Time for Artist to Posse Up and Work Around the Corporate Media Dominance

Detroit: One of the more telling aspects that stood out during last week’s Allied Media Conference held in Detroit, is the importance of artists forming collectives as a way to deal with the increasing impenetrable walls preventing access to corporate media outlets. In a world where media consolidation is the order of the day and money and resources are ‘king’ many indy artists are finding that its there’s strength in unity.

It’s become clear as day that when engaging corporate media more often than not, it’s not about preserving, nurturing or appreciating the art. Instead it’s about them finding the most efficient way to make money by obtaining high ratings using a flawed system that seemingly rewards a bland dumb down product that appeals to the lowest common denominator. Hence there’s little or no room for musical expression that doesn’t immediately appeal to the lowest common denominator of a targeted audience.

Looming in the backdrop is the realization that the proverbial public media watering hole where everyone has equal access to engage the masses is a brought and paid for luxury…In short nothing gets on the air for free. Its big business from head to toe and artists have to find new and innovative ways to reach their communities and bring attention to their product.

One such group making headway is Local 782 and the Media Justice Project out of San Antonio, Texas. Group members George Garza and Deanne Cuellar talk about living in San Antonio which is headquarters to the worlds largest radio conglomerate Clear Channel. In spite of being so close to this media behemoth, very few of its stations play local groups. That in turn impacts other aspects including bookings for shows, placement in record stores and coverage by other media.

Local 782 was formed as a way to help bring attention to a collective body of musicians who had similar plight. Working with the MJP, they started putting out compilation albums, doing showcases together and holding meetings with local media outlets to see how to improve coverage for the acts under their umbrella.

They also talked about how unifying help bring shed the long shadow of neighboring Austin which is deemed the Live music capital of the world’. People would come to Austin and never give a second thought to San Antonio which is 40 minutes away and has its own thriving music scene which is finally starting to garner attention.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlZ_Y9HDWb0

Malkia Cyrill of Center for Media Justice

Along the lines of dealing with corporate media we caught up with long time media justice activist Malkia Cyrill from the Center for Media Justice. She underscored what Deanna Cuellar and George Garza were saying about uniting and supporting one another. She spoke on how corporate media can in many ways it can be stifling. She also spoke about the importance  of artists bringing attention to social justice issues.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCaEsmhPHh4

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Live From Detroit-AMC Bringing Back Fanzines through E-Books

One of the most interesting panels I came across during this years Allied Media Conference in Detroit was called ‘Electronic Books: Creating Your Own and Preparing for a Paperless Society‘. It was put together by Detroit author Sylvia Hubbard of the Motown Writers Network and the AA Electronic Literary Network.

I hadn’t intended to go to her session but was strongly encouraged and I’m so glad I did. What she laid out about the ease of entry into the E-Book world and the fact that one can make money if they have a nice following was eye-opening. Many of us think that E-Books are limited to established authors who secured book deals with their publishers going the E-Book route to create new opportunities.

Sylvia Hubbard was presenter at Allied Media Conference where she explained the importance of E-Books

Hubbard who is the author of a number of books, explained that anyone with a good idea and compelling story to tell can get their E-Books up on-line and sold by Amazon. In fact she even gave us a ‘back door website’ URL to upload our E-Books DTP.AMAZON.COM along with specs on how to format, what types of dpi to use for pictures, pricing etc. She explained how when she is doing lectures, audience members will often purchase and download her books while she is still speaking. Imagine the potential for artists who have a nice fan base.

As Hubbard was speaking I couldn’t help but think how in today’s hi-tech world its easy to forget about some of the simple things we did within music to make ourselves known. Many of us figure with Ipads and Itouches that things we once cherished have been forever tossed away. Fret not.. Some of those goodies are with us with a hi-tech twist. Case in point the Fanzine. Today’s fanzine is the E-book.

Y’all remember those little 10-12 page booklets indy bands and rappers would create and give out at concerts as ‘special limited editions’? Many of them were handmade, the editing wasn’t all that tight and the content ranged from strange musings of the artist on a particular topic to highly politicized calls to action. All of them no matter how crude or well put together were ‘keep sakes’.

