Preying on the mentally ill and ignorant.

In my youth, I had aspirations of becoming a famous songwriter/singer and most of my demo tapes sounded like crap. I would like to blame it on “just getting the idea down” before I lost it and equipment. I will have to say that every time I got better equipment, my music sounded better, so that might legitimize my excuse a bit. But it all comes down to talent and taking the time to engineer a song, recording it until it sounds good to me. I never had the patience to do that. I had too many ideas swirling around and moved onto the next song. I had something to say and it was not the secret of life. It was simply things that were swimming around inside.


I sent those horrible tapes out to every record company I could, as this was before the internet made it all so easy to be rejected. Actually, rejected is almost as good these days as accepted. Ignored is the rejection of the new century. Even if you have the worst sound on the internet, you can make money just from people making fun of it. It is a modern version of the Freakshow.


In the mid 70s, a couple of filmmakers made the first “reality show”/documentary. It was called Grey Gardens. It featured “Little Edie and her mother. They were cousins to Jackie O. Because they were “famous” by being related to President Kennedy’s widow, this was big news. People flocked to see the trainwreck that was their home. Back when the movie was in its infancy, the only word they used to describe Edie was “eccentric”. If you watch it now, you can tell that Little Edie had some mental issues. She was child-like, and almost appeared to have autistic tendencies. They were desperate for money and agreed to have the directors film their dilapidated home, infested with wild animals and barely liveable along with Little Edie’s antics-dreaming of being a star. Little did she know that she would become a lasting icon to people who have paid to see the freakshow.


When I lived in the NYC metro, I went to see quite a few shows, some off-broadway productions that I most certainly could have produced better. One thing I noticed was that the shows where people demonstrated some sort of odd, almost mental illnesses or behavior were the most entertaining and popular. Were we there to see talented actors and singers or were we there to make ourselves feel more normal or better about the state of our mental health? Maybe both. Little Edie moved to NYC after the movie made her slightly famous and started singing and dancing in cabarets. She got the fame she wanted. By being foolish/oblivious/brave. Choose one or all.


Who makes it big? Not the best singers. Madonna is a brilliant businesswoman. Or is she? I shocked people in high school by being creative. Did it make me millions? I certainly had the bravery. I went to London in 1991 to deliver my crappiest demo tape to Virgin Records. I wouldn’t let anyone I knew listen to it. It was that bad. But I knew that in the right hands, the underlying skeleton of the song was good. I was foolish/na├»ve. That was youth. What I have lacked all these years has been mental illness. I considered myself crazy for some of the things I did, but I always say, “If you think you are crazy, you’re not. Crazy people don’t know they are crazy.” Did I go around warbling songs in inappropriate places? No. I did a few musicals and talent shows. Did well, in fact. But I also lived in a small, conservative bible-belt town. I thought the music would get me out of that town. I was an overfed artist, which is the opposite of a starving artist. My drive was to leave the town, not to eat. The desire to create to eat comes when your brain is malnourished. Which, in turn, could be perceived as mental illness.


This is all a prelude to the story of the letter I received today. I recently filed for a copyright for two songs that I released via itunes/google play/ amazon/cdbaby. Obviously, there is a company, Hilltop Records, who have a brilliant scam set up where they scour the new copyrights issued and immediately send out a form letter to these artists. The scam, from what I read online, is that they want you to send them a CD(who even has a CD anymore? I will reveal that momentarily…) of three of your songs, whereas they will listen to them, decide if they want to include them on a compilation disc and then ask you for money for “production”. They offer you royalties in the initial letter.


Not only is the music industry fickle to begin with, but unlike years ago, you have a better chance of getting noticed on your own than by paying someone to slick up your recording. After reading a few scam/fraud reports on the company, I found a review from someone who had actually fallen for the trick and who said that the production was horrible. This actually made me chuckle and think I should do it, just to see how bad it would be. So here we go again. Comparing my own talent to make me feel more talented. Isn’t that why anyone posts YouTube videos? They think they can do it better. I checked out their website to listen to some of the song samples and I was bored with the first couple of tunes, as they sounded like midi crap. Ah hah! So they use a converter to take your CD (!), make it MIDI and change up the instruments. Great idea! The third one I listened to sounded like a drunk old lady who could barely hold a note. That was worth the trouble! Annnnd….to prove my point, alcoholism is a mental illness.


