A year ago, Mike [Masnick] presented at Midem, discussing how being more open, honest and awesome to the public and to your fans is a recipe for musical success in the internet era. It sounds like an easy concept, but it's one that few do really well. It means connecting with your fans and your public, engaging them positively, responding honestly to inquiries, and generally putting the ego aside and embracing a certain amount of humility.
Or, alternatively, you could go the Richard Marx route, which basically means acting like a self-important psychopath. That's what Edward McClelland at Salon discovered when he did a piece that made a joking reference about Marx.
As I wrote in a story last week on the Morning News, Marx – the Chicago-born singer best known for the 1980s soft-rock hits “Hold On to the Nights” and “Right Here Waiting” – demanded a sit-down with me after I called him “shameless” in a blog post for a local TV station’s news site.
Would you say that to my face?” he emailed me. “Let’s find out. I’ll meet you anywhere in the city, any time. I don’t travel again until the end of the week. Let’s hash this out like men."
Now, if you think it's a bit on the crazy side for 1980's ballad singers to go rushing around Chicago to meet up with people who said not nice things on the internet, you're not alone. Even stranger, it would appear that monitoring the interwebz and local papers for critics to respond to is something of a habit for Marx. He referred to one radio producer as a "coward", "jerk" and "douchebag" after he failed to show up for a radio appearance. The producer criticizing him for this qualified as a "pussy move" with Marx. He also was quite public in being upset at WGN-TV for not giving him more air time and told them essentially to go elsewhere if they needed a musical artist for their show in the future.
These are but a few examples and, in the age of the internet where these stories will never die, they represent the best way to torpedo any possible chance an artist might have at a career in the future. Then there was his email exchange with a writer for Chicagoist, which was memorialized in a YouTube video:
Right Here Waiting... Richard Marx & Scott Smith
There's just no reason to behave like this in any case, nevermind in an era where the harm done is multiplied and then refuses to disappear.
Now, in case you should think that my labeling Marx as "crazy" is unfair, take a look at a few samples from the email he sent to McClelland and dared him to post online.
-First, your editor, who’s not named but whose identity I can easily find, is a liar. I’ve never tipped less than 20% in my adult life, and you’re more than invited to call any establishments you think I may patronize to check it out.
-Second, to assume you can crawl inside my head and know what my motivation is for writing a song is arrogance reserved for the likes of Hitler and Stalin.
-The big question is why I give a shit about people like you or the things you write. Even my wife and some friends ask me why I don’t just let certain things go. Here’s my explanation. The internet, Twitter and blogs particularly, are a Utopian breeding ground for cowards. A place for small, frustrated people to spew vile, bitter shit without fearing true retribution. Today, you became the poster-boy for Chickenshit-itis. And for you, as well as anyone else who thinks this is as simple as me being “thin-skinned,” let me make a clear distinction, again…and for the last time: Mock or belittle my music all day long? Go for it. You’re entitled to your opinion. But disparage or call into question my character, and I’ll demand you answer for it.
I have to admit that last one is my favorite. Sadly, it is about being thin-skinned when you feel the need to drive your car from the suburbs into Chicago to meet face to face with some guy you don't know who said something you don't like on the internet -- especially when that "something you don't like" is the barely offensive claim that you are "shameless." More importantly, it shines a light on a psyche that is so desperate for attention and praise that it demands action from those he does not know. I can't take Marx up on his offer to critique his music because, frankly, I've never heard it. Nor have I heard of him prior to this piece coming out.
And that's really the point. For the sake of longevity, acting childish can do amazing things to your career and future opportunities. And I mean amazing the same way that Chernobyl was amazing. While the consequences in the internet era for being awesome are significant, so is the opposite true.