Nine Inch Nails fan video project rebrands as pan-fandom collective

Interesting news for both fans of NIN and followers of fan culture, fan-works and ownership. The grassroots fan organized video production collective This One is On Us made some waves for their organization and dedication to documenting Nine Inch Nails last tour with high-quality video and audio recording. As mentioned in a TLF post from last year, this was done with the  approval of Trent Reznor, who loosened venue taping policies so that fans could participate. And as we presented at MIT, Nine Inch Nails has been highly supportive of fan remix/reuse.

With NIN on an indefinite hiatus, the TOIOU  fan community has announced a “rebranding” of the collective, now with  a broader, pan-fandom focus. The organization will no longer be NIN specific, based on the collective’s early draft of a mission statement, that states:

We aim to restore live music as a shared, passionate entity, and work with those who embrace new media and the realities of the Internet to build on their relationship with fans through collaboration and to create unique documents of their live events. Providing organizational, technical and financial support, we encourage fan communities to plan and execute first-rate film and audio recordings, and turn the resulting content into professional quality releases.

In addition, the organizers intend to formally establish TOIOU as a non-profit organization.

Interesting news, and worth watching. TOIOU was able to exist and succeed based in part because of the unusually collaborative and open relationship between Reznor and his fans. If TOIOU is to take this model and attempt to replicate it in other music fandoms, particularly for mainstream, big-ticket musical artists with particularly devoted live fanbases,  but a more restrictive approach to fan relations. I expect challenges for the group in future.

Metallica and their historically tight rein on fan-produced live recordings comes to mind because the band has been charging members for high-quality recordings of live performances for years now (yet they have also previously made money from fan recordings). Will TOIOU become a sort of fan advocacy organization? One that assists  fan-producers with the infrastructure support to pull of what the NIN fandom did? The current draft of the mission statement seems to imply this, but it is, admittedly, a work in progress.

YouTube has become a sort of live music library where fans (including myself) may share and upload videos of their favorite musician’s latest performances. For live music junkies there’s opportunity in this.  For record labels and big-ticket live music  promoters, there is a perceived threat. TOIOU has a lot of work cut our for it, but I am excited to see where it goes next.


Paycheck or Passion: What Makes a Creative Effort Worthwhile?

It’s November; ’tis the season of month-long marathon creative endeavors, such as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) For NaNoWriMo, participants aim to complete an original novel-length manuscript within a month.

NaNoWriMo has existed for over a decade now and has grown into a subculture of sorts, spilling into offline participation and local chapters that meet at coffeeshops and restaurants to write and cheer each other on. For some, I suspect the in-person community of NaNoWriMo means as much, if not more, than the creative process of writing.

Salon writer Laura Miller took aim at NaNoWriMo a couple of days ago, an anti-NaNoWriMo screed which derides the process as a breeding ground of sub-standard literature, filling amateur novelists with false hope of publication and a potential audience.

Miller may indeed be correct in her assumption, but here’s what bugged me ab0ut her rant:

… NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. When I recently stumbled across a list of promotional ideas for bookstores seeking to jump on the bandwagon, true dismay set in. “Write Your Novel Here” was the suggested motto for an in-store NaNoWriMo event. It was yet another depressing sign that the cultural spaces once dedicated to the selfless art of reading are being taken over by the narcissistic commerce of writing. (italics my own)

While I am sure far too many NaNoWriMo participants use the exercise as a (possibly) misguided springboard into pro writing. But it’s troubling to me that Miller can’t fathom the idea that not all participants in NaNo (or writing in general) participate with commerce as an endgame.

It troubles me, but it doesn’t surprise me. Creative expression in general -writing, visual art, photography, music – seems to be regarded as culturally useless unless attached to some kind of commercial goal. The process of creating  art or media just because is not applauded, only evaluated for its commercial potential. Miller’s thesis is rooted in the mass-media mindset of “professional creatives create, consumers consume and never the twain shall meet.”

Consumption of  “professional” creative work is valued and rewarded more than creative play. That is just a fact.

