Can you imagine going back to a time when there wasn’t an internet? Neither can we. Although there’s little likelihood of that happening, there are some who want to change the fundamental way the internet works by allowing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to choose which sites and services are accessible to users, and at what speed.
We think that would be a terrible thing for musicians.
Thanks to the internet, today’s artists can express their creativity and reach audiences directly in any number of exciting ways. Musicians can very efficiently upload music, sell merchandise, book shows and more, all on their own terms. And they currently do it on a level technological playing field, right alongside the biggest companies.
Just this week, we saw a few of our favorite artists using the web to inspire fans in unique ways. The access and innovation inspired by the internet gives musicians unprecedented ways to reach fans and advance their careers. Let’s check out three recent examples:
In anticipation of their March 2011 album, It Happened Today, R.E.M. is giving fans an opportunity to “remix, reimagine and remake” raw audio tracks from two brand-new singles. Available for download on the R.E.M. website, the individual audio tracks — also known as stem mixes — include an array of vocal and instrumental tracks. Everything from the funky vibraphone to the good ol’ fashioned guitar to Michael Stipe’s vocals are free to be tweaked to your heart’s content. These stem mixes have been formatted for AIFF and GarageBand, so you can use whatever program suits you. But don’t forget to share — R.E.M. has created a SoundCloud page with hopes that mixmasters and newbies alike will upload their audio concoctions.
The sixteen downloadable tracks include guest appearances other famed artists and musicians. This is your big chance to play producer/engineer to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, The Hidden Cameras’ Joel Gibb, along with bass from Mike Mills and brass from New Orleans’ Bonerama (the kickass brass band that plays the Dear NOLA concertthis week).
Erin McKeown brings taste and talent to reality TV — we think that’s an innovative idea in itself! For Erin’s Cabin Fever project, she uploads live performances in and around her house. Cozy! Her most recent internet concert took place on Superbowl Sunday, with a lovely folk-i-fied rendition of “Green & Yellow,” along with some special guest appearances.
Earlier Cabin Fever escapades helped generate revenue for the recording and release of Erin’s most recent album, Hundreds of Lions. By charging a mere $10 per webisode, Erin raised enough money to make her album and performed it in its entirety for the 2009 series’ finale. This to us illustrates the tremendous power of the internet for independent artists.
Erin might want to take a page out of Oprah’s book and launch her own network — just saying.
Jill Sobule and John Doe’s A Day at the Pass
Jill Sobule’s attempt at a fan-funded album was such a success the first time around that she decided to have another go at it. This time around, Jill joined forces with John Doe of LA punk legends X to record the new record, A Day at the Pass.
Back in 2009, Jill relied on fans as a major financial resource to help record and release the acclaimed California Years. Thanks to her savvy, humor and internet ninjatude, Sobule was able to raise the capital required to make the album a reality. Depending on the donation, fans got some really unique takeaways. For example, a donation of 100 bucks made you a Junior Executive Producer. Bigger contributions would have Jill play a house party or write and perform a theme song just for you.
Like her last effort, Jill and John Doe’s A Day at the Pass is totally fan-driven. Last April, the two recorded their album in front of forty fans who bought tickets to witness history being made. Currently available for purchase online, a CD version with two additional tracks drops on April 16th (which just so happens to be Record Store Day).
Let’s hear it for artists and the internet!
But it’s not all good times. You may have heard that Congress is getting ready to decide if rules to preserve the open internet will stand. Currently, there’s a fast-track bill that will not only repeal the FCC’s recent Open Internet Order, but also prevent the FCC from making any rules in the future. No matter how you feel about the extent and scope of the current rules, it seems pretty obvious that we need to have something in place to safeguard consumers and allow for continued innovation online.
Our musician friends think so, too, which is why they sent a letter to Congress urging them not to take the radical step of eliminating the FCC’s ability to let artists and fans use the web in the very ways we described above. Check out the letter from R.E.M., Rebecca Gates, Kronos Quartet, Jill Sobule, Erin McKeown, Thao Nguyen, Alex Shapiro and Charles Bissell right here.