Audience, Patron Or Consumer By Guest Blogger Kiko Jones

The First Essential Scary Truth

Well gang, I’ve been holding meetings with Ralph the Porcelain G-d for the past 48 hours.  Thus, I’ve been unable to post my various screeds, missives and otherwise desultory thoughts on the Republic in the throes of holiday fever.  My apologies.  I’ll be back on the occasionally intrepid blogging front in the next 24 hours.

However, guest blogger Kiko Jones has graciously offered to step up to the plate and post in my stead.  Today he wonders if we are the audience, patron or the consumer.


One of the biggest complaints heard from many music purists is the way the recording industry has been moving increasingly towards operating more and more in the same manner as the film industry, in terms of how its wares are presented to the public. It’s been a while now since Hollywood decided it made the most financial sense to place even the smallest details surrounding the films it releases, in the hands of potential audience members via focus groups where participants increasingly influence how the rest of us ultimately get to experience a movie. Obviously this methodology has been implemented with the intent of avoiding the least amount of risk and surprise at the box office. And although, to some extent, this effort can be categorized as a desire to give the public what they really want, the truth is that it puts art in the same category as a household-cleaning product.

And before accusations of snobbery are leveled it’s important to clarify that being contrary to this system does not imply an elitist attitude. But art, popular and otherwise, must preserve the essence of creativity and expression from which it’s borne, given that in essence, art in all its manifestations is communication. And when we communicate daily with those around us are we to just express what we think they may want to hear or do we express our ideas, opinions and thoughts? This is the main gist of the argument made by those who feel upset by this form of packaging popular art forms.

Unfortunately, the music biz has been a member of this club for a while now, although not to the same extent. But the more mainstream an artist and/or their music, the greater the probability that their music will be put through a rigorous process of surveys, focus groups and other methods to ensure the best possible opportunity to be successful. Obviously, no matter how deeply rooted this process is or may become, there’s a good number of notable artists who do not conform to these procedures; they prefer to offer the public their work as conceived and hope you enjoy it as is. And if for some reason it’s not to your total satisfaction, at least you would hopefully respect the process and effort it entailed. But we live in a world where often the issue is not as black or white and there’s plenty of gray area to analyze, contemplate and discuss.

For example, in 2007, Wilco decided to let their fans decide what songs they wanted to hear during the tour for the ‘Sky Blue Sky’ album. Barring songs from Uncle Tupelo catalog—Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy’s previous band—fans were given the opportunity to directly influence the set lists on that tour. And of course, we all remember when Radiohead gave their fans the power to determine the monetary value of the MP3s for their current album at the time, ‘In Rainbows’. Also, of late, artists both well-known and not are using sites like Kickstarter where folks can contribute to financing an album or other projects and receive various types of personal access/compensation in return.

Of course, these are not instances in which you are necessarily influencing the creative work process. But it begs the following question: how much influence should the public exert over the work of an artist? To what extent does prior interaction with its potential audience change the work of the artist and the way they present it to their followers? Where do you draw the line? Should there even be a line? Does it matter? Have these questions already been rendered obsolete in these early days of a new century?




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