Bill Hicks vs Shanghai's The Factory

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Update: A lot of people get turned right off by the pop-vox style or 'quote' approach. So here's David Cox writing for the Guardian about the movie 'Somers Town'

Recently Dan Shapiro reported on The Factory project that recently opened in Hongkou's 1933 development. Dan knows what's what and this post is in no way attacking his post per se. Dan's blog has been ruling lately. Ha. 

The Factory aim to sign and develop bands strictly for use in the ad industry:

"The main idea is basically this whole factory is being underwritten by [local advertising agency] Profero. It's all about content, content, content," explains Sean Dinsmore, The Factory's Creative Director. "Looking at it from this angle it makes it a lot more manageable. Looking at it [ just] from a music label point, it's fiscal suicide.

"It's totally transparent for musicians," says local singer / guitarist Dave Zhao, whose interest was piqued by The Factory's unique approach. "They can record the songs here and then bring the songs to the advertising company to see if they're interested in them."

That's right.

I'm sure most of my readers are familiar with Bill Hicks. Maybe not. He was an American comedian who was tragicaly struck down by cancer at just 32 years old. Anyway, Bill was big on music, especially rock and independent music. He paraphrased this many ways during his shows but we can get the basic gist here:

Rock stars doing Pepsi commercials? Are we living in Reagan's wet dream? Let me say this, just once so we can set it in stone. Anyone who advertises a product on TV should be struck off the artistic register for ever. I don't care if you are shitting Mona Lisa's in your sleep, you have made your fucking choice. You are sucking satan's cock. You can't be trusted anymore.

If there is no existing structure, industry or community for music in your city. Build one. People are doing it. Accept that there's no chance to 'make big money' from it at this time and just make your music.

Just stay away from that big scaly member.

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I know Bill Hicks died at the same age as Jesus, but let's not start worshipping him quite yet.

Seems to me that The Factory's model of explaining why they're allowing artists in to record ("Hey, maybe we can use it for advertising or something?") is better than the traditional record company route ("Hey, then we'll own the master recordings!")

Maybe I'm biased because I was there last night and had a good time, but this Sean guy seems pretty straightforward to me.

..anyway- what's the difference between

a) a band getting free studio time at The Factory because it's supported by advertising


b) you getting free video hosting + bandwidth on Youtube because it's supported by advertising.


Hi James

The issue of rights ownership in labels is a big one and a separate one to whether artists personally endorse products for cash.

Also, the issue of a company whose service you use endorsing a certain product is again separate to you personally endorsing it in a commercial. Legitimate though.

You've added two more debates basically, which is kind of hijacking the thread. Well, it would be if a thread actually existed. Also, those points throw up many more issues that are common within the music and arts world. All legitimate.

The Factory are proposing a model whereby the reason for creating music or art is for use by an ad agency. I find this controversial. The quote from Hicks is famous, I don't think there's evidence in the post of 'worshipping' though. And whether I worship Hicks or not is not relevant to the point he makes.

So on topic, what do you think about rock music created directly for adding into a bank of resources for ad agencies?

I'm interested in the Youtube question though. I personally am sensitive to third party associations like that. Let's take my band page on Neocha as an example. Neocha use advertising. If they were to advertise for a company I had issues with and the ad was coming up on my page when people looked my band up. I would certainly withdraw from their service or request it did not feature on my page.

This throws up more questions too, but questions not directly related to the post.

I don't think The Factory really are creating things solely for usage in advertising, they're just using that possibility to justify spending way more on that side of things than they're going to make back.

We're not talking about bright young things being brought in to make jingles, and told to wear Pepsi t-shirts onstage. They come in, they do their thing, and The Factory justify the output by telling their backers that advertising firms might use it.

I'm pretty sure that Bill Hicks bit was about Michael Jackson (Vanilla Ice etc.) appearing on TV commercials for Pepsi where they're drinking the cola, and dancing around like clowns.
To me there's a big difference between doing that, and say using a Jose Gonzales track on that Sony advert with the bouncing balls.
I'd guess you wouldn't see it as that much of a difference, but to me it's possible to let the advertisers have a quick feel of the goods without dropping your knickers completely.

There is absolutely no relevance in the Bill Hicks Quote in relation to the Factory controversy. Appearing in a commercial for cash and creating music specifically for use in advertising are completely different in nature. And either way, how can we criticize someone for doing a job and getting paid? How about athletes who endorse brands, isn't it the same? Seems hypocritical to watch the tv shows that only exist because of advertising money and then complain about artists selling out to those advertisers. This also brings up the question of print advertising? I guess PK-14 and all other bands associated with Converse should be shunned, as well as those who actually buy the products.

