Posts Tagged ‘amanda palmer’

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Women, digital distribution, and visual image

August 26, 2010

Another crosspost, this one from Music Think Tank Open; it was written as a companion to the zed equals zee post, “Women in Music: the lost generation.”

As a fan, I’ve been excited for the rise of digital distribution and for the direct interaction of artists and listeners because it means I’m more likely to hear great music that I like. It means that I get to decide what I want to listen to, rather than having a slew of A&R folks and radio programmers make the decisions for me.

But lately, I’ve been thinking about how record labels are not only gatekeepers for the music itself, but also for the visual image of artists.

I get it. Artists are performers, and looks matter.

But it’s pretty clear when you look at Top 40 artists that the standards for successful female artists and successful male artists are not the same. Music industry executives are predominantly male, and their professional tastes are, frankly, boring. So female artists have to be conventionally attractive, but male artists can look like Nickelback—middling-attractive guys (whose videos are then stuffed full of women in bikinis).

Deviate from these norms, and you face opposition. Roadrunner tried to get Amanda Palmer to re-edit her “Leeds United” video; because it contained a shot of her exposed belly that didn’t conform to the taut, airbrushed Britney-Beyonce-Lady Gaga standards. (She and her fans rebelled, and ultimately won. If you haven’t seen the video, go watch it. Amanda Palmer is undeniably hot, whatever her former label thinks.)

How many awesome female artists are there that didn’t get signed or supported because they didn’t fit the narrow visual criteria of the guy on the other side of the desk? Janet Weiss, of Sleater-Kinney, talks about how photographers wanted the band to look playful and sweet, and to dress them up like they were dolls. She says, “We wanted to look like the Stones, to be cool, to be tough, to be heroes. Why don’t women get to be heroes?”

I want female artists to be heroes. Or anything else they want to be. And I’m delighted that it might finally happen.

This post is adapted from one at zed equals zee, a music, technology and culture blog. debcha is a music fan, academic, and geek (not necessarily in that order). She also writes the zed equals zee companion Tumblr, and you can follow her on Twitter.

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Women in music: the lost generation

August 9, 2010

If you spend any time at all listening to apologists for the music industry, you will hear (over and over again) two primary justifications for its existence: i) that they find and nurture talent and ii) that it’s the only way for artists to reach the top tier of music stardom.

So, here are some of the top-selling female artists:

And here are some of the top male artists:

Notice anything?

It’s abundantly clear what the critical criterion is for female super-stardom. And just as clear that the same criterion is not applied to men. The music industry might like to think of itself as nurturing talent, but in reality, it’s a gatekeeper – among other criteria, it keeps women (but not men) who aren’t in the 99th percentile of attractiveness, and willing to exploit it as much as they can, out of the Top 40.

This asymmetry between men and women can be traced to the launch of MTV in 1981 and the rise of visual culture in music. Think about female musicians in the 1960s and 1970s – Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Carole King – all attractive, certainly, but there wasn’t the marked differential between male and female musicians that is on display in the images above. I mark the start of the double standard for male and female artists—and therefore the start of the ‘lost generation’ of female artists—with the band Yazoo (Yaz in the United States). Yazoo featured Alison Moyet’s fantastic singing backed with songwriting by Vince Clarke (formerly of Depeche Mode, and who later founded Erasure). They released two brilliant albums in 1981 and 1982 before disbanding: Upstairs at Eric’s and You and Me Both, which hit #2 and #1 in the UK, respectively, but barely cracked the top 100 in the US. (You and Me Both eventually went platinum in the US, seven years after its release.) Here’s a promo video that their UK label, Mute, released for Yazoo’s first single, “Only You.”

It’s plausible that Yaz’s relative lack of success in the US stemmed from Alison Moyet not conforming to ideals of female beauty at the exact moment (within a year of MTV’s launch) when the music industry decided it mattered.

One of the reasons why I’m excited about the increasing ability of musicians to interact directly with their fans is because it heralds the end of this type of gatekeeping for female artists. Perhaps optimistically, I think that the event marking the end of the lost generation of female artists is the Belly Incident. Boston artist Amanda Palmer chose to break with her label, Roadrunner Records, and strike out on her own, and a major contributor to that decision was Roadrunner’s insistence that the video for “Leeds United” (at top of post) be re-edited to remove a shot of her bare belly which didn’t conform to their ideals of taut, airbrushed perfection. Palmer’s fans rallied in her defense, posting photographs of their own stomachs in Belly Solidarity, and in the end, the original edit stood.

