This is my confused face / On being a fan

I’m am completely fascinated by Kanye West’s situation. His last album, Donda, was streamed a zillion times (well, 60 million the first day and then on up) and as a follow up he decided he wanted to do something boutique. He released “Donda 2” as stems, essentially four discrete tracks of audio (drums, vocals, etc.) which the listener can interact with by controlling the levels of the individual parts, or muting them, etc., and the stems were to be played by a small device. The device and the music were available together, as the ONLY way to listen to the work, for $200. Here’s what he said about it:

“Donda 2 will only be available on my own platform, the Stem Player. Not on Apple, Amazon, Spotify, or YouTube. Today artists get 12% of the money the industry makes. It’s time to free music from this oppressive system. It’s time to take control and build our own.”

Sounds great, right? Forward thinking, problem solving, asking for fans to step up and step forward to support the artist. I love it, actually.

The problem is his fans hacked him. Shortly after release fans wrote code (for Mac and PC!) to download and play the stems without the player. I’m going to set aside the legal part of file sharing here and focus on the part that gets me.

What the hell, music fans? If you are a Kanye fan, and he releases new music with an explanation about how the industry typically burns artists and his idea of taking back control… how do we end up here?

I’m struggling to see it. My sixteen year old son is a rabid music fan, and he and I talk about how sometimes you have to separate the musician from the art to keep appreciating the art. Aerial Pink and Damon Albarn come to mind in his generation, but there have always been jerks and idiots making decent music, we just didn’t always have the information to know about the people beyond the music.

But this Kanye situation starts to really cross a line where the desires of the artist are simply trumped by the entitlement mindset of the audience. In a post-Napster world we’ve become accustomed to “free” music, but I can’t think of another situation where an artist’s fan base has so overtly flipped off the creator while eagerly consuming his art. That 12% Kanye would have gotten from the industry seems a lot better than the slap in the face he’s getting from his fanbase.

So, clearly we can be music fans without being music supporters. We can disregard the artist even as we clamor for their work. Even my Bandcamp account splits stats into “vistiors” and “supporters” (I have three times as many plays from visitors, meaning only about 25% of people listening to my music on Bandcamp, which is by far one of the most supportive music communities, chip in). It’s a strange disconnect to me, as I grew up in the time when I had to actually buy music on physical media if we wanted to be able to listen to it. Now I happily pay $15 a month for my whole family to have access to millions of song on Apple Music. As a music listener it’s great… not so much from the artist side, but that’s a different thread I’ll pick up at some other time.

Will (Ackerman) told me that when the cd first came out one of the engineers he was working with said they had let the genie out of the bottle… he knew that once music became a stream of ones and zeroes it became possible to make perfect copies of it, but what he didn’t know was the internet was coming for us.

I’m not a Kanye fan, or a Ye supporter, either. Except right now I feel for him, as he discovers that those millions of people he thought were supporters don’t care about him at all.

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