Lets talk music. In this, our new music column, we aim to speak to music at large, specifics to the local market, local artists doing their own thing, and all with a musician’s perspective. With over a decade in the ol’ U.S. music biz we welcome any comments or questions you might have as well. But first, our inaugural column:
I want to talk Bieber Fever with you. Or, more specifically, I want to talk about the the-self-Bieber-fever that he must have had at the Billboard Music awards in May. The incident of which I speak was the very key moment when Bieber, in all his teenage pompadour-gold-chain-wielding beauty stated while accepting an award “I’m an artist and should be taken seriously,” all whilst news of his poor abandoned monkey in a German airport was still making waves.
Ok, lets not get carried away here with the whole artist word. First off, lets acknowledge that he is a bonified pop star. And, from all appearances, a quite popular one within a certain, if preteen dominated, demographic. This should be noted, and if not applauded, then at least plotted on the old chart of pop culture to determine where exactly it is that we as a global society that are interested in such things, are thus headed. Personally, I would put it right up there next to the girls on Flavor of Love and the boys of the Jersey Shore. So, succinctly I ask, does it matter? Yes. At least, it does in the same way that, Germanic invasions and decentralized power mattered to the fall of the Roman Empire (to say nothing of the Vomitorium at the Coliseum). In the end, it is the cumulative effect of all of our entertainment that decides where the general populaces en masse sweet-spot is. But is it art, and are you thus an artist is another matter entirely.
Also notable is the fact that he was receiving a milestone award for ingenuity and innovation. No matter what I, or you might think about the quality of his work in general, can we all just agree that the length of a career that achieves any milestone award should be…I don’t know—more than 3 years (his actual first full length record did not even come out until 2010)? The pace at which some now rush to say someone achieved such a huge honor is ridiculous, especially given that this award is specifically the type that was meant to signify the difference between a flash-in-the-pan pop star, and a career that transcends time and genre by making its mark on the art itself. It is further all evidence of a faster lifecycle for artists in general. The worlds attention span is shorter, thus careers are shorter—that truly only serve to attempt to substantiate an otherwise ailing and increasingly irrelevant industry machine.
By contrast I would like to talk about Amanda Palmer. The comparison may seem a weird one at first blush, but give me a sec. As singer and head-provocateur of the band Dresden Dolls, and solo artist to boot, her fan base, I believe it is safe to say, is equally rabid, equally supportive, and equally willing to go out on a limb for her (more so, really). In fact, if you have not seen her TED talk on how to “simply ask for something,” she makes the art of fan base support sound downright obligatory-and perhaps these days it should be. But here is the thing; Amanda Palmer is truly an artist- not because I say she is one. But, precisely because she is one whether I think she is or not. She was doing her thing in the streets of New Orleans for a pittance of pennies before any attention came her way. The starkest difference here though is the one between the artist that is pushed forward by the momentum of the crowd behind her, and the one pushed at you from the industry machine, readily expecting your buy-in.
To this point, in the middle of last year, when Ms. Palmer was attempting to crowd source funding via kickstarter (for those who do not know, it is a new way of sourcing cash from people in advance for something that you plan to make). When trying to raise $100,000 she actually raised 12 times that and brought in 1.2 million dollars, a record for any music project. When you compare that to the old industry mentality of throwing more and more money at a project until it catches almost due to sheer repetition, and the answer of which model will ultimately win, seems pretty clear.
What does all this mean for you local musicians? Mainly that now, more than ever, it is the organic fan base that is making and breaking new artists in the industry. There is no longer only one way and gateway by which to go about your musical business. As global business keep getting larger, people long for a more direct interaction with the brand itself. This is perhaps never more important than when the brand is the person. Do not conform to what you think the people want, just keep doing the best version of “your thing,” that you can. Either one day the people will get it, or at least you can die knowing that your genius will be discovered long after you’re gone.
Inside/Out is the brand-spanking new music column from bazaar. Feel free to send any questions and/or belieber hate mail as you see fit.