The Paying Customer Public Relations Department

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From the Proprietor:

I didn’t ask Russ to write this. We spoke on the phone several weeks ago about this issue and I expressed the awkwardness I felt about the age-old conversation. He responded with this post.

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Andrew Peterson has a problem. He’s not alone in what I’m about to describe, but since he is the proprietor of this fine Rabbit Room, he’ll be my exhibit A. See, here’s his problem: his hope is that this site will serve to promote books, music, art and ideas he and his contributors think are worth your time. The problem is that his own works would be counted among them by his contributors. But Andrew doesn’t want to appear narcissistic, and worries he’ll appear to be promoting himself if his works are reviewed and recommended here. What to do, what to do?

Luckily for Andrew, I have a solution.

Lean into it, Andrew. Lean into it. This site was your idea and it does exist to promote your music and books. And I for one, hope you become filthy stinking rich as a result. I hope your grandchildren–may they be many, smart and ruddy–can go to the college of their choosing, twice, as the result of Rabbit Room.

I pick on Andrew here, but this whole “online community” thing has me thinking a lot about how things are changing for artists today. In particular, I’m thinking of how artist promotion takes place– and I really like what I’m seeing. The Rabbit Room is just one example, but since you’re here, lets go with it.

Here’s how I see it. Of course there’s a place for critical reviews. You should be able to go places to find, for example, that So-and-so’s new album is generally being met with a collective yawn. Such places (Billboard, Paste and Relevant, etc.) do exist. If people are looking for a webzine to objectively cover the media coming out in today’s market, there are places they can go–professional establishments.

This site, as I understand it, is not that. The Rabbit Room exists to introduce visitors to thoughtful art and engaging discussions. And because it does, most if not all you find here will be written about in a positive light. And that’s okay. In fact, its good.

When Andrew roped his contributors into this venture, he said “With reviews, I imagine them reading as if you were telling a buddy about this book that you experienced and that you just love. Or film, or record.” So, dear reader, that’s what we’re up to here.

Now for a word on the artist promotion aspect of this website. Andrew’s contributors are here because we like Andrew Peterson, and most of us like him because we’ve gotten to know him through his music. And Andrew, along with the other Square Pegs, have many times come to a professional fork in the road, faced with the choice of taking the industry’s highway to contractual obligations in return for corporate promotion or going it alone on the grass roots level, hoping and praying it all works out.

Andrew, and many like him have chosen the road less traveled.

But for this to work out, one must promote oneself often, shamelessly and with an eye toward turning that self-promotion into cold, hard frozen pizzas, electric bills and mortgage payments (not to mention all the other strange things one has to buy that the rest of the world doesn’t even think about, like 15 passenger vans, t-shirts with your own name on them and Stuart Duncan’s time.)

So Andrew Peterson bears a responsibility to promote Andrew Peterson. He’s one of THOSE grassroots guys! Hence, his problem.

At least it would be a problem if his music was bad. But its not. And we don’t need Andrew to tell us its good to know its good. Same goes for Peters, Phillips, Gullahorn, Goodgame, Osenga and the rest of the Square Pegs.

What we do need, however, is to find our way to their music. And that takes promotion.

Shameless self-promotion? Yes, in part.

But it also takes something more. It takes rabbit rooms, blogs, virbs, street teams, iTunes, artistic alliances, online stores, myspace, youtube, noisetrade and a million other inter-related, cross-referenced, just-a-click-away opportunities for fans to add to their collections and future fans to discover folks like the Square Pegs for the first time.

For those “grassroots” artists who have elected to depend upon word of mouth, street teams for local shows, those shows themselves and the world wide interweb to draw and retain their audience, they are, in effect, relying on their “paying customers” to also be their PR department. And it follows that the “Paying Customer Public Relations Department” would want to do their job well so that there might be more product for them to both purchase and promote in the future.

It is really backward from what used to be, if you think about it. It used to be the PR people were employed by the label to accumulate from the audience as much money for the label as possible, which would in turn bring greater revenue to the artist. But in the grassroots paradigm, the PR people are the audience, essentially handing over their own money directly to the artist, buying recorded music, attending concerts and sometimes even outright “underwriting” future releases so they can be imagined, written, recorded, packaged and purchased by the very same people who promoted the previous records and underwrote the newer projects in the first place. (Read this paragraph again. Its awesome!)

So if the Rabbit Room is meant to draw our attention to art worth having (which it is), and if Andrew’s art can be counted among that (which it can), and if this site was his idea (which it was), and if he has bills to pay (which he does), and if you, dear reader, are here because you’ve already ponied up some cash to buy an AP record (which you may have done, or maybe you’re a pirate) or see a concert or get an “I Like Cheese” t-shirt, can’t we all just live at ease with the fact that if Andrew sells some units through this site, we should count that as a success and say, “Good for you, Andrew. Here’s another $15”?

It didn’t used to be this way, but I, for one, am glad it is, because what we all get out of this new deal is the confidence of knowing that what makes it to our iPod is what the artist meant to deliver–not some guy in a corner office trying to figure out the best way to make the most money out of a musician who started writing and singing for love of the song.

So with this, dear reader, are you aware that Rabbit Room has a lovely store? The holidays are approaching fast.