First of all - of course we can criticise people for doing jobs and getting paid. That's not any kind of point. There are many instances of jobs you get paid for that are unethical or destructive. Being paid for something does not negate all critical discussion of the thing itself. There's no logic there.

Now. The PK-14 example is a good one. Thank you. Sound Destruction produce a regular 'zine' featuring their bands that is Converse driven. Also, Split did the whole Converse tour.

I think it's a horrible model and quite depressing that it's pretty much the only option in the absence of a standard music industry and state/societal support for the arts. The answer is just to go slowly in your own city-wide community and build like YYT or 0093.

Sports stars is an even better example. Yao Ming makes a lot of money from basketball, why does he need to pedal McDonalds junk food to kids? Surely pedalling McDonald's conflicts with a sporty healthy lifestyle.

There are many issues, all relevant.

Bill's basic point is that getting involved in advertising lessons your artistic integrity. And in set-ups like the Factory, selling to an ad agency becomes the reason d'etre. As Cox talks about in the updated link, that's a dangerous precedent for free arts, the so-called foundation of a liberal society.

And of course we watch TV and don't have to completely shun any band who has sponsors. Unless we live in a cave, with today's world the way it is.

It is not hypocritical to bring up the issues at all. It's vital and healthy to highlight these areas, raise awareness and try to move towards a better model.

Unless you feel we should seek out trivial reasons to shout down or negate anyone who would display critical thinking or try to highlight issues?

If you feel that, in the absence of state/tax backing or a regular industry for now, the best way to go forward is to have local bands and artists work for ad agencies - then that's fine ... state your case!

Oh, that was a reply to winkyisright ..not James.

I agree that critism is healthy, but it seems you are stuck beating a dead horse.
One point I disagree on is your view on building a local scene, it is fairly ignorant to think that solely by the yyt and 0093 model, if I am not mistaken the Shanghai scene has lagged far behind that of Beijing, and Beijing is a scene that is very much driven by the thirst for money/popularity.
Free arts might be the basis for a liberal society, which as far as I know, China is not. So why would you advocate a model that is unproven in our current social context? I would say that the reason the Shanghai scene has failed to evolve isn't because of over commercialism, but the narrowmindedness of those who claim to be trying to help it.

Actually, nowhere have I, or anyone, said that the scene has 'failed to evolve'.

It has evolved. This is a different point to that of representing a product vs integrity. I'm happy to take it in this direction though.

There is a lack of established industry mechanics here. Basically, there is no industry and 'the underground' has had to do it themselves. The YYT and 0093 model is the only one that has worked .

Beijing is not so different. It has more bands for two reasons. It was around longer, and, as the original scene, it attracted bands from elsewhere who wanted to 'join a scene'. It's apparent size or scope then seems boosted by the Midi festival and now the Maybe Mars label. Both were down to random benefactors appearing and both could disappear as quickly as they appeared. Festivals already have. MM are not selling CDs by the thousands in any kind of regular outlet.

Shanghai will catch on in the same way in the same time scale. The recent international interest in Beijing bands and desire to make money from it has done little there.

Anyway, come on, still waiting for your defense of The Factory's model. Since the YYT and 0093 model doesn't appeal to you and people like me are just narrow minded and holding it back ... let's hear how they should go on.

You're still basically nay-saying without any kind of substance. Calling me ignorant is quite funny too. I'm not going to throw any words at you like hypocrite, ignorant or whatever ... I just really want to hear you defend or explain The Factory's idea in more detail.

The factory doesn't have exclusive copyright agreements with the bands, so any work done in the factory is still the artists property. The factory model is to basically open up the possibility for bands songs to appear in advertisements, something that has existed since the beginning of the modern music industry. The only way to truly grow is to diversify and the factory is a step in that direction.

2 or 3 venues for bands to play in, crowds ranging from 10 - 300+ in size, only a handfull of regularly gigging indie that how you would describe the scene? because that is exactly how it was over 4 years ago...where is the evolution that you speak of?

oh, and I didn't mean to use ignorance in a negative way.......i meant it like this.......the easiest things to criticize are the things we don't fully understand, and we don't fully understand because we aren't involved in the process in any way except as commentators and spectators. And we are all ignorant about things in life we have had little exposure to. And I mean real exposure.

Maybe I am wrong, maybe you aren't just an English teacher who likes music like so many people in China seem to be, but are an artist who's only means of income is the music you produce, or an ex-music executive that knows how evil the industry really is, or a promoter who has invested countless hours and time in the scene here or back home.

