Saturday, March 2, 2013

Fans, Artists, Love, and Exchange

Punk has always challenged traditional models of artist-audience interaction, from DIY culture to the contradictions of the record industry selling rebellion against the record industry (for more on the latter, watch The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle, then read Mary Harron's "McRock: Pop as a Commodity" in Facing the Music: A Pantheon Guide to Popular Culture, ed. by Simon Frith). The latest wrinkle in this thread of punk history is Amanda Palmer's innovative use of online culture, including Twitter and Kickstarter, to bypass the record industry and to ask fans directly to support her artistry. She explains her approach in a recent TED Talk, "The Art of Asking," which just went up online:

TED Talks are always a little awkward (I remember someone once tweeting that they are occasions "where business people and academics pretend to like one another" - who was that?), but this talk seemed awkward in a somewhat useful way, introducing the typically staid TED audience to the glories of edgy performance art and cabaret-punk. It has not been without controversy--last year, Palmer ran into some public criticism of her essentially anarchist business model in terms of paying guest musicians, and how she addresses this controversy in the TED talk has been a matter of further discussion in the blogosphere.

I am more interested, though, in what all this says about fandom and its place in the sales and marketing of music in the digital age. Are fans rebels or ultra consumers? What are the right and wrong ways to recognize their devotion? Who, if anyone, should own crowd-sourced work? How might such questions help us to rethink (or rediscover) the participatory nature of arts? There is a lot of thinking out there about these questions, of course, from Liza Potts' investigations of Palmer's fan base to Henry Jenkins' wide-ranging work on new media distribution to Lewis Hyde's thinking about gift culture and the commons. Looks like a good new undergraduate seminar, no?