Thursday, July 7, 2011

How Indies are Democratizing the Arts & Why I Love Ben Semmens

This guy's voice is haunting me - in a good way.  The fact that I was able to discover Ben says a lot about the changes in how we are able to enjoy music, art and books.  The digital age has democratized our access to the arts.  Now, instead of "gatekeepers" deciding what we listen to (or books we read or art we see), artists can go directly to the public.

Many of us have known for years that the "best" music wasn't necessarily what was showing up on our radio.  Large corporations "own" the music business (and the book business and every other business).  Corporations cannot predict what the next big thing will be so they try to replicate the last big thing.  Sure, there are exceptions to this but for the most part, corporate supported art is homogenized.  In the past, if you're someone who likes the unique, the different, the truly new then you may have had to work to find it.

Not anymore.  The digital age has made it relatively easy for consumers to find new and interesting art.  I stumbled upon Ben's PledgeMusic page and heard "Constant Dream" one day when I was surfing the net.  And Ben is Indie.  Without the backing of a label, he sold over 60,000 downloads of songs from his first album Western Lights.

When I heard Ben's music, I could see why it might be tough to get a big label recording contract.  His voice is great, but his music is a bit tough to categorize.  If the corporation can't categorize it, put a label on it and get it onto a particular shelf, they're not very interested (especially for new or emerging artists).

When artists are pushing the envelope - going deep into creativity - their work can be hard to categorize.  Musicians may mix jazz with funk and add a little surfer vibe and what do you get?  Something that's hard to label.  But dang, that would be some cool music huh!?

It's the same with writing.  Some authors write mystery or romance or thrillers or sci fi.  But what if a writer mixes sci fi with western?  Or maybe mythology with action and throws in fantasy?  It could be a great story but may never see the light of day because an acquiring agent knows he/she can't sell it to a large publishing house because it defies quick and easy categorization.

Some consumers want the standard, the same, the thing that feels familiar.  That's fine.  There's plenty of that out there.

But for those of us who enjoy stretching ourselves a bit - listening to something we don't normally listen to - read a genre bending book - we are blessed with more choices than ever, right on our computer.

The beauty of iTunes and Smashwords and Amazon Kindle and other platforms is that individuals with something to say can say it and categorizing doesn't matter as much.  It's not actually taking up physical shelf space and it can stay there in perpetuity, finding its audience as slowly as it needs to.  An artist doesn't need to change their voice or mainstream their art to be heard.  Artists now are able to go directly to the people and don't need to get through the establishment "gatekeeper."

How democratic is that!  Vive la revolution!

If you like the different, the unique - if you like to take a chance - sample new things for the pleasure of every now and again finding something you love - then support the Indie artists of the world.  Musicians.  Novelists.  Poets.  Artists.

Here are two of Ben's songs for you to check out for yourself.

I'm not a Twilight fan, but this is the only video I could find for "Constant Dream" that I can share.  So if you love Twilight, keep your eyes open and enjoy.  If you can't stand the sight of Bella and Edward, then close your eyes and enjoy Ben's beautiful voice.

"Constant Dream" could be in the soundtrack for my forthcoming novel Emily's House.  It perfectly captures the way Emily feels at the beginning of the book.

Ben is working on his first solo album and I hope we don't have to wait too long to hear his new tunes.  Here's one that I hope he'll include (and the photo montage is nice too).

So check Ben out and let me know what you think.  And, if you have favorite Indies, share with us here.

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