So You Didn’t Make The Year End List

Adam Schatz (Landlady) has some helpful tips for making next year's cut.

So the “Best of the Year” lists are coming out, and your album isn’t on any of them. You put out an album this year, but so did five thousand other artists, and sure, those odds don’t look good for you ever being given any positive attention by anyone besides your immediate friends and family, until you crowdfund them into being extended friends and family, but still… You can’t help but click the link to the article in case the powers that be might have placed you in there. 99 would be fine. The 99th best album of the year, how unattainable could that be? But you’re not in there. You’re nowhere to be found.

What do you do?

Here’s what you do.

Step 1: Accept that you are merely a stupid failure and you don’t deserve to be on any list other than the list of the Most Stupid Failures of the Year. And guess what, you’re not even on that list! Accept it. Move on. 

Step 2: Draft a scathing diatribe on social media about how the critical system is flawed and streaming services are bleeding the industry dry and then open a few more tabs on your browser and forget to click “post.”

Step 3: Stub your toe on the way to the bathroom at 3 AM when you’ve woken up in a cold sweat, realizing you forgot to post your diatribe and now it’s too late because something something metrics something something optics something something algorithmic data.

Step 4: It’s a new day and you know you’ll just have to try again next year, which means you’ve got to turn around a new album quickly. The pressing plants are backed up because Jack White is doing a John Phillip Sousa: The Teenage Years box set for Third Man, and that’s going to clog up the production pipeline for the first two quarters of next year. You’ll need to start with a fresh slate, new ideas. Run a big ACME magnet across all of your hard drives. Install the newest OS onto your computer and then realize your recording software won’t work with it.

Step 5: Read an article while going to the bathroom about how the producer on the last Kendrick Lamar album did everything on his phone, then accidentally drop your phone in the toilet.

Step 6: Put your phone in rice. When that obviously doesn’t work, throw your phone away. 

Step 7: Borrow your roommate’s phone and repeat steps 5 and 6.

Step 8: Go into your roommate’s room to borrow their MIDI to USB cable, but their room is now empty except for a note that says they’ve moved out and some meaningless gibberish about boundaries.

Step 9: Turn your new spare bedroom into a studio. Come to the obvious realization that your recent album’s PR narrative was the issue. This has to be your “back to nature” album. Those are evergreen. This… this is good. This is gonna work.

Step 10: Go on Amazon and order ten 10-lb bales of hay.

Step 11: Make a mental note to post on social media later about how Amazon is in partnership with ICE, write an email asking your distributor to remove your albums from Amazon’s streaming service.

Step 12: Remember that your distributor turned out to be three neighborhood kids in an XXL Mitski tour hoodie, and that you probably aren’t getting those CDs back.

Step 13: Patiently wait for the bales of hay to arrive. Realize how great your broken phone is going to play in your back-to-nature narrative. Rehearse your acceptance speeches for the Grammys, MacArthur, and Kid’s Choice Awards. Center yourself. Breathe deep. In and out. In and out. In and oh where the fuck are those bales of hay? Prime said it would be one-day delivery…

Step 14: The hay has arrived. Fill your bedroom studio with the hay and put on a very, very brown hat. Pick up your instrument of choice. Think about whether rock is back or rock is dead. Really think about it. This is an ebbing tide by which you must abide. Actually, that’s good. Write that down. Tide… abide… life… strife… No, no that’s stupid… stupid dumb…

Step 15: Crumple up your iPad and throw it into the wastebasket. Realize that’s no way to jot down lyrics for your back-to-nature album. Grab your Moleskine notebook. Throw it away. Go Upstate. Glue fur to your skin and file your teeth into sharp points. Burrow underground and become accepted into the mole community. Befriend the nerdiest of the moles and convince them that they don’t belong. Pressure them into leaving the mole community, on a sort of molespringa, if you will. You will. And though it breaks your mole-y heart, you must kill the mole. Skin the mole. Dry the hide. Now we’re talking. Head on home. It’s time to get to work. 

Step 16: The hay is starting to smell. You might have some sort of allergy. Use it! 

Step 17: It’s now been 10 days of writing and recording. The pigeon feather quill didn’t really take to the indigenous berries ink as well as you would have liked, but honestly it’s not about the literal words, it’s about the feeling they convey. What would Leonard do? Cohen, Bernstein, Lopate, all of them. Keep at it.

Step 18: Nobody but you can tell you when your album’s done, and it’s taking a bit longer than you planned. You’re still not sure about the EQ on a few of the mixes, something something low mids something muddy something something glue something lacks warmth. 

Step 19: It’s time to master your album. You begin to wonder if anyone would notice if you just didn’t master the album. But an angel and a devil appear over each shoulder and yell into your ears about fidelity and compression. They’re both Neil Young, so it’s extra painful. 

Step 20: As you sit down to listen to your mastered album, you glance into the mirror over your dresser and you don’t recognize that person anymore. It’s been eleven months since you started the record and your health has declined due to a diet of strictly beans, because at some point you thought that could be a great part of the narrative, and decades from now critics would call this your “beans period.” 

Step 21: You realize the newest Best of the Year lists have just been released, and that you’ve missed the cutoff. Take a long, deep breath. Consider throwing out the hay. Stub your toe on the way to the curb. 

Step 22: Repeat steps 1 through 22. 

(Illustration by Emily Golinko)

Adam Schatz is a musician, writer, record producer and human being. His band Landlady has three records out and another on the way. He most recently produced Allegra Krieger’s album The Joys of Forgetting and has successfully cooked pad thai, soup dumplings and bagels since the pandemic began. He has a monthly Patreon page and that is currently his only monthly income, isn’t that cool? His favorite new hobby is getting emailed by coffee shops he’s been to once. Find him on Twitter here and hear Landlady here.

(Photo credit: Sasha Arutyunova.)