Creative work, remixes and ripoffs

Once, in 1997, I was in a bar with my drunk friend. Even while sober, my friend was kind of a holier-than-thou hater. After the whiskey started to flow, well, you can guess.

“Tubthumping” came on. You remember: “I get knocked down / and I get up again.” I still have a good deal of fondness for this song, and for Chumbawumba generally, so it was clear I was enjoying myself. True to hater form, my friend couldn’t have that. So during the breakdown, where they quote lyrics from the old Irish traditional “Oh, Danny Boy,” my friend started to rant.

“They’re ripping off Irish music!” his spittle-flecked hipster screed began. I rolled my eyes and ordered another beer.

It was, of course, a meritless criticism. This was a remix of a classic in the public domain, a reinvention of the familiar into something new and different. Even if it was a pure “quote,” jazz musicians have been inserting bits of classic compositions during performances forever. (Besides, as I should have pointed out: Johnny Cash also covered “Oh, Danny Boy.” Hipsters love Johnny Cash almost as much as they hate being called hipsters).

Which brings me to the real topic of the day: creative work in general lends itself well to what might be called remixing. Collage artwork draws on existing visual work. Mash-ups pull audio into new combinations. Andy Warhol certainly didn’t create the Campbell’s Soup logo when he drew on the can for pop art. Even parody of pop culture phenomena might be considered a remix of a sort.

It’s parody of pop culture that I want to talk about today, and creative work.

There is nothing new under the sun. That dope idea I had last week? Some ancient Greek already did it better. That genius concept I based an entire freelance project on? Some dude in Cleveland or Chicago or Constantinople might already be working on it.

This is especially true when you’re talking about making pop culture references. You’re not the only person who has seen Deadwood, or Doctor Who, or Daredevil. It’s a big world out there, and there are more clever people doing creative work faster than ever before.

Sometimes I see people angry when they see a meme that’s a lot like the meme they made. Worse, I see fans of brands — or brand owners, or brand staff — leap to the conclusion that a similar design done elsewhere is a result of someone directly copying them.

Rip-offs absolutely happen, of course. I’ve had my designs taken by random people on Teespring and sites like that. If you look, you’ll see the repeat offenders are out there. That’s sad and gross, but those people will make themselves known soon enough.

Generally speaking, though, I think it’s more productive to make generous assumptions about people, particularly creative types. Remixes happen when we are more free with access to ideas, and remixes and collaborations can be mindblowingly cool. I hate to see potentially productive creative relationships poisoned by hasty assumptions.

Simply put, if you think your style got bitten, it’s the best practice to just assume you drank from the same well as the other guy — and hope that it wasn’t the well my hater hipster friend drank from in 1997.

Demian Maia and complete jiujitsu

Demian Maia is, by any measure, one of the finest representatives of jiujitsu. You probably already know this, especially if you watched his most recent fight with Carlos Condit. It was a masterful performance against an accomplished opponent where, despite Condit knowing precisely what Maia wanted to do, Maia achieved a submission victory while taking virtually no damage.

One apparent lesson from this: despite what you might hear in certain circles, jiujitsu is a complete martial art. One less-readily apparent lesson, which is no less important: fundamentalism in any form is dangerous.

To explain what I mean, let’s start with self defense. True self defense means we train to protect ourselves from harm. This means avoiding bad situations, but also preparing for when dangerous situations arise. Being locked in a cage with a UFC-caliber fighter certainly qualifies as “dangerous.” This is why Royce Gracie’s performances in the early UFCs so animated martial artists: here was living proof that, during a no-time-limit fight with effectively no rules, a smaller opponent skilled in jiujitsu could defeat huge, dangerous attackers.

During Maia’s last four UFC fights, he’s absorbed 13 significant strikes — fewer than four per fight, against the best mixed martial artists in the world. That’s protecting yourself. That’s further testament that jiujitsu — original complete Gracie jiujitsu — is still effective.

Just listen to Maia himself, ever humble about his own achievements, explain why it’s the art that’s doing the vital work of protecting him:

Most of us will never fight in the cage. But there are lessons there for each of us: jiujitsu a complete art composed of striking, grappling, takedowns, and standing self-defense, along with a philosophy of self defense. Inspired by the Maia-Condit fight, the past day I’ve been re-watching Demian Maia’s DVD about stand-up techniques. It might surprise some people that Maia has an hour-long instructional of this nature, but it should only be a surprise you if you view jiujitsu through the prism of ground grappling. Original jiujitsu was designed to be a standalone martial art, and that’s the jiujitsu Maia does. As he says:

“I’ve always believed in Jiu-Jitsu as a martial art and not only a sport. That’s why I have always trained all aspects of the art. Despite being a competitor for years, I never stopped training self-defense or takedowns. I still do the same with my students today.”

This is a consistent theme in Maia’s interviews throughout the years. He’s a jiujitsu world champion, Abu Dhabi champion, and UFC title contender — but he’s never stopped training the self defense aspects of Gracie jiujitsu. He still does it all.

