When you’re young, all you want is freedom. From parents, from school, from being broke, from anything that kept you from kissing someone at the townie bar after midnight on a Friday night. The tools start to present themselves: a car. College. An apartment. An internship, then a job. Fumbling steps toward a house, marriage, life insurance, a 401K, babies. Freedom starts to look a lot like something else.
As Admiral Ackbar once said, “It’s a trap.” It’s an insidious one: we see it all around us, hiding in plain sight. It enmeshed poor Taylor Cotter, writer of this unfortunate-for-many-reasons essay, wrapping her up with school debt and pulling the noose tight. This is, by its nature, a privileged problem: the responsibilities of white picket fences give way to more pressing concerns in less moneyed environments. But it’s a problem nonetheless, and a two-fold one: the ideas that stability (a euphemism for possessions) buys happiness, and that life should unfold like a picture-book without any serious decision-making beyond what to wear to church.
I don’t have any school debt. My parents bought my car. This is obviously terrific for me, but I haven’t compounded my debt with credit card bills or bar tabs or an apartment I can’t afford. We live in a one-bedroom and it costs maybe a quarter of my monthly income. We did get a cat, an animal not known for traveling well. And we are a “we.” But within that, there’s a lot of freedom. I make a living in my chosen industry, have time for personal, big-dreaming projects and get to the gym most days. If we wanted, we could move to Europe tomorrow and work on a goat farm or whatever. (We don’t want to.) It didn’t happen overnight, and I didn’t start freelancing without an extensive cushion — which I earned every dollar of — in the bank. I could’ve spent that on gourmet dinners and a chrome rims — maybe I should’ve. But my needs are simple, if “simple” extends to typing on a MacBook Air. If spending makes you happy, that’s what you should do. Status? Go after it. I’m interested in control of my time and my energy, which Cotter, locked into her 9-5 and the school debt it has to go toward diminishing every month, hints at.
But I don’t think an exciting life’s really about becoming a television character or the character-building that allegedly comes with financial struggles. Those are romantic ideas from people who’ve never had to worry about paying the rent. it’s definitely not about home ownership, either. There’s no real “should” in life, beyond saving a few bucks, exercising and being nice so you’re not a total fucking burden on your fellow people: it’s about writing your own script — which requires making decisions, hard ones, and knowing who you are. Or at least what you want. What do you want? Neil Gaiman once described that as “the mountain”: if you’re lucky, all you have to do is let go of the backpack and start walking.
In the wake of Emily White-gate, everyone has an opinion about money and music. Let’s turn those into an actual set of ethical, practical guidelines that reasonable music fans can turn to, rub their 8” beards and say, “Why yes, I do really love this band and I would like them to be able to make more music! I guess I should give them some money.” I’m just a journalist who loves bands and wants them to keep being bands: please take everything with a grain of salt.
This is a living document: please send suggestions and edits to rawkblog at gmail.com or add in your reblogs.
Let’s start by acknowledging some reasonable facts:
* As outlined by Travis Morrison, people have always stolen recorded music; our appetites for it generally exceed our funds. Let’s just accept this and move on.
* Many so-called music pirates still pay for music. Lots of it, in fact. The biggest offenders’ hard drives are littered with thousands of hoarded albums they will never listen to. That is not a lost sale. The problem is not piracy: the problem is piracy to the exclusion of purchases — as exemplified by Ms. White. If you know people like that, send this to them.
* People spend much more time on legal alternatives ranging from YouTube to Spotify. These alternatives pay artists — barely. Let’s admit that listening to Spotify for free is, while the best thing to ever happen to music listeners in the history of human civilization, a negligible way to actually support artists. These services may be a solution at some future date, but are not now, nor will they be unless consumers opt to pay much, much more. Spotify is a service for consumers and venture capitalists and major label execs, not bands.
* Music takes time and money to make. At an extreme end, yes, Kreayshawn and Grimes can make a track and a video on a laptop someone’s parents purchased in a couple hours. If this is the kind of music you want, and not the next OK Computer, you can close your browser tab right now. Even the most lo-fi music requires hours of writing and rehearsing and gear — from there, costs extend to studio time, engineers, session musicians, graphic design, management, publicity, product manufacturing, t-shirts, venue staff, a booking agent and so on. Even Fugazi has a website to pay for. Also: how about rent? Or dinner? Artists are people with the same needs as us: let’s respect that.
