“Music fans and musicians belong to each other”
I can’t say I’m overwhelmed by the depth of insight in the panel on the “High Speed Fan” at the Bandwidth conference covering music and technology, as reported by Joe Gratz, but I loved what Thomas Dolby had to say:
There’s been an interesting evolution on the relationship between the industry and fans. It’s not crystal clear yet. Music fans and musicians belong to each other. The role and the obligation of the intermediary is to empower that relationship to happen more easily and more effectively without the wastage that’s sent the industry down the toilet in the last few years. Labels want to push their own brand, but the fans don’t care about that. Kids want to feel they’re being brought closer to the music and the musicians that they admire. All you, as intermediaries, should be doing is facilitating that relationship. You’ve got to put the fans and the musicians first.[...]
My first album went gold, my second album didn’t. Nobody knew who the fans were — they were just units sold. Now, I can see reviews on blogs when I get back to the hotel after a show. I can blog. I can get comments immediately. There’s a closeness with the fans that never existed before, on radio playlists or royalty statements. I’m a tech guy as well as an artist, so I can do this all myself, but a lot of artists need help with that, and you need to help them.
Fans can be commited to labels, at least in the case of indie labels like America’s Barsuk or Merge, or Sweden’s Labrador, where, like in the halcyon days of Factory Records, the label is associated with a particular kind of music, particular ethos, and particular fan base. But I think those labels get there by doing what Dolby recommends. They keep it about the music and the fans, and convey the sense that the people in charge are fans too.
Dolby also points to the increased sense of closeness to fans that the internet enables artists to feel. People interested in questions of online fandom tend to focus on the fans, but it’s also worth considering how the potential of the internet to create relational closeness between fans and artists affects the artists not just financially but emotionally: it gives names, face, personalities, and a sense of individualized realness to their audience. From the perspective of a performer used to “units,” that can be pretty powerful.