To me, this is an important lesson for those who are competition-focused to the exclusion of all else. Competition is fun, but — whether we’re talking about sport jiujitsu or MMA — winning awards in a setting with predictable, mutually agreed upon rules is just a part of what the art is about. It’s certainly a far cry from the early UFCs, where virtually anything went, and you had to be prepared to stand, to fight from your back, to be on top on the ground, or any other situation.

In some ways, the growth of sport jiujitsu has created incentive to specialize: one effective means to win a strategic game is to focus intently on a subset of that game, then force your opponent to play it on your terms. It’s why we see complex, ever-evolving aspects of the modern lapel guards: if you can trap someone into playing that game, and you know that game miles better than your opponent, it’s a smart way to win. This incentivizes people who are exceptional at the berimbolo, for example, to get into berimbolo-ready positions, and drill those technique to the exclusion of others. But if you’re going to do that, and only that, you’d better be able to get to that position in every situation where you might have to defend yourself.

Can you imagine a position, in grappling or fighting, where Demian Maia would be lost? I can’t. There are reasons that his jiujitsu is the subject of much study for the masterful way he moves through positions. I can’t help but think his completist approach is a reason why.

When I hear people complain about training self-defense, it’s usually because they’d rather be doing something else — like sharpening their sport tools. There’s nothing wrong with working on your favorite techniques. There is, however, something wrong with failure to develop a well-rounded skill set. There is also something wrong with failing to see self-defense techniques for what they are: techniques designed to give anyone tools to protect themselves in common situations outside of sport grappling.

It’s no secret that I love sport jiujitsu. What I dislike is fundamentalism: the attitude that what I prefer is the only pure way. It impedes learning and progress. To return to Demian Maia, he trains original, complete jiujitsu, including self defense — and finds a profound template for success there.

There’s a flip side to this, though. Many self defense purists are skeptical — or even out-and-out hostile — to sport jiujitsu. My own experience tells me that competition is one of the most powerful tools for improving one’s self defense abilities.

But this is about Demian Maia. Maia competed from white belt all the way through black belt, entering sport jiujitsu tournaments at every belt level and winning the worlds at a couple of them. Indeed, despite his status as elite fighter, he even said he’d like to take a gi jiu-jitsu competition match if the situation was right.

He’s not alone. In the upper echelons of MMA, most of the top-tier jiujitsu fighters also competed successfully in sport jiujitsu while wearing the gi. (Only Frank Mir stands out as an exception, although it’s possible I’m missing someone.)

The anti-competition argument goes that if you train sport techniques, you’ll be unprepared for a real-world confrontation. I disagree with this, both at the premise and the conclusion levels, and my reasoning could be the topic of an entirely different post. In the context of this post, though, I think both the arguments against training self defense and to competing can be answered this way: a well-rounded martial artist should at least explore both. We can learn different things from different experiences, and to reject out of hand certain experiences seems like fundamentalism.

It’s not my usual tendency to tell people what to do without being asked. We all have different goals, and success should be defined according to those goals. For those of us who want to have complete jiujitsu, though, we have to remember that the art is rooted in self defense. And for those of us that want to have the most effective self defense possible, we should consider that competition can help — not hinder — our progress toward that goal.

Demian Maia, a truly complete jiujitsu fighter, is an example of this. We could all do worse than to emulate him.

How To Start Your Podcast

Many of you know about the radio show and podcast I do with Trevor Hayes, the Cageside ConcussionCast. It’s a blast doing the show (although it’s a lot of work — more on that later).

Lately, a few people have asked me for advice about how to start their own podcasts. I wanted to put some solid podcast resources in one place for those folks, and also talk a little about my own experience podcasting. If you’re interested in doing one, my experience might help you — although frankly, how I’ve done it is a little atypical.

WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO THIS AND HOW? 

The first question you should ask yourself is: why do you want to do this? If you’re looking to make something cool to amuse yourself and friends, that’s a great reason. If you’re looking to learn new skills, or maybe to fill a niche that isn’t currently being filled, those are also excellent reasons.

If you are looking to make a career out of it, I won’t say “that is not a great reason,” but I will simply wish you luck. This isn’t me trying to discourage: I just think that, much like jiujitsu, podcasting is a journey that you should enjoy whether or not it ever translates into money dollars for you.
You do get the side benefit of being a VIP. And take a good look at that recording kit: we talk about it below.

You do get the side benefit of being a VIP. And take a good look at that recording kit: we talk about it below.

Alex Kapelman is a successful podcaster . He wrote this good primer on podcasting for AIR,the Association of Independents in Radio, which gives similar advice (He also likes the word “dope,” and so do I).

There are a lot of  different ways to make a podcast, from pure interview shows to storytelling shows with extensive editing. If you don’t have a lot of audio editing experience, maybe that informs which type of show you’d like to do.

Before you record your first show, plan out your first six shows. Will you have interviews? Who will they be? Will you have segments? Will these segments be occasional, or will they recur? Think of these first six shows as a season, and have some idea of your first season before you begin. In fact, plan out eight shows, because at least two ideas are going to fall through.

I’ll acknowledge that our show is changing and evolving all the time, despite having done it for (wow) more than six months now. This is my last piece of overarching advice: relax and don’t worry if these plans you’ve made don’t work out. You can change them. You’re doing this for fun and to learn, right?