* Let’s agree that makers of great music, the kind that soundtracks our lives and makes us feel something powerful, deserve to be treated as professionals, not people with an especially cool hobby.
* As Chris Ott notes, as an artistic product, music is priceless; as a digital one, it’s worthless. We, as supporters of art, must make the conscious decision to sustain it.
With all that said, here is what I intend to do. Will you join me?
* I will buy my favorite two albums per month, in a way that most directly benefits the artist or their label. (Vinyl is great, but be aware everyone gets a slimmer profit margin on it.) I may buy MP3s from Amazon that I already have and delete them — this is more eco-friendly than chucking the CD, at least. This comes out to 24 albums a year, a large enough number to cover both the year’s better releases and the amount of albums one might realistically listen to thoroughly during that span.
* If a great band offers a pay-what-you-want option, I will give more than they ask.
* If torn between two releases, I will consider who needs the money more — no offense to R. Kelly.
* If I listen to an album five times on a streaming service or via piracy, I will buy it. If I listen to a song 10 times on a streaming service or via piracy, I will buy it. Feel free to adjust these numbers to your liking. Two ways to track this: create a smart playlist in iTunes or sync your Spotify account to the stats-keeping service Last.fm. I have become convinced that if Spotify added buy links and a pop-up reminder to support bands once listeners hit these tallies, payments could drastically increase.
* If I’m “planning” to buy something, I will buy it today, during the album cycle, when the numbers matter most.
* Many of us are bloggers, and receive press tickets and albums for free. Any album or song that goes on a year-end list will be paid for. At a guest-listed show — assuming it’s good and the shirt’s not ugly — I will buy an item of merch.
* I recognize that blogging, reviewing and word of mouth are helpful but by no means replacements for actually giving a band a dollar. We are rapidly becoming a world of influencers with no one left to subsidize (and thus justify) our so-called curation: we’re responsible, too.
In making these suggestions to consumers, I will also make some for bands:
* Price your music fairly. $9.99 feels like a lot for a digital album — even $7.99 feels easier to spring for. We’re struggling, too. Add an “or more” option: someone will give you more.
* People like Kickstarter because they like supporting you and seeing the money go directly into the process. Don’t be scared of this. Don’t take advantage of it with bullshit prizes, either. If you can’t afford to tour everywhere, figure out where your fans are. How? Ask them, on the Internet.
* Give us the extras. Live shows, b-sides, demos, acoustic versions, radio performances. We want it all. Sell them, if you want, but do us a favor and make them easy to get from you. Bradford Cox gives everything away and will have a career forever. (He is also a genius, to be fair.)
* You’re in a band: it’s supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to be entertaining us. Complaining about money makes us not want to give you any. Being transparent about your costs is another story.
* If you’re not making enough money on your music, it’s your fault — or your publicist’s, or your label’s, or somebody on your team. You know this is true because other people have found a way to do it: what are they doing differently? Maybe you spent too much on making your album. Maybe you need to get some more influential bloggers to root for you. Maybe you’re making moody art and they’re making pop for the clubs. If that’s not what you want to do, set your expectations accordingly. The entire world is your possible fan base: keep finding them. It’s also not the worst thing ever to be proud of your records and that time you opened for the Walkmen and call it a day: even NBA players retire.
* Have a website that doesn’t suck where people can listen to your music and give you money for it. Make it easy. (Get to know Bandcamp, Soundcloud and so on.) Put up a donation button — you can do it with PayPal. It will take you two minutes and any dollar you make on it is a bonus.
* Live within your means. Don’t buy dumb shit. Don’t rack up credit card debt. Sublet your apartment when you’re on tour. Ask fans if you can crash on their floor — they’ll say yes, and make you breakfast, too.
* Chances are high that your music sucks. Work on that.
