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.
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.
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.
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’.