My Internet: Nick Sylvester
The producer-composer is bullish on live music in the metaverse.
Every Friday, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Nick Sylvester, a producer, composer, and co-founder of Godmode, the LA-based artist development company behind acts like Channel Tres and JPEGMAFIA. He is currently finishing up Channel Tres’s debut LP and scoring an upcoming 30 For 30 documentary for ESPN.
Nick relies on his wife to share the day’s best tweets over dinner, suspects many wealthy men (and their lawyers) will have to die before blockchain revolutionizes music, and likes Minions in the distance, as a second-order refraction. —Nick
EMBEDDED: What’s a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
NICK SYLVESTER: I love all Minions memes. Part of that, I think, is I’ve never seen Despicable Me or really any Minions cinema. A while ago my friend clued me into the vast cottage industry of Minions thinkpieces, cosplay, etc. There’s also an Instagram account called Street Minions that collects images of people who inadvertently dress like Minions. I like Minions in the distance, as a second-order refraction. I’m convinced seeing Minions as they actually are would ruin the whole thing for me.
EMBEDDED: What types of videos do you watch on YouTube?
NICK SYLVESTER: Tutorials, almost exclusively. A plumber from Kansas showing you how to relight your water heater. A set of disembodied hands taking you through the minutiae of a new synthesizer module. A golf coach showing you the right amount of lateral bend necessary to square up your low point on the downswing. There is so much misinformation on the internet, and so many people who perform expertise without actually being experts, that I’ve come to cherish the good ones.
EMBEDDED: Do you use TikTok? What shows up on your For You page?
NICK SYLVESTER: I used to use TikTok for work. Up until recently, it was a somewhat novel idea to pluck an influencer with a following and try to give them a music career. Lately TikTok is more interesting to me as a data set of what people are doing with their time, and how they are creating meaning in their life. Last week I saw a person who dressed up as Buzz Lightyear and lip-synched an FKA Twigs song while sitting fully clothed in a bathtub full of water. It must have taken several hours to make and edit, to say nothing of the cleanup. I don’t know what motivated them to make this—certainly not money. I’m glad things like this still happen.
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EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
NICK SYLVESTER: I am a music producer and film composer, so I use Instagram as a kind of journal for the ways I make and think about music. I use a lot of specialized instruments and synthesizers that aren’t playable in traditional ways, so part of what I’m sharing are my discoveries—new ways to make these instruments sing. It took me a long time to feel comfortable posting on Instagram. I needed to get past the feeling of posting music for final approval, and more into just letting people know where I am with it all, like how scientists share their research. I don’t try to optimize for the algorithm beyond some light hashtagging. I just try to make sure people who are looking for people like me can stumble onto me eventually.
EMBEDDED: Do you tweet? Why?
NICK SYLVESTER: I stopped tweeting several years ago. I find it’s hard to create a context for myself there, or more simply, I find it hard to be myself. My wife loves Twitter and tends to share the day’s best tweets with me at dinner every night.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever had a post go viral? What was that experience like?
NICK SYLVESTER: I went viral several times in the early 2000s, before we had the phrase “go viral.” At the time I trafficked in deliberately antagonistic styles of writing and interviewing that my 22-year-old brain thought were quite meaningful. I associate that period in my life with a sad and overwhelming narcissism. My name was often the term most searched for on Technorati. I had my own tag on Gawker. I was fired from Pitchfork three separate times, and proudly shared the death threats I received from indie rockers whose albums I had panned. People who knew me would remark how different I was in person versus online. My obsession with virality caused a lot of unnecessary pain.
EMBEDDED: Who's the coolest person who follows you?
NICK SYLVESTER: Mina Kimes
EMBEDDED: Who's someone more people should follow?
NICK SYLVESTER: W. David Marx
EMBEDDED: Which big celebrity has your favorite internet presence, and why?
NICK SYLVESTER: I don’t follow celebrities on the internet. There was a period when I followed a lot of rappers on Instagram but I stopped when I realized I was mostly just interested in their watches.
EMBEDDED: Where do you tend to get your news?