But why is a writer (or artist or musician)  not perceived as “real” or “legitimate” unless they are being paid to perform or share their work?  Why are they derided if they don’t care about being paid? Why is the emotional currency of creating and sharing creative work  – not valued unless it is professionalized?

For a number of NaNoWriMo participants, the process, not the result, is the true currency. The opportunity to stretch a creative muscle, meet new friends, freely write smut for their own amusement (oh wait, i guess that was why I did NaNo last year.) It’s about passion, not commerce.

Miller misses the mark on another point: creatives do consume. I don’t know any writer, amateur or professional, who is not an avid reader as well. Most musicians are music geeks, most filmmakers are film buffs. It’s more than condescending to tell individuals to “sit back and let the professionals do their job” rather than engage in a pastime they take pleasure in.

So write on, NaNoWriMo’s! Creative expression should belong to everyone, not just for those who wish to earn a living from it.

The Economic (and LOL power) of I Can Has Cheezburger

The New York Times recently had an article on LOLcats, specifically the ICanHasCheezburger site, and I wondered, what took so long? Is it because it seems so … silly? Or is it because the idea of female nerd culture (not to say that those that are not female or nerds don’t enjoy LOLcats, but really) seems like a non-money making venture and thereby uninteresting?

While I’ll be writing a longer review in response to Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, one aspect of the book that really bothered me was the way he seemed so dismissive of ICanHasCheezburger. He calls the process of creating a LOLcat “the stupidest possible creative act” with the “social value of a whoopee cushion and the cultural life span of a mayfly.” He does, however, consider it to be an example of participatory culture — perhaps equal to Cartoon Network.

In an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, he explains his viewpoint a bit differently, but I wonder how many readers are going to seek out this “explanatory footnote”:

SHIRKY:  But the interesting thing about lolcats, about these cute cats made cuter with the application of cute captions, is that when you see a lolcat, you get a second message which is: You can play this game, too. All right, when you see something on television, the message is: You could not do this, you can only consume this.
There is a giant gulf between doing something and doing nothing. And someone who makes a lolcat and uploads it – even if only to crack their friends up -has already crossed that chasm to doing something. That’s the sea change, and you can see it even with the cute cats.

But one aspect that Shirky does question — and that the New York Times gazes over in amazement (similar to the “weird Japan” newsreporting meme) is that someone is getting paid. But it is the owners of ICanHasCheezburger who are making seven figures (for the entire family of  sites) — not those creating LOLcats, who receive merch for their creative output.

Shirky describes concerns about labor efforts in participatory culture (and thereby fan culture in general):

If, purveyor of lolcats, is a late-model version of the fifteenth-century publishing model, then the fact that its workers are contributing their labor unpaid is not only strange but unfair. But what if the contributors aren’t workers? What if they really are contributors, quite specifically intending their contributions to be acts of sharing rather than production? What happens if their efforts are an effort of love?

We here on The Learned Fangirl have discussed the labor/fan dynamic and are glad that it is being considered within the context of Cognitive Surplus — and will be addressing this issue head on in the followup book review. We’ll be discussing why Shirky not having an answer for his own questions above for both LOLcats and participatory culture is disappointing. At least this half of TLF will!

I read a book: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Until recently, Clay Shirky was best known as the author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. The book  was widely praised (seriously, Boing Boing calls it a “masterpiece”) and is still referenced  by social media strategist/expert/guru types as a must-read for anyone looking to explore the social dynamics that drive the use of technology, which at the time (and even now, to a certain extent) is not what drives most conversation about the internet and social media in particular.

Rather than focusing the catalyst of online social behavior on specific technologies  (i.e. what makes Facebook so popular?) Shirky argued that social tools facilitates common group behavior, conversation and social interaction. At the time, the beginning of Facebook’s online dominance and in the midst of growing fascination and panic about social media from the mainstream press. Shirky presented a reasoned, articulate and well-researched argument that the idea of “crowdsourcing” was not a new idea, but actually rooted in common, even traditional social interaction. The Internet just made that interaction happen more widely and more rapidly.

If you talk to any social media/internet  “expert” or “enthusiast” these days, this perspective is seen as common knowledge, but without Shirky’s well-presented theory and research to bolster this theory it wouldn’t have taken root.

