What’s wrong with fixing it in the mix?

In 1997, jazz vocalist Kevin Mahogany (1958-2017) composed and performed a catchy melodic song titled “Fix It in the Mix.” Not only does the piece narrate the story of the challenges encountered during the recording of a song, but it also satirizes the music production process, highlighting a growing tendency (and perhaps an over-reliance) to address mistakes or shortcomings during the post-production phase.

Although initially appearing convenient, failing to rectify issues in the creative process as they arise can result in significant challenges later on. This dilemma is not unique to the music industry; it’s a common practice observed across various sectors, including construction. In this industry, stakeholders such as customers, architects, building inspectors, contractors, and subcontractors often identify imperfections and problems throughout the building process. These concerns are typically communicated to the contractor or project manager, who frequently assures other stakeholders that the issues will be addressed during the punch list process.

Similarly, in the publishing field, authors, contributors, and editors may identify gaps in arguments, missing, incomplete, or misidentified documentation, and problematic citations, but propose that they will be addressed in the final edit or in the proofs.

Why does this “Kicking the can down the road” exist in the creative process? 

The allure of fixing it in the mix is multifaceted. First, addressing issues immediately after their identification may inadvertently prolong the creative process and project. In construction, for instance, the required subcontractor or tradesperson may not be readily available, leading to unnecessary project delays and additional costs. Similarly, in the film and broadcasting industry, where studio and personnel time is expensive, the entity funding the project aims to minimize expenses.

Second, contractors, publishers, or producers may be reluctant to disrupt momentum. They seek to maintain the pace of progress and avoid halting ongoing momentum.

Third, creators themselves may be perceived as unnecessary dilettantes or perfectionists. They may prefer to take their time to ensure their approach is thorough, precise, reflects integrity and comes closest to their original idea of what the final product should look, sound, or feel like.

Why is “Fixing it in the Mix” a bad strategy? 

Once the musician reaches the mixing stage, the contractor addresses the punch list, and the authors review the proofs, a shift occurs in the dynamics among all parties involved. Initially, most primary actors involved in the creative process are exhausted from the process, perhaps even with each other.

Furthermore, it’s often discovered that neither the contractor, director, publisher, nor production engineer took adequate notes during the creative process regarding missing items (or if they did, the notes are incomplete or indecipherable). Some may hope that the customer or creator either overlooks or forgets to bring up these issues at the end, as they simply want to complete the project quickly and move on to the next job.

Consequently, it typically falls upon the customer or creator to remember, remind, and inform the contractor, recording engineer, or production company that it is their responsibility to implement the promised changes after the fact.

Unfortunately, during the final stages of the project, when reminded of these issues, contractors, production companies, or recording engineers may exhibit selective amnesia.

Alternatively, these actors may assert that the items left for the punch list or post production stage are now too difficult or costly to address at then.

Moreover, contractors, production companies, and recording engineers may try to minimize the value added that the requested changes will have on the final product.

Finally, in many cases, the problem may be too advanced to resolve without the alteration being noticeable in the completed product, and thus overall project quality. For instance, adding a bass player to a recorded song where none existed initially, installing a new window in a wall that has already been bricked up, plastered, and painted, or incorporating five new paragraphs in the proof stage, could disrupt pagination, indexing, and quotes provided to printers.

What is the solution to fixing it in the mix? 

Creators should not feel powerless in the face of these dynamics. If it is absolutely not possible to immediately fix things as the job progresses, here are some suggestions about dealing with the fix it in the mix challenges.

To begin with it’s important to keep detailed notes about the problems that arise so that you can refer to these issues when it comes time to remedy them. These notes should be stored in an easily accessible place (e.g., a computer file) located in a properly labeled directory that makes sense to you.

Periodically share these notes with everybody connected to the job. This has two effects. It forces the team members not to slack off during the production process and gives them a heads up that you are going to insist that they need to be addressed during the post production phase.

That being said, on the other end of the spectrum is the notion of slow productivity, currently popularized by Cal Newport.