* If a car company wants to license your stupid song, just do it and treat yourself to a new van or some decent hotel rooms on the next tour. Donate it to charity, even. If you’re going to be snobby about it, remember that 1,000 bands would be happy to have the money you’ve just funneled into a music supervisor’s copycat library. You can’t control the way people are going to discover your music: if you turn down Starbucks, they will still add your new single on their playlist. (This really happens.)
There it is. Did we save music?!?!?! Let me know: rawkblog at gmail dot com.
(Related: 14 Ways to Not Be a Terrible Music Fan)
I’m turning 27 in May. I don’t really have it figured out (because you can’t) but I feel pretty good about life, or at least good enough to have some ideas about it that are marginally less embarrassing than Hanna from Girls’. Here they are.
1) Health comes first.
Somewhere between graduating college and my second job, I gained about 10 pounds. Hangovers got worse. I was constantly tired. All of these things are still applicable. But I started eating better and working out occasionally and generally trying not to die of a heart attack at 55. One thing about healthy food: you start eating vegetables every day, you start to like them. Eating cows is basically terrible for cows, the planet, and our bodies, so I make that a special event. I have no interest in being vegetarian but something’s better than nothing, right? Also: totally obvious, but feeling good and well-rested and mentally sharp makes everything else much easier.
2) Habits control our lives.
Crush the bad ones and start up the good ones. Flossing. Push-ups. Saying “I love you.” Stop smoking. Go from there.
3) Life’s not a meritocracy.
Life is more like 50% networking, 25% having people like you, 15% resume, 10% talent. Sorry. But the lesson here is a good one: work hard and make sure people are paying attention.
4) Be genuine about your networking.
People who do the thing you want to do are probably interesting! Be nice and sincere in your interactions with them. Don’t make them feel used. Read How to Win Friends and Influence People.
5) Healthy relationships are 50/50.
There will always be points where one partner has to make an extra effort for an hour, or a day, or a week. But if you can’t rely on your partner to do the same, you’re in the wrong relationship.
6) When you have a fight, get to the real problem (it’s not what you’re fighting about) and then figure out if you should try to solve it or say, “I love you, I’m sorry” and hug it out (do that anyway).
7) You really can’t make anybody like you.
Everyone’s followed somebody around like a sad puppy for six months, waiting for something to magically happen. It won’t. Meet more people. Give them an honest chance. Someone will like you, and it will be great. Don’t tell anybody “I love you” before you’ve been actually dating for a while, because you don’t. You love who you hope they are, or were in that Disney movie.
8) You are not what you like, but what you like helps explain who you are.
If you’re obsessed with music and movies, you’re probably going to have a much easier time dating somebody who also likes the Smiths and Kubrick. There are reasons why you both like this stuff, after all. And then you get to go to shows and make out, which is really great.
9) Don’t be a snob.
Snobs are people who say “no” a lot and make other people feel bad about not being like them. It is the best time in human history to be interested in anything. So be excited! Develop your taste, absolutely, but don’t let the avant-garde ruin your palette for simpler pleasures.
10) Don’t argue with anyone on the Internet.
11) Don’t make anyone feel bad about anything.
Just don’t do it. Why are you doing it? Lil B has a lot to say about this and he is 100% correct. If you must critique, be helpful and patient.
12) A really good use of your afternoon is sitting at a cafe, outside, eating a good sandwich and talking to a friend.
13) Sex: have as much of it as you can. If you have religious hang-ups about this, it’s time to reconsider. Just use protection. Dan Savage is a helpful guide, RedTube is not.
14) Travel as much as you can.
There’s no better way to learn about the breadth of human experience, appreciate the gravity of history and also eat delicious food.
15) Don’t be stupid about your money.
Stop buying expensive clothes and going to clubs three nights a week and leasing a BMW. I drive a Toyota, order my dress shoes on eBay and have money in the bank. I haven’t had to live paycheck to paycheck in years. You know what that buys me? Freedom.
16) That said, treat yo self.
You deserve it.
17) Clothing is a language.
Learn to speak it. Society agreed to wear certain items out of respect, so everyone would be on the same page. When you wear a baggy wolf t-shirt and cargo shorts at work, you’re not proving you’re a rebel: you’re just telling everyone you’re kind of a dick, and also you just start home-brewing last weekend. Dressing well doesn’t have to be expensive, uncomfortable or mean sticking to a uniform; mostly, it’s really fun. Put This On is a good place to start for men.