In 2010, you’d think that this argument wouldn’t need repeating or clarification, but as traditional media continues to evolve and digital use continues to grow and become more ubiquitous, the panic of social theorists and mainstream media commentators continues unabated. The continuing debate of whether the Internet makes you smarter or more stupid seems to have a new chapter each day, but in Cognitive Surplus, Shirky’s latest book, he does add fuel to that fire, but also offers a modified version of his Here Comes Everybody thesis: The Internet has given us the tools to create, publish and share media  faster, cheaper and with more people than ever before

Shirky’s revised thesis is the reason that I think Cognitive Surplus is a must-read (there’s that term again) for media professionals in every field.

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Learned Fangirl at SXSW Reads a Book: Fans, Friends and Followers (Part 2 of our exciting SXSW adventures)

So to start my series of posts about SXSW, I’m starting with a discussion of one of the books focused on during one of the panel presentations, Scott Kirsner’s latest work, Fans, Friends and Followers. If you are looking for a book on living up to the 1,000 true fans philosophy, this isn’t it.

As he states in the book,

there has never been a noisier, more competitive time to try to make art, entertain people, and tell stories. Everyone is doing it, and so there is an incredible surplus of content in every art form.

Surplus of content? This strongly implies that the limiter to content is the individual, rather than the possibilility of different individualss and groups with different tastes.

While I appreciate what Kirshner is trying to do, by helping artists reach their audience — there is a reason why this blog is called The Learned Fangirl — because we are concerned about how fans are being viewed by each other and outsiders.

So how does Kirshner describe the role of fans?

The very term “audience” may be on its way to obsolescence. Some artists prefer to think of themselves as cultivating a “community,” attracting “supporters,” or organizing and motivating a “street team.” Some like the term “fan base,” while others may choose to use the terms “collaborators” or “co-conspirators.”

Unfortunately, the role of fans — both throughout the book and in the admittedly brief presentation — is to be active participants  that can be removed from the process at any point should the artist choose. He never quite says this directly, but everything is directed at the artist — nothing on what happens when fans feel (or actually have) a claim of ownership over parts of their fandom.

And perhaps its my background, but I found the “reap all of the grain from the field” approach to be shortsighted. The only mention of rights occurs briefly, within a formal business arrangement, or passing references to Creative Commons.

The interviews that are the backbone of the book are interesting, but without a larger, overall helpful structure for artists, this shouldn’t be an end-point.

Recommended: Only for those that want to read inspiring stories. Or are newly thinking about how to become a famous artist.

I Saw A Movie – American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art

I’ve only recently had the income to even consider art collection as an option for me, but as a music fan, rock poster art has long been my medium of choice. With  new avenues for emerging gig poster artists to share their work (the Flatstock poster art show and to name a couple) it’s very easy for a novice collector and enthusiast like myself to become educated about the scene.

With such a long and rich history, there is plenty of fertile ground for a historian to explore and recently  filmmaker, Merle Becker explored this active community in the film American Artifact: The Rise of American Rock Poster Art.

Becker interviewed dozens of artists, from 60’s poster icon Stanley Mouse to contemporary artists (and local favorites of mine,  Mat Daly and Jay Ryan) The film covers quite a bit of ground in a short period of time, moving from the San Franscico hippie scene, 80’s punk, 90’s grunge and the current indie rock poster scene in less than 90 minutes. For those new to rock poster art, it’s an effective and tantalizing primer to the world and a good entry point for new collectors as well.

I attended a screening of the film this weekend at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, which culminated with a Q & A with the director and a few local artists including Steve  Walters,  Jay Ryan and Mat Daly.

Fan labor and its impact is a continuing point of discussion here  at The Learned Fangirl, so one of the things that stuck out for me during the film and the discussion afterwards is that most of the artists involved in this movement started their careers as fans, making posters for their friends or the bands that they admired. In many cases the posters were ade without the official approval of the band or the venue where theor performance took place.

When asked about any official/legal partnerships between poster artist and band, everyone on the panel stated revealed that little more than a handshake agreement bound them. During the film, it was stated that many of the early rock poster artists would approach fans and venue owners with their wares, eithre splitting the income that was generated from on-site sales or using the posters as a “value-add” (for lack of a better term) with concert tickets.

