Barenaked Exemplars

Let’s hear it for the Barenaked Ladies for coming up with some fun ways to get fans involved in their new record. They’ve got fans doing remixes of their songs (the best will be made into an EP with all proceeds going to charity), designing t-shirts (the best will receive cash prizes and be sold on their tour), and competing for best air-guitarist by submitting videos of themselves playing along. You should really read the whole London Free Press article (and forgive them for describing such excellent ideas as “digital daliances”). Among the quotes I liked best:

“People are doing amazing remixes,” singer-songwriter-guitarist Ed Robertson said. “We’re getting these ridiculous disco versions of our songs. There’s a lot of people that are really good.”

“The main thing is just shifting the focus to the fan and letting them decide how they want to consume the music,” Robertson explains … “We just realized it’s really not in our control.”

These are great ways to get fans involved — fun creative things they can do and real ways to honor the best of what they do without exploiting them. I hope we’ll see more bands recognizing that the flip side of losing control are the many great rewards to be found in encouraging participatory fandom.

Selling mp3s on an honors system

Juliana Hatfield is a super-swell indie musician who offers online downloads from her website on an honors system, another spin on getting fans to pay artists directly for their music. I love this because of its potential to resolve some of the thorniest ethical issues for the fans who download. Here’s the site’s description of how this works:

So here we are, at the intersection of greed and sloth; but on this little corner, in this little place, the honor system will hold sway. Here’s how it works:When a song is downloaded, you will have an option. You can decide that ownership of this song is your right and freely distribute the files to your friends and to the people who also think it’s their right, without payment.

Or, you can support the artist who wrote and recorded this song and click the PayPal button at the top of the page and send Juliana a contribution. The iTunes standard of $.99 per song may seem too high for you, in which case you can send $.50 – though there is virtually nothing else you can buy legally for $.50. Alternatively, you can think of the number of people with whom you might share these files and give a multiple of $.99 for each song you download.

If you don’t have a means by which you can use PayPal or if you’re opposed to the burgeoning online drain of your credit, feel free to send a dollar in the mail to Juliana at Ye Olde Records, P.O. Box 398110, Cambridge MA 02139.

There might come a day when the honor system is a strong enough code to let people like Juliana offer her songs on the web without the force of law or the sting of theft. In fact, today might be that day. Enjoy the songs. Support talent wherever you find it.

On behalf of Juliana, this site thanks you for your support.

I do buy CDs, lots of them, usually after having heard an mp3 on a blog or other website (I was shocked to read recently that the industry considers a ‘heavy’ record buyer to be someone who spends more than $100/year on CDs, which seems like very little to me). I also buy a lot of used CDs, and — setting the law aside — I have never been ethically clear on how to tease apart the morality of legally buying used vs. downloading illegally. In either case, the artists and record companies get no money and I get the tunes (though I do like knowing I’m supporting my local independent record store by buying used, sometimes I’d rather just download the songs and make a donation to the Love Garden). Generally, I’d rather send some money directly to the artist, and I’m the sort who probably would pay a lot more than 99 cents for a song that I love, both to show my gratitude to the people who created it and to subsidize the pleasure of those who won’t or can’t buy it. There are so many records I’ve bought new for less than $15 that have, for me, been worth so much more. If I could make a cash donation to some of those lesser-known bands that tend to catch my ear, I would. The royalty they get from my purchase seems so far out of whack with the pleasure I’ve received.

I don’t know if this system can really work, but the utopian in me hopes that today can be that day, if only in their little corner.

Hold Steady seeking fan input

Pitchfork says the band The Hold Steady, who specialize in sardonic rants filled with witty and self conscious pop culture references, are starting a new social networking site, but it looks more to me like they’re working on their own personal YouTube, asking fans to upload a homemade video to support their new album Boys And Girls In America and even giving them pointers on how to make home videos. Here’s what they say:

This whole album is about guys, girls, love, and growing up in america. We want to you know about what you think about the opposite sex, relationships, love, the whole shebang.

We want to see you!

We want you to make a video testimonial. Post about your life, your loves, your high’s, and your lows. Your first date to your worst date. Your party fouls and your massive nights. Show us what you got!

Well, that’s really fun, and I commend them, and I go along completely with their three rules:

  • Your video may not contain:
    • Copyrighted material
    • Pornography or obscene material
    • The first and last name of someone other than yourself

However, the enthusiastic welcoming of fan creativity breaks down at the final moment:

All uploaded videos become the property of Vagrant Records. We reserve the right to edit and/or amend uploaded videos.

Why does the record company need to own the videos? If I were a Hold Steady fan, I’d be tempted right up to the point where I saw that they want to own my autobiography.

How can enhance artist/fan interaction

People rave about for a lot of reasons, but one you rarely hear is how it can get artists in touch with their fans. I’ve had three experiences like this in the last few months, and each has been a fun thrill in its own way. All have come about because I keep a journal on there about music, promoting the artists I like and reporting on shows I see:

Skywriter are a band from Copenhagen. They sound kind of like Leonard Cohen meets Brian Ferry via David Bowie’s Berlin era. They’ve got one record on an indie label. They’re not exactly tearing up the charts, but it’s one of my favorite records of the year. So when I got the chance to write a review to that effect at Its A Trap (a site I’ll write about in another entry), I did. And then, as I usually do, I cut and pasted it into my journal. And who should show up in the comments on my journal entry than Skywriter’s singer/guitarist/songwriter, there to tell me how good my review had made him feel. Now he and I send occassional messages to one another.

I also wrote up in my journal logs of all the concerts I saw in the 1980s (I kept records! though they should have been better). So I get a message from someone saying “I was in that scene, I was at a lot of those shows.” And lo and behold, it was someone from one of those great local bands I saw so many times back them. Someone I knew in high school and liked but never kept in touch with. Now we email.

Last week I wrote a report on the incredible reunion show I got to see by late 70s/early 80s underground icons, the Embarrassment, and this morning, I got a message from one of the guys in that band, telling me how “warm and fuzzy” my write-up had made him feel. Like the guy I knew in high school, this was actually someone I’d known in the 80s, but he didn’t know it was me when he wrote.

I have seen messages that artists leave in fans’ shoutboxes (visible on the page for all to see), things like “I saw you listened to our last record a lot, our new one will be out next week.” So at least for less famous bands, is working as a vehicle for locating the people who are listening to you, or who are writing about you, and engaging them directly.

I’ve written before about acknowledging the rewards for artists of having direct interpersonal connections to fans, and all these stories drive that point home. Performers, especially those who don’t sell a lot, are happy happy happy to have a way to reach those who are buying.

Celebrity blogging, part II: Then again…

Because nothing says “I am not a killer” like lapdancers:

Sports hero-turned-actor OJ SIMPSON has hit the road in America to shoot a new image-boosting internet diary. Fans who check out will be able to watch Simpson conduct radio interviews, chat to fans at bus shelters and enjoy the company of lapdancers at clubs. The updated Internet diary, shot by one of Simpson’s longtime pals, was created to serve as a chance for the NAKED GUN star to clean up his image, tarnished by the 1994 trial into his wife’s murder…