In essence that argument is that sometimes if you are going to be doing great work, you need to slow down and work on a systematic basis. This is not possible for every type of creative activity, but it is an option worth considering.

Deconstructing the diffusion of contemporary graffiti to major cities around the world

Over the past four decades, one of the most interesting things that occurred in the urban visual landscape, has been the presence of graffiti (and street art). This form of public art has happened in big cities, in all regions and countries, throughout the world regardless of climate, geography, and political systems that govern them.

Why is this important? 

The emergence of graffiti and street art in different cities is often a reflection of the cultural identity, social dynamics, and street culture of neighborhoods located in a particular urban environment.

By studying the emergence of graffiti (and street art) in a particular urban setting, we can gain insights into the urban culture, values, and concerns of different communities.

Graffiti/street art is sometimes a form of artistic expression that challenges traditional notions of art and public space. It allows individuals and groups to voice their opinions and engage with their surroundings in creative ways.

Many contemporary graffiti and street art pieces convey powerful social and political messages. By analyzing these artworks, especially the early ones, we can better understand the issues and struggles faced by individuals and communities in urban environments.

Graffiti and street art has also become a major tourist attraction in many cities, drawing visitors who are interested in all manner of urban art and urban culture.

Graffiti/Street Art can have significant impacts on urban planning, urban public space,  and policy decisions. Cities often grapple with questions of whether to embrace graffiti/street art as part of their cultural heritage or to treat it primarily as vandalism. Understanding its spread can inform policy-making and practices in areas such as public art initiatives and graffiti removal strategies.

In some cases, graffiti and street art can serves as a tool for community engagement and empowerment. By involving local residents in the creation of urban public art, cities can foster a sense of ownership and pride in public spaces.

Questions begging to be answered

Nevertheless, this phenomenon raises numerous interrelated and intriguing questions:

  • When did graffiti (and street art)  emerge in these cities?
  • What factors propelled its appearance?
  • Why were individuals participating in it?
  • Where was graffiti/street art placed?
  • What unique styles emerged in these contexts?
  • Did unique practices arise in these locations, and if so, what were they and why?
  • How did the patterns here compare to those in different cities worldwide?
  • Who engaged in graffiti and later street art?
  • How pervasive was the graffiti/street art and is it still prevalent?
  • What effects or responses did it have?

Answering these questions not only serves as an intellectual exercise, but should help us to understand the globalization of graffiti and street art. The results of such a study could be of interest not only past and present graffiti writers but also enthusiasts and experts in various fields, including art history, graffiti and street art studies, legal studies, subculture analysis,  urban history, urban public space, and urban studies.

Although significant scholarly research has explored the emergence of graffiti in the United States, fewer academic studies have analyzed its diffusion in other countries. These investigations, however, are equally vital because, like many phenomena, there have always been cross-national conversations among graffiti writers who traveled overseas.

Unlike today with the existence of the World Wide Web and multiple electronic communication channels, the early diffusion of graffiti culture was encouraged through various means, including the screening of documentaries like Wild Style, (1983) and Style Wars (1983), publication of Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s book Subway Art (1984), and distribution of numerous zines dedicated to graffiti.

Additionally, mobile youth culture, especially among Americans, Australians, Europeans, and New Zealanders aged 18 to 35, played a significant role in the diffusion of graffiti. Many of these people backpacked around the world, observing and participating in graffiti culture in different countries, contributing to its global spread.

Where do things stand?

Predictably there are numerous gaps in the English language literature on the diffusion of graffiti outside of the United States. Specifically, although some aspects of this type of public urban art form were covered in popular media such as newspapers and magazines, comprehensive information is often relegated to more obscure publications, such as graffiti zines, which may reside in archives or private collections. Complicating matters further, many early participants in foreign graffiti scenes have either passed away, relocated from their original cities, or become inaccessible due to disability. Consequently, firsthand accounts from these pivotal figures are challenging to obtain.