Hi 'winky'

Well, you did quite well in that first reply. You believe the scene hasn't changed in 4 years. We'll let that view stand there for the 5000 individual readers per post, including a wide range of people involved at all levels of the scene, to take or leave.

We also, have some views on The Factory, great. Thanks for that.

"The only way to trluy grow is to diversify."

It's a pity that you then undermine yourself with a second post where you just can't help but to slip into a bunch of platitudes and attacks again. Whether someone is an English teacher or not has no bearing on the validity of their views on the music scene.
Suggesting I have no 'real exposure' or 'experience' of the scene is kind of funny too. But if that's what you think, sure.

Basically you've read the post and thought "This guy doesn't know what he's talking about and seems to have no real experience of the scene or industry, he's a whining English teacher and should get a real job."

I'm not going to rise to any of it and I certainly don't need to justify myself or explain my (very public) background to you.

You're free, and very very welcome to post other information or opposing view points on the blog and i'm happy to let them stand wihtout making any insinuations or attacks on you. I don't even know your real name.

The original point still stands for me. That selling product with your art is a danger to artistic integrity in principal and The Factory's proposed model is controversial.

You don't see Hicks' comments as being in conflict with The Factory's model.

I still don't think that the way The Factory is hoping to finance music production is any less damaging to artistic integrity than the traditional record label model.

I think it's less likely that the advertisers (who presumably wouldn't be interested until they can look at the finished product) will be breathing down the necks of the musicians in the studio saying:

"Yeah I like that song about when you were raped, but could you mention something about the cool delicious taste of Pepsi?"

than it would be that a label boss would be pressing for more tracks they can release as singles, and fewer 10 minute drum solos.

We're not talking about a perfect system in either case I guess.

On the factory matter:

if the factory aims to provide music for ads, then when bands go into the studio, it will be in the back of everyone's head --- is this tv usable, is this gonna be catchy, is this gonna be family friendly,etc... for a start, that kills all creativity and freedom for writing.Also, in the end,if it's on tv,what kind of product will they be promoting?supersize proccessed burgers?make-up products that test on animals? bigass cars that put a big hole in our 0zone? if you think whatever it is about shanghai that kills indie/rock music, what about those? yes,surly there has been famous people all over the world whos done that, but does it mean its acceptable?

to the scene part winky mentioned:
i don't care what people think about the current scene,even its "2 or 3 venues for bands to play in, crowds ranging from 10 - 300+ in size, only a handfull of regularly gigging indie bands." where was it 4 years ago?now yyt has gigs on a weekly basis. winky, are you even there half of the time?

winky,dear, an advice truly from my heart: personal attacks directing on others only reflects your own personality --- so don't do that.

I'm not sure how you make music that's unusable on TV, nor am I sure how family-friendly the Velvet Underground's "Venus In Furs" is- and yet it was used on an ad for Michelin tyres.

Advertisers (sometimes) pay huge sums for the music they use on adverts, so if it were possible to make music with an eye on it being used for future adverts, you can bet that someone would be doing that.

If you think about an album like "Play" by Moby- pretty much every track was licensed for adverts, but do you think he could have gone into the studio with that goal in mind?

Even if The Factory was going to try and go down that route- can you really say to a band

"OK guys there's an internet HR company that wants something edgy and cool that sounds good in a 10 second flash animation"

Other than jingles, I just don't think you can do it that way round.

Hi SwissJames

If you talk about Moby when I talk about Shanghai indepedent bands,we are on totolly different tracks here.

Andy, mate...haha...I was afraid this would my absence you have seem to become a bit soft ...ya gotta prepare for those low blows, keep your feet moving and come back with a sharp combination......damn....I came back at the right time........and don't take teaching cracks lying down, it is a honorable profession and most teachers here get paid more than people in other industries, while working way less hours. In fact I am sure you make way more than me, so beers are on you next time we meet!

Always the devils advocate, no matter the devil....

Abe aka Winky

PS - take of the anonymous comment function, that function always annoyed me on Shanghaiist and was a begging for personal attacks

Hi Abe

To be honest, I never get drawn on that stuff online in that way and genuinely want to hear a proper viewpoint from the detractors. It's just that most of them either don't have one or need 7 or 8 comments to finally get there.

In fact, your winky comments are exactly how it goes with 'real' people. Good job on the satire.

Teaching cracks are just meaningless diversions, if I had risen to it and you'd revealed yourself, wouldn't that have meant I'd 'fallen for it' ?

I'm glad you're back. But where are you? I'll be at YYT tonight for the Miniless thing.

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