Dear Musicians: Just Stop. Please.

Hello! I’m certain that I have now claimed the attention of all the prominent musicians on the scene, so I’d hate to waste your time fumbling around verbally. I write to you today to address one key issue: some of you have just lost the fucking plot.

Obviously the music industry is a big, muddled mess right now, with the people on the top wanting to keep their profits while technology makes it easier and faster to discover new talent and consume music, whether you pay for it directly or not. I won’t even go into the streaming services and how many of them don’t give artists their fair share. I’m here to talk about the art itself. Kanye West’s latest release, the insanely hyped Yeezus, seemed to build hype by simply refusing to play the game. This supposedly wouldn’t be about dropping singles for the radio, though a video leaked for “Black Skinhead” demonstrates that West does care about gaining and keeping an audience, rather than creating art in a vacuum and then isolating himself from response. I even saw a Buzzfeed article about why Yeezus as an album was unleakable; I believe it hit the Internet the very next day. If Kanye’s not even immune, how the hell do you create buzz?

Well, if you’re Jay-Z, you get some time during a big basketball game to announce your upcoming record, available for free early to one million people if you used a certain phone with a certain app. I’m an Apple user with an iPhone and a Macbook Pro, and I’m not even mad that I couldn’t get my hands on this for free, especially since the app itself has been widely criticized for data mining. Yes, a lot of apps do that anyway, but it’s a fucking album. If I go to buy a physical CD, I’m pretty sure there isn’t a tracking device in the jewel case to study where I’m going and to bug my apartment to listen to all the phone calls I don’t make (except to my mom at least once a week; hi, Mom). A music release is about what a musician does in the studio to capture that moment in his or her career. It is not about collecting your audience’s personal information in order to know your demographic and then react accordingly. Make the music you want to make, not what you think people will want to hear! Incidentally, I don’t like his other publicity stunts, including putting Magna Carta…Holy Grail on display next to an original of the Magna Carta, trivializing the importance of the document while NOT granting Jay-Z an unlikely audience since let’s face it, nobody going to check out the Magna Carta is going to feel compelled to go buy an album because they saw the cover art. It’s just endless article fodder for free because a rich, popular person has the means of being that cocky.

I’m also not thrilled by his six-hour rap performance for his “Picasso Baby” music video. Whether a tongue-in-cheek approach to the art world or a sincere attempt at performance art, such stunts have been done recently, even in New York. In collaboration with Ragnar Kjartansson, an actual artist, The National performed at the Museum of Modern Art for, yes, you guessed it, six hours. Unlike Jay-Z’s exclusive event, again more about press and a video than actually giving to fans, The National’s performance was open to the public, announced in advance, and not a song from their latest album anyway. The National’s performance feels to me like actual performance and art, particularly given the venue and the individuals involved. Jay-Z’s feels like a means to an end, even if he is a talented person.

So I don’t want you to strut your stuff in the art world for six hours. What’s left? Well, Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke have recently taken the creepy sexist approach. Music videos are nothing new, and even Whitesnake were sure to have a scantily clad woman roll around on the hood of a car just to get some attention. But since when do women have to get naked while a man remains fully clothed? There’s enough sexual harassment to go around in many artists’ lyrics these days; you don’t have to generate buzz by making women into objects. And while we’re on the subject: Miley, girl, no. I’m all for you doing your own thing and reinventing yourself, but you’ve taken cultural appropriation a step too far. Own your sexuality, whatever, but when your music video involves a man seemingly to achieve orgasm while eating bread, you cease to be someone that an audience can take seriously.

One final thing you should stop doing: apps. I already aired my grievances about Jay-Z’s app. Bjork’s endeavor I do consider interesting because she’s Bjork, but I never got the app and feel no need to see it. If you launch an app to keep up with news, images, videos, then that’s cool. If you’re doing it to create games, chats, and a Whole New World (©Aladdin, of course) for your fans, then just slow down a bit, buddy. Lady Gaga has gone and finally announced release dates for her new album, new single, and new app. I’m not a fan of Lady Gaga’s anyway, but this is just indulgent tripe. It makes it so the best fans are the ones who have the devices necessary to access the “full package.” If you don’t have an iPhone, or a certain Samsung device, or constant Internet access, then you’re just not good enough to be the target audience. When big artists want to make big waves, they have the money to get up in your faces, and they want a return on that investment.