I was laughing all the way to their “featured artists” page. There was only one. Her bio read, “… enjoys dancing, poetry, songwriting and resolving medical problems (coming up with research options for cures for diseases and mental health problems). ” She doesn’t know she’s crazy. Her songs were religious. There was even a video for one, which I had to see. It was stock footage. Guess I missed my opportunity to use stock footage for my crappy songs. I still may. Do sane people use ideas from crazy people? Look at high fashion. Ideas trickle down to become palateable to the masses. Big shoulder pads from the 80s would have been laughed at in the 70s. Especially in the business world. Back to crazy woman. The song was forgettable. There were other Hilltop “artists” on YouTube and I wanted to see the actual people who fell for this. The videos were all stock footage. And bad. Except for one. One guy who played and wrote(?) his own tune. He even put together a video of him playing (very long shots of cymbol tapping) three instruments. He bowed and swayed like he was in led zeppelin while playing easy listening on the electric guitar. Sat stock still at the other instruments, even the drums. I looked at the room he was playing in, and it looked like the basement of his home. Nice looking area and nice instruments. There were a couple of CDs (!) in frames behind him. I imagined his family giving those to him for his birthday. He ended his instrumental hit and then gave himself a fist bump.


I then had a wave of sadness come over me. This guy probably thought he was going to retire or quit his job from the earnings on this song. His basement and instruments were nice enough to indicate that he was not starving. Hence, the metal illness drive was not there. This was probably someone without the ability to do an internet search on Hilltop Records to see it was not going to be his ticket out. He was older, so probably not internet savvy.


I then wanted to see whether there was someone on YouTube exposing the scam. I typed in “Hilltop Records Scam” and nothing scam-related came up. I scrolled down and found a video from someone else who appeared to use something other than stock footage. I started the video. It was a young guy, probably 19, who had gotten the same letter and was “jumping up and down like a little kid” all day. He thought that this was a letter from a real record company looking to offer him a contract. He looked/sounded like he might have had some mental issues and I wondered if the parents were around. The way he described himself and the town he lived in made me think that the parents were probably clueless to the scam as well.


Years ago, there was a poetry book scam. They would send letters saying to send them a poem and, if chosen, your poem would appear in a compilation of poetry. They accepted everyone’s submissions. Why? Your poem would appear in ultra fine print along with everyone else’s microscopic poems in a thick book that you had to pay $50 for. Of course, everyone’s parents thought that was a major feat for their children and they bought one. I would guess there were at least 20 poems on a page, and hundreds of pages in the book. Brilliant. Someone made some killer cash. There was also a “who’s who” book along the same lines, but just featured your child’s information in the book. I want to know how many people bragged about their child being in that book to other parents whose children were also in there.


So this guy was so happy about having gotten this letter and I wanted to see if he was actually talented. Nope. He “small-town-country-white rapped” his way through something that he was very proud of. Called himself Dice. Wow… Unique! Not.


The more I listened, the sadder I got. This company would gladly take this guy’s songs and make him pay. He obviously didn’t have much money. I searched through his other videos to see if he actually went through with the scam. I didn’t see any other references to it. He did have another video he made for one of his “songs”, which was him in his everyday attire standing in front of old buildings in his tiny town, swinging his arms around like he was… Hmm… Dare I say it…


It was not pretty.


I do have to say this, though, every time I criticize someone else’s art-” at least they are trying and doing something.” I try as well. I release books and songs and artwork. I don’t claim to be the best at anything, but at least I am doing something other than watch other people’s living their lives on a reality show. That, in my opinion, is the indicator of someone who has absolutely no life of their own.


Or is it just the search for being entertained by what we consider mentally ill?