Total Pageviews

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Freedom Of Choice (Is What You Got)

If someone were to ask me what band I think best defined the sound of the 80's, you might expect me to say Madonna or Prince, or maybe Duran Duran. Even though they represent some of my favorite music from that decade, and beyond, it is the signature sound of New Wave pioneers Devo that, for me, best represents the 80's as a musical movement.

It has been nearly 30 years since Devo released their "Freedom Of Choice" album in July 1980, featuring the hit title track, along with super-smash hit "Whip It" and "Girl U Want". The wait for new material is finally over, with upcoming album "Something For Everybody" slated for a June 2010 release. The first glimpse of new Devo material came in a commercial for Dell laptops, featuring parts of the song "Watch Us Work It", which was selected by Dell from a number of tracks the group was working on. The song features a sample drum track from the song "The Super Thing" off their 1981 album New Traditionalists, and a video was created for the track, parts of which were incorporated into the Dell commercial.

After hearing that track, I became increasingly interested in the upcoming album's progress and began searching for information about its release and other track information. A second track was released, "Don't Shoot (I'm A Man)", and a video was made for it and played on a screen during live performances. In anticipation for the new album's release, Devo has created a website called the Devo Song Study, created to allow fans to preview the 16 tracks that have been recorded and select 12 of those to be included on the new album. I found it easy to select the standout tracks, and I'm glad they chose to include "Work It" in the study as I feel it's the strongest of the new material and ultimately among my very favorites of theirs. Upon selecting the 12 tracks, participants have the opportunity to enter some personal information and some comments, as well as a personal picture. The next page is a large graph showing the updated results and the "bars" in the graph are made up of the photos of those who have participated.

After completing my selections and exiting the Song Study page, I was very impressed with the bands' inclusion of fan input, especially regarding such an important decision. The final tracklisting of a new release is usually compiled with great care and input by the music label and the artist; mostly because the labels are pushing "singles" these days. I've seen several interviews regarding the release of albums in which the artist is either forced to include or exclude certain tracks as decided by the label executives. In similar fashion, the email I received from the band with the link to the Song Study even mentioned that the 16 tracks recorded "at the request of corporate leadership, must be narrowed down to 12 for the official album release". With this song study, not only does Devo get an idea of the type of songs fans want to hear from the results, they will get an early forecast of album sales, if those voting were to purchase the album.

I wish more bands would show this kind of interest in what the fans want when it comes to new releases. For many fans, such as myself, a new release from a favorite band is a big deal and core fans follow the progress of that next album with great interest. With the slump of album sales the music industry has faced in this digital age, fan input should be more important than ever if it will lead to improved album sales. Of course, many would say that kind of process would take the creative control away from the artist forcing them to sell out and stop making music they wanted to make in favor of selling records. However, I think there is a healthy balance that could be achieved from letting fans hear a few tracks prior to release to get a feel for how it could be received, as Devo has done here. Perhaps an enthusiastic response could inspire a new track, or make the label change their mind about a track they had decided to leave off. Ultimately, I think that the artists should have full creative control, since it is their sound and vision that the fans are following. Having said that, I do see an opportunity for artists to learn from this Song Study that giving fans a voice can help them become more successful without giving up their identity.

No comments: