Mike Doughty's recent offer of individually unique recordings of the song "Dogs/Demons" delivered on a digital voice recorder for $543.09 can be looked at as both high end superfan merch and as a conceptual art project. On first glance it may strike one as a form of Veblen good but closer examination reveals the art world aspects of the Dogs/Demons project.
"I’ve got a song called 'Dogs/Demons'. It’s not on an album; it’s not available on the internet, or anywhere else. It’s available only on a digital voice recorder..."
"I’m releasing the song in individual versions: if you order a copy of 'Dogs/Demons,' I will record a version for you on the same recorder I recorded it on. You’ll be able to plug it into a computer (cable is included), and copy it to your hard drive."
"It will be an entirely individual performance–you will have the only, repeat ONLY, copy of that performance."
Doughty then describes a number of restrictions including available keys and how one's name will be used. He also clarifies that one can resell the piece as one would a work of art but that buyers do not get copyright of the piece for licensing or reproduction (normal conditions for art objects). In fact, Doughty also maintains that the song will never be recorded or licensed outside the bounds of this project.
Icing on the frosty cake:
"Personalized messages, if approved, are available for $35,335.53 (not a typo–clearly this is intended to discourage requests for personal messages, but you can indeed purchase one, if you wish to)."
As a piece of music merch for superfans, it's hard not to view this offer as a form of Veblen good, a luxury item valued more highly due to its price as a signifier of exclusivity. But superfans include obsessive collectors, some of whom have money to spend on such an item, that often have a more complex perspective on such pricing. And the audio segments Doughty provides as multiple examples of how the song might sound reveal a distinctive quality to each performance that is likely to entice completists.
Yet Doughty name checks conceptual artist Ray Johnson and the documentary about Johnson, "How To Draw A Bunny," as a source of inspiration, revealing the possiblity that this project is meant for art collectors. In an interview with Jill Krasny for MTV Hive, he goes into more detail:
"Ray Johnson used to do this thing where he’d rope buyers into this kind of bizarre negotiation: someone would buy a self-portrait, and he’d send it with a note that says, 'I added a cigarette, so that’ll be an extra $5,000.' The buyer would balk, so he’d go, 'Alright, tell you what — I took out the cigarette, but I added a skull — that’ll be just $2,500'..."
"The fact that, if you want the song’s bridge, it costs an extra $267.09 is an homage to Ray. There’s an option for a personal message that costs $35,335.53, which, like the rest of this, is true — but it’s mostly tongue-in-cheek."
He also states that the project is an "art prank" and that he came up with the price by:
"[asking] some painters how much they’d charge for a very small painting. They said $1,500, which I thought was too much. I would’ve just charged $500, which I think is a fair price for something that will only happen once on the planet — but I wanted it to be a ridiculously specific number."
These statements clarify the framing of the work as a form of conceptual art realized in a limited numbered edition. Yet Dogs/Demons isn't being marketed through the gallery system. It does seem to be about feeding superfans something that goes beyond music merch. People whom Doughty describes in terms related to fans rather than collectors when he says some took him up on the offer:
"I have a fantastic audience, who enjoy this kind of oddball stuff."
Ultimately Dogs/Demons is a thoughtful project that crosses boundaries dividing concepts like superfan, luxury consumer, art collector and high end music merch, Veblen good, limited editon art object.
Gotta have one? Order 'Dogs/Demons'
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/App.net) blogs about music crowdfunding at Crowdfunding For Musicians (@CrowdfundingM). To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.