Rapper Kanye West was described as one of the most effective communicators with his fans, during a panel discussion at the MidemNet conference in Cannes.
The “Serving Artists, Serving Fans” discussion, moderated by Billboard international bureau chief Mark Sutherland, focused on creating value from the relationship between fans and artists. MidemNet is a two-day conference covering the digital music business.
Bryan Calhoun, VP of new media and external affairs at Sound Exchange, is a consultant to Kanye West and says the rapper is “very active with communicating with his fans” on his blog and sometime posts seven or eight times a day. His music recommendations on the site have made him something of a tastemaker, or “curator for what is cool” according to Calhoun.
“It’s definitely him,” Calhoun added, referring to the entries at www.kanyeuniversecity.com/blog. “It’s totally authentic. You can’t pay to put things on there [West’s recommendations] — people have tried.” He declined to say who had tried.
The “significant amount of traffic” to the blog also means it makes money from advertising, Calhoun added.
Mailouts and annoucements to fans are specifically from West, never attributed to Island/Def Jam, which Calhoun said is crucial in personalizing the service and making the connection. He stressed that West is “very particular” about the messaging and there is complete control over his online activity at the blog and other platforms.
“The digital footprint we’ve amassed for him is really significant,” said Calhoun.
Australian pop singer Sia, one of the artists recommended by West on his blog, is represented by another of the panelists, Tim Clark of IE Music. He also manages U.K. pop act Robbie Williams.
Sia was dropped by a major a few years ago, but Clark said that has worked out for her. “Now we wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Clark. “It meant we could go out and find the best service providers in the world.”
He said that technology “allows fans to connect with the fans and vice versa” and he doubted that majors are even the best option for acts that require global marketing. “We are happy to talk to majors about global marketing solutions, but at the moment their costs are too high,” said Clark. “What we have to give away is ludicrously high.”
Clark also wanted to see some of the power swing back to artists, away from Apple iTunes and MTV. “I don’t think artists have got a fair return,” he said. “I think he [Steve Jobs] got a great deal from us, as did MTV.”
Fans of late artists also have to be carefully considered, too, according David Schulhof, co-founder and co-CEO of U.S. publisher EverGreen Copyrights, which controls rights to dead artists including folk singer Nick Drake and Roy Orbison.
Schulhof announced during the discussion that Evergreen has signed a deal with Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records label to release a Nick Drake tribute album, featuring covers by Johnson, Dave Grohl, Eddie Vedder and Norah Jones.
“Fans are willing to pay for that kind of product,” he said. “I don’t think labels are doing that and I certainly don’t think publishers are doing that.”
The recording process was filmed and will be released as a DVD package. It will also include the late actor Heath Ledger’s version of “Black Eyed Dog,” filmed in late 2007 for a multimedia installation about Drake but never officially released.