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Nod Your Head: Porn and the Ultimate Transparency

on March 09, 2012, 10:30am

nod your head feature Nod Your Head: Porn and the Ultimate Transparency

I had a lecturer in journalism school that espoused finding connections between issues. Essentially, she argued that points of commonality can be the start of great stories outside of normal reporting scopes. To this day, I routinely wrack my brain trying to find such links others don’t see. Then, late one night this past weekend, it occurred to me: the porn industry has so much in common with the music industry. Is that the sort of thing my old lecturer had in mind?

Both industries are simultaneously experiencing periods of adjustment and uncertainty. Internet downloads have negatively effected both the porn and music industries (they’re not exactly nails in the coffin, but the beginning of the end for the traditional market set-ups). Both have committed fan bases stuck between the appeal of free (illegal) media and their interest and dedication to the artists. But both have newfound and exciting monetization opportunities thanks to the aforementioned Web upheaval, with the rise of streaming services and more efficient means of product delivery. But where the music biz continues to struggle with artists maintaining a role in their economic and creative future, adult performers of varying celebrity have begun to utilize a tool more handy than even the tallest stilettos: Amazon Wish Lists.

Whether it’s $750 shoes or Doctor Who Scene It?, the leading stars of porn will offer special incentives, be it thank-you emails or perhaps more tawdry forms of communication/interaction, for fans committed enough to pick them up a gift or two. Musicians are missing out on potential revenue streams such as these. No, I don’t mean Animal Collective should start asking for the Seinfeld box set. Instead, I wonder why our favorite rockers and hip-hoppers don’t offer this kind of transparency.

oneilamazon Nod Your Head: Porn and the Ultimate Transparency

Chosen purely at random, of course.

Major label acts, as has always been the case, are under the thumb of a major corporation, in debt and without control from the moment the ink dries on their contract. As for independent acts, all the creative control and encouraging labels in the world don’t make up for out and out utterly unimpressive sales stats, with hundreds of indie labels accounting for a mere 12% of all sales. As a means to connect with their audiences—perhaps in the hope that newfound intimacy will lead to increased album sales– artists of all size have taken to social media with gusto.

A visit to Paramore frontwoman Hayley William’s Tumblr offers insight into her socio-political leanings, while The National share slices of life on their Instagram account. Following Drake’s OVO blog offers contextual clues into the development of his entire aesthetic and fledgling empire. Meanwhile, a guy like Diplo can use Twitter to tweak his own empire, painting himself as Avant comedian, lovable DJ, or all-around savvy world sojourner. Wherever you roam online, bands are pulling back the curtains further and further aside and portraying themselves as slightly more famous versions of all of us.

But has this so-called availability gotten musicians anything tangible beyond a sense of connection and community? Are they selling more tickets and merch? Aside from major bands who bring in millions on touring, overwhelmingly their most profitable revenue stream, the economic climate has become so downtrodden that some bands think they have to pay for musical stardom. When it comes to making music their livelihood and not a hobby they do after a shift at Trader Joe’s, musicians are almost better off retreating back to their ivory towers of rock mystique.

So, would you buy Sharon Van Etten a new turtleneck or Tyler, the Creator an Adventure Time DVD? Some especially passionate fans may, but as a whole, most will save their funds for other purchases. But at the very basic level, these Wish Lists represent a shift in the artist-fan-industry dynamic.

Aside from sidestepping the middle man, the most important distinction to make is that both sides are fully aware of what is actually occurring. The adult entertainer, whose body of work is floating around in the ether for free consumption, gains goods/services to offset her diminishing income. The fan gets a way to interact with their most beloved entertainer, gaining a unique thank you in return. It’s a business transaction through and through, but it doesn’t feel that way. There’s something warm and personable about the whole affair, even as the artist-fan relationship is exposed for the meaningless, money-driven bond it really is.

Statistically speaking, there’s no clear examples of how Wish Lists are putting the porn industry back in the black. Instead, the choices of these actresses are more of a symbolic victory. It’s sort of like how when we were kids and we’d defy our parents by staying up to read under the covers. Ultimately, it meant nothing as we were still in bed and out of our parent’s hair. However, it was the beginning of our maturation and the genesis of our understanding that we don’t have to subscribe to every whim of those in charge. That there is a world out there to be shaped exclusively by our will, even if it’s insignificant and only lasts for an hour or so before we pass out. The Wish Lists are just that: the creation of personal power outside of the context of someone else’s decisions and hang-ups. Whether you’re schlepping CDs or nude photos, that notion can be more valuable than money.

dollar signs 1 434x325 Nod Your Head: Porn and the Ultimate Transparency

The average crowd at a Nickelback concert.

That power can belong to musicians, but only with some sort of shift in POV. More than anything, artists need to stop being so opaque and come to an understanding that, even as they render heart-rending lyrics unto the world, they’re selling a product like Nike sells shoes. And like all good sales teams, getting said product into your consumers’ hands requires being unafraid to put yourself out there and be vicious in your pursuit of the almighty dollar. Art may give life context and meaning, but in a landscape where years of price gouging has become just morbid, it’s going to take some Don Draper-sized cajones to reach admittedly disillusioned buyers.

If there’s any current existing model to emulate, the Kickstarter model may be the best place to start. Sure, it has some flaws in the pricing breakdown (“Alabama Sweet Balls” aside, a grand is a lot for what’s essentially an in-house performance), but its qualities outshine its shortcomings. Kickstarter is a great model because it has bands open themselves up as vulnerable free spirits in need of the helpful hand of the free market system. That’s the kind of earnest sincerity all musicians should be offering as it makes fans feel more invested in their product. It’s like the increasing popularity of farmer’s markets. People are willing to pay $12 for a half pound of oregano because there’s a genuine face and level of familiarity/locality attached to the purchase.

kickstarter pic Nod Your Head: Porn and the Ultimate Transparency

Kickstarter holds the key to a basic model of effective transparency. 

If there was any new ground that rock star Kickstarter’s (maybe we call the whole shebang Rockstarter?) could break, it’d be an emphasis away from strictly looking to fund physical projects or objects. Rather than creating goals for an album recording or tour, apply the same technique to something like promotion or marketing. For instance, offer fans one-on-one interaction if they head up a street team, or access to select material beforehand if they’re willing to act as guerrilla publicists or booking agents. The whole point being to mimic the behavior of adult actresses and move toward a more self-sustaining, self-sufficient model of operations. The way to turn around financial losses or increase gains overall is to be as streamlined as possible, making use of the most abundant resource any truly great band has – loyal and willing fans.

No matter the course of action, the future is seemingly about achieving a more nuanced level of interaction between each act and their fans. It boils down to using technology and this newfound sense of connectivity in ways that are as beneficial as they’re emotionally fulfilling. It won’t be an easy journey, and it will make loads of bands feel filthy and exposed, but nothing meaningful is ever accomplished without a little T&A (tenacity and audacity).

Billy Ocean – “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going”

Chris is News Editor/Senior Staff Writer at Consequence of Sound and would like to say to his loving fiancée and adoring mother that his interest in pornography is totally healthy and in no way in need of discussion the next time we have dinner together, OK?