El-P2

On 4/26, almost a month before the official release date of his new album, Cancer 4 Cure, El-P posted the following message on his Facebook wall:

elephant in the room: i know a lot of yall already got the album. im ok with that. if you enjoy it and can afford to support me doing more music hit up www.definitivejux.net and pre order. there are dope deals on there. love, el

That stance, if you can call it a stance — i.e., if you enjoy this music and can afford to support me, please do, so I can make more music for you to enjoy — has also been discussed in the past by El via Twitter. It’s not exactly a business model or a guilt trip, just a pragmatic request/suggestion, delivered directly from artist to audience.

In the wake of the whole David Lowery/Emily White flare-up, and the ensuing cavalcade of opinions, we’ve been thinking a lot about El-P’s approach and ideas regarding file-sharing, the new economy of being a musician, and the fans’ responsibilities to support the art they love. So we decided to ask the man to expand on those things. Calling in from breezy San Francisco, readying for a gig to support Cancer 4 Cure, El took a few minutes to impart his largely sane, rational and refreshing perspective on a subject fraught with finger-pointing and disconnect.

EL-P ON ARTIST-FAN RELATIONSHIPS AND RADIO DAYS
“I believe the one thing that matters in this whole equation is that there’s a relationship between the artist and the people who are listening to what they do. It’s a symbiotic relationship. We have to take care of each other, we have to figure it out and we have to make sure that relationship stays intact. Whatever the technology around it, or however anything changes, I refuse to kick and scream about it. Anyone who knows anything about music history knows that when radio was coming into fruition, there was essentially the same debate. People hated the idea that their records were getting played for free, or getting played and recorded. That doesn’t matter to me. It really doesn’t matter.”

EL-P ON MUTUAL ACCOUNTABILITY AND PAYING FOR WHAT YOU EAT
“There has to be a mutual respect on both sides, and I think it’s ridiculous for musicians to scold fans for being an active part of the reality of their culture, and that is the case right now. There’s no point in doing that, it’s futile. At the same time, I think there’s also responsibility for the fans to work with and understand that there’s a little bit of a dilemma here, because whatever we’re shifting into and whatever our relationship is gonna be is not quite there yet. It’s really difficult to tell somebody on the other side of the argument to try and keep a level head about it, because there are people almost aggressively saying music in fact should not be paid for. My reaction to that is, well, OK, maybe. But this is America, and the whole idea of that is: we are allowed to create our destinies within a capitalist society and attempt to have the job that we want. If you were to walk into a restaurant with a chef that had studied and practiced for years and looked at food as an art form, and you were to sit down at that restaurant and eat his meal, it would be difficult for you to get up and walk out of that restaurant without paying because you explained to him that food is meant to be eaten and not sold. And that’s just the other side of the argument. I think it’s the audience’s and the artist’s responsibility to realize there’s no clear-cut solution here. I just try and make sure my relationship with the fan is healthy and intact. I don’t believe you should be tricked into buying a record. There was about 50 years, maybe more, where the whole system was that you’d put out one single that was geared to trick people into buying the record, and you bought the record and it kind of sucked. I say to my fans, if you can support me and you honestly wanna help me to continue to make records, until there is a better system happening, that is how I’m gonna be able to make records. If you like it and you can buy it, then great. If not, fuckin’ fine, what am I gonna do? Fuck it.”

EL-P ON THE GREAT DEBATE AND “TIDAL WAVE” OF TECHNOLOGY
“I think the questions we all have to be asking ourselves, and the artists need to be asking themselves is: What am I giving here? What am I putting forward here? Is this gonna mean something to anybody? Am I just trying to hop some shit and get money, or am I trying to contribute something? I think that’s a very big question artists need to ask themselves when they make music, and I think to some degree what we’re seeing is the indirect result of a long history of people not asking themselves that question. And the reaction is a tidal wave that just happens to be facilitated by technology. I do believe it is incorrect for people to kick and scream and fuss about the fact that the way it used to be ain’t there anymore. It’s like, ’Well, what the fuck? I used to be able to get this money from you and now I can’t, so fuck you.’ That’s not really the case. The fact of the matter is, we’re in this together and we’ll figure it out. I do have faith in that, so I’m not really worried about it. There are some positive things that have come out of that. One of them is that record sales aren’t really that important anymore. That’s a big deal. People can come out with records and not sell and still have an amazing career, and that is almost a direct result of technology.”

