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10 December 2009

Will Oldham and the Community Function


Will Oldham compiled a list of his favorite music of 2009 for the current issue of Artforum. The best part was his introduction:

    “The editors of this publication asked me to compile a list. They asked that I not be too esoteric, and I will try…. However, as most people are coming to realize, we as individuals are finding greater connections to smaller things; things smaller in scope and more specific to our tangible and imagined communities. I find that the music that transports me often has a community of admirers bound together only by the love of that music. When I take a look at the dominant music news and discover that, essentially, Bruce Springsteen = Radiohead = Yeah Yeah Yeahs = Madonna = Arcade Fire = Bat for Lashes, it compels me to turn away from the lot.”

Actor, musician & my mustache style icon, you may know Oldham as Bonnie “Prince” Billy aka Palace Music aka Palace Brothers aka Palace Songs, et. cetera. At the risk of overstatement, his songwriting, his flexible method of reinterpreting his own work, and the complicated system of ethics & belief which play out in his lyrics could have made him a Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen for our age.

But he’s not that, and we live in a different kind of age.

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Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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1 December 2009

Farewell to the casual music fan?: a short attention span essay on how & why culture is produced

A question to ponder: Is the support of 1,000 True Fans better than the here-today, gone-tomorrow affections of a quarter million or more Lesser Fans?

The idea that an artist could be supported by only 1,000 True Fans was first crystallized in March 2008 in a sort of manifesto by Kevin Kelly, a NorCali futurist type whose greatest claim to fame is co-founding Wired Magazine in the early 1990s, a place where he still holds the title Chief Maverick. (This preceded Sarah Palin by many years. He is, to put it mildly, on the liberal end of the ideological spectrum.) If the portrait below is any reflection of his character, he’s a rather optimistic sort.
Kelly was not making a literal argument with 1,000 True Fans. His manifesto was loaded with caveats. He did not think that nurturing a core fanbase vs. attracting more casual fans was an either/or position — rather he emphasized that “processes you develop to feed your True Fans will also nurture Lesser Fans.”  In addition to contributing proportionally more income to an artist’s bottom line, True Fans would work hard to spread word of mouth about their favorite artists’ work. Kelly also admitted that you might need more or less True Fan support depending on the medium you worked in: a video maker might need 5,000 fans while a painter might need 500. (A more technologically driven creator simply required a higher level of resources to produce.) Kelly later followed-up his original post with several follow-ups that leavened his argument by sharing the perspective of an artist who had actually utilized the True Fan model in his career. These follow-up posts were less-than-starry-eyed about the real world practicalities of appealing mainly to True Fans.

Earlier this month Jeremy Schlosberg — creator of music proto-blog called Fingertips Music — posted a kind of counter manifesto titled “Farewell to the casual music fan.” Schlosberg’s fear is that Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans model will become a literal reality. His core contention is that nurturing True Fans does not help to build a larger fanbase, but rather that it curtails an artist’s ambitions in such a way that large, communal art experiences may cease to exist.

Overall I found Schlosberg’s essay to be rather rambling & dire, but there was some very real wisdom in it. I’ve excerpted his core argument below. Read more »

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9 October 2009

Canadians are never alone

Did you read the title of this post? That’s one argument made in “Letter from Canada: The Return of the Native,” Adam Gopnik’s recent New Yorker profile about Canadian academic-cum-politician Michael Ignatieff.

I am going to find a way to tie this notion to independent rock’n’roll, just you wait.

In contrast to our northern neighbors, the profile says Americans are strident individualists. Maybe that’s why Ignatieff is pointing at us in that photo up there: “You, yes you, I see you, you selfish bastard.”

The article spends a fair bit of time detailing the prime controversy of Ignatieff’s new political career. He spent much of the ’80s & ’90s away from his native Canada, teaching in the US & Europe and establishing his reputation; his emergence on the Canadian political stage caused some to paint him as an expat carpetbagger. Where the profile shines, however, is in its detailing why his long time residency outside of Canada matters.

Most Americans don’t consider Canadian identity to be distinct from that of us in the US. This article is passionate about the fact that it is. The argument is that Canadians often embrace the collective will over unhindered, American-style individual liberty. A key quote and my indie rock connection after the jump.

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28 April 2009

Artisanal vs. Industrial in Artistic Industries


Last week I jested a bit about my new life as a businessperson. It’s healthy, occasionally, to poke fun at a mode of thinking that too often focuses on big wins & lowest common-denominator strategies. (i.e. People love them some big f**king flashy business cards.)

However, business can also be a powerful way of understanding the world in a cross-disciplinary way. An artistic mindset demands extreme focus; a business consciousness demands constant appraisal of conditions in the wider sphere. Last night, for example, I was struck by this passage from The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan’s excellent book about the realities of food production in the modern societies:

    Drawing on the theories of Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, [Allan] Nation had distinguished between industrial and artisanal enterprises to demonstrate why attempts to blend the two modes seldom succeed. Industrial farmers are in the business of selling commodities, he explained, a business where the only viable competitive strategy is to be the least-cost producer… In a commodity business a producer must sell every more cheaply and grow ever bigger or be crushed by a competitor who does.

    Nation contrasted the industrial model with its polar opposite, what he calls “artisanal production,” where the competitive strategy is based on selling something special rather than being the least-cost producer of a commodity. Stressing that “productivity and profits are two entirely different concepts,” Nation suggests that even a small producer can be profitable so long as he’s selling an exceptional product and keeping his expenses down. Yet this artisanal model works only so long as it doesn’t attempt to imitate the industrial model in any respect. Read more »

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