Contrast this live-and-let-live approach to fan laborers and content owners with the very aggressive crackdown on fanworks that we see from large media companies that we’ve talked about on the blog in the past.

Sometimes I get so caught up in looking at the impact of contemporary fanworks like fan videos and mash-ups,  it’s easy for me to forget that the  economic overlap  between fan works and content creators certainly did not advent with the Internet.

Here’s  evidence that fan labor has historically been  beneficial for all parties involved, not just in  developing a cultural movement that supports content creators/owners, but in creating and supporting a brand as a whole; the music industry seems to lead the pack and lag behind when it comes to interaction with fans. The three way  continual push and pull between content creators/owners, marketing departments and their legal representation is a culprit for sure.

In light of the handshake deals between poster creators and bands, it’s especially interesting that one of the most important fair use cases revolves around the use of band posters. In 2006, in Bill Graham Archives v. Dorling Kindersley, the Second Circuit held that it was “fair use” to use seven Grateful Dead posters — as part of a large collage of similar images — in a cultural history of the band, Grateful Dead: The Illustrated Trip (2003).

Anyone else see the film? Thoughts about it, or the gig poster scene in general?

‘Cause we’re freak remixers baby!: Lady Gaga and remix culture

On this blog, we write often about the value of fan-created works, about how fans use their creativity, using works created and owned by others. And fans of Lady Gaga has been very busy, remixing and reusing both the video and song, Bad Romance. They vary in quality and skill, but most convey the message of “This is so cool — and I want to be part of it!”

Additionally, complicating matters, legally there is a difference between the use of a work in the entirety (such a cover version) and sampling, and between using the style of a video and the music — but for fans, these distinctions don’t exist. And the parody (making fun of this work) / satire (using one work to make a statement about something else), truly falls apart in the midst of montage/collage/remix culture, where one work can simultaneously have multiple messages.

Two years ago, American University’s Center for Social Media released a study, Recut, Reframe, Recycle: Quoting Copyrighted Material in User-Generated Video, suggesting strongly that remix culture is not only socially acceptable, but should also be legally acceptable because transformative reuse falls within the fair use exception/defense to copyright.

Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance song and video have proven to be the source material for all but one type of the nine types of reappropriation discussed in the study.

The types — in order of their frequency in my wholly non-statistically valid study (i.e. I watched lots of videos!), considering different types can exist in the same video:

  • Pastiche or collage: Several copyrighted materials incorporated together into a new creation, or in other cases, an imitation of sorts of copyrighted work: I subdivide these works into two different categories — the homage and the sample — both used extensively by remixers of Lady Gaga’s work.
  • Positive commentary: Copyrighted material used to communicate a positive message: Such as taking the “We traveled 10,000 miles to say we love you, Lady Gaga” approach.
  • Parody and satire: Copyrighted material used in spoofing of popular mass media, celebrities or politicians: Lots of examples, but have yet to find a good one.
  • Negative or critical commentary: Copyrighted material used to communicate a negative message: Many of the parody/satires included negative views of Lady Gaga, especially her physical appearance.
  • Quoting to trigger discussion: Copyrighted material used to highlight an issue and prompt public awareness, discourse: Such as commenting about Lady Gaga’s support of the GLBTQ community
  • Illustration or example: Copyrighted material used to support a new idea with pictures and sound: Such as quick, small, samples.

For these next two types, I don’t have examples below the jump — considering the always existing threat of takedown notices, I don’t want to be responsible for publicly pointing out kids having fun at concerts!

  • Personal reportage/diaries: Copyrighted material incorporated into the chronicling of a personal experience
  • Incidental use: Copyrighted material captured as part of capturing something else

The one type missing missing from these reuses is:

  • Archiving of vulnerable or revealing materials: Copyrighted material that might have a short life on mainstream media due to controversy. While Lady Gaga is controversial, there isn’t a need to archive this specific time.

Below are examples of some of these varied uses of the original — starting with the original official music video — from the official YouTube Channel.

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