El-P On File-Sharing And The Artist-Audience Relationship

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.

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“[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.

Tags: El-P