18) Set goals.
I think in terms of building blocks: stepping from this to this to this. But write your five-year plan in pencil, if you think that far ahead. Why would you want to? You might die in a car accident tomorrow. (Sorry. But you might.)
19) Pot is a fun three-times-a-year drug.
20) One glass of water per alcoholic beverage.
O.K., one water for every two. And don’t drive home. They have cabs in L.A., even.
21) Support the things you love.
Go to your favorite restaurant. Go to the new bar before it gets too popular. See your favorite band on tour. Buy their new record on vinyl. If you don’t, they disappear. Eventually, they will anyway, but you can help keep them around a while longer.
22) Every purchase is political.
Presidential elections come every four years, but every dollar you spend makes an impact on people’s lives. Find out who and what you’re supporting. Just don’t be a Portlandia skit about it.
23) Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Don’t take anything too seriously. We’re all just arbitrary molecules in an infinite universe. But be passionate about your work and your friends and making our time on Earth better and fair.
24) Mistakes are good.
Unless you lose a friend, a finger or your life savings, you’ll be fine soon enough. And you learned how to be better.
25) Read a lot of books.
All the really smart, interesting things anyone has ever said are in them. The Internet will mostly make you dumber. Don’t be derisive of science fiction and fantasy and comic books. They’re not just for kids.
26) Get a pet. We have a cat. It’s incredible. You will 100% never regret it.
27) Call your parents.
They worry. And they’re not getting any younger.
Assuming you’re using a 50mm f1.4 lens, you should turn your f-stop up to 2.8 so that your subject will actually be sharp. The background will still look awesome, believe me. You’re probably shooting at f2, which is why your photos still don’t look like the Sartorialist. (Also, drink less coffee and take your time!)
Are you a band or musician? Would you like someone, anyone, to write about your music? Here is some advice.
(Note: This is for bands working D.I.Y. It is not a guide to finding a manager, a label or a publicist, though those are potentially worthwhile things and I would look for them in that order. All of this information is generally applicable regardless. Update, Jan. 2013: probably get a publicist first.)
1) Who You Should Send It To:
You should start with blogs and online publications. What kind of music do you play? Look on Hypem.com to see what blogs have posted about bands who you like or are similar to. Those sites should have email addresses on their page. Then look at those sites’ blogrolls and get the emails of their friends. This is worth investing a weekend or two on — there are thousands of blogs and surely 10 or 20 or 100 will be interested in your music. And once you have the email list, you can use it forever.
A quick guide to bigger/influential sites, if you’re totally unaware: NPR, Pitchfork, Stereogum, the Fader, Spinner, Paste. Rolling Stone, Spin, Billboard, MTV (Buzzworthy, Hive) and other print publications’ sites all do MP3 and video premieres all the time from emerging bands.
2) How You Should Send It:
Your email should have two music links: one to a place where writers/bloggers can stream the music, and one to where they can download it. You can do both through Soundcloud or Bandcamp. Soundcloud will let you set up private streams if you don’t want the world stumbling into it. You can also just upload the album to Dropbox or a service like Mediafire for downloading purposes. Don’t worry about it leaking — what’s the worst that could happen, people will listen to your music and tell their friends about it? Your MP3s should be high quality - at least 192 kbps. You want people to actually hear what your music sounds like, right? Anyone who still wants smaller files is blogging from their mom’s 2003 Dell desktop.
As Mark suggests, label your MP3s — both the ID3 data and the files themselves. An MP3 file itself should look something like [Band Name] - 01 - [Song Name]. Once you put it into iTunes, it shouldn’t look like “Unknown Artist - Rough Mix #4.”
Don’t send an attachment. Everyone hates attachments.
On your band website, you should have a press section that includes a bio, a listing of band members and what they play and hi-res photos of the band and the album cover. (As a photographer, I’d encourage you to include the photo credit and show some respect to your fellow artists. This is the No. 1 thing I have to ask bands and publicists for because it’s generally forgotten about.) Put a link to this stuff in your email, too.