EL-P ON HAVING FAITH AND PURSUING PASSION
“[File sharing] is so nuanced and it’s so complicated that it’s almost easier for me to just step aside of the whole debate and put my faith in the relationship between me and the fans. It’s like, look, I’m going to put out the most heartfelt, best shit I know how to make. I’m gonna mean everything I say. I’m gonna try and do it in a way that sounds great. I’m gonna try and give you something you really like. Hopefully it’ll mean something to your life if it means something to my life. That’s all I can worry about, so we’ll figure the rest out … The only thing that matters is a pursuit of a craft and a pursuit of something that you love. That’s the only thing that remains true, and the rest of it is just business.”

//

Cancer 4 Cure is out now. Read our review here. Buy it here.

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Comments (20)
  1. My only question is: what does David Lowery think about all this?

    • never mind what David Lowery thinks of all this I’d like to know what El P would think if he was a knew artist trying to break now rather than more than more than a decade ago when he started..

      El P I applaud you for taking a velvet hammer approach and speaking of the importance of mutual relationships and respect between an artist and fan. I only wish you had placed just a little more emphasis on the ‘respect” for intellectual property and the dangers of letting those who run the illegal sharing sites to make big profits when they have nothing to do with the relationship you’re talking about.

      The Kim Dot.com’s of the world have zero relationship with the artists and fans 9unless you count making his own Rap video with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West as a relationship) They are only in it for the money… So if your fans don’t want people like him to get rich from your art and the art of others without respecting the artist. Perhaps they should think about sharing files with friends face to face or as email attachments rather than joining sites like Megaupload or Torrent sites… Just saying ya’know ;)

  2. well, he’s a damn smart dude

  3. I’m always pleased when people give reasonable, intelligent and considerate opinions on polarizing topics. It’s great to see such optimism in El-P’s response.

    Remember people:

    • It is a refreshing point of view from an artist. What lets me down about his response is his reluctance to address the main issue identified by those against file sharing: the “business.”

      He’s spot-on in that musicians and fans connecting remains essential to the whole process. But the “business” is what makes this issue so complex. Artists whose sole source of income is coming from their songs, album sales and tour sales are probably pretty interested in the details surrounding compensation for their services as cold as that may sound.

      I think his approach toward creating music is genuine and effective. I wish all artists were as cool with things as El, and I wish all music fans were as understanding as the fans he describes.

  4. He’s right about the fact that things will work themselves out regardless of cranky fans and musicians. Its responses like this that encourage me to support artists and If this is a transitional period then I cant wait to emerge into the developed modern musical world because ive been hearing a lot of great music recently.

  5. El-P definitely has it pinned that the connection between artist & fan is of the utmost importance. It is why the live show is so paramount these days because that is where the connection is the strongest: Fans & Artists in the same room. Out of respect for certain artists, we as fans buy tickets to hear the artist play their songs and perhaps after the show drop $10 for an album or more for a shirt, etc. If I’ve been paying attention lately, that system is what separates successful artists from non-successful artists.

    Because notice how I ordered that scenario. Pay to see the show and buy the album AFTER the show? How does that work? For a lot of us, we’ve downloaded the album for free or even listened to the album streaming somewhere. It’s no surprise to anybody that usually half of a concert crowd has never BOUGHT an album by the artist they PAID to see. So how do you get your fans to actually purchase your recorded material?

    Vinyl helps a lot, offering fans an additional format to purchase said artists music. Vinyls (and cassettes to some fans) carry a sort of rarity and concerts are often the best places to snag rare records from the bands themselves. Also, you tend to feel like you are supporting the artist MORE when purchasing their goods on the road. I always feel like I’m paying for the band’s dinner for the next night when I buy merch.

