Musicians Are People Too

A lot has been said about the impact, both positive and negative, that the internet has had on how musicians conduct their art and the business resulting from it. Everyone’s heard the doom-mongers banging on about how the internet is killing the music industry via illegal downloads, and how record shops across the globe are shutting down, unable to cope with the competition from (usually) markedly cheaper online stores.

It’s not all gloom and doom, though, and much has been made in recent years about how empowering the internet can be for musicians, and how they are able to communicate (and sometimes collaborate) with their fans in a way they’ve not previously been able to do. The advent of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter mean that musicians can receive instant feedback on any decisions they make. On the face of it, this is a huge step forward, especially for unsigned bands who don’t have an enormous promotional budget footed by a megalithic record label, who are enforced to do business with their fans on a more direct, one-to-one basis. The internet has been called ‘The Great Leveller’, and in many respects it’s hard to argue with that: it’s hard to imagine that some bands who’ve managed to carve out a sizeable niche for themselves outside of the mainstream could continue to operate without the aid of the internet. Those bands who were quick to see the possibilities the internet offered (like Marillion, Nine Inch Nails and others) have been able to pretty much do business on their own terms, without the pressures introduced by having to deal with a label.

However, there is a Dark Side (as opposed to Floyd’s Dark Side, which is different and actually on the stereo as I write this) to this closer relationship with fans. It seems that inviting a certain kind of fan to participate in discussion about a band or artist that they’re particularly fond of only promotes an uneasy, weird sense of ‘ownership’ on their part. They cease to think about the artist’s work in terms of how the artist looks at it, and come to believe that they have some kind of hold on the artist themselves – as though they are thinking to themselves, “Well, the artist obviously cares what I think about it all, as they’re always looking for me to feed back to them what I make of it all.”

This manifests itself in some truly surreal ways. The classic example is the ‘fan’ (and I use the word loosely here, since to me at least the mindset I’m about to describe is totally deluded as to the role of a fan) who feels that the artist ‘owes’ their fans the world. Their reasoning becomes, “We buy their albums. Without the money this provides them with, they would be stuffed.” Therefore, they start to want to know every little detail of the band’s business, every detail of the band member’s private lives, and start to second-guess every decision the band make. “I don’t like X, why don’t you listen to the fans?” is a familiar refrain from this type of ‘fan’. There’s no thought on the fans part that perhaps the band really wanted to do X for sound artistic or commercial reasons – merely a feeling that they don’t like it, therefore the band shouldn’t have done it, or better yet, should never have even considered it without consulting all their fans first.

This week saw an almost perfect example of this mindset at work. Another fan of Breathing Space wrote a nicely worded blog regarding the band’s split, much as I did a couple of weeks ago. An individual much like the one I’ve outlined above elected to comment on the blog in a thoroughly disrespectful manner, stating that he was “angry” because the band hadn’t shared the reasons for and the details of their split with their fans. He then proceeded to elaborate on the situation, stating that he felt the band was “already dead” because of the change of personnel, and that clearly the band members “couldn’t get on together” and were “disrespectful” to the fans because they had kept the details of the split private.

This particular mentally impaired fool seemed to disregard that real, actual people were involved here, and that they should share every last foible and private detail about the split to the world at large. There’s a pervasive belief that so many seem to hold these days that if you work in the entertainment industry, in whatever capacity, your right to privacy is null and void. It’s the tabloid mentality: if you are trying to get people’s attention with your art (whatever that might be), everyone is entitled to know everything about you, no matter how personal or private those things may be. I would hate to think that there’s a single person reading this who would agree that this should be the case. Do we value our artists so little that their art is almost irrelevant, and what actually interests us are the day-to-day minutiae of how they live their lives? Shouldn’t the art they produce be the only thing that we’re really concerned with? If a band splits up, do we really care why it happened? If so, why? What do we get out of it? It doesn’t change anything that happened, after all. It seems that the people – like our friend I described above – who are most concerned about knowing why a band splits up seem to only want to find someone to blame.

