Next Projection – by Dustin Freeley
Pop Meets the Void is an innovative project that presumes to tackle the problems of self-promotion and success in the age of the Internet, where the music industry is suffering through the tail end of its death rattle. It’s precisely within this rattle that writer, director, and star tells his story “through a series of parallel narratives that explore varying levels of success” in a series of fractured narratives that “overlap, intertwine and never end in this surrealist comedy.”
The narrative style that Cusick employs similarly serves to mirror the ways in which both artist and audience are pulled in various directions. This constant pulling is made doubly chaotic in an age besot with the perceived illusion of endless information, which is often slickly re-package as different forms of the same entertainment and distraction. This is not to suggest that the Internet lacks jewels of discovery and unique experiences. But, for the most part, we are drawn to certain interests – for many, it appears to be cats on treadmills and skateboards – and these interests relate to the generated pop up ads that uniquely appear on our screens. Moreover, Google finishes our sentences as we type, calculating the probability that we are looking for one of its top three autotyped suggestions.
In other words, entertainment has become much less about discovery and much more about self-medicating, or as Cusick suggested in a recent interview, “As a culture, we’ve come to treat our entertainment as therapy, and most of us want reliable, comforting narratives to disappear into for a few hours.” Ostensibly, this might seem cynical inasmuch as it suggests that there is a general decline in the search for or enjoyment of more highbrow or evocative viewing, but this point can be better understood if we look at a recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers study, in which it is suggested that 88% of viewers are comfortable watching a show that have in the past, 59% view something recommended by a close friend or family member, 45% flip through the channels until they find something, and 42% are swayed by an advertisement they saw on TV, online, or on a billboard, while only “4 percent of respondents said they listen to social media” (source). While intriguing, the second, third and fourth stat are tricky in that they could very well fit under the umbrella created by the paradox between unlimited information and familiarity. Taking suggestions from family or close friends is fine, but this is where we find both comfort and similarities in daily life. The 1,000 friends we each have on Facebook might suggest a large social network with myriad interests, but the dozen that we communicate with most will generally share the same interests. Those who flip through channels until they find something will most likely settle on something they’ve seen before, or something similar to that, and those swayed by an ad most likely, in this day and age, viewed it online, which means that the ads were crafted to their settings and previous searches. (There’s a reason why Hulu is continuously asking where this ad is “relevant to you.”)
So one question begged here for the artist is: How does the artist relate to an audience that is set in its ways? Cusick believes, “The conversation is consistently about artists’ responsibilities of knowing their audiences, performing outreach, advertising and promotion to connect with audiences – which in some ways makes sense. However, it is problematic that the onus to connect is laid almost entirely on independent artists and creators.” This final sentiment justly sums up one of Pop Meets the Void’s agenda. (If you’ve seen Cusick’s previous award-winning film Welcome to Nowhere (Bullet Hole Road), you’ll know that his work has multiple agendas.) The age of the Internet has provided a “rebirth of the musician industry,” but the primary problem in this rebirth is that the musician is now required to become a dozen or so other people along with being the artist. Larger budget endeavors like the slew of tentpole films created solely to generate hundreds of millions of dollars – Michael Bay, Jerry Bruckheimer, Disney, and most recently Pixar (for shame!), we are all looking in your direction – benefit from the “work of professional marketing and advertising [that]eases this transition from interested individuals to complacent consumers.” However, Cusick argues that “The Internet Age is causing a class of artist-marketers to sink or swim. The major music and film studios are taking fewer chances, coupled with more folk artists taking more chances and creating more work and uploading it freely online. And then these artists are faced with either daunting self-promotion or simply letting their work sink into the void.” In turn, “Artists are pitted against other artists competing for attention and opportunities in what increasingly (albeit deceptively) appears to be a zero-sum game of success.”
Returning to the disjointed narratives within Pop Meets the Void, we can see an industry-induced schizophrenia that simultaneously offers the promise of an audience through a ubiquitous, expansive connection of networks, as well as a daunting, exhaustive requirement to undertake the responsibilities of self-promotion that can, ultimately, lead to the self-dilution of one’s work.
Returning to the disjointed narratives within Pop Meets the Void, we can see an industry-induced schizophrenia that simultaneously offers the promise of an audience through a ubiquitous, expansive connection of networks, as well as a daunting, exhaustive requirement to undertake the responsibilities of self-promotion that can, ultimately, lead to the self-dilution of one’s work. Or, as Alina Simone eloquently lamented in a recent New York Times article about her “forced entrepeneursip” when her record label’s “website vanished without warning one day,” “I was a singer, not a saleswoman. Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur.” And, at times, this forced entrepreneurship “naturally winnows out the artists who lack the ability, confidence or desire to publicly solicit donations” or promote themselves (source).
Ironically enough, the initial success of Pop Meets the Void will rely on the ability to self-promote, another skill Cusick has added to his titles of actor, director, writer, composer of the music within the film. The project is currently raising funds on Kickstarter, but is a bit short of its intended goal of $35,000. However, the money thus far raised proves that there is an audience out there waiting to be challenged, one that understands the difficulties in finding interest despite being thrust into an age with ever-so-much-more fluid gauges of success – and illusions of the same successes.
Brilliantly summing up these difficulties, Cusick admits, “Almost everyone is a creator of something, in some form, and so the act of listening becomes integral to the reciprocal act of sharing, or in this age, re-sharing and re-posting. But that concept is at the heart of community – we ought to give a shit about what others in our community are doing, lest we cease to be part of a community at all.”