Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lilith- Fairness in 15 seconds?

2010 heralds the return of LIlith Fair, Sarah McLachlan's famed women's music festival. I remember being there the first time 'round, freezing youthfully in the rain and mud in Scranton, PA as the Indigo Girls played.

However, Lilith in the digital/social networking age has some new facets- most notably the local talent search, bringing an indie on to open the event in each city. Sounds like a great idea, right?

Sarah McLachlan created Lilith Fair to showcase and support women in music, and connect them with the fans. How better to further that agenda than to include the indies, the unsigned, the overlooked? But how will we choose from the throng, though, include one lucky artist in this event about community, mutual respect and support?

Pit all of them against each other in a virtual online cage match.

Our Stage and Lilith have ostensibly gone to the fans to decide, in a 'voting' mileu, who each city should choose. The process is, at best, complex, at worst, it contravenes everything that Lilith initially set out to do. It breeds competition and rivalry, and the all-too pervasive sentiment that artists are, in essence, competing for "ownership" of fans.

Once a fan logs in, they are presented with 4 songs- he/she is required to devote 15 seconds of listening time to each, then rank them in order from best to worst. Then 4 more come up. (In OurStage/Lilith's defense, I do believe this is an attempt to get folks to really listen to the music and not just mindlessly vote for a friend or a name or a title that seems cool). However, some fans bemoan that they've spent upwards of 3 hours 'judging', waiting for their favorite artists to come up, so they can show their support and cast their vote. And of course, they are able/expected to vote in this way EVERY DAY. This begs the question: Are the artists that will be chosen truly "the best"? Or do their fans simply have the most time on their hands?

It also puts the artist in the unenviable position of persistently pleading with their fans to "vote daily!!" for them (and this artist is no exception!). However, it also brings to light an issue that is not-so-slowly creeping into our modern culture, the short attention span consumer. I logged on to vote for a fellow artist in Boston, Elle Gallo, and while wading through the songs to get to Elle, I thought "15 seconds?? Why do we have to wait that long?" Then I stopped. Really? Really? I can't devote 15 SECONDS to some fellow artists who are busting their butts the same way I am to do what they love? I can't give 15 SECONDS to maybe discover some new music, when music is my passion and the hemo in my globin?! REALLY???

After I self-flagellated for a few minutes, it dawned on me that the same thing was probably happening on computers all around the country, and that, as a result, many songs weren't getting a fair shake because they didn't "kick in" in the first 15 seconds. Again- this artist is no exception, and I smacked a hand to my forehead as I realized that I'd submitted a song with a 41 SECOND intro to the competition. "Good grief!", I thought, "If I'd known this was the way it was going to be done I would have..."

What? What would I have done? Submit a different song to cater to an online voting format? The broader implications of this line of thinking write themsleves, and again, I sat back in my chair and wondered where Zeppelin and the Eagles and countless other "classic" bands would be if they'd had to have been judged by the first 15 seconds of their songs.

Because it's not just about this one competition. I've been told "industry standard" is that you have 30 seconds to catch an exec's ear. Songs are sliced and diced to death on mainstream radio to squeeze them into acceptable time parcels. Even YouTube viewers routinely give about 3 minutes of attention to a video.

Current popular media tells us that's what we want- we want to get in, get entertained and get out. We want art to take us away, but only as long as it gets us back in time for dinner- after all, we've got things to do.

And maybe that's true, by and large. But when Paul McCartney played in March at the Hollywood Bowl for 3 hours, DJ's trumpeted it as one of the best nights they'd ever had. And they'd have sat there for 3 more.

Because it's proven good music, given it's freedom to develop and be the timeless art that it is. Quality will lead to longevity and, as a result, quantity.

But artists now are told quantity, quantity, and while the powers that be weed out the commercial "quality", they keep the artist running like a rat on a wheel to produce even more quantity- they pluck out the 'Hey Jude's' and toss out the 'I'm Only Sleeping's'.

But now I sound like a curmudgeon:) And this is another topic for another day. Right now, I'm going to go devote at least 15 seconds to some talented ladies- how about you?