If it were just a case of these idiots making themselves look daft, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Unfortunately I know only too well that this unthinking tendency for some people to become obsessed with apportioning blame and wanting to know every last little detail about events that others would prefer to keep private can lead to a great deal of upset and unpleasantness. I know of musicians who’ve actually taken to avoiding or even hiding from fans before or after shows because they’re fed up with having to deal with people asking deeply personal questions; I’m even aware of one musician who was reduced to tears by the unfeeling interrogation they received at the hands of one of their ‘fans’. Does anyone really want that?

It’s all rather sad. I’m not one of those people who runs around waving their arms and wailing that the world’s going to hell in a handbasket – I have more faith in people than to think that – but sometimes I wonder if the advent of the internet and the impact it’s had on the entertainment industry is entirely composed of Good Things. This preoccupation people have with their idols is nothing new – Rush wrote about it in their song Limelight to great effect, and they were by no means the first to address the issue. Not all fans are unhinged or as unfeeling as the examples I’ve given, but for those that are, the internet has essentially become a device with which they can wring every last detail from the lives of those they idolise. It’s a stalker’s paradise.

Of course, the upshot of this is that some musicians are simply not prepared to have their private lives put under the microscope in the way that the internet has made possible, and the irony of that is that the internet will not have brought them closer to their fans, but actually moved them further away. In the current climate, where social networking is becoming of greater and greater significance to artists, this could potentially have financial implications for the musicians concerned. All because some lame-brained ‘fans’ felt aggrieved and couldn’t appreciate that everyone is entitled to some privacy. So if you happen to see such idiotic viewpoints being expressed, please feel free to point out to these dunces that they’re being extraordinarily unfair and selfish. For me.

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3 Responses to Musicians Are People Too

  1. Mike R says:

    Dave, great post, man.

    That’s it in a nutshell (help, I’m in a nutshell) – pervasive internet access amplifies preexisting fan behaviors. The “superfans” have always been around, but easy access to artists via twitter, facebook, band sites, forums, etc. means the entitled are louder and pushier than ever. Back in the day, they’d be limited to terrorizing self-contained universes of email lists and such. But now they can link up to a bigger, badder internet, and even worse, they can get in the artists’ faces.

    Personally, I love (for example) the occasional eWebs Marillion put out – you know, the “we’re in the studio, summer festivals were fun, I’m enjoying the holidays at home” type updates full of useful and humanizing info. But do I really need deep personal access to my musical favorites? No. I don’t need to know, nor do I even particularly care, about their personal lives. I most certainly don’t have any kind of *right* to it! Netizens who believe they do need their heads examined.

    The internet has absolutely been a boon to music (in my mind it’s not killing music, merely evolving the extant order of things; online distro channels are thriving and while there are fewer brick & mortar shops, I find that the remaining ones are stronger and more focused than ever), and as you wrote, a massive equalizer. But it’s also brought into focus distasteful fan behavior. I’ve always admired and agreed with Marillion’s statements that “we make music for ourselves. If you happen to like it, that’s great too!” Sure, they depend on fans to buy the records, go to gigs, buy merch, spread the word, but that by no means whatsoever gives fans the right to dictate what artists do. Art should be made of its own volition, for its own sake. Sure, some commercialization is necessary to make a living out of being a musician or painter or whatever, but artists of any medium should follow their own muses, not the expectations and demands of fans.

  2. Paul Thompson says:

    Wot ‘e said.

  3. Tim Hall says:

    Well said, of course, but it’s a shame it needs to be said.

    Cuts both ways, though. I always feel there’s a line you don’t cross, and the deal is fans don’t intrude into musicians private lives, musicians don’t involve fans in backstage politics that shouldn’t be any of their business. Won’t name names, but I can think of one or two musicians who haven’t kept their side of the bargain. I’m sure you can as well, and quite possibly the same ones.

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