This guest post is from Davey D — a media activist and longtime journalist who is the host of Hard Knock Radio (HKR), an award-winning, daily syndicated prime time afternoon show focusing on hip-hop culture and politics. Davey is also the founder of the long-running, oft-cited website, Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner.
Over the last few days, Davy has been in Detroit at the Allied Media Conference. We thought it would be cool if he reported back some of what’s happening. Of course, this being Davey D, we get a lot more, including his thoughts on the state of the music biz, DIY artistry and the intersection of urban music and activism. Once again, here’s Davey!
One of the most interesting panels I came across during the 2010 Allied Media Conference in Detroit was called “Electronic Books: Creating Your Own and Preparing for a Paperless Society.” This discussion 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 to do so. I’m so glad I did. Hubbard’s described the low barrier to entry into the e-book world and the fact that you can actually make money if you can attract a decent following. A lot of people might think that e-books are limited to established authors with book deals in place and publishers looking to expand into new markets. It was eye-opening to discover this isn’t the case — just like with music, you can do amazing things yourself.
Hubbard explained that anyone with a good idea and compelling story to tell can get their e-books online and sold by Amazon. She even gave us a URL to upload our e-books — DTP.AMAZON.COM — along with specs on how to format, the right resolution for pictures, and some tips on pricing etc. Hubbard said that during her speaking engagements, audience members will often purchase and download her books while she’s still talking. You can imagine the potential for artists who have a solid fan base.
Even with all of these new technologies, I couldn’t help but think about some of the simple things those of us in the music world did to make ourselves known back in the day. In a world of iPads and what-have-you, it’s easy to think that some of our cherished techniques have been tossed aside. Fret not — some of those goodies are still with us, but with a hi-tech twist. Case in point: the fanzine. Well, today’s fanzine might just be the e-book.
Y’all remember those little 10-12 page booklets indie 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 the strange musings of the artist to highly politicized calls to action. All of them — no matter how crude or well put together — became a kind of keepsake for music fans.
I still have the early pamphlets from Digital Underground talking about a secret project NASA was working on: a pill that allows you to experience sex. The concept was called “Sex Packets” and the group’s fanzines were cleverly crafted to bring attention to the group’s highly anticipated album of the same name.
Other standouts include the two booklets put out by Bay Area rapper Paris. In the early 1990s, he put out a history guide about the Black Panthers and Nation of Islam — two groups that influenced him. The information was thorough and loaded with facts that I still reference to this day. One of these booklets 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 essentially described how then-president George Bush was ultimately responsible for the devastating event. Paris released an 11-page booklet that outlined the what he felt were major flaws in US foreign policy that drove the type of anti-American sentiment behind the terrorist attacks. Paris later released a full fledged documentary on the same topic.
The list of bands who produced fanzines and pamphlets is endless. Yet this kind of promotion is seemingly all but forgotten in our hi-tech world. Sure, there’s a lot of groups that have enhanced their presence by blogging, but as Sylvia Hubbard pointed out, why not do an e-book? Topics could range from artist autobiographies to in-depth examinations of controversial issues. Imagine if 50 Cent had released an e-book with the full background stories behind his various beefs artist beefs? Imagine if there were e-books from the members of Rage Against the Machine with their political musings during the lead up to the ‘08 elections? How about an e-book from a local band that illumiates the deeper meanings behind an album? It’s definitely food for thought. Nowadays, with fans wanting closer relationships with artists, this could be 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 a panel called “How to Create a New Music Based Economy.” Cunningham talked about the role that journalists can play and how artists can better engage them. He insisted that all music writers should create space for local and indie coverage. Cuningham also said that journalists need to humble themselves and not try to create a hierarchy where they are on top. Both the economy and fate of certain kinds of media are in a pretty precarious state right now, so forging good relationships with artists is key to a future where everyone can thrive together. He also explained that artists should own and control media by doing everything from writing about themselves to filming themselves.
In the clip below, Cunningham offers some insight as to how publications and editors think.
Lastly, since we’re 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 the AMC where her headlining set 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 had for artists trying 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 with this new camera set up.