Don’t have a band website? Set one up. Tumblr is the easiest place to do that. Set up pages (not blog posts) for this info so it’s easily accessible from the homepage.
3) What Your Email Should Look Like:
Make the first email and the follow-up personal. This is your career we’re talking about — you have time to spend a weekend and not send out a shitty email blast. Here’s the email we’re generally looking for:
We’re [Name], a [genre] band from [location]. Our debut album, [Name], is due [date]. We’ve been compared to [really good band] and [really good band] by [other blog], which called us [a really nice quote].
Here are links to download and stream the album and the promo MP3, which you can post on your site. You can find a bio, photos and more info on our website.
See? That’s not so bad. For future email announcements - a new video, a tour announcement - you don’t necessarily have to send the personal email and can just blast your mailing list instead, but it’s worth the initial investment. If you’re going to send a mass email, BCC the addresses or use a list manager like Mailchimp.
Wait a week to follow up on your first email. If you don’t hear back after that, it’s probably best to move on. Many writers will delete your email without reading it. Don’t take it personally.
4) Exclusives and Premieres:
Bloggers (and bigger publications) love these because it helps us get more attention (which helps you get more attention). Offer them to reward the bloggers who have been the biggest supporters of the band or as an added incentive for Stereogum or Spin to write about you. Once it gets posted, send it out to everybody else, but don’t be that jerk who makes people click over to Pitchfork to download the new MP3. We hate doing that.
Related: if a blog is supporting you, support them back! Retweet their post about you, put it on your Facebook, shoot them a nice email. We’re all in this together.
5) How To Get Into Print and Post-Blog Publications / Please Have a Release Date:
At some point, you probably want a site or magazine with more of a mainstream audience to write a serious review of your music instead of just posting your tracks on their Tumblr. Getting blog buzz first will make this easier. But the No. 1 thing that actually makes it easier: have a release date. Many bands are slipping through the cracks because they post their albums on their sites or Bandcamp and say “It’s out!” While this is great for you and your fans, it means that record will never get written up by Spin. So put it out on Bandcamp and call it a “digital” or “soft” release if you want and set an official date for a few months down the line.
Here’s why: Print (and many web!) publications still make plans months in advance. You need to get your material to writers and editors before that so they can even have you to consider when they start making plans. You don’t have to make the release date public — but you do need to tell people at Rolling Stone or even eMusic about it very early or their schedule’s going to be full. This affects how you’re considered for year-end lists (you won’t be), getting on Metacritic, all that good stuff.
6) Should I Release A Single? An EP? An Album?
You’re on your own here, but a nice cycle of single-video-single-stupid blog remix/cover song-video-EP or album release-tour-video seems to work pretty well for the average band. You want to generate as much life and attention for your product as you can — videos are a great, cheap way to do that, as is putting out another free MP3, but of course there’s no better megaphone than getting on tour. Use the Internet to figure out where you have actual fans before you load up the van.
7) Touring Advice
Get local blogs to sponsor your shows. They probably won’t want any money, just press tickets to the gig. We’re great promoters and it’s a win-win for everybody.
8) Don’t Suck
This should probably be No. 1, but make sure your music isn’t stupid amateur bullshit. How long have you been playing that eBay synthesizer? A month? Maybe wait until after sophomore year to start emailing Stereogum about your visionary bedroom recordings. Punk rock says anyone can play music: it didn’t say that everyone should try to be as bad at it as possible. Minor Threat used to rehearse like 8 hours a day. Please don’t be that band who has never played a show before, gets Internet famous and then has to learn how to perform before you embarrass yourself at SXSW and ruin your career.
9) Have A Silly Backstory, If You Can:
Don’t force the issue here, but Bon Iver is still “That guy who made a record in a cabin.” The White Stripes are still “That band who dresses in red and were married or related or something.” Writers like a hook. It makes it easier for us to tell people about your music instead of just saying, “It’s really good, check it out!” But please don’t be something you’re not (or hide behind a gimmick if your music is stupid amateur bullshit).
10) You’re on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr, right?