I’m not arguing that the physical appearance of performers is unimportant—it is, and until our society changes pretty drastically, it will continue to be more important for women than for men. But now that the music industry no longer completely controls the distribution channel for music and who has access to it, people like me and you can hear more music by awesome, creative, challenging, talented, compelling female artists—without requiring them to also look like they’ve stepped out of a record executive’s sexual fantasies.

MP3: Amanda Palmer – Do You Swear To Tell The Truth The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth So Help Your Black Ass [why, and buy]

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What does ‘selling out’ mean, anyway?

November 17, 2009

Three recent perspectives on artists licensing their songs to big companies.

The end of selling out. A predictably trite blog post in Newsweek about the ‘sudden shift’ to fans not really caring if songs get used in commercials.

What does it say about our culture? Carrie Brownstein, of Sleater-Kinney, wrote a post for NPR which offers an considerably more nuanced route to the same question that Newsweek asks: what does it say about us that we are no longer bothered about music being used in commercial contexts? Brownstein argues that our infinite access to music has led to a well-developed ability to divorce music from its commercial content. But she (rightly, I think) questions this tendency to decontextualize music.

What does it mean to sell out? Amanda Palmer, as usual, got to the crucial point, even though she wasn’t specifically discussing ads:

selling out is when you go against your own heart, ideals and authenticity to make money.

selling out is an action, a 180 from a stated position.

…but if neil young were to suddenly hire the matrix to write him a thumpin’ dance album and then appear on saturday night live snogging bob dylan, i’d have reservations about his integrity.

Like everything else, there’s no single right answer. When I hear “Lust for Life” soundtracking a cruise line commercial or “Heroes” behind a Microsoft Windows ad, it doesn’t diminish my respect for Iggy Pop or David Bowie, but it sure as hell diminishes my respect for those companies, or at least their ad agencies (and I’m not alone). Boston favourites The Motion Sick getting their videogame-themed love song “30 Lives” in Dance Dance Revolution is a win all around. And I must admit to more than a tinge of sadness when I listened to Modest Mouse‘s The Moon and Antarctica for the first time in ages and found my mind wandering to minivans.

EDIT: Make sure you check out the comments for Michael and meredith’s great remarks from the musicians’ perspective.

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Coverage: Amanda Palmer, “Billie Jean”

July 6, 2009

Guest blogger Scott writes:

It’s always a little weird when famous people die. The level of emotional outpouring from people who have attached a piece of themselves to this person they’ve never met is somewhat foreign to me. But it’s different when I can see the specific ways in which someone benefited from the celebrity’s existence. Just as the death of a president hits me, even when I didn’t follow their politics or particularly like them, musicians have responded to the death of Michael Jackson in a way that I can understand, if not relate to. I’ve heard a lot of stirring tribute songs (in the truest sense of the term) over the past few days, including several from singers who had performed with Jackson, but the one I’ve liked best is this Amanda Palmer cover of Billie Jean, as much for the monologue that precedes it as for the song itself. It’s the raw form of what music means to people who music means something to.

[Scott also mentioned that he was really hoping for an Amanda Palmer cover of “Thriller,” with Neil Gaiman doing the Vincent Price monologue, and I’ll happily second that. And he also warns that there is a girl ‘hooting enthusiastically’ in the MP3; you may wish to watch the video, above, instead.]

MP3: Amanda Palmer – Billie Jean (Michael Jackson cover)

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Music and tech roundup

June 30, 2009

A quick hit of assorted news from around the intarwebs while I’m around the world.

Band makes video out of CCTV footage. The Get Out Clause, out of Manchester, performed in front of some of the UK’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras, then requested the footage under the Brit equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act, and edited it into the video for their song “Paper” (that’s the vid, above). There’s some question about how much of it is from CCTVs, but it’s still a pretty cool idea. Also, file this one under ‘new business models’ – getting taxpayers to involuntarily fund your promotion efforts (via Hypebot).

Amanda Palmer makes $19K on Twitter in 10 hours. A few weeks ago, we mentioned Amanda Palmer’s online Twitter auction, and we totted up her numbers to report that she made more than $4000. She wrote a letter to Bob Lefsetz, detailing the auction, sales of the #LOFNOTC t-shirt, and a concert. It was a hell of a lot more than $4K (via amanda fucking palmer).

Speaking of Twitter users, apparently we’re valuable to the music industry. A new report by marketing firm NPD reports that Twitter users are heavier consumers of music than Twitter users on a number of axes: they’re about twice as likely to have purchased music downloads in three months prior to the study (and they spend more money), are much more likely to listen to Internet radio, and more. Ars Technica suggests that these differences may be due to Twitter users being tech-loving early-adopter neophiles, although neither they nor NPD seems to make any attempt to correct for household income, which seems like an obvious possibly confounding factor.

