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After spending several years in social services, Nicole has finally followed her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer. In addition to her work for The Hudsucker, Nicole is also a staff writer for Womanista. An avid comic book fan, BBQ aficionado, professional makeup artist and first-time mom, Nicole can be found exploring Kansas City rich history when she's not blogging about suburban life at Suburban Flamingo.

What We’re Owed: Musicians and Audience

In September, Talib Kweli Greene published a piece on Medium about Lauryn Hill. Specifically the article was about how people feel about Lauryn Hill and their demands in regards to her music and her performance. In an over-simplified nutshell, Greene stated that when people paid to attend a Lauryn Hill performance they weren’t paying to hear her play music or perform in the way that Hill had performed that brought them to that place where fans would pay for concerts. Instead, he argued, that fans were paying good money to let Hill do whatever she felt like even if it was something that the fans didn’t want or like. Lauryn Hill and other artists, he argued, have absolutely no responsibility to fans. Art is for artists and fans are just welcome to watch.

Image Credit: 360nobs

Image Credit: PhotoXpress/Corbis

The conversation about what an artist’s responsibility to their fans has been going on for a long time, but it has come to the surface again lately. As reported in Vulture fans have been increasingly upset with Lauryn Hill because she is showing up at her own concerts over an hour late and then when she does manage to get onstage she performs versions of her songs that are garbled, unrecognizable and, frankly put, awful. More recently some fans were upset when Taylor Swift pulled her catalog of music off of Spotify when an agreement over fees couldn’t be reached. In both cases, fans felt like the artists owed them (in the case of Hill for her to play her hits in a recognizable fashion, and in the case of Swift to allow her music to be available to them on their terms). But what, if anything, are fans really owed? What do fans owe the artists?

It’s a complicated equation to balance, something of a chicken or egg proposition. Without interested fans willing to spend money on albums, concerts and other endeavors to support the artist, the artist wouldn’t have a career. Without the artist creating art though, the fan would have nothing to financially support. This arrangement creates a relationship between the fans and the artists where one needs the other. It’s not exactly symbiotic, and for either party it can feel parasitic when the fans expect one thing from the artist and the artist expects something else from the fans. This is where things get slippery, but really comes down to one thing: mutual respect.

There is only one thing that fans really owe artists and that artists really owe fans, but what does that look like? For starters, fans should pay for the material they consume that is produced by artists. In more simple terms, people need to pay for their music, television, movies, books, etc.  Yes, the label system is antiquated and in many cases wrong for multiple types of media, but at the end of the day the artist (be them writer, musician, etc.) earns their paycheck based off of the sales of their work. If you claim to be a fan of anything, you should be purchasing your product instead of pirating on the internet. Being a responsible fan means supporting the artist so that they can make more art. That also means not begrudging an artist their financial success. An artist does not owe fans free anything. For the fan and the consumer the art is entertainment, but for the artist creating it, that entertainment is work. It’s their job. It’s nice when an artist does something fun and free for fans, like a special single for download on their website or a short story available at no cost, but it’s absolutely not a fan’s right.

On the flip side of that, artists should produce artistic content with the idea that fans will be spending money on it. That isn’t to say that the demands of fans should necessarily drive content. Fans control the purse strings, but they aren’t always the best judge of quality product or what a creator is capable of. What it means instead is that artists should throw fans a bone as it were. Musicians appearing in concert? Don’t begrudge the fans their desire to hear the biggest hit. Embrace it and let them have something they like before diving into material that is newer or different. Acknowledging what the fans love shows respect and might even win more appreciation for what comes after. Giving the people what they want in small doses isn’t the same as “selling out” or pandering. It’s a simple show of appreciation.

Then there is the actual matter of respect. Greene asserts in his article that as an artist he should be allowed to give a poor performance or just flat-out not show up at a concert he’s sold tickets to if he doesn’t want to in his defense of Lauryn Hill being late for her own show. Greene is flat wrong. Not showing up just because one doesn’t want to isn’t a valid reason for not showing up to a concert that people have paid money for. Personal illness or catastrophe? Totally valid and understandable. Not showing up out of ego? That’s just rude and smacks of ego. It says, “I’m successful and can do what I want” to the very people who helped lift the artist to success in the first place. And the fans? They have a role of respect when it comes to performance as well: put down the mobile device recording the show or taking selfies and just enjoy.

Music, like all art, isn’t just a static thing. It’s dynamic. Tastes change just as the skill of a given musician changes as they grow and succeed. It’s natural for a musician to want to grow into their best self by way of exploring their creativity. It’s also entirely natural for fans to love the musician they first were introduced to. It’s not natural to make demands of each other. In the end artists and fans have to work together and through respect, not a sense of entitlement, make things work. That’s how beautiful music is made.

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