Friday, April 18, 2014

Die Antwoord Knows the New Music Paradigm

I want to talk for a minute about a musical act that has utilized what I believe to be the new paradigm in music distribution in a way that has helped them achieve international success. The musical act I speak of is no other than the totally Zef and completely unique rap-rave group Die Antwoord from South Africa.

Anyone who knows anything about this band knows they speak Afrikaans, curse worse than a drunken sailor, and rap about outrageous and explicit sexual acts, marijuana, gangster activity, and how awesome and Zef they are. What a lot of people don't know is that they also rap about being vegetarian and healthy, that you should be the best person you can, and that you should be wise with your money. In older works known as Max and The Constructus Corporation the lyrics take on topics as wide and varied as the Illuminati, NLP, and philosophical subjects such as the difference between Creators and Parasites as defined in Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead."

Die Antwoord has also brought us a whole new look and style with kids everywhere adopting both Yolandi Visser and Ninja style haircuts and their way of dressing in colorful pajama bottoms and onesies. Currently there is a wave of Zef inspired art spreading throughout the "interwebs" on Instagram and Tumblr.

With all this fame, where did it really come from? Die Antwoord is not played on the radio (they curse too much!), nor on the television, and honestly I've never seen a hard copy CD of any of their albums. The only way anyone has ever heard Die Antwoord's music is through the Internet... And their personal mp3 players. And that's the key.

When I want to introduce new music to someone else, the most likely way is I will do it is via my own personal mp3 player. Laptops and computers are too clunky and immobile to effectively do this. "Hey, Bob, I found this great new song on the Internet. Want to go to my house and look it up on YouTube?" "Naw." Right. And how did everyone end up with Die Antwoord on their personal mp3 players? Well, although the $O$ album can be purchased on the website, it's also easily downloaded as a torrent file on the peer to peer networks. And who put the files on the peer to peer networks? If I had to guess it would be Die Antwoord themselves. And just why would they do that? Because they understand that the Internet has changed the way "consumers" of music want their music content delivered; that means free. As Jun Mhoon puts in his interview, "2.5 billion illegal downloads a month means consumers want their music free."

In the past, before a music consumer devoured a CD they were inundated with it on the radio and MTV, both of which are one way communication channels; unlike the Internet which is two way. One would go buy the CD because One had to if One wanted to listen to the music. Now consumers don't have to because the peer to peer networks make all information available freely. This is because it is a two way communication. As long as the Internet remains a two way communication channel this will be so. This is exactly why, although the Big Record Labels have sued everyone on this planet and the next, the peer to peer networks remain open and running. To shut them down would literally require turning off the Internet. So you see, if the Internet is going to be here, so is free music.

However, not everyone knows how to use a torrent file. Not everyone wants their music for free. And by having their music available as both a purchasable download and a free download, Die Antwoord not only went viral but made a chunk of cash in the process. Maybe they didn't get rich, but I bet they didn't lose out either.

The change in the paradigm isn't about how to find new ways to sell the music, it's how to find new ways to make money from things related to the music. Two things that music consumers have always spent their money on are live performances and merchandise. But besides these are other methods such as re-releasing the same songs in different formats. Each time their is a re-release their will be the usual crowed that downloads it for free and spreads it virally and the usual crowd that pays for it. This allows the musician to reap several rounds of buying from the same album. Die Antwoord brilliantly did exactly this by re-releasing several versions of $O$, each with the songs slightly remixed. In fact, when you trace the evolution of Die Antwoord's music starting with Max Normal you can see the same techniques being used over and over again (in a self-referencing manner) so as to constantly cause the music consumer to have to search out and find the new version of the song and download it again. Another method of revenue could be selling a song for advertising, something that once used to be the hallmark of "selling out" and is now the hallmark of "buying in."

In all of the methods used to generate revenue from One's music in this new music distribution paradigm, one thing has changed the most; the role and job of the musicians themselves. Musicians are no longer just entertainers and performers. Musicians are no longer recording artists or composers. Musicians must now also be their own manager, promotion company, and CEO of it all. It's no longer enough for a band or musical act to just have an image; One must have a brand, in the complete sense of it's corporate meaning. The big difference here is that the image, music, and everything else associate with the brand is entirely owned and maintained by the artist themselves. Only in this fashion can music that breaks the norms, the mold, the stereotypes, achieve the type of success we've seen in Die Antwoord.

And think about this: Die Antwoord is about to release their newest album, "Donker Mag," sometime in May. I'm not entirely sure how their "world wide synchronized release" will actually work, but I almost guarantee that One will find the album for free as a torrent not too long after it's release. Why do I think that? Although Donker Mag has not come out yet, Die Antwoord has already book and sold out an entire world wide tour for Donker Mag. They've already made their money. In fact, I can think of no other Band that has sold out a show for an album that has not come out yet. Pretty amazing.

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