ducks Ltd. is on tour now with Archers of Loaf and just released a collaborative covers series called The Sincerest Form Of Flattery featuring artists like Mo Troper, Illuminati Hotties, Ratboys, and more.
Paying for a good seat
In a move that doesn’t signal a thriving film business, AMC theaters announced this week that they will introduce a tiered system for buying movie tickets based on seat location. According to Variety, there will be three different options: Standard Sightline (common seats in a movie theater), Value Sightline (front row and ADA tickets but you can only purchase these if you’re an AMC Stubs Member™), and Preferred Sightline (seats in the middle of the theater that are priced at a premium). The initiative kicks off tomorrow in Chicago and other cities but will be expanded to all AMC locations in the U.S. by the end of the year.
I could make a joke here about how AMC must think that the best way to get people into theaters is to make the moviegoing experience more like flying but at least on planes middle seats don’t cost extra. Plus, seeing the latest Hollywood studio-approved “eat the rich” satire like Infinity Pool while paying a few bucks more for the good seats and making the poorer people sit in the front row is not really an appealing prospect. It’s not the price increase that’s offensive. It’s that AMC has realized that you can monetize pretty much everything, even where people sit, and make their product just slightly worse. This is a desperate, customer-last money-making move and nothing more. AMC isn’t the first to do this, just the latest: look at Live Nation, Ticketmaster, air travel, Netflix’s new password-sharing policies, and dozens of other things. The future will be slightly shittier but with a lot more fees that didn’t exist just a few years ago.
Getting more people in theaters to see movies is a noble goal and the industry has been dealing with the crisis of a dwindling audience long before the pandemic. The reason every blockbuster seems to be just recycled IP, superhero franchises, reboots, and sequels is that those are the surest bets to actually turn a profit in the industry. Tár, for all its critical acclaim and it being unquestionably one of the best movies of last year, only made around $11 million at the box office against its $35 million budget. Another 2022 all-timer, Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, only made $29 million against a $40 million budget. These kinds of vital films are threatened by studios deciding to fund the big-budget guaranteed hits instead of this middle-class of original filmmaking. There will always be great movies but there will be fewer of them in the future if everything is streaming or Marvel and Star Wars.
With this new ticket initiative, AMC has proven that the future of movies isn’t with the chains it’s in your local, independent cinemas and arthouses. Going to the theater is one of the most fun and rewarding things you can do. Even if you hate the movie, getting out of the house is always worth it. Both the Music Box Theatre and the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago have memberships where you get discounted tickets and discounted concessions. It’ll more than pay for itself if you take advantage of it.
What I listened to:
Indigo De Souza, “Younger and Dumber”
Yesterday, one of my favorite songwriters Indigo De Souza announced her third LP All of This Will End, and released the lead single “Younger and Dumber.” It’s a knockout of a song and a new lane for Indigo, who proves she’s not just one of the best voices but one of the most versatile too. Plus, you always have to give it up for an artist who’ll make the closing track the lead single. You can preorder it on Saddle Creek’s site, and you’ll see a bio that I wrote in the product description. Talking to her, I was really struck by her vision and clarity when talking about these songs. Usually, one of the challenges with writing press bios is that for a lot of artists, it’s the first time they’re really putting to words what happened while making these songs. Because of that, you have to typically dig a little bit to get revealing answers. This wasn’t the case with Indigo. She said that “Younger and Dumber,” served as an open letter to her past self, when she was just starting out and unsure of her goals and who she was as a person. What I love about the track is the obvious grace with which she treats her old self even with the clarity that comes with distance and maturity. I’ll be rooting for her for a long time.
The Bob Dylan podcast Jokermen was a lifeline for me in 2020. Founded by Ian Grant and Evan Laffer during lockdown, the two initially set out to talk about Dylan’s post-1967 output album-by-album starting with his 8th LP John Wesley Harding. If you got me drunk enough in my early twenties I would’ve extolled the virtues of not just Love and Theft or Time out of Mind but also (still a personal favorite) Planet Waves and Dylan’s Christian trilogy. But with Jokermen, I am finally comfortable enough to loudly and soberly praise these albums. Over the course of the podcast, which has morphed from Dylan-centric to multiple episodes on iconic artists like John Cale, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Girls, and Warren Zevon, Evan and Ian have crystalized something that has become vital to the way I understand and engage with music now with “the Jokermen Mindset.” Without getting too in the weeds here, what it boils down to is basically never counting out an artist to make great music decades into their career. Some of the best stuff can be found in the latter-day, critically overlooked LPs (please just listen to Dylan’s “Most of the Time” off Oh, Mercy). I’ve always tried to approach music holistically: listening to a whole discography before haphazardly tweeting out my opinion on the latest LP. There’s value in the deep dive and this Substack starter pack shows their most important episodes. A recent favorite is their pretty cathartic take on Girls, the band.
