How to Do it With a Rockstar (For Academics).
A recent splurge in media coverage of independent artists using crowd-sourced funding online prompted me to dig out this piece. An Essay I wrote in my college final year (2010) for a media studies module.
Referencing heavily artists including Morrissey, 30 Seconds to Mars and mostly the ever astounding Madame Amanda ‘Fucking’ Palmer. Who then had a mere 400,00 Twitter followers (at time of writing she now proudly presides over a healthy, active and very generous roost of just over 550,000).
Discussing fandom, the essay also outlines some of the development and the possibilities of the kind of philanthropic relationship fans are increasingly developing with artists.
Essentially describing in heavily over referenced, academic nonsense the means by which you too can “Do it with a Rockstar”.
How can new media affect fandom?
Dean Garland BAPR, 2010 ©
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” - Andy Worhol.
The end of the 90’s provided us with a new wave of popular celebrities, arguably for the first time it was possible for anybody to achieve a level of fame through television and the media (see for example Branston, G. and Stafford, R. 1996, pp.82).
The unrelenting growth of new online media has since provided us with countless examples of cyber celebrities who become over night sensations, creating YouTube videos and remixing Disney movie soundtracks. (see for example www.myspace.com/pogotracks)
Discussing the topic Anderson, C (2006,pp.108) reflects on how “as our culture fragments into a million tiny microcultures, we are experiencing a corresponding rise of microcelebrities.”
For decades advertisers and key thinkers viewed audiences as passive receptacles of information (the effects model. See for example Gauntlett,D.1998), even those who later understood that audiences could be active in their consumerism and choices (uses or gratification models; McQuil,D. 1983, pp.144.) could not fully predict the scale of interaction that would be made available to audiences in the following decade.
The Internet has developed in such a way that interaction is now reaching the point where the line between celebrity and audience begins to pixilate .
Online forums and communities no longer merely provide a voice to participants, but can also deliver opportunities to directly affect the topics they choose to discuss.
Where this becomes most obvious is often where the most focused activity occurs. Studying the online communities and forums surrounding pop singer Morrissey, Devereux, E. (2003, pp.234-237.) discussed fans
“who are effectively ‘full-time’ in their fandom - whom Morrissey himself has termed the ‘regular irregulars’. Cheaper air travel has resulted in a core group of fans following entire concert tours. Information on tickets, travel and cheap places to stay is exchanged on fan websites Full-time Morrissey fans have been known to drop out of school, college or paid employment in order to follow their idols concerts.” (Devereux, E. 2003, pp.235).
The decline of record labels in recent years has also led to many musicians creating a larger and larger presence online. Studying this trend can potentially also provide us with examples of new developments in fandom that are beginning to emerge.
Writing about the topic of online fan bases Anderson, (C. 2006, pp.103-106) discusses the potential record companies have discovered in being able to use a small core interest group of online fans to expand musicians popularity.
Slow to recognise this as record companies have been, it is often the artists themselves who have really taken up the initiative to utilise their online audience. Self-proclaimed ‘Brechtian Punk Cabaret’ singer and pianist Amanda Palmer is a prime example of this.
At time of writing the artist has a Twitter account (twitter.com/amandapalmer) with nearly 400,000 followers.
Starting with a core audience of both ‘real’ and ‘cyber’ fans Palmer has used social network Twitter, along with various websites and blogs, to do everything from promote live shows, to hosting video streams of recording sessions, to creating ‘online flash mobs’.
Her ability to generate massive media and fan interest via social networking has begun to reach far beyond the typically recognised areas. Not only do fans interact with each other and the artist they actively become part of creating the art they gravitate around.
Similar to online examples shown by Devereux, E. (2003,pp.234.) fans of Palmer (as part of the ‘Dirty Business Brigade’) organize street art exhibitions and performance art pieces to coincide with concerts and shows, and indeed can often become part of the concerts them selves (see for example: www.theshadowbox.net). Fans are also able to directly contribute to the online art store postwartrade.com where individual artists and designers create their own products to sell in a collective market.
