Sunday, August 7, 2016

Human Art and Technology Will Always Need Each Other

You make some art, then you try to sell it, then you realize you need people to find out about it.  It's when you want to grow your audience that artists run into the unnatural-feeling reality that the internet and tech companies are necessary.  They are the system, and the people who are potential consumers of your art are deeply connected to that system.

You don't want to alienate anyone, and your art suffers as a result.  You don't want to piss off the corporations out there, even when the say they aren't evil, because a vast portion of society share the same fear.  You can't put down technology in a song, because your potential fanbase relies on it.  They are married to it.  Try to make fun of technoconsumerism or social media, and you're being anti-audience.

When an independent recording artist/songwriter gets a small audience, there is recognition, and when you are pretending to be someone else when writing songs, you are sympathetic to your small audience that has given you that small amount of recognition, and you don't want to satirize any of them from an angry point of view.

So, if you're angry at the system, you try not to let it come out in your songs.  The system today means fitting a mold that is like a needle in a haystack, or being a do-it-all-yourselfer outside the mainstream the gatekeepers control.  Getting reviews and recommendation seems vital to growing an audience for the indepedent artist, but goes against their inherent grain to a certain extent.  Doing my own promotion and advertising doesn't feel right.

Paying someone to blog about my songs or put them on the radio is something I do not feel comfortable doing, but it seems like an inevitable path when self-promotion for an independent artist who wants to gain a larger audience is the only option.

Physical record stores have been replaced with on-demand music streaming subscription services, and potential fans depend on the music bloggers and internet reviews as their tastemaking recommendation engines to choose which music to listen to and buy.  Social media can't be ignored by songwriters and musicians like me who work hard for little pay because our potential audience want entertainment that is immediate and cheap if not free since they also work hard for little pay.

Word-of-mouth doesn't happen otherwise for people who spend their free time with their heads buried in their smartphones.  It feels like the big record companies/internet companies have the power of music advertising and influence over the reviewers and promoters of music, but people will not want to support those big corporations and all they stand for.

It feels like my potential audience out there are instead the types who prefer to support local mom & pop businesses, if it's not too expensive.  Herein lies the problem:  the local songwriter/musician can't compete with the low cost of music produced by the music/internet corporations, just like the local producers of other consumer products can't compete with the low cost of Walmart products.

The difference is those large record/internet companies contribute to large problems in the world and I don't.  Do they make long-term investments in songwriter/musical artists like me these days?  No, but they provide a low-cost storefront and platform for self-promotion. The only world I know to try to find my place in as a songwriter and solo artist is to distribute my albums to online music stores and find free or low-cost ways to self-promote online.

It's the self-promotion part that doesn't feel right for the artist, and one the record companies of old took care of on our behalf.  The same is likely true for most types of written or visual art - a novelist who self-publishes is dependent on Amazon, a maker of any video medium is probably dependent on Google and YouTube.  They control the platform of delivery, the storefront, the distribution, the advertising, the recommendation engine.

No one can recommend your music to someone else without their smartphones anymore really.  I wrote a song called Show Up that satirizes this to some degree, and I didn't realize it until after releasing it that I was biting the hand that feeds me.  Technology has changed the playing field for those of us who hope to sell music.  It's not an apocalypse as the old-school tech haters in Nashville would have you believe.

Rapid change is constant.  Online newspapers, magazines, e-books, and Netflix are here to stay.  Those that control the delivery mechanisms for art are worthy of our financial support just like independent artists are, because they play a part in discovery.

We're far from the artifical intelligence of computers producing our art for us and rendering human artists obsolete.  I suppose I'm blogging this semi-frustration with the hope that someone might read and agree and be entertained by my perspective.  Writers write about the human experience to entertain, don't they?  That will never go out of style.