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.