To address these gaps, and keeping in mind that some urban environments are more pivotal in the growth of graffiti and street art, it’s important to research, write and publish detailed, thoughtful and engaging case studies examining the emergence of graffiti and street art in major cities worldwide. Such studies are crucial for comprehending the cultural significance and societal impact of this art form not only locally but on a global scale. Additionally, researchers should prioritize making their findings accessible in a variety of languages. By facilitating translation efforts,  for example, we can promote greater cross-cultural understanding and appreciation of graffiti as a significant public art form.

Photo credit

BSC Eintracht/Sudring 1931 e V, Berlin

Photographer: Jeffrey Ian Ross, Ph.D.

Does Street Culture Travel?

Some people may assume that street culture, defined as “the beliefs, dispositions, ideologies, informal rules, practices, styles, symbols, and values associated with, adopted by, and engaged in by individuals and organizations that spend a disproportionate amount of time on the streets of large urban centers” (Ross, 2018, p. 8), or elements thereof, are unique to particular communities, neighborhoods, cities, countries, or regions.

Why might individuals hold this impression? Casual observers, including tourists, often encounter vibrant or unusual  street cultures in “hip” places like Williamsburg (New York City), Hackney (London), or Shimokitazawa (Tokyo), or dangerous urban areas (often referred to as ghettos, barrios, favelas or “no go areas”) such as Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, Scampia, Naples, Tower Hamlets, London. This often leads the bystanders or spectators to believe that the behaviors and dispositions of people that they observe on the street in these locations are unique to these places. For instance, while certain elements of streetwear (e.g., shoes, hats, jackets, etc.) or body modifications (e.g., tattoos, body piercings, etc.) (prominent visual aspects of street culture), may indeed have originated in these areas, it’s inaccurate to suggest that they are exclusive to them.

There are likely three primary reasons why there is considerable dissemination of street culture.

First, individuals in advanced industrialized democracies are relatively mobile. They freely move from one neighborhood, city, county, state, region, or country to another. For instance, people may reside in one part of a urban location, work in another, and spend their leisure time in a completely different area.

Second, in today’s globalized world, individuals are exposed to a plethora of media forms, signs and significations, and diverse information sources. They have the freedom to select, be influenced by, and integrate various cultural elements into their thinking and behavioral repertoires.

Third, when considering streetwear or fashion most people’s clothing choices are often serendipitous rather than the result of conscious decisions. Sure, they might dress according to the occasion, be it work, leisure, or sports, but they may equally simply reach into their drawers or open their closets and select an item that first catches their eye, one that is clean, or that they have not worn for a while.

That being said, there are also numerous examples where selected elements of street culture thought to be generalizable to communities, neighborhoods, etc. worldwide don’t work (or travel well). For example, Elijah Anderson posits that the “Code of the Street” phenomenon (a set of informal rules and expectations governing interpersonal behavior, particularly among residents of inner-city neighborhoods in the United States that includes norms about respect, territoriality, street smarts, and the use of violence) not only applies to the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Sugar Hill, where he did his fieldwork, but to similar neighborhoods around the world.  Scholarship by Sebastian Kurtenbach and colleagues, for example, indicates that the code of the street phenomenon is not as universal as Anderson implies.

What are the implications of these observations? It suggests that when conducting research on or making generalizations about street culture, it’s crucial to recognize that what occurs in one neighborhood may or may not happen in others as well. Therefore, findings may not be as unique as initially assumed. Equally important is to understand is what enables or frustrates their dissemination, and who and why they adopt these dispositions and behaviors.

In conclusion, understanding if street culture is special to particular neighborhoods or if we see similar patterns in other communities is important not just for research and understanding purposes, but it could assist in efforts to engage communities, the distribution of scarce resources, policy development, and the implementation of social programs. By acknowledging the mobility of individuals, the influence of media, and the serendipitous nature of  human behavior, we can appreciate the interconnectedness of street cultures worldwide.

Photo Credit

Title: Cholo style, originating from Chicanos in the US, can be seen here as adopted by men from Cacos 13, a gang from the La Neza neighbourhood of Mexico City.

Photographer: CC by 2.0