So, dear musicians, how do you get an audience for your music? Make a good album. That’s it. You consume music with your ears. Most of the rest is optional. Start there, and please don’t treat your fans as customers or broken souls who need you to connect them to mend and become something greater. You’re human, we’re human. Let’s dig some tunes.

Fanifesto: 10 Ways to Fill the Gap Between Concerts.

Traditionally, the winter months aren’t known for their concerts. Travel across some countries is difficult at best when you’re hauling equipment, people hate standing outside in line in the bitter cold, and musicians sometimes go crazy and want to spend time with their families or creating new material. What bullshit, right? Well, you don’t have to go through the agony alone. Here are ten suggestions for beating the SAD (seasonal affected disorder) feels (feelings).

1. Relive the magic through denial. Turn out the lights and put on a DVD or a really nice quality YouTube video if you can manage it. If you only have audio available, try standing in another room so you can tell yourself that your view’s just obscured. It’s just like the real thing but without the late asshole trying to squeeze in front of you.

2. Write fan fiction. If those artists won’t come to you, then you’ll just have to make them. You know, through the written word. The find and replace option on word processing software means that you can even publish your work if the quality’s great enough without having to worry about being sued. Even if it’s really terrible quality, just throw in a lot of sex and it’ll sell. I mean, look at 50 Shades of Grey. (Please don’t really look at it. That’s just a saying.)

3. Binge watch television shows. Chances are your favorite artists have been played as soundtrack music on a show before. If House has one episode with a great musical moment, then chances are that there must be one other episode that has a similar high, right? The only way to find out is to watch every. Single. Episode.

4. Edit your old photos. Sure, you uploaded 200 photos to Facebook as soon as you got home from the gig, but did you consider applying a filter? Crop out everyone else’s hands as they reach for your man! (Stupid sluts.) There must be a way to improve things.

5. Stand outside for five hours with minimal supplies. You don’t want to be off your game just because nobody great is touring. Having nobody to hold your spot in the imaginary line will just make you that much more hardcore. If you need motivation, camp out in front of a store and wait for it to open. May I suggest a local record store?

6. Jump up and down and scream. For hours. Look, the worst feeling in the world is going to a gig and having your legs defy the magical dance party going on within your ears. Keep those legs and lungs fighting fit! You might also want to throw some elbows in case you expect someone to be pushy at your next show.

7. Check out local artists. Of course they’re not going to be as great as what you’re used to, as you tell yourself in your biased mind, but you might be able to brag in a few years about how you saw them for the cost of the beer you drank. You can also convert their fans to your superior obsessions!

8. Set up a fan page. I mean, who cares if everyone’s seen the same photos over and over again? On Tumblr, all you have to do is embed it and then post. Watch it get reblogged without citation! Also, it’s totally cool to steal photos and then put them on Facebook unsourced. You look like the hero and don’t have to share the credit. Watch them bow down to you, and try to ignore how much they want your future husband since you already know what your future looks like. Be sure to tell them about it!

9. Use all the money you’re saving and apply it to something else. You could pay off your credit card debt, but that’s boring. Why don’t you buy the same instruments your favorite artists use, then learn how to play their songs? Someone could get injured at some point. They might need you. You wouldn’t let them down, would you? This could delay touring further.

10. Make some new friends. Haha, no. They don’t get it.

Concert Etiquette: The Meet & Greet

Somehow, your fantasies have come true. The clouds have parted, the cherubs have fucked off because they’re not who you paid to see, and you find yourself actually coming face-to-face with the object of your musical affection. “I can’t!” you cry to your friend as you squeeze her forearm right on her camera strap bruise. “I’ll just babble and sound like an idiot!” Rest assured, music fan, you can actually talk to a musician and not explode into a cloud of goose feathers and pheromones. Just try to keep a few simple things in mind, okay?