It’s nice to have other people write about you but you want your fans (and your future fans) to be able to connect directly with you. This is how you can get them to give you money or give a shit that you’re playing a show next week. No need to spend hours on this stuff, just take 10 minutes a day or a half-hour a week and update your feeds. Be yourself. Have fun. Write about your cat.
11) Be Aware That This Stuff May Not Work Out
Blog buzz sometimes translates to getting signed or being able to tour or getting into a Honda commercial or an episode of Gossip Girl. But a lot of the time, it doesn’t, and it’s probably not your fault: music trends and what’s “cool” is totally arbitrary and if Krautrock’s not in this year, your Kraftwerk tribute 7” might not sell out its first pressing. On the other hand, making art you believe in is its own reward, right? Right? Probably?
I wrote this for my brother and figured I’d repost it. I’ve done a lot of research on this stuff in the past couple years, so I thought I’d pass along my findings. For under $100 an item (and generally much less), here are my favorite clothing manufacturers.
All of these recs are dependent on 1) you buying these new and not wanting to bother with thrift stores and 2) fit: these are the brands that fit me best, the most important thing to consider in buying a men’s item. Most brands now offer a slim fit (or even an extra-slim fit) — from brand to brand, this may be super tiny or still big enough for fat Americans. You’ll have to try them on. If you’re going to thrift, it’s a good way to find shirts/suiting/shoes. Buy your pants new.
T-shirts: American Apparel. They last forever, fit great and as a bonus, are made in America. Highly recommend the poly-cotton 50/50 shirt, the softest piece of clothing I own and a bargain at $20. The v-necks make great undershirts. Most indie band shirts are made on AA wholesale product. Available at AA stores and online. Alternatives: There’s really no reason not to get all your t-shirts here. I’ve heard good things about Alternative Apparel, which has a store in West L.A. somewhere (but isn’t as cheap).
Update: There’s been some mention of the $20 price. Percentage-wise, you can get a much better deal at a store like Old Navy, but in real life, it’s another $5-8 bucks — as in, one more drink at the bar — and you’ll get a shirt that could last you half a decade. Mine have. You can also get them at a discount if you buy a three-pack on the website or use a 15% off coupon.
Polos: Brooks Brothers makes the best one, period. Better fabric than the Ralph Lauren version and holds up better in the wash than Lacoste. (And cheaper!) Those are probably the best alternatives, though these are pretty sharp, too: http://www.kentwang.com/polos. BB is available at their stores and directly online. Wait for the $40/3 for $120 sale.
Button-down shirts: I wear washed shirts from J. Crew almost daily. Wait for the sale (which brings them down to $30-40 from their usual $60-70.) Easier to take care of than proper dress shirts (though they need a little ironing every so often), good construction, classic patterns and styles. Button-down shirts very drastically in fit from brand to brand and even from shirt to shirt - you absolutely have to try them on before you buy. J. Crew does offer a slim fit, though at 5’8” and not, ahem, particularly thin, the normal small size usually works for me. Alternatives: The Gap and Banana Republic have tried very hard to copy J. Crew and they just aren’t as good. H&M and Urban Outfitters are stylish, if less well-constructed, options. Shirts from Uniqlo (New York/Europe only) and Topman (same thing) are better, if you can get your hands on them. Avoid Zara, Express, etc., unless you spend a lot of time in “the club.” In the same-ish price range, there’s Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren, which offer slim-fits which don’t fit me properly, or you could step up to the $100+ items from boutique brands like Gant, Gitman Vintage and Band of Outsiders.
Chinos: Also known as “khakis.” In a remarkable turn of events, Dockers actually makes the best version under $100. (GQ.com has a nice guide to the pricier options.) My pairs are in the D1 slim fit, though you could probably go down to the skinnier line without them being actually skinny. The “Alpha” khaki, on sale now, is their latest effort; I have last season’s version of the SF Tapered, also on sale, which is a little more rugged and less soft than you expect from Dockers but really nice once you break them in. Buy direct from Dockers.com. Do not buy them at Macy’s, which doesn’t carry any of the good stuff. Alternatives: The J. Crew versions are overpriced until they goes on sale but not bad — their summer pants are as light and seasonally appropriate as advertised. The Dockers are built a little tougher. Can’t speak for the Gap version.