I still have the early pamphlets from Digital Underground talking about a secret project NASA was working on which would be a pill that allows you to experience sex. It was called ‘Sex Packets’ and the ‘homemade fanzines’ were cleverly done to help bring attention to the group’s highly anticipated album of the same name.

Paris included a well written thorough history of the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam with his debut album

Another one that stands out were the two put out by Bay Area rapper Paris. In the early 90s he put out a history guide about the Black Panthers and Nation of Islam, the two groups that influenced him. The information was thorough and rich with facts that I still reference to this day.  The booklet accompanied his album ‘The Devil made Me Do It‘.

15 years later in the aftermath of 9-11 Paris released a controversial song called ‘What Would You Do’, which pretty much explained why then President George Bush was responsible for the mishap that hit this country. Paris released an 11 page booklet that outlined the what he felt were major flaws in a foreign policy that helped spawn the type of anger behind the terrorist attacks. Paris then later released a full fledge documentary around the topic.

As I noted the list of bands who did fanzines and pamphlets is endless, but seemingly all but forgotten in the hi-tech world. Many groups have enhanced their presence by blogging, but as Sylvia Hubbard pointed out in our session, why not do an E-Book? The topics could range from autobiographies to lengthy explanations about a controversy. For example, imagine if 50 Cent had released an E Book given the full background stories surrounding his various beefs with fellow artists? Imagine if we had an E-Book from the members of Rage Against the Machine giving us their political musings leading up to the 08 elections?  Imagine if there was an E-Book from a local band touching upon the richer meanings behind an album?  It’s food for thought and in a world where fans want to be closer to artists this is a perfect way to 3 Dimensionalize the experience.

Along these lines we caught up with longtime Seattle-based journalist Jonathan Cunningham who was a presenter at the panel ‘How to Create a New Music Based Economy‘ . He talked about the role journalist should play and how artist can better engage them. He insisted that all music journalist no matter how should create space to cover local and indie acts. He also said that journalist need to humble themselves and not try to create a hierarchy where they are on top. The economy and fate of publications are pretty precarious and forging good relationships with artists will be key so all can thrive together. Cunningham also explained that artists should own and control media by doing everything from writing about themselves to filming themselves.. He loans some insight as to how publications and editors think.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lz1RuACf0I0

Finally since we are still on the DIY tip I had to include some sound advice from Afro-Punk superstar Tamar Kali. She lit up the stage at the opening party for AMC where she headline and made all of us true believers. As you know the punk community has long been about creating and doing for self so we had to ask Ms Kali what advice would she give to people to maintain in this economy. She said the number one thing artists need to do is plan.

Here’s an excerpt from a much longer interview we did where she addresses the issue. Please excuse sound quality, I couldn’t figure out how to get the good audio from my recorder onto the audio track for this new camera set up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbTWR9-0dl0

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AMC Report Back pt1: Why Artist Need to be Their Own Media

In the age of increasing media consolidation and in an era where the traditional music industry is falling apart at the seams the 12th annual The Allied Media Conference here in Detroit is the perfect antidote. When AMC initially started, there were many in the social justice/activist community who concluded that they needed to have viable alternatives that they owned and operated to get their message across to the masses without the distortions, sensationalism and outlandish, ratings oriented spins associated with corporate media.

The slogan ‘Be The Media’ became a rallying cry for a media justice movement with AMC being an important pillar. What’s ironic is that early on, many of us saw artists as important allies to engage as a way to deliver messages to the masses. Our society was moving in a direction where celebrity culture was being highlighted resulting in more and more and those in the spotlight were sought after to use influence and be spokespeople for everything ranging from ‘Get Out to Vote’ campaigns to ‘Stay in School and Don’t Do Drugs’ campaigns. Artist became the new media so to speak with these celebrity driven campaigns reaching new heights in ’03 and ’04 when music moguls Russell Simmons and Sean Diddy Combs decided to get involved in politics and launched media campaigns of their own.

Simmons who had launched his Hip Hop Summit Action Network in June of 2001 held over 40 rallies leading up to the 04 elections that attracted tens of thousands of people. Combs in February ’04 while being honored at the Rock the Vote Lipert Awards, brazenly asserted that he would bring 20 million people to the polls and ‘kick George Bushes ass out of office and started his now infamous ‘Vote or Die’ campaign.

