September 6th, 2007
My father-in-law (of all people, no offense W) clued me into this WSJ article about Marie Digby, an artist who just got clotheslined by the thin line between grassroots and astroturf. Her PR is all about how she’s a YouTube phenomenon who got discovered by the internet and then signed by a label, but in actuality the label signed her 18 months ago and engineered the internet success.
This is a tricky thing – after reading a bunch of comments in the little comment space on her site (“Liar, cheat, fraud!”) I feel kind of bad for her, my snarky post subject notwithstanding. Yes, I think it’s a little shady, and as an Authentic Internet Superstar (TM) I’m a little annoyed. But I can see how it would happen – the label obviously understands that being a breakout internet hit generates press of its own, music aside. They come up with a strategy to release some home-made looking videos, soft pedal the whole label thing and she plays along. And of course you can’t make this stuff happen without the music actually being good enough for people to like it, so all the internet buzz was quite real in a way – many of her fans really did find her on YouTube, and they probably really did like her music.
Also annoying but not surprising is the willingness of the media to push the spin even though they know it’s not true. Radio station KYSR and the Carson Daly show both presented her as an internet-made success even though they booked her through the record label. But of course, that’s how that part of the machine works too – anybody who’s writing an article, doing an interview, introducing a music guest likes it better when there’s an interesting story. And again, she kind of was an internet-made success, it’s just that the label bought her the laptop and told her to do it.
I’m familiar with how tempting it is to let the spin overtake the reality – for instance, I tend not to lead with the facts that a few of the Thing a Week songs were covers, a couple were not written the week they were recorded, and that I failed to post anything on two Fridays over the course of the year. When I do press, the interviewer frequently describes Thing a Week with the phrase “…wrote a new song every week…” and I try to remember to correct them without destroying the flow by saying something like “…recorded a new song every week…” And then I cringe inside about the two lost weeks and the lie of omission. But really, nobody who’s doing an interview wants the purity of the story to get screwed up with these minor details, so I always feel the pressure to play along, and usually do.
Even the idea of being an independent musician is a little fuzzy for me. These days I’ve got a booking agent, a manager, a PR firm, a talent agent. Granted, they all came after I had generated a good bit of success on my own, but how far along this curve do I get to go and still say I’m an “independent musician?” Do I just mean “not signed to a label?” If I ever did sign with a label (I could still be convinced there were good reasons to do such a thing), surely they’d want me to keep doing all this fan interaction and internet stuff – but does all that then become completely corrupt? And I’m not fishing for reassurances here, it’s just that sometimes it’s hard not to see success as a kind of creeping inauthenticity.
The saddest thing of all is that she obviously could have done this all by herself without the label and avoided all this hullabaloo. And for that, they are my least favorite people in this story. Really guys? That’s your plan? Buy her a web cam and tell her to use YouTube? How much money did she pay you for that advice?