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Maybe Scott Stapp had to wax his chest that day.

With Wallets Wide Open

Mixerman's online exploits mirror rock's inherent flakiness

By Gina Arnold

LAST WEEK, the rock band Creed was set to play a show on Alcatraz Island. In order for it to happen, each and every piece of staging had to be shipped to the "Rock" via ferryboat. Stagehands worked two days to put up an impromptu venue on the site of the former prison, and the National Parks Department had to approve the whole crazy setup, which it did, no doubt for a substantial fee (at least I hope so).

The whole thing sounded like something from the fat years of dotcom idiocy when famed rock bands would be privately hired to serenade company CEOs. This particular big-money rock concert was a cross-promotion for a product, a mobile phone company, presented in conjunction with Infinity Broadcasting and VH1, which was going to broadcast it sometime in November.

The whole thing sounds so over the top it practically sounds fictional, especially when you consider the highly dramatic denouement: the day before the event--with stages half built and everything, Creed put out word that singer Scott Stapp was suffering from vocal cord problems. The band played an abbreviated set and the Wallflowers headlined.

That seems to be par for the course these days in the poor, struggling music business. The industry can't seem to get anything right, and if you want to know why, all you have to do is read The Daily Adventures of Mixerman, an online journal at www.ProSoundWeb.com/recording/mm/. The daily adventures are hilarious, but they are also quite instructive. Mixerman is a recording engineer working with a famous producer on the debut album of an unknown (and possibly fictional) band with a giant recording budget. Mixerman is supposed to be writing about recording techniques, but somehow, through that prism, he has hit upon a gripping story.

Like all great narratives, Mixerman's diary has many anti-heroes for whom we, the reader, can have nothing but contempt. The band--called "Bitch Slap"--consists of the four most dislikable human beings you can imagine. The singer is vain and pretentious. The guitarist is a serious depressive. The drummer is as "dumb as cotton," and the bassist is merely mean and petty, making him the only one that Mixerman can stand. All four of them hate each other's guts, and they haven't even been on tour yet.

Thus far, they've endured various hilarious disasters, including a drummer's broken wrist and the disappearance of the bass player. But the members of Bitch Slap are so intent on "being rock stars" that it doesn't seem to have dawned on them that they have the worst job in the world. Like people in other, less glamorous-sounding jobs, they hate their colleagues, and they're dead broke. They seem to feel there is some romance and purpose to being in a "signed" band, but it sure isn't making music, which is portrayed as being a wildly tedious, insanely technical and duplicitous process that's completely in the hands of other people (namely Mixerman and the famous producer).

Meanwhile, the record company is intent on propping up an investment that--judging by Mixerman's no-holds-barred description of the music--has no chance of paying off. At one point, they send the band members on a fabulous cruise, ostensibly so they can have group therapy, but really so they can record over the drum 'n' bass tracks behind the players' backs. As my brother says, "Mixerman deserves a Pulitzer Prize, but it's not clear if he deserves it for reporting or for literature."

My own guess is that it's fiction, an amalgamation of a bunch of different studio situations, each one more hateful than the last. No one could write as well as Mixerman after 15-hour shifts in the studio, and besides, for all their inherent drama, the chronicles are really just a thinly disguised excuse for a dissertation on the backbiting, the vanity and the sheer wastefulness that riddles modern-day recording. Read Mixerman, and you'll never wonder why the music on the radio is so crappy again.

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From the October 17-23, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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