The Open Band?

I am highly ambivalent about the discourse that posit “open-source” as a way to save the music business. This is because on the one hand I am excited at the prospect of fans feeling more engaged and part of the process of making a bands success, beyond their already existing capacity to sell out shows and purchase tour merchandise. On the other hand though, the strategies offered here appear to be expropriating common fan activities: there is a direct effort to harness the creative and cognitive capacities of fans and translate these into monetary gain for the band. For example.

The first is to put open distribution and community at the heart of the band, and to use these elements as catalysts to build growth, awareness and expose the benefits of what I am referring to as the Open Band approach. (emphasis added)

It seems to me that community is something that develops alongside and through association with a band. As a fan practice, this is nothing new. What is new is the explicit attempt to craft this as a strategy in response to major labels backing down from providing distribution and touring support. Much like what is happening generally under neoliberal ideology, a forced entrepreneurialism raises its head in two ways: 1) the band is more or less compelled to take responsibility for what the label used to do (though really, the large majority of professional musicians have always had to do this, so this alone is nothing new) 2) fans’ traditional (pleasure seeking) activities are discursively situated as assisting in honing the band’s competitive edge. Being a fan now takes on an instrumental logic.

Indeed, this logic, and the language of the market are reinforced further here

In a recording industry environment that is widely regarded as ineffective, if we provide a solid example of a band that provides free access to content (which significantly lowers the barrier to attract fans) and empowers those fans with a community, this results in a wider fanbase that feels a closer sense of commitment to supporting their favorite bands. Of course, the same approach could be applied to other creative endeavors: publishing, art, video and more. My goal is to make Severed Fifth a successful and repeatable template. (emphasis added)

It appears right out of the corporate-speak dictionary. Fans have always proven capable of autonomously producing, maintaining, and (importantly) dismantling communities, and have proved similarly adept at showing their commitment to their favourite artists and to helping promote them (e.g. in my hometown, there is a rail bridge that has, since the 1970s, been emblazoned with gigantic (and fading) graffiti declaring “LED ZEPPELIN”). The difference now is that such organic, autonomous fan tactics are now facing expropriation. Those seeking to profit from their musical endeavours appear to internalise neoliberal ideology in an attempt to colonise and extract value from the common. And it is dressed, as always, in the language of empowerment.

That said, I do wish Severed Fifth musical success and empathise with the “we’ll try anything” approach to getting their music out there.

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