    Trent Reznor I feel is the godfather of the Internet age and his model of creating a whole Web site experience for NIN fans. Complete with forums, customizable profiles, and more NIN information than you’d ever want to know in one place. Even if you never use the forums or some of its features, it definitely helps to know the artist took that added effort to make the connection possible if the fan chooses to create it. More importantly, he offers his fans who sign up (for free) on his site access to advance sale concert tickets. Why? So that the best NIN fans will be the closest to Trent at the concerts. He rewards that artist/fan connection by providing the ones who have created the strongest connection with the best seats in the house. Of course NIN is more or less a cult, but how do you think that happened? (I really am not totally sure, but you know what I mean).

    In the end, I think it comes back to respect. Sure, it used to be an artist put out an album and that was all we needed to show them respect. We bought the album and that was that. Didn’t matter if I knew who 311 were as humans, I bought their album, that’s it. But now we need more because we have more. If 311 re-tweets my “311 is my transistor! #AllMixedUp” — silly as it sounds (“very silly, RJC”) that may be all it takes to create that connection between random311 fan and the band.

    The Internet isn’t just about stealing music. It’s about connecting with people. Zuckerburgerz billions from facebook should prove that statement. So yeah, bands who wish they could roll into a studio, pump out an album and become super stars that only play on national television broadcasts… Nope. Sorry. Look at Radiohead. Go into your basement and live stream those songs to us. If your fans are on the Internet stealing your music, then you need to be on the Internet standing there saying, “Hey, it’s me, the artist who you are stealing from. Oh, you’re broke? That’s too bad. Hopefully my music will help you make some money so you can support me down the road. BTW, I’m El-P. Pleased to meet you, Fan.”

    tl;dr El-P is in the world. W-W-W-W-W-W-W-World.

  6. That’s the way it should be. If you want to listen to an album and you really like it, good, if you’re able to pay for it and do, even better. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t download music for free, but I try to pay for as much as I can and make sure I support the artists I really love, however that may be.

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  8. I love El-P’s stance and overall attitude on the whole thing. He’s just being level-headed and realistic, instead of letting anger and misunderstanding govern his responses to an extremely complex issue, that obviously nobody really understands the full ramifications of.

    No, we don’t know at all how it’s going to shake down in the end, and from one perspective it definitely seems like the literal de-valuing of music (only in the financial sense, of course) is a bad thing for artists.

    Looked at another way, however, the internet, along with all of its attendant technologies, and the effects they’ve had on music creation and dissemination, are collectively the greatest thing that has potentially ever happened for music (and those who love it – both creators and listeners); never before in the history of humanity has it been so possible (i.e. easy and affordable) for literally anyone to produce and distribute recorded music. How could this be a bad thing for either side?

    One thing is for certain – we’re seeing the crumbling downfall of an old system (regime?) in which the average music creator (regardless of his or her skill, talent, passion, originality, output, etc.) had literally about the same likelihood of having their music widely heard as of winning the lottery. This is simply no longer the case. Obviously a very good thing.

    Also – with respect to remuneration of artists – yes, it’s unfortunate that there’s no certainty at all anymore of being paid some dollar value per music unit consumed, but if we’re being honest with ourselves as artists – THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHY WE GOT INTO THIS.

    For me, the most reassuring, sensible, and right on aspect of El-Ps take on it is this: “I’m going to put out the most heartfelt, best shit I know how to make… The only thing that matters is a pursuit of a craft and a pursuit of something that you love.” Of course he’s right – and everything else is business, or bullshit, or cultural accumulation, or whatever. I agree, artists need to eat in order to make art, but for the first time in modern history there is the possibility for just about any independent music artist to create for him or herself a sustainable, honest career without needing to rely on the mega-scaled interests of a label’s corporate machinery (which were A – all but impossible to come by in the first place, B – antithetical to true artistic creation and C – generally a raw deal for the artists anyway).