Jeans: No reason not to buy Levi’s, frankly. Skip Macy’s and shop the ones at Urban Outfitters in the 511, 514 and 501 styles. You can also find them at a Levi’s store or online. The 511s are not actually skinny jeans (I fit in them). You want them in a clean, dark wash with no artificial fades - if you’d like to spend a lot of money, there’s the raw version, but you can get a similar effect and pretty great quality for $50ish with this one. Wash them inside out in cold water once a month or so and never put them in the dryer ever and they come out terrific. You could buy a pair a year and never wear any other pants, if you really wanted. Buy the skinniest waist you can fit in - after a couple of days, they’ll stretch quite a bit. Alternatives: J. Crew’s aren’t bad, but not nearly as good for the price; the Gap’s are pretty awful. Very thin and cheap-feeling. If you want to spend more than $150, there are a lot of cool brands but they’re probably not going to last any longer than the Levi’s.
Corduroys: Mine are from J. Crew and the Gap. They’re good enough, not great. The Levi’s 511 version is probably worth looking into.
Shorts: Have yet to find a pair I really love. Mine are J. Crew by default - I have the 9” ones in seersucker and khaki. Buy a pair that hits at the knees and skip the cargo pockets, unless you’re a wildlife photographer.
Sweaters/cardigans: Here’s an area where fabric matters a lot, in terms of how it will hold up/wear out as well as softness. For now, I generally buy them in merino wool from the J. Crew outlet, though they will pill. (A de-pilling device can solve this problem every couple months.) I wear v-neck sweaters with collared shirts and crewnecks with crewnecks, which is to say, I don’t own a crewneck sweater. You can wear a cardigan with either collar and, as long as you don’t buy a 2006 hipster cotton one from American Apparel, look like a boss. (Always go with pure wool.) The sweaters/cardigans I bought from Uniqlo last winter are excellent, too, if you can get your hands on them.
If you’re going to buy a hoodie, you probably want it from American Apparel. Like the t-shirts, they last forever.
Outerwear: I sprung for a Baracuta G9 a year or so ago and it was worth every penny for every day use. For a warmer winter jacket, a peacoat can be had for a decent price new (mine’s from the Gap and it’s great - on sale, they dip down to $100 or so) or you can find a good Navy-issued one in any thrift store.
Shoes: For sneakers, I like Converse’s Chuck Taylors and Jack Purcells - the Purcells are a bit comfier and less ubiquitous, and the white ones are perfect for summer. Asic’s Onitsuka Tiger line, particularly the Mexico 66 (look on Zappos) are my favorites: awesome-looking, very comfy and they come in every color. Adidas’ Sambas are nice-looking, too, but I usually buy Tigers. New Balance 574 line is very sharp and you can make custom versions on the NB website for $100ish. More days than not, I wear Sperry Top Sider boat shoes, the bottom-end $80 pair. They last forever.
Boots: For bad weather, L.L. Bean’s Bean Boots are a dorky classic. Get the 6” version. I have a pair of Frye chukka boots (not cheap) I weatherproof and wear a lot in the city on rainy days, though they’re dressy and I’d never take them camping. The Clarks desert boots are very sharp, cheap and most people love them, though I’m not personally a big fan of the look.
Dress shoes: You should have a black pair that’s simple (like these) and a brown pair that’s a little more fun (like these) and probably some loafers, though I generally substitute boat shoes for them. Dress shoes, like a good suit, are worth the investment: they’ll look better and last longer than $100 versions (ahem: Rockports) and when they’re worn out, you can send them back to the factory for refurbishing or a new sole and wear them for another 10 years. I’ve been buying gently used Allen Edmonds pairs on eBay for around $50 a pop instead of the usual $300, though I’ve sold back 3-4 pairs that haven’t fit properly. The other great American brand is Alden, which is more expensive (you’ll see them at J. Crew and Brooks Brothers), with the really good/expensive stuff coming from England and Italy with brands like Church’s and Ferragamo. The key is buying a pair with a welted sole that can be removed and replaced once you wear it out - you won’t see that on glued soles from cheaper, clunkier brands.
That’s a start!