RIP Camp Cope
Australian indie rock trio Camp Cope announced their breakup on Tuesday. They were a good band and it’s a bummer, especially when their 2022 LP Running With the Hurricane felt like a breakthrough for them. As of writing this, I have no idea why they called it quits but I respect people around my age who know when the time is right to pursue other things. Back in 2019, I made lead singer Georgia Maq listen to AC/DC’s Back in Black for the first time right before soundcheck at Subterranean and wrote about it at VICE. I had a blast.
What I watched:
The 2023 Grammys
Music’s biggest night happened on Sunday and I watched the NASCAR Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum for most of the actual Grammys broadcast instead. Because of that, even though I watched all the performances the following morning, you should probably take what I say with a grain of salt. I think there’s a solid balance you can strike when it comes to something as ridiculous as an awards show: you can realize that it matters but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of the medium and certainly not enough to take you away from the art you love and support already. Basically, it’s a way to contextualize a year in music through an increasingly but historically out-of-touch industry. If anything, it’s just a surefire way to get some funny Twitter jokes off on a Sunday night.
While I could talk about pleasant surprises like Wet Leg taking Best Alternative Album or Bonnie Raitt’s shock Song of the Year victory for a track that I hadn’t heard until the ceremony, instead, I’ll hone in on the biggest story of the night: Harry Styles winning Album of the Year or rather Beyoncé losing AOTY. That night, she became the winningest Grammys artist of all-time with four wins bringing her all-time total to 32 trophies but the fact that she didn’t win the biggest honor of the night—something she hasn’t been awarded her entire career—threw a pall over what would’ve been another passable but sometimes grating CBS broadcast. If you caught Twitter immediately after the ceremony, you would not want to be Harry Styles or a voting member of the Recording Academy. People were big-mad and honestly rightly so, Renaissance was clearly superior to Harry’s House. As much as I bemoan the fact that most pop culture criticism boils down to “are we being nice enough to these celebrities?” the Beyhive does have a point here. She’ll be OK though. It’s the Grammys and what can you expect? This is an institution that infamously awarded Macklemore Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar and has shit the bed on more than hundreds of occasions.
Still, if I ever find myself bored on Music’s Biggest Night I’ll probably keep watching that garbage. Some of the performances were stellar like Steve Lacy and the random, incomplete but still excellent hip-hop history medley the Grammy producers came up with. I think the only way to experience an award show, if at all, is to lower your expectations and not take it too seriously.
What I read:
I tend to think that what people commonly refer to as “impostor syndrome” can be a normal and honestly healthy reaction to professional life and adulthood. People should look inward, consider their faults, and acknowledge their insecurities as they move forward and work towards being a better version of themselves. The rub though is that sometimes the people who experience this phenomenon don’t need to second guess themselves but the ones who would really benefit from an existential crisis never do. Or, arguably worse, people who are actually bad at their jobs indulge in “impostor syndrome” but don’t do anything about it. Doubt is natural but problems come up when you don’t do anything positive with it or use it to performatively assuage your own internalized guilt that comes from achieving any sort of success.
Leslie Jamison, one of my favorite writers of all time, has a smart take on the term and its recent ubiquity for The New Yorker. Most interestingly, this concept, which was originally called the impostor phenomenon, dates back to the 1970s thanks to two psychologists Pauline Cline and Suzanne Imes who noticed that women primarily dealt with “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness,” and feared that “some significant person will discover that they are indeed intellectual impostors.” Now, much to the chagrin of these researchers, the term has become a “syndrome” and is now so ubiquitous it’s used for surface-level self-help and has lost its original. There are pretty fascinating dissections of privilege, race, and gender that come in the piece charting the evolution of this concept.
This is an incredible pan. Jeremy has been one of the guys I look up to most ever since I started out and he’s been nothing but kind and supportive in turn. He’s done a great job running the reviews section over at Pitchfork but I miss seeing his writing all the time. This Måneskin review, which goes so much more the fuck in than I did on these hot Italian rockers, is a good reminder of why he’s such an essential and hilarious voice in music criticism. He really freaked it. There’s value in a great scathing review and I’m happy to see a deserved 2.0 rating back at Pitchfork.