Being a better “artistic citizen”

February 4, 2011

I was recently reading this Techdirt post about the awkwardness of cutting out the middleman in music. Michael points out that asking for money is always difficult- that it can very often feel awkward dealing with money directly. It’s why middlemen exist. But it got me thinking about the challenge that “cutting out the middleman” actually poses for us as music FANS.

Many people have talked about how artists in this now (decade old!) new music environment need to man-up and get business like. But isn’t it just as true that PEOPLE, FANS, LISTENERS also have a responsibility here – that getting comfortable opening your wallets directly to artists, engaging with them directly – literally handing them the money, is also a revolution that needs to happen?

MANY people have written about how the “mystique” of artists has been eroded with social media and direct connections to artists e.g. “I wouldn’t want to have known what Jimmy Page just ate for lunch etc. etc.”

But clearly part of this feeling comes from the awkwardness of being so CLOSE to the art and the artist. Some people feel the need to be DISTANT from the music and music maker.

In one sense, it’s perfectly natural – if a particular kind of music makes you feel preternaturally happy, ecstatic, or informs or heightens a massive emotional shift or experience in your life, then the creator of said music must OF COURSE be some kind of super-human. And if you hear that the $50 you just spent on his $15 album will actually put petrol in his car, or go toward getting him a good meal, then that mundanity might rub off on your experience.

And we don’t want that. Giving the $50 to the retailer, who gives it to the distributor, who gives it to the label, who gives a fraction of it to the artist is sufficiently convoluted enough to allow us to retain the myth, and therefore the “sanctity” of the emotional experience.

But looking at that logically, it makes no sense whatsoever, especially in 2011. The experience was the experience. You felt that way no matter who made the music. To a large degree, once the music maker creates and releases the music, it’s not his anymore – your emotional connection to it is entirely your own. The author has an intended message – but the message you receive is your interpretation alone – that’s the joy of art!

As Michael puts it in the article “… after all of this, when the deal does go through, and you realize that it’s a direct connection between two people who are happy about how each came out of the transaction, people begin to realize it shouldn’t be awkward at all.”

Now I’m guessing this isn’t news to a lot of people – people who host house concerts, like Amanda’s in the example above, are well on board. People who use Paypal to send cash to independent artists or who make a point of buying t-shirts and chatting to the band after a show are already there – but I think they’re in the minority.

I think we have a responsibility as fans, in this hyper-connected, musically abundant new media world.

I think we should, as music fans, be challenging ourselves constantly to make sure that our money gets DIRECTLY into artists hands, to cut out middle-men – challenging ourselves to be good “artistic citizens”, if you will. And it will feel uncomfortable at first: it is a taboo, after all. But I do think it needs to be done.

Artists are growing, casting off the old ways of thinking about music and music careers. I think it’s time for me, and fans in general, to closely examine long-held beliefs about music, money and our relationships with artists as well.

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