Hype Machine publishes names of bands who tried to manipulate charts. Hype Machine recently reported on bands (or PR teams) attempting to manipulate its ‘popular‘ page, and the efforts they took to limit this. But I thought that the most interesting element, at least sociologically, was that they named names: an alphabetical list of the artists “who[they] believe have attempted to manipulate the charts on the Hype Machine. [They] thought [they]’d publish this list to let everyone make their own judgments about quality, integrity and marketing strategies.” You can see the list for yourself here.

Who is the best band in the world today? The Guardian asked a bunch of musicians to name the artist they thought was the best in the world. Geddy Lee of Rush replied, “Describing someone as “the best” is something you do at school in grade 5,” which made me smile, and Rush would probably have been my answer in Grade 6 (not in sixth grade). He did eventually reply with ‘Radiohead.’ You can read the full list here.

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Music and tech roundup (er, part 1*)

June 15, 2009

DS June 15 2009

Lots of stuff happening in the music and tech world this week.

Custom Facebook URLs for smaller fan pages coming soon. Facebook did a terrible job of communicating that only artists and other brands with more than 1000 fans could register custom URLs during the big land grab last week. But they did announce that they’ll open up registration to smaller bands on June 28th. Mark your calendar! [via Hypebot]

eMusic CEO on the Sony deal. There was a considerable outcry when eMusic raised its rates a few weeks ago, not helped by their terrible corporate communication (sensing a theme here…). In this Q&A with eMusic CEO Danny Stein, he reiterates that the indie labels they work with were agitating for higher fees, and the addition of Sony was the ‘catalyzing event’ they were looking for. He also addresses discontented indie music fans and talks about their Six Degrees feature.  [via Epicenter]

New model for musicians? Amanda Palmer held an online auction of random stuff from her apartment yesterday, including a (used, albeit not recently, one presumes) glass dildo, raising somewhere north of $4000. To be perfectly honest, I think you can only pull this one off if you are Amanda Fucking Palmer.

[Image: the inimitable Diesel Sweeties by rstevens. Click on the image for the full strip.]

*While writing this post, I got a text from a friend of mine that the band in the bar on 6th Street that she was in was really great. So I abandoned it to go listen to some live music. Stay tuned for part 2 of this roundup tomorrow.

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Tiered pricing for music

March 2, 2009

wkapWhy should all your fans pay the same amount and get the same thing? We’ve talked about name-your-own-price merchandise in the context of establishing and maintaining a relationship with your fans. Here’s the other side of it: tiered pricing for music and merchandise.

I’m a huge fan of The National. I own all their CDs and bought their DVD. In the last few years, I’ve seen them in concert in Montreal, Boston (two nights in a row), and New York, and I brought people with me to all the concerts. I just bought the benefit CD Dark Was the Night, largely because it was curated by Aaron and Bryce Dessner. And, well, that’s kind of the best I can do for them.

In contrast, Amanda Palmer and Nine Inch Nails both released albums that came with a wide range of extras and a corresponding range of prices. And Josh Freese is taking tiered pricing to its logical extreme, ranging from $7 for a digital download of his album to a $75,000 package that includes him joining your band (or being your personal assistant) for a month, a five-song EP written and recorded just for you, one of his drumsets, and more.  For all of these artists, what you choose to pay is therefore a combination of what you can afford, how appealing each package is to you, and how much you want to support the artist. In the days of distribution via physical outlets, this wouldn’t have been an option—there would simply be no way to make sure that the right mix of regular and premium versions would go to any given record store. With direct distribution, however, matching up a fan, a pricepoint, and a package is no problem.

While it’s not a very romantic image, it’s not dissimilar to what airlines do: they maximize their revenue by selling economy-class seats  at wide range of prices (ranging from full-price, walk-up seats to ultra-discounted seats sold through consolidators), which reflects what the purchaser is willing to pay. There are a couple of crucial differences, of course: one is that all of the seats are basically the same – once you’re on the plane, no one cares how much you paid for your seat, and the people who paid full price for their tickets don’t get anything extra. More importantly, in the context of art and artists, is that paying more money is not really reflective of a relationship. Much as I prefer JetBlue to its competitors, I’m not going to volunteer to pay extra for my seat to help support the airline. I would, however, pay for extra goodies to support an artist that I really like. And apparently, I’m not alone – the Who Killed Amanda Palmer? package that I wanted sold out while I was in a meeting that coincided with the preorder page going live (argh!), and Nine Inch Nail’s $300 Ultra-Deluxe Limited Edition of Ghosts I-IV sold out in 72 hours.

MP3: Amanda Palmer – Leeds United [buy]