– They’re only human. Yes, they may be surrounded by the shimmering aura of the Chosen, but they are actually people. They eat, they drink, they sleep, they occasionally procreate (probably not with you). Talking to strangers can be just as awkward as approaching someone you admire, but at least you have a starting point. Just be genuine and show your appreciation, and unless you’re dealing with a total asshole or end up speaking another language, it should go fine. Just don’t try to push your tongue between their lips because that is not a good way to single yourself out.
– Respect personal space. If you see a celebrity in the street, it’s okay to say hi. It goes with the territory, and they’re not obligated to do anything in return. If you’re triangulating their location via a map and their Twitter information from the past thirty minutes so you can confront them at the next stop sign they encounter on the road, you really need to slow your roll. Know that being in the same place doesn’t mean you’re there, together, sharing, oh my god look at us we’re friends. Likewise, try not to trample other fans because you NEED an autograph before they jump into a white van and retreat into the disappointing night. It’s just not polite, and a shoving frenzy doesn’t exactly invite someone to relax and mingle.
– Strength in numbers. It’s better to make a friend rather than an enemy of the person next to you. Combining your awesomeness, you have someone to take your photo, hold your stuff, and generally back you up so you don’t spit out a proposal or rudely ask where the hot guitarist is hiding out. Also, having friends nearby means that if the person next to you is obnoxious, you can come up with all sorts of clever ways to start your own miniature war against an enemy that does not recognize the declaration. Bonus: bone up on The Art of War! My college roommates used to hang excerpts of this tome in our sophomore bathroom, and it clearly changed my life. I’m sure Sun Tzu was great fun at parties.
– Be prepared. If you’re waiting outside, dress warmly. If you want something signed, bring a Sharpie. If you want a photo, stop ruining the world with your Instagram shots that have minimal lighting before you add your awful filters anyway. Being prepared gives you something to do while you nervously wait, and it makes you look attentive and special later on, just like you so obviously are.
– Gifts are good…sometimes. Life on the road can be challenging, so sometimes a nice book, a CD, or just a chocolate bar is just what someone needs for a quick lift. Homemade crafts can be sweet. Just know your boundaries. Unless they express undying devotion to baked goods, you should probably steer clear of actually offering them freshly baked treats from your own home. After all, would you eat a cookie that someone handed you in the street? Oh, you would. Well. Awkward. Anyyyyway. Don’t spend too much money, and don’t expect something specific in return for your effort. It’s a gift, not a bribe.
– It’s not a contest. Feel free to share a little about yourself. If you had your life changed by a song in some way, sometimes that’s great to share because really, what’s more empowering than saving a life? Just don’t make it a competition. Spending the most money, logging the most miles, having listened for the most years? Those things don’t matter. Someone will always outdo you, but that doesn’t make them better. Can we not be one encouraging, nurturing society that wants people to go after what we want? No, because we’re selfish human beings. Shit.
– You are lucky OR you have not been rejected. Look, not every gig gives you a chance to meet your idols. Do you realize how incredible it is to go to a concert and hear the songs you love, live, in person, with all the beauty and flaws and chaos and unpredictability of the present tense? I grew up in West Virginia, and the only tour that blew through my hometown when I was growing up was 98 Degrees. Needless to say, I did not attend. Live music is powerful and a privilege. Sometimes shows go badly, but it shouldn’t be because they didn’t play a specific song, your camera batteries died, or you didn’t get a hug after the show. These things are superfluous, and it’s no slight to you if your Future Husband doesn’t come out to meet you even though you’ve been waiting two hours in the rain. You still got to experience something that 17-year-old me would have killed for, and even if it only happens once every two years, that adds up. You’ve paid for entertainment, so enjoy yourself, make some friends, make some goddamn memories. And if you get a really great photo and an autograph, well, then you can high five that image of yourself for years to come, baby.