There’s an interesting conversation happening over on the music internets today about technology and the state of music magazines. The premise: Kanye West is tweeting so prolifically and Ustreaming so earnestly that he’s totally outmoded the standard magazine profile.
Of course, there’s no debate that the internet has totally changed the way we discover music. But now, with our favourite artists tweeting among us, revealing themselves 140 characters at a time, it seems that the internet is changing the way we discover musicians, too.
When Kanye West – that ever-controversial pop enigma wrapped in a goofy light-up suit – signed up for Twitter a few weeks ago, he garnered hundreds of thousands of followers in a matter of days (currently, he has over 800,000). And he deserves it! Because he’s just about the best tweeter there is, offering up reliably hilarious musings on fashion – “I jog in Lanvin” – interior design – “What do I have to do to get a simple persian rug with cherub imagery uuuuugh” – and, most relevant for our purposes, his home theatre:
In the midst of his tweeting – of which there were initially, like, a dozen a day – Kanye hosted his first Ustream chat, logging on (with some difficulty) and responding to viewers’ questions about his album, his blog, and whatever else.
Today, over at Slate, Jonah Weiner published an “all-access, totally non-exclusive interview” with the musician, and by non-exclusive he meant that it was a standard magazine profile – of which Weiner’s written very many, very well – with information culled entirely from Kanye’s personal internet output. At the beginning of his piece/project, Weiner asked:
In the face of a mountainous info dump like West’s, isn’t the basic work of profiling—building from the raw material of everything someone says and does toward a more focused sense of who they are—as relevant as ever?
On the Sound of the City blog at the Village Voice, Zach Baron thought that maybe Weiner was missing the point:
Artists don’t need magazines like Slate to convey their words to the public anymore; these days, they’d rather do it themselves, and the technology is at point where they can. Where Weiner and Slate see a stream of information desperate in need to the mediation of a professional, West sees an opportunity to skip the middleman.
And that’s explicitly what Kanye’s trying to do – to use technology to circumvent the media middleman. After his mother’s death in 2007, or, more specifically, after some small flare-up in which he was possibly misquoted, Kanye pretty much stopped giving formal interviews altogether. His problem with them, he explained in a YouTube video, was:
You say what you say and then you get paraphrased. I wanna get approval over the shit.
That’s just what Twitter affords artists: unmediated, unfiltered access to their fans, where they get final approval of everything they say, or type. And it’s not just Kanye, whose personality and the Twitter platform combine for a match made in overshare heaven – most artists these days can be found revealing themselves to their fans, without a publicist (maybe) or a magazine writer filtering them.
Yesterday, on her Twitter (and without the threat of Kanye West interrupting her), Taylor Swift reported that she was eating Fig Newtons when she heard her newest single come on the radio. I’m not sure if following @taylorswift13 would give me any great insights into Taylor Swift the artist, or what she means to the pop music landscape, but the image of her eating Fig Newtons and then getting super excited when she heard herself on the radio is just the type of keyhole glimpse into her real life that magazine profiles often set out to capture.
As social media continues to transform from something people elect to do to something people just do, you can bet that musicians, and all other artists for that matter, will continue to use the services as tools to promote themselves and, to the extent that they’re any different, their brands and wares. But the question now becomes, is this the type of access we want? Do we trust the artists to tell us their story, or is that better left to the professionals? [Slate and Sound of the City]