NICK SYLVESTER: I try to read the New York Times every morning and trust that anything important beyond that will reach me eventually. They have surprisingly robust coverage of things happening in California, which is where I currently live.
EMBEDDED: Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
NICK SYLVESTER: He doesn’t post with any regularity, but I like Philosophize This by Stephen West. He spends months learning the ins and outs of a given thinker’s work, then distills the work into clear multi-part lectures. I listen to them during long rides on an electronic exercise bicycle.
I also recently fell back in love with Tim Sweeney’s Beats In Space. He hosted it for 20 years on WNYU, then moved it over to Apple Music this past year. Tim has impeccable taste and I look forward to his show every week.
EMBEDDED: Are you in any groups on Reddit, Slack, Discord, or Facebook? What's the most useful or entertaining one?
NICK SYLVESTER: I started a private Discord at the beginning of the pandemic for my music friends—a mix of artists, producers, DJs, label people, journalists, etc. One channel is for recommendations, another is for technical music-making discussion, another is a free-for-all. This is where I spend most of my aimless internet socializing. I enjoy knowing I can be myself there.
EMBEDDED: Are you playing any games right now?
NICK SYLVESTER: I try to golf a few times a week, usually with Zach Baron or Alan Yang. There are a bunch of us out here who are excited about playing the munis, improving our games, sharing tips. As you and your friends get older and go into different fields, there’s suddenly less to get into conversationally. I’ve enjoyed having something in common with my oldest friends again. Many of them also have children and wouldn’t let themselves hang at a bar or go to a club anymore. Golf is the only socially sanctionable way for them to get out of the house.
EMBEDDED: What’s something you might want to do in the metaverse? What’s something you wouldn't want to do?
NICK SYLVESTER: I am bullish on live music events in the metaverse. A lot of people enjoy being in the vicinity of live music but don’t like standing or being in crowds. So much live music isn’t live at all at this point anyway; there are elaborate playback rigs for sound, triggered light and stage events, etc. The performer is increasingly a servo mechanism for the performance of the machines. We still face the stage but I don’t know why.
EMBEDDED: What purpose do you see in NFTs?
NICK SYLVESTER: We just figured out what to do with QR codes a few years ago, so I am willing to be patient with NFTs. NFTs as a discrete open-ended multimedia format will take a second for people to figure out. Blockchain could revolutionize rights management in the music industry—to say nothing of the possibilities as a discovery mechanism. But I suspect many wealthy men (and their lawyers) will have to die first before that happens.
EMBEDDED: Do you think Web3 will mean a better internet?
NICK SYLVESTER: I do, but it’s on all of us to make that happen. We need to learn our lesson from Web2 and not just trust the computer guys to do the right thing or know what’s right for everybody. Especially when it comes to music, the people who have the most time to think about “the future of music in web3” are not always the people with the most skin in the game. I really admire the Water & Music community Cherie Hu has been building up to try and create some dialogue between the music and tech worlds.
EMBEDDED: What’s a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
NICK SYLVESTER: I am interested in smartdumb music. The best I can describe it is, it’s music that appears quite simple, maybe a little superfluous, but with repeat plays reveals the depth of its spirit and intentionality. “Hot In Herre” is smartdumb. “Lust For Life” is smartdumb. “Sharivari” is smartdumb. There’s an artist named COBRAH who has a song called “GOOD PUSS” which is very smartdumb. Basquiat is smartdumb. Almost everything by Yoko Ono, and much of Fluxus, is smartdumb.
This is not a judgment of dumbdumb, dumbsmart, or smartsmart aesthetics. There is no hierarchy in my mind. Some music is more fun to think about than listen to. Some music has a veneer of sophistication without burdening the listener to put in the work. Other music serves the expressed purpose of making us not think at all. But there’s something that speaks to me about smartdumb. It’s the kind of music I try to make in commercial music sessions. Smartdumb is music that starts with a question mark—wait, what is this?—and ends with an exclamation point—oh, wow.
EMBEDDED: What’s the last thing that brought you joy online?
NICK SYLVESTER: That Buzz Lightyear video. Here it is again.