Furthering this direct link between fan and artist, having received little or no payment from her record company due to complications with her contract, Palmer reported in her blog (blog.amandapalmer.net) about the income she received in June ’09.
“Total made this month using Twitter = $19,000 total made from 30,000 record sales = absolutely nothing.” (Amanda Palmer, 2009).
By hosting online auctions and live streams playing from her own apartment Palmer received more money from fans then from the Label that backs her.
Having since made frequent requests to be dropped by her label, what Palmer is effectively creating is a scenario where her art is a direct legacy of her fans, both financially and otherwise.
Looked at objectively this developing system could be seen as a kind of neo-patriotism for the arts. Where fans directly promote, pay for and interact with the art they enjoy.
Much of what has allowed Palmer to develop this relationship to such large scale is her status as a true artist amongst her fans.
From an industry point of view this status of art, or as artist, is something much sought after in terms of marketing, and “often a considered process, from the initial ‘pitching’” (Branston, G. and Stafford, R.1996, pp.83.) of a product. By surpassing any promotion via record labels what Palmer is also managing to do is securing her self as a modern iconic figure for the music and the arts.
While others such as Morrissey are the focus of huge fan cultures what distinguishes Palmer is her own use of social media to actively encourage the creative aspects of her fan base, often with disregard for current industry practice.
“Fans do not see themselves as thieves or plagiarizers, but as active readers of a particular work of media in which can be expanded by them to involve notable ideas and details. Fans are using the creativity of others as the basis for their own creative endeavors…“ (Jenkins, pp.223)
While much of the record industry, remain in limbo regarding the possibilities of online new media, artists like Palmer who embrace it have begun to develop their own way of directly connecting with their fan base to create a symbiotic relationship.
The reflection of other artists like Palmer can be seen in the growth of digital based service companies which have sprung up to cater for personalised niche markets. (see for example www.cdbaby.com)
This increased demand for independent artists who provide fans with new opportunities has fed the development of websites such as bandstocks.com where by buying ‘stocks’ online fans dictate how much money an artist will have to produce everything from merchandise, to art work to their next album.
It is clear that the demand created by fan networks can be accessed and utilised in a multitude of ways, for decades now this has been the basis of much of what movie and music companies have done. Assigning artist appeal to specific demographics and targeting marketing to them.
New media now affords fans the opportunity to instead actively seek out their own music, films and art, which speak to them.
It also provides artists with the opportunity to not only interact with fans but also actively have them help develop and become part of the art their fan base surrounds.
For their current release album American rock band 30 Seconds to Mars used Twitter both to arrange group recordings with fans at a live venue which in turn featured on various album tracks, and also to find participants for their lead singles music video ‘Kings and Queens’.
Using Twitter Amanda Palmer has frequently announced ‘flash gigs’ for fans to attend free of charge, one of which on a Los Angeles beach resulted in an entire impromptu music video.
These are all examples of social media being able to provide an artist with the opportunity to create an experience, which is actively dependent upon their core fan base and allows the fan to become a part of what they love.
“To be a ‘fan’ is to have extraordinary recognitions and identifications with aspects of popular culture. The insights gained here, especially into the construction of subjectivities, are very interesting indeed and reveal the complex processes of such identifications. They take us to the realm of fantasy, desire and give us some understanding of the role of the popular in giving us a sense of who we are, or who we might be.”(Gray, A. 2003, pp.48)
In many ways, it is the importance of personal connection within fandom, which is frequently responsible for separated it from more mainstream culture. Provided with new articulacy though the growing developments of new media it is an area that is now being able to flourish under its own terms as it’s nature requires it to do.
Speaking about the topic Palmer her self said;
“…connecting with fans, if they like your art, automatically gives them a “reason to buy”, even if it’s not art, because they want to support your habit. I think we’re going to see more and more of that as fans come to realize that the music is free but comes with the emotional price-tag of supporting the artist in any way the artist puts their proverbial hat out…
…the point is, they will get two other things that are more important: bragging rights and the knowledge that they were singlehandedly involved with and supporting an artist’s personal enterprise. because they love the artist, and they want to support him/her, period.” - (Tech Dirt, 2009).