Monday, 11 January 2010

Potential Energy...


4. Gaining a Voice & Changing the System.

The web savvy are beginning to realise the potential the Internet presents them to make changes to the lives and standards of themselves or those far away, or the traditionally more powerful, as they discover that they can influence what become normal internet behaviors. This can be seen in serious campaigns such as the networks that exist to support LGBTQ rights worldwide, or political stories such as the Iranian election in June 2009. More whimsical Internet movements which have made the news include the battle for 2009’s Christmas number one single. From 2005 – 2008, the Christmas number one was dominated by the ITV reality show The X Factor. In protest at the predictable nature of this trend, (especially as the show is scheduled to end the week before Christmas, thus ensuring its success) two fans of the alternative metal band, Rage Against the Machine, launched a Facebook group titled RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE FOR CHRISTMAS NO.1.

Taken from www.facebook.com (02/01/10)

The page went viral and gained a huge following in the month before Christmas. The song chosen was Killing in the Name (1992), which has a chorus line of “Fuck you, I wont do what you tell me” – a nod to the expectation that the reality star would win. Over 1 million Facebook users joined the group and pledged to buy the single, which was available for just 29p online in the week before Christmas, in a bid to change the results. The campaign received criticism as both Rage Against the Machine and The X Factor winner, Joe McElderry are signed to Sony Records and so there was speculation that this was a stunt by the company. However, Rage Against the Machine were not directly involved in the campaign and they have donated all the profit from the single to the homeless charity, Shelter. All together over £90,000 was raised for the charity. The 18-year-old song reached number one and became the first download only single to do so.

While this is clearly a far less important issue than the elections in Iran, it shows that the Internet, particularly in the West, can in some way be used by the public to change the accepted norm.

The aforementioned Amanda Palmer has experienced a lot of trouble with her record company, Road Runner Records – their poor promotion of her album, taking huge margins from her sales and not funding her properly. She has used both Twitter and her blog to make very public her problems with her contract and generally give the company bad press. When Palmer recorded a video for her song Leeds United that had a lot of involvement from fans, Road Runner rejected it – saying that she was too fat to appear semi-topless in the video:

Taken from www.blog.amandapalmer.net (02/01/10)

Palmer is well known for her tour outfits – usually involving only a bra, corset, suspenders and stockings. She often ends up semi-naked by the end of her shows. Outraged, fans quickly set up the website www.therebellyon.com (no longer active as of 01/01/10) in response. The site asked fans to send in pictures of their own stomachs – to show support for Amanda’s belly and bellies everywhere. This whimsical site is a great example of how Web 2.0 can bring people together. It also asks them to post photographs of a part of their body not often on display. In a weight obsessed world one would assume that most people would be hesitant to show their stomach to potentially everyone on the web – but something about this format, in which it is not necessary to show ones face, and where everyone is doing it, made it acceptable.

Taken from www.therebellyon.com (04/11/09)

Amanda Palmer is not a well-known musician. She will never sell out arenas or have a Christmas number one. What she does have is a fiercely loyal fan base. While this may be said for any number of musicians of the past, Amanda Palmer is one of a group of artists who are creating a new model for fan/artist relationships. As I have mentioned before, she is happy to tweet and blog about personal aspects of her life – but it is not this that is chiefly responsible for this connection. Since the formation of her band, The Dresden Dolls, in 2000, she has used the Internet and live shows to ask fans for help. Fans were shamelessly asked for a place to sleep, food, transportation, the loan of instruments and even monetary loans. More recently she has stopped in the middle of her shows to sell art on stage, held online webcast auctions of her belongings and even auctioned off a date with her boyfriend’s daughter, Holly Gaiman. After spending five years working as a living statue in Boston, she is not afraid to take your money.

“If you think I’m going to pass up a chance to put my hat back down in front of the collected audience on my virtual sidewalk and ask them to give their hard-earned money directly to me instead of to Roadrunner Records, Warner Music Group, Ticketmaster, and everyone else out there who’s been shamelessly ripping off both fan and artist for years, you’re crazy.”

(From Amanda Palmer’s blog post “Why I am not afraid to take your money, by Amanda Fucking Palmer.” 29/09/09)

From the comments this blog received, her fans seem willing to accept this. Palmer has used her Internet presence and complete lack of shame to unique advantage. What do her fans get in return for their generosity? She regularly posts YouTube videos of covers and original songs, which she encourages people to share for free. She even paid out of her own pocket to have a professional music video director film a parody karaoke version of an Avril Lavigne song. Those who bought her album directly from her, and not from outlets which would give a percentage of the profit to her record company, were then eligible to download an “alternative” version of her album – which featured different recordings of tracks and extra songs. She began the hashtag ‘#LOFNOTC’ – Losers of Friday Night on their Computers – which has become a Trending Topic on more than one Friday and remains popular with fans and geeks alike. After the premiere of Neil Gaimans film Statuesque on Sky, in which Palmer and Bill Nighy star, she Tweeted a link to a torrent of the film – technically illegal. Perhaps the fans are given a sense of belonging to an exciting movement, with minimal effort on their part? Her profit doesn’t go on a rock star lifestyle – it pays for tours and covers the rent on her apartment in a Boston artists’ commune. Amanda Palmer doesn’t make art for money, but she doesn’t make it for free either.

“It’s about empowerment and it’s about SIMPLICITY: fan loves art, artist needs money, fan gives artist money, artist says thank you.
I believe in the future of cheap art, creative enterprise, and an honorable public who will put their money where there mouth is, or rather, their spare change where their heart is.” (“
Why I am not afraid to take your money, by Amanda Fucking Palmer.” 29/09/09)

Arguably, this trust in her fans is na├»ve – for every one willing to make sure they buy her music directly from her or bid in an auction or attend a show, there must be several streaming or stealing her music for free. It is also morally questionable for her to encourage people to illegally download Gaiman’s film. While the intellectual rights are his, Sky has paid for the exclusive broadcasting rights. Undermining this could result in Sky rejecting any future films Gaiman writes and directs and thus he would lose funding and making this form of art may no longer be financially viable. Her actions may be considered as going “too far” by some, but often the point that she makes is that someone must take these steps so that the internet has a chance to revolutionise the way we share media. Perhaps she goes to far so that those that come after her can find a more comfortable middle ground.

As the music industry, as a microcosm of industry and business in general, faces the challenges presented to it by changes in the way people consume their product, artists like Palmer are embracing the changes and using them to their advantage. The music industry was the fastest to combat the rise in piracy of their product via the Internet and only now are others such as film and fashion catching up. Palmer’s efforts are an attempt to take the control of her work back, and to make sure that those directly responsible for making art are rewarded. It may be too late, she may already have lost the battle, and it is only a matter of time before the Internet slips through the fingers of the public, just like the printing press before it, but it is still in its infancy and there is the chance the public can learn from the past.

There’s something particularly awesome about the fact that we are in a new age of wild west internet where the protocols and etiquettes aren’t set.”

(Amanda Palmer’s blog, 13/10/09 “Virtual Crowdsurfing.”)

Taken from www.blog.amandapalmer.net (02/01/10)

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