    I mean, let’s be honest (and call me a socialist, but my only real complaint is that this sort of massive-scale leveling of patently absurd compensation disparity isn’t occurring in every applicable industry of society), the ‘old way’ of our music industry, which nevertheless persists on commercial radio, tv, mainstream popular culture in general, etc. etc., was (is) a horribly non-representational and ‘unjust’ model of presenting “art” to a public. Which is almost certainly because, duh, it’s driven primarily by the profit motive, which, obviously, has nothing to do with art of any kind. But I won’t harp on things we all (hopefully) already realize.

    My deep hope is that the ‘new’ music industry (i.e. the internet), with its current overall tendency toward egalitarianism, pluralism, proliferation, sharing, transparency, etc. will settle into some form of a fan AS WELL AS artist friendly model; one that is more reciprocal, more symmetrical, more reasonable. (And if this means the end of the bloated, detached, absurdist ‘rock-star-ness’ and accompanying fan adulation of yore, [which always seemed to me to be based on some sort of unhealthy denial of self anyway, but that's another post], well, that’s probably a good thing).

    Which brings me back to El-P: I love his hopefulness – he’s right in saying that it is our job, whichever side we are on in the relationship of artist/listener, to take care of each other. And I think that he’s also right in believing that when push comes to shove, regardless of how the details work themselves out, that this underlying, true relationship will prove to be mutually supportive.

    • I also applaud El P for taking a velvet hammer approach and speaking of the importance of mutual relationships and respect between an artist and fan. I only wish he had placed just a little more emphasis on the “respect” for ithe artosts ntellectual property and the dangers of letting those who run the illegal sharing sites make big profits, when it’s obvious they have nothing to do with the relationship he’s talking about.
      The Kim Dot.com’s of the world have zero relationship with the artists and fans (unless you count making his own Rap video with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West as a relationship) They are only in it for the money… So if your fans don’t want people like him to get rich from your art and the art of others with no respecting the artist. Perhaps they should think about sharing files with friends face 2 face or as email attachments rather than joining sites like Megaupload or other Torrent sites. Just a thought.

  9. I want to hang out with El-P.

  10. I love it when an artist comes out with a stance that doesn’t make me feel guilty about downloading music! Hooray!

    • Stephen… If that’s all you got out of El P’s opinion piece perhaps you should read it again…

      her’s my take on it from many artists perspective because I’m an indie producer and have spoken to loads of newer indie artists about their opinion. We are not made at individuals who share the music with friends but…

      I also applaud El P for taking a velvet hammer approach and speaking of the importance of mutual relationships and respect between an artist and fan. I only wish he had placed just a little more emphasis on the “respect” for ithe artosts ntellectual property and the dangers of letting those who run the illegal sharing sites make big profits, when it’s obvious they have nothing to do with the relationship he’s talking about.
      The Kim Dot.com’s of the world have zero relationship with the artists and fans (unless you count making his own Rap video with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West as a relationship) They are only in it for the money… So if your fans don’t want people like him to get rich from your art and the art of others with no respecting the artist. Perhaps they should think about sharing files with friends face 2 face or as email attachments rather than joining sites like Megaupload or other Torrent sites. Just something more for you to consider.

  11. As much as I adore El-P’s given a wonderful stance on music piracy, I still want to see djfreshie’s analogy-response to this.

  12. He’s so well-spoken.

  13. This cements my love for him and what he’s done with Def Jux. I never got a chance to buy I’ll Sleep When Youre Dead (a starving student I was then!) but I just ordered the deluxe pack with the poster.

    I just hope Def Jux gets back in full form they highlighted some of the best of underground.

    Def Jux should put out a proper full-length WEATHERMEN album……followed by a DESPOT album….mad love and big ups El

  14. Technology made the absurd idea of making a living off of a recorded instance of performance art possible. Technology is taking that away.

    https://twitter.com/larsonhicks/status/223187882519691264

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