Liner Notes: A hypothetical case study featuring Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards
Last week, I had the pleasure of announcing Random Nerds’ new article series Liner Notes, where we’ll be putting the digital pen in the hands of musicians and asking them to write on whatever it is they’re passionate about. Hopefully, that will lead us to some great journeys inside the minds of our favorite artists and — thanks to our Patronizing system — it can also be a nice revenue driver for up-and-coming musicians who could use a little extra money for things like food and shelter.
However, there are a few fortunate bands that have the bare essentials covered, so in an effort to sucker in some of the larger music labels out there, I wanted to explain how a more marquee band might take advantage of the Liner Notes concept.
For instance, let’s take Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards…
On March 18 of 2014, Tune-Yards released “Water Fountain,” the lead single off their sophomore album Nikki Nack.
It’s a song, to quote Merrill Garbus herself, “about my anxiety over the collapse of our societal infrastructure and the lack of drinkable water.” However, Garbus didn’t just let this catchy bit of creative outpouring be the sole product of her anxiety, she actually started a fund that raises money to help support organizations dedicated to water issues around the world#. And if you happen to hear “Water Fountain” during a random Sonos ad before your selected YouTube video plays, rest easy: “A huge part of being convinced to do that,” Garbus told Billboard, “was starting this fund with money we got directly from that.”
But Merrill Garbus is more than just a large-hearted musician with a cause, she also happens to be a very capable writer, as evidenced by her essay on The Talkhouse about her then-recent trip to Haiti and exploring its non-Western musical traditions:
We had rented, directly from the people who normally lived in them, several homes to stay in while we were in the village. We slept on straw mats on the dirt floors, covered only by sheets since it was humid and hot, night and day. I’d close my eyes to the sounds of the drums, always with the perpetual kick of the boula drum playing the katabou rhythm — two sticks, playing the 2 and 3 beats of a triplet — until the sun was nearly up and it was time for the priests and priestesses to take a brief respite from dancing.
And this is where Liner Notes could come in handy.
Imagine if Tune-Yards had released “Water Fountain” in conjunction with an essay on water scarcity written by Garbus and said that any money Patronized to that article would go straight to their water-issues fund. Not only would they be able to capitalize on that great lead-single press with a definitive and proactive call-to-action, their press team would be able to shop this very unique, very personal digital asset to all those music blogs that are inundated everyday with the same boilerplate press releases and monotonous Q&A-style interviews.
Not to mention, they’d be mobilizing their fanbase to help the world in some way.
As Garbus explained to The Telegraph earlier this year, “It’s kind of scary how little people digest lyrics and think about what’s being said.” But by using the more direct medium of the essay, Garbus could circumvent that lack of digestion and force her message down audiences’ throats like some kind of social justice broccoli. Plus, you just know the thing would inevitably end up getting pick-up from sites like Mother Jones and Huffington Post who eat it up when musicians dabble in politics, which means entirely new demographics would be exposed to Tune-Yards’ music.
Seems like a pretty big win-win all around, right?
And since we’re already talking about Mother Jones, how about this reminder about perspective courtesy of an interview they did with Ms. Garbus back in 2012 to close us out:
I question all the time, why do art? You’re not a doctor, you’re not a social activist necessarily, you’re not helping people directly. I’m still asking those questions — I don’t know what the answers are. But, I never felt good about just making art for my own sake; that kind of spacey, self-satisfied artist vibe was never what I wanted. I guess all I can do is offer my questions out to other people who might be asking the same questions, or even people who need to be reminded to ask questions once in a while.
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