GREAT GENERAL RESOURCES

Once you’ve decided that you’re going to do this, please also decide to do your research on technique, gear and storytelling. Transom has amazing training resources and gear reviews/recommendations. I love their Good, Better, Best series, which will help you decide on what gear you need to buy.  NPR’s free training site is also excellent.

It is easier and cheaper now than ever to create a show. You can get started for exactly zero dollars and make a show that sounds adequate-ish. You can also spend a few hundred dollars and dramatically improve the sound, but my advice is to do a few shows to be sure this is something you’re going to enjoy before you break out the credit card.

This is where my experience is unusual: Trevor and I began doing the show when local radio station WHUP opened. Come in and use our equipment, they said, and we’ll automatically upload your live radio show as a podcast. I kind of lucked into an easy situation where I got to work in a professional studio with excellent facilities and equipment, and didn’t have to learn any of the technical details.

Not going to lie: having top-quality pro equipment is really nice.

Not going to lie: having top-quality pro equipment is really nice.

This was great, because I didn’t have any initial capital investment and I didn’t have to learn much. The fact that we generally record the show live is also my excuse for every time anything goes wrong, and I love excuses.

But then, I travel a lot for work and jiu-jitsu, and I noticed that when I had to pre-record the show on my computer, it suddenly sounded way worse. Listeners were (and I was) used to the higher-quality sound, so the difference was pronounced — and I didn’t like that.

To be clear: when you first start out, I think it’s best just to use your basic computer or headphones mic at first, while you’re figuring out what level of commitment to this you’re going to have to the project. But having a good mic really improves the sound, and as my travel commitments increased, I just had to figure out how to make it sound less like shouting through a tin can.

After consulting with friends and reviewing the Good, Better, Best series, I decided to invest in a mid-level set-up. For recording live interviews, I use a H1 Zoom digital recorder (small! Cheap!) and plug a nice shotgun mic into it. This maximizes portability while minimizing expense, and gets quite good tape quality.

Me interviewing Charlie Brake and his awesome dog Crowley with the remote kit, while Trevor exudes radiance.

Me interviewing Charlie Brake and his awesome dog Crowley with the remote kit, while Trevor exudes radiance.

There are several terrific mic brands: I use an Audio Technica AT 8035 shotgun mic, which is very reliable, and you can find for $250. It’s better than the Nady and even a step above the Rhode, which is another nice sounding mic. I went fairly high-end and still managed to outfit myself for less than $400.

Also, my brilliant radio friend Bec Feldhaus-Adams once told me this about investing in gear: “Cry once when you buy it, and never cry again. Rather than being happy with a cheap mic and then crying continuously when you get crap tape. Cry once, my friend!”

Also, think about your recording environment: you want to minimize extraneous noise. There are many hilarious ways to do this, and here is mine:
Semipro tip: I often record under my blanket to minimize ambient sound. Actual pros will unplug their appliances.

Semipro tip: I often record under my blanket to minimize ambient sound. Actual pros will unplug their appliances.

What if you and the interview subject aren’t in the same place? Though it’s sub-optimal, I usually have the other person call me on Skype or Google Hangout. I open an Audacity file and just record straight to the hard drive. For shorter interviews, try this valuable trick. Simple and elegant and perfect, like a hip bump.

REGRET IT? NOPE. EDIT? YEP. 

We talked a bit about recording technique: here are some notes on editing.

As I alluded to above, I like to use Audacity (free) and upload the files I create to Soundcloud (free, unless you produce a lot of material: I have Soundcloud Pro, which is $125 a year for unlimited uploads). Soundcloud creates an RSS feed for you automatically, which you can use to submit your show to iTunes and Stitcher if that’s something you’re interested in.

For editing purposes, I suggest you learn the basics: how to edit out profanity (coughFRANKIEPATCHEScough) and how to mix segments together. This is simple and straightforward.

From there, even a free program like Audacity has a host of filters, bells, whistles, foofaddles, and dingdoggies. You can sped a lot of time learning audio editing, and it’s time-consuming to do it well. I generally spend about 3 hours editing a remote podcast. Consider the additional hour (at least) of recording, and that’s a lot — especially considering I work full-time and try to train full-time, too.

Speaking of training, I just edited a bunch of audio on the train back from NYC. Good times.

Speaking of training, I just edited a bunch of audio on the train back from NYC. Good times.

While that editing process is actually fun for me, if you like ease of use and efficiency, Auphonic is a godsend. Finish recording, upload the file, they equalize the levels for you. There’s a considerable amount of free upload hours, and I’ve never had to pay — although the service is worth it, and if I ever exceed the free file size limits, I’ll pay happily.

Once you have a file that sounds good, upload it to Soundcloud, and bam — you have birthed a podcast. You’ve done the hard work, so now enjoy the fun part: going to a public library and setting every computer to play your podcast to boost the spins count.

Kidding: that’s why you get an intern.

There are roughly 1.21 million other tasks you can occupy yourself with (Logos! Promotion! Social Media!), and if there’s enough interest, I’ll do another post on that. For now, go forth and make great radio.