Tommy Lee embraces crowd sourcing by giving fans the chance to play on his latest Methods of Mayhem album.
They're with the band
"These days, you've got to have some way to involve fans so it's an experience, not just another record. This just seemed like a perfect way," Tommy Lee told Billboard.com last week. He was explaining that he had embarked on a radical experiment. The forthcoming album by his nu metal band, Methods of Mayhem, will feature parts played by his fans. Lee and the producer Scott Humphrey have made the raw tracks for their new album, Public Mayhem, available for download on a website called ThePublicRecord.com. Fans can take the tracks - which are available as MP3 files - and add their parts to them. A donation is made to charity for every submission to the site and Lee promises a credit on the album for all contributions that make the cut (but no royalties).
He says he has received more than 1,000 submissions from all over the world, with fans playing a variety of instruments, including the bagpipes. According to Lee, the results so far are "absolutely insane" - meaning good. Lee plans to release the CD - complete with fan-made additions - on February 11 and then link up with contributors when his tour hits their hometown. Eammon Forde, the digital editor at the music business magazine Music Week, says Lee has hit on a smart way to reach out to his fans.
"If you are a 15-year-old kid in a small town in America and you get to play on Tommy Lee's album, it's like winning the lottery. It's the coolest thing imaginable," he says. Lee is not the first artist to try to interact with his fan base in this way, although he is the first musician to allow fans to play on the songs he has written. Radiohead and Barenaked Ladies have posted "stems" or files of completed tracks whose constituent parts can be separated for their rabidly enthusiastic fans to download, remix and re-post.
"It's a great way to build buzz on a record," says Forde. "With so much music now available online, the loyalty of fans is harder to maintain. One way to get their loyalty is involvement. "That's why you see so many bands backstage with laptops surfing social media sites. Instead of doing drugs, they are communicating with their audience. Making tracks available for fans to play on is an extension of that."
Until recently, material contributed by the audience was called "user-generated content". These days, it is more often referred to as "crowd sourcing". The term was coined by the Wired contributing editor Jeff Howe, whose book Crowdsourcing was published in 2008. "Crowd sourcing is taking a job once performed by an individual and offering it to a large, undefined audience in the form of an open call," says Howe. Examples include Wikipedia, which is updated by thousands of editors for free, and The Guardian's campaign around the UK MP expense scandal. The newspaper created a system that allowed members of the public to search 700,000 expense claim documents. More than 20,000 people scanned the claims looking for anything inappropriate.
To Howe, the benefits of crowd sourcing are clear: it generates a lot of ideas from a broad reach of people for very little cost. "In the case of Tommy Lee, he gets buzz off of it and increased sales," says Howe. But Howe believes that the Methods of Mayhem experiment is more about marketing than anything else. "As soon as a bunch of bands do this, the novelty aspect of it will become clear," he says.
Howe is not the only critic to accuse Lee of too much marketing savvy. Brandon McCulloch, an LA musician with the rock band The Dead Birds, is opposed to farming out the creative process to fans, however committed they may be. "I would never do it," he says. "Tracking random people's interpretations of Methods of Mayhem songs would probably sound like the lobby at Guitar Centre." (The instrument store is, coincidentally, a sponsor of The Public Record site.)
"Ideas for records happen in the immense amount of time that producers, songwriters and musicians spend together while working on them," he says. "These ideas happen when everyone goes for coffee or lunch, or over drinks afterwards. That 'hang' is really important in defining a record and creating a mood. I don't see how that vibe could exist in the Methods idea. I also believe in presenting finished work to the audience, not asking for their help, but I'm old fashioned."
Forde agrees the idea has limitations. "While it could trigger more creative collaborations," he says, "it is a time-consuming way to make music and there are too many uncertainties - you don't know what you'll get. "But it's a wonderful treat for fans."