Alex Day & The Future Of The Music Industry
YouTube star Alex Day is back in the news with the simultaneous release of three singles. Day initially drew attention on YouTube with a variety of entertaining videos that allowed him to get his music in front of lots of folks and subsequently sell quite a bit, reaching #4 on the UK's top singles chart. When I wrote about his achievements late last year I referred to him as unsigned but after speaking with him this week, I realized he is one of those artists who has chosen to sign himself.
When I spoke with Alex Day, I was interested in finding out more about what he's doing and why. Yes, he's posted impressive stats and that's what's validated his perspective but we didn't talk numbers. Instead we discussed his approach to navigating his way into a music career from the perspective of someone who views industry norms with a webcentric perspective.
Silver Surfer Summer Songs
Day contacted me recently to let me know Ryan Holiday had written not just one but two posts about Day's approach in the wake of his release of three singles:
They're both good pieces but I have to admit I kind of bristled at this claim in the second post:
"Where is the music press on all this? Sleeping of course."
But even though I did write about Day, I have to admit I can't recall seeing much coverage in the States though he has made Billboard chart news. But here's the thing, Day doesn't do normal industry pr and I bet there's no industry writer that would really buy into his happy, poppy music so I doubt any writer at a major industry outlet has been following his activities very closely. No disrespect but that's real.
Day also suffered a bit of a pr mishap with music outlets in the States. Day sent an email to a list of 2000 to let folks know what he was doing and mentioned that he was wanting to get some attention from various State-side outlets like Hypebot, Lefsetz and Pitchfork. He says he was hoping that some of his fans and friends might have contacts to put in a good word but instead they sprung into action and began bombarding the above outlets with email.
Day wants folks in the industry to know he didn't mean to have his supporters spam them. That's cool but you can see how the lack of doing more typical approaches to press contact combined with overenthusiastic fans contacting outlets that mostly wouldn't cover him anyway (Lefsetz & Pitchfork? no) would lead to non-attention.
And that's where I started our conversation. I know reporters typically save the difficult questions for last but I decided we needed to clear the air and I found Day's response as convincing and sincere as I do his work. It's not my kind of thing but that's not really important. What's important is that he's finding his own alternative to traditional industry approaches and that's what we discussed.
Alex Day – Good Morning Sunshine
Yesterday Day dropped the above video for Good Morning Sunshine, one of his three singles released earlier this month. I watched it just before speaking with him by phone and assumed it was a bunch of his friends. As it turns out, they are his friends but they're also other YouTube stars that would be recognized by his fanbase. It's also a good representation of his pop aesthetic and happy, positive approach to life, at least in his public presentation.
Day said he decided to release the singles as a batch because he wanted to do things differently from both the industry but also from how he's done things in the past. His release of the single Forever Yours in late 2011 focused on leveraging his fanbase and media attention to get the single to #1. He made #4 partly with a simple trick. He released multiple remixes of his single all of which counted towards his sales.
This spring he released another single, Lady Godiva, which did quite well. He didn't do the remixes this time but did manage physical distribution in the UK due to a young fan who convinced his dad to give Day a try.
For his next singles, Day decided to release them in a batch and numbers are looking good there as well. Along the way he talked to the Lady Godiva distributor about his plans which kind of boggled the man's mind. Day explained that there was no lead single and that he wouldn't be working it to radio. They apparently left it at that but the relationship stands.
This time around he says he's not even concerned with the charts because nobody really cares. Obviously that's not entirely true, especially given that he does want media coverage and that much of his media coverage in industry outlets has been focused on or validated by his chart positions. And that's where things get even more interesting.
Day is clearly working from the perspective of someone that is outside of the old industry but helping create the new music industry. Yet he does want ties to the old industry and sees value in those relationships. He just doesn't want to give up creative control or change what he's doing to get additional support.
I immediately thought of Odd Future's approach and suggested he check them out. Though the aesthetics are seemingly at opposite ends of a musical spectrum, the business side of things seems quite similar. For example, they turned down magazine covers if they didn't read the magazines. And they've become successes by doing things their own way while building a strong fanbase via the web.
But Odd Future was also sought out by industry figures such as Christian Clancy who recognized that their approach simply needed more support and an understanding of available options. Clancy saw that Odd Future was about a new way of doing things and he was able to work with them by honoring and building on that. Clancy's not the only industry figure involved but I think it's clear that Alex Day needs to find his Christian Clancy to realize his goals.
Day claimed his biggest goal is not to be famous but to have his music well known. He says he wants to be able to ask random strangers if they know him or his music and would be quite happy to discover that they didn't know who Alex Day was but loved that song, Good Morning Sunshine, they'd been hearing everywhere.
Day also says he isn't driven by money but then again he's also making a living at this point from his music. Which is good because Day says he's really not that interested in touring. Day claims it's because it seems somewhat unfair to perform in one place when folks in another can't see him. But he also expressed his desire to do different things and the grind of touring doesn't really appeal to him though he would consider a major world tour at some future date.
Day also isn't really interested in crowdfunding though he does respect the accomplishments of individuals such as Amanda Palmer. He says his basic approach is to make it possible for his fans to preview his music and then, if they really like it, to buy it. He doesn't want people buying his music just because they like him. Doing a Kickstarter campaign puts him in the position of having to create after getting paid. For some this position is a luxury but when you can sell music, you can take such stances.
Last but not least, Day doesn't like using the term fans. To a large degree, it's reflective of the egalitarian position he takes on his work and his relationship to others. He feels that calling his listeners and supporters fans assumes that he's in a position of superiority rather than an equal who's making music that they like. Also, at the end of the day, just because somebody bought a single doesn't truly make them a fan and he seemed to feel that it was somewhat dishonest to label someone a fan who may not really hold that status.
I hope these points from my discussion with Alex Day give readers a sense of where he's coming from and how that relates to emergent approaches to the music biz. If you want to know more, he has a quite detailed Wikipedia page courtesy of some of his enthusiastic fans.
Back to Ryan Holiday's question, Is YouTube and Chart Sensation Alex Day the Future of Music?, I would have to say no. Instead, I think Alex Day is very much situated in the chaos of the music industry's present and, along with a heck of a lot of other people, is helping build that future.
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (@fluxresearch) blogs about business at Flux Research: Business Changes and about dance at All World Dance: News. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.