This guest post is from Davey D — a media activist and longtime journalist who is the host of Hard Knock Radio (HKR), an award-winning, daily syndicated prime time afternoon show focusing on hip-hop culture and politics. Davey is also the founder of the long-running, oft-cited website, Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner.
Over the last few days, Davy has been in Detroit at the Allied Media Conference. We thought it would be cool if he reported back some of what’s happening. Of course, this being Davey D, we get a lot more, including his thoughts on the state of the music biz, DIY artistry and the intersection of urban music and activism. Take it away, Davey!
In the age of increased media consolidation and at a time when the traditional music industry is falling apart at the seams, the 12th annual Allied Media Conference in Detroit is the perfect antidote. When AMC initially started, many in the social justice/activist community had come to the conclusion that viable alternatives to mass media are crucial to getting our message across without the distortions, sensationalism and ratings-oriented spins associated with corporate outlets.
The slogan “Be The Media” became a rallying cry for this new movement, with AMC as an important pillar. Early on, many of us saw artists as important allies in delivering messages to the masses. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was clear that American society was moving in a direction where celebrity culture was becoming a predominant focus. The result was that those in the spotlight were increasingly sought after as spokespeople for everything from “get out the vote” efforts to “stay in school and don’t use drugs” campaigns. These celebrity-driven campaigns reached new heights in ’03 and ’04 when music moguls Russell Simmons and Sean Diddy Combs decided to get involved in politics and launched media campaigns of their own.
Simmons launched his Hip Hop Summit Action Network in June of 2001, and held more than 40 rallies leading up to the ‘04 elections that attracted tens of thousands of people. And in February ’04, while being honored at the Rock the Vote Lippert Awards, Combs brazenly asserted that he would bring 20 million people to the polls and “kick George Bush’s ass out of office.” That moment helped kick off his infamous “Vote or Die” campaign.
Both figures had only moderate success in the poltical arena, but in corporate circles, the potential of artists as influencers was not lost. Soon, both commercial media outlets joined record labels in exploring ways to use artists to market specific products, goods and services beyond political agenda or ideology. This phenomenon was accompanied by an an increased tightening of radio playlists and diminished opportunities for new and independent artists to reach audiences. Ultimately, many recording artists found themselves in a similar predicament as their social justice activist counterparts. They little to no access to mainstream media.
From 2005 forward, leaps in technology helped level the playing field. Internet broadband became more accessible, YouTube was launched, MySpace appeared,and later, Facebook and now Twitter. These tools went from novelty (or distraction) to becoming staples in our lives. Likewise, internet radio grew by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, consumer gadgets like iPods and iPhones made everyone their own DJ. Seemingly overnight, the slogan “Be the Media” became a reality to a lot more people — including artists. Which meant that having an Allied Media Conference where people could share ideas, information and strategies became even more important.
Many artists have come to understand that the industry has changed dramatically. There’s a sense that musicians and other creators have to step up their efforts and “do for self” when it comes to pursuing their craft. Yet it has been difficult for some to fully grasp that the end goal isn’t just to get airplay or TV time on a major outlet. Instead, the objective should be to forge stronger ties with a fanbase without the interference of middlemen. Here at AMC, I’ve attended workshops that described easy-to-follow and relatively inexpensive ways to set up your own broadcast station, publish and sell your own book, set up your own wireless network and the current angles regarding public access TV. In 2010, any artist not doing his/her own media and directly interacting with fans, is like someone who still rocks Cross Colours and 8 track tapes.
The importance of artists “becoming the media” was underscored on my way to AMC when I ran into longtime friends Treach, KG and Vinnie from the seminal rap group Naughty By Nature. They unexpectedly boarded my plane after being bumped from their original flight — a nice surprise. Unfortunately, they weren’t attending AMC, as they were en route to a show in a neighboring city. I wish they had been, because they’ve spent the better part of the past two years perfecting their own “Do For Self” media strategy and their insights into how the current major label landscape compared to indie entrepreneurship would’ve been priceless.
Vinnie explained to me that one of the reasons the group had been able to stay together for almost 20 years was because they had changed with the times and understood that many of their fans — especially the younger ones — want a wide range of ways to engagewith the group. To satisfy that desire, they’ve created a long-term game plan that makes them accessible on all the popular social networking outlets including Facebook, Myspace and Twitter. More importantly, they don’t just use these mediums to broadcast and make announcements — they actually engage directly with their fans.
This can include everything from posting pictures of themselves with fans to directly answering emails and letters to posting their thoughts on message boards to ticket giveaways and trivia contests.
Vinnie also noted that what may seem mundane to them is often important to their fans looking for more than just a record release date or a list of concert dates. “They want the whole Naughty By Nature experience,” he explained.
In the clip below, Treach talks about what went wrong with a show they recently did.
One of the innovative Naughty by Nature are doing is encouraging their fans to make videos of their songs. This was something that was already happening organically, but now they’re taking it to another level with the upoming release of a new song, “Flags,” which is about stopping gang violence. When the song drops later this summer, they’ll be asking folks to send in pictures and video clips of themselves holding up their native flags. These will be woven into a video with a strong message about building community — something Naughty by Nature and their fans know a good bit about.
KG added that they always take time to have conversations, share their thoughts on “watercooler” topics and, more importantly, document via video both the fun and challenging moments they experience. On this particular day, Treach was filming himself talking about the frustration they felt from flight delays. Later on, Vinnie and KG chimed in.
The Naughty by Nature crew operate from the understanding that it’s all about enhancing their relationship with fans. To do so, they always keep in mind that “it’s the little things that count.”