Before Soundcloud, Spotify and Snapchat, artists released their music and connected with fans the old-fashioned way. Whether it be on tour or during a backstage meet-and-greet, the artist-to-fan experience, as genuine as it may have been, now seems archaic, boxy and limiting. With the help of music streaming platforms and social media, musicians now have direct access to their fans and can release music whenever they choose.
But the changing musical landscape also comes at a cost. With overall album sales slumping and the record industry desperately trying to figure out ways to compete with technology, artists, in an attempt to remain relevant, must produce twice the amount of music in half the time, creating a microwavable musical space, where what’s hot at noon is old news by dinner.
While enjoying fried chicken, baked fish and mouth-watering gumbo at New Orleans’ famous Dooky Chase’s at Essence Festival earlier this month, soul singers Luke James and Goapele spoke candidly about the evolving music industry and the effect it has on the art.
Moderated by Verizon’s Krista Bourne, Goapele and James fielded questions from a room full of journalists tackling TIDAL, Instagram and the importance of reflecting the times.
What’s your take on streaming services and receiving compensation for it?
Goapele: I just ran into one of the men from SoundExchange the other night and I was like, ‘I like you because SoundExchange pays me sometimes quicker than I’ll see money from other ways that I get my royalties.’ It might not be as well known for a lot of artists, but I think they’re still getting hip to getting compensated for what is streaming and all the different ways your music is getting out there.
A lot of people felt like Jay Z made the wrong move by bringing out all that star power during the TIDAL ceremony. No one wants to give Nicki Minaj and Madonna more money, but they’ll be more likely to help out guys like you, if that’s the case. Did they ever reach out to you?
Goapele: Umm, Jay Z tried to call me but I was busy, obviously. [Laughs] I’m kidding. I would’ve taken the call. I don’t know. I see that work in ways for Kickstarters and things like that [where] you see up-and-coming artists and De La Soul using that where their fans will give them $80,000 to do a project and that kind of stuff is really cool. As far as Tidal, I can’t really speak on it.
What’s the most useful platform or application that comes to mind when you think about music and technology?
Luke James: I think Soundcloud is so easy. I can do a recording on my phone and load it right onto Soundcloud and all those people who follow me, or who don’t follow me, will somehow see it and hear it. Instagram, also. That right there is a great tool of promotion for me. For me, people seeing my performance makes people say, ‘I’m going to come to his show. I’m going to buy his songs.’ It forces that whole feeling for the audience.
Goapele: Instagram is a personal subscription. It’s like your own personal magazine. It’s like doing a photo shoot for no money, which is cool. It also means I’m an independent artist and a lot of times, for me, the biggest challenges are marketing dollars for exposure, so being able to have that direct fan relationship and get the word out when I’m doing shows, I rely on my followers even more than my record label.
Speak about how technology and social media hurts the artists and affects how you create?
Luke James: Art and music are the same thing, but now, because of technology, it’s so easy. Anyone can put a beat together and anyone can come up with some little lines. [Sings] “I got my shirt on. Ugh! I got my shirt on. Ugh! I got a shirt on. Ugh!” And you hear it when you’re in that moment and oh my God, it’s a hit or whatever. My label would like for me to do another album. I would like to do another album, but I would like for that album to come out next year. My label wants it next month. I put an album out eight months ago. I need to let people grow, have the album and play the album. That’s also a little bit of a downfall of the Internet and technology, it’s so fast. What’s hot at 12pm is not hot at 3pm. Everyone’s just waiting for Frank Ocean’s album. We’re just waiting for it because he just doesn’t put himself out there so much and when he does put himself out there, it means something.
I rely on my followers even more than my record label.
One of Nina Simone’s most famous quotes is: “How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” Do you think it’s an artist’s responsibility to reflect the times? If so, how are you guys doing that?
Goapele: I agree with that. I believe, as artists, I do think we have a responsibility and there’s also a place for a lot of different artists. It is nice when music captures the honesty of the time, but also what we’re going through in that moment. Even if a song has shallow lyrics, there’s something that you feel, regardless of what their lyrics are. I think it’s just a balance of what’s honest for us.
Luke James: We’re storytellers. I think it is important we do reflect the times. For me, my particular subject is love and how I understand it. This next project, I think I’ll dive a little more into what I see going on around me. How I deal personally and emotionally with my family, my mother and being in New Orleans. I also think it has to be honest, too. Because you have a bunch of cool songs out, that don’t really mean anything. They just have Baltimore on it, but it doesn’t really say anything.