Both had moderate success with their efforts to impact the political arena, but the potential for artist to influence consumer behavior was not lost in corporate circles. Soon both commercial media outlets and record labels explored ways to use songs and artist to specifically market product, goods and services versus political agendas and ideology. This in turn lead to an even more increased tightening of radio and diminished opportunities for artists especially new and independent to be presented to the masses. This in turn left many recording artists in similar predicaments as their social justice activist counterparts. They little to no access to mainstream media.

By 2005 into 2006, 07 and 08 technology changed and helped level the playing field. Internet broadband became more accessible, Youtube was launched, MySpace, later Facebook and now twitter became staples in our lives. Internet Radio grew by leaps and bounds along with the introductions and eventual popularity of Apple Ipods Iphones and other media gadgets. Seemingly overnight the ethos of ‘Be the Media’ became more relevant to whole lot more people especially artists as well as the importance of having an Allied Media Conference.

In this clip below Bay Area organizer/artist Kiwi of the group Native Guns speaks about the ways he is trying to better his ‘media game’ and why he was attending AMC.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2OqlfvdYdY

Many artists have come to understand that the industry has evolved so that they have to step up their efforts and Do for Self when it comes to promoting themselves and their craft. However, its been difficult for many to fully understand the end goal of a promotional campaign is NOT get airplay or TV time on a major outlet. Instead the end game should ideally be to forge stronger ties with their fan base and eliminate the media from acting as a middle man between artist and fan. Here at AMC I’ve attended workshops that gave people easy to follow, relatively inexpensive, direct steps to set up your own broadcast station, publish your own book and immediately sell them on places like Amazon, set up your own wireless network and how to work the law and current angles around public access TV. In 2010 any artist not doing his own media as a way to directly access and build with fans, is thye equivalent to a man still rocking Cross Colours and listening to 8 track tapes.

KG of Naughty By Nature

The importance of artist becoming the media was underscored on my way to AMC when longtime friends Treach, KG and Vinnie from the seminal rap group Naughty By Nature unexpectdly boarded my flight after being bumped from their original flight. Unfortunately they weren’t attending the AMC as they were en route to a show in a neighboring city. I wish they were because had spent the better part of the past two years perfecting their Do For self media strategy and their insight into the current major label playing field was panning out versus what they were doing on an indy level would’ve been priceless.

Vinnie explained that one of the reasons the group had been able to stay together for almost 20 years was because they had changed with the times and come to understand that many of their fans especially the younger ones want have ways to better engage the group. This means they have mapped out a long range game plan which includes them first being accessible on all the popular social networking outlets including Facebook, Myspace and Twitter. Second it meant using these mediums not to simply broadcast and make announcement but to actually engage their fans.

This might include doing everything from posting pictures of them with their fans, to directly answering emails and letters, posting up their thoughts on the message boards or having ticket giveaways and trivia contests.

Vinnie also noted  that what may seem mundane to them is often important to their fans who want more than just a release date for a record or showtimes for a concert. ‘The want the whole Naughty By Nature experience”, he explained.

In this clip below..Treach talks about what went wrong with a show they recently did.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvevKHueRd8

One of the innovative things they are doing is encouraging their fans to make videos of their songs. It’s something that was happening organically, but now they are going to take this to another level when they release a new song ‘Flags’ about stopping gang violence later on this summer.  Here they are asking folks to send in pictures and video clips of them holding up their native flags. This will be woven into a video with the end result encouraging folks to build community and using the Naughty By nature community to drive home the message.

KG added that they take time to have conversations, share their thoughts on popular ‘water cooler’ topics and more importantly document via video both fun and challenging moments they are experiencing. On this particular day Treach was filming himself talking about the frustration they were feeling from the flight delays. Later on Vinnie and KG chimed in.

The Naughty By Nature crew operate from the understanding that when it comes to building with their fans it’s all about enhancing their relationship and in order to do that they remember at all times ‘Its the little things that count at the end of the day’.

Davey D