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Reality TV Killed The Rockstar. But Is That So Bad?

In a time where reality TV has become the most popular form of programing - everyone from the famous (or infamous) celebrity drug addicts, to the not-so-famous, money-desperate “reality show” competitors have been cashing in on transparency as a way to connect with an audience and build a brand.

Would the sudden death of Corey Haim, the 80’s child-star who seemingly feel off the face of the earth around the same time as acid wash jeans, have made as big of a splash if his addiction hadn’t been documented on the A&E series, The Two Coreys? Probably not. It seems that Reality TV has created a wave of transparency that everyone wants to ride. Even MTV, a MUSIC video driven channel, has since officially removed music television from their name in order to focus on following pop culture in its own element.

But beyond reality TV is the internet, and the continued development of social networking, blogging and microblogging, which has been giving musicians all around the world the ability to be as little or as overly transparent as they would like. So this brings up a very important question: Is transparency a good thing for musicians to take part in?

The real answer is that it is sort of a grey area. Yes and no. While the internet has made it easier for artists to connect with their fans on a real-time basis, successfully knocking down barriers between the fan and artist relationship, it also has the potential to remove the mystique of a musician’s image.

In a world where transparency reigns supreme, the David Bowies (or rather Ziggy Stardust’s), Marilyn Mansons and Kiss(s) of the world would never stand a chance. Fans expect and even require far too much access into the everyday world of a musicians, and would not stand for being kept in the dark about the private world hidden behind the veil of their public and staged image.

However, with the exception of the very few artists still attempting to create a brand based on image alone, transparency can be a very good. But just like anything else, it must be used in moderation in order to be effective in helping artists. The following are a few ways to help you to achieve the level of transparency that is desired by your fans meanwhile avoiding the harmful side-effects.

The Good Kind of Transparency:

- Your Agenda: Make people aware of your purpose, your goals and your mission. No one likes a hidden agenda. Be honest with your fans about what drives you and you are passionate about, and you will find that many will extend their own support in whatever capacity they can, solely because they know you are genuine.

- Your Sound: While no one (well, mostly no one) wants to hear music that is just plain noise pollution, you should consider the transparency of your recorded sound. Make it real and easy to connect with. As Seth Godin says, in the age of Slick where autotune and protools allow everyone to have that professional shine, you should have the guts to be transparent and be real. You’ll be amazed how many people find the grittier tones of a ‘real’ recording (as opposed to an over-produced, glossy recording) to give the sound its character and originality. Go listen to The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street, more specifically Sweet Virgina and notice not just the gritty, lo-fi characteristics of the recording, but the true depth of emotion in the music. That is the sort of transparency that made Exile one of the greatest rock n’ roll albums of all time.

- Your Accessibility/ Acknowledgment of Fans: Make it easy for your fans to reach out to you. In a world where everything is accessible via the internet and the internet is accessible from virtually anywhere, fans will crave the ability to reach out to you. But more importantly, the internet gives fans a sounding board for opinions and feedback to be heard. Don’t be the artist that ignores the fans. You don’t have to act upon the feedback from fans, but acknowledging feedback in one form or another can be a good way to let your fans know that you hear them, that you care and that you took the time to digest what they had to say.

The Bad Kind Of Transparency:

- Your Financial Situation: Don’t be that artist who tweets about how broke you are. Part of the mystique and romanticism of being an emerging artist (or a ‘starving artist’) is the fact that you are doing anything and everything for the love of your craft. If you go on to Twitter, Facebook or on your personal blog and bitch and moan about how life sucks because you don’t have any money, the ‘burning passion’ will have been all but stripped away.

- Your Creative Process: This could really go either way, as some will argue that it is a great way to receive feedback from fans. Though I find that this will do more harm than good. There is nothing wrong with sharing demos with select fans or giving a group of people the opportunity to supply feedback when you ask for it about an upcoming song or album, but giving fans the opportunity to watch you in the creative process, every step of the way, takes way the excitement of the overall finished product. It is the same reason why authors don’t let you read a book chapter by chapter as it is being written or a why a director doesn’t let you watch scene by scene as a film is being made. It hurts the integrity of the piece as a whole.

- Your Unwarranted Political Opinions: If your music is deeply rooted in a specific political movement, then this most likely won’t effect you. But for those of you who avoid the topic of politics throughout your music, do your self a favor and avoid announcing your strong opinions on political matters in public ways. If your fans run the gamut of all walks of life, you may find many walking away when you announce that you are pro-life, pro-choice, anti-immigration or don’t think that gay marriage is okay. Leave that aspect of your personal life out of your music.

In the end, your use of transparency is just like everything else- it should be consistent with the rest of your brand. Though it may create new obstacles for musicians who prefer to maintain a private life, it does give fans the opportunity to connect with artists as real people putting the focus back onto their music, and less on the nature of their look or their actions.

This article appeared as a guest post on Creative Deconstruction on July 14th, 2010.

Jon is the co-founder of MicControl, a music blogging network based on a music social networking platform.For guest blogging opportunities or for simply reaching out, Jon can be found on twitter and facebook.

Is transparency a fad that will end with reality TV or is it a necessary part of the modern day artist/fan bond?

Reader Comments (5)

A friend of mine that is a musician & college student has a bad habit of letting his music oriented twitter feed fall into being a personal feed.

On the Corey's death thing, Andrew Koenig seemed to get a similar amount of coverage. It's just a weird scenario with celebrity death. Imagine what will happen when Duff from Guns N Roses dies....

This article says that in today's environment that Kiss, Marylin Manson, or Ziggy Stardust wouldn't stand a chance. Actually, the internet gives you the tools to create a strong persona or character and really be that to it's fullest online. You can fully out there with heart-on-sleeve honesty or you can create a comic book character and be that, you just have to be compelling and keep delivering great content.

July 15 | Unregistered CommenterTodd Dunnigan

Obama sucks.... oops!

July 16 | Unregistered CommenterCrowfeatheR

In all the online marketing we do with all of the musicians we work with, this is always the line we thread.

In many ways it's still "the big unknown" and I really agree with your statement that "While the internet has made it easier for artists to connect with their fans on a real-time basis, successfully knocking down barriers between the fan and artist relationship, it also has the potential to remove the mystique of a musician’s image."

For some of the bigger artists we work with, I'm finding that a compromise can arise: We do blog posts and behind the scenes videos giving transparency and (edited) access to the fans, but we won't/can't reply to all the comments and questions they leave. So the mystique and 'limited' aspects to the artist comes from the fact that they'll only be able to reply to one in every hundred comments, tweets or emails.

Fan clubs used to work in this way too, you could write a letter to your favourite band, or read about them in their newsletter, but only the lucky few would ever get a reply.

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Fan clubs used to work in this way too, you could write a letter to your favourite band, or read about them in their newsletter, but only the lucky few would ever get a reply.

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