How Projecting a Shade of Mystery Leads to Becoming an Object of Obsession

There’s a plethora of artists forging a following through social media, but only a few have become ­­­true subjects of fascination by just staying silent.

For musicians, making money from your music is the ultimate dream, but it feels overwhelming to get to that point. But to make money AND still be cool? It’s nearly impossible. However, there are some established artists that treat themselves like magicians: They don’t perform when summoned upon, but they are the ones who summon. And like magicians, they don’t give everything away. They merely present what the audience needs to see.

But believe it or not, the tools to keep a low profile are available these days, but to do it successfully and keep a following? That’s where the catch is. It’s no longer just an album cover in a record store anymore. Your success relies on a social media presence, being in touch with the fans, being friendly with the press… this is what most indie artists have been able to attribute their success to.

However, it’s the ones that keep things hidden that often end up becoming objects of obsession, the ones that either don’t share social media content often or find their own ways to communicate with the public.

The most recent, and probably clearest example, is Frank Ocean. Having cut himself off from the public via social media with his Tumblr account being the only lens into his private life (at least up until last year when he made his Instagram public), Frank Ocean kept his public image a low profile. However, this only fed the public into wanting more. Given his sparse release dates, rare live shows, and cancelled festival appearances, the general public only grew more curious as to how he executes his methods. His fanbase somehow grew despite retreating from the public eye. Quality became more valuable then quantity. What the audience couldn’t have, they craved.

Nonetheless, this is also capable through methods not including retreating from the public eye. Take Nick Cave for example. He’s not necessarily “active” on social media, but connects with fans through an email list serve called “The Red Hand Files,” in which he answers fans questions, ranging from the simplest questions to philosophical endeavors. There is not so much of a “presence,” so to say, but instead an intimate connection with the people deeply invested in him that come to him with profound, thought-provoking questions, an intimacy that no type of social media could ever capture.

But it also helps that he knows his audience, which is probably why the artists that choose these particular routes of communication are so successful with their fanbase – they know that they want, they understand them. And among electronic artists, no one knows their audience better than Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada.

Boards of Canada

Both acts are incredibly reclusive, yet have worldwide fanbases. They never do interviews (if they do, they’re usually conducted via email), and rarely perform live. Yet, they are so in tune with contemporary culture and how their audiences consume their content. Each of their last studio releases had unexpected, unorthodox album roll outs. When Aphex Twin’s Syro was announced in 2014 via a blimp flying over London, the only way to purchase the album was to access the dark web with the open-source software Tor through a link that his “twitter account” posted.

It’s methods like these that truly get their artists involved. So much so, that fanbases have come to expect it. In 2015, there was an anonymous Soundcloud dump in which days’ worth of music suddenly appeared under a stock username. The only tag attributed to it was #AFX, and by pairing the sound of the music with the hashtag, Aphex fans automatically knew who was behind the dump (Now, when he releases any material onto Soundcloud, he goes under the alias user48736353001).

As with Boards of Canada, not only do they know their audience well enough that they don’t have to be present on social media, they know exactly what their audience would do if they hinted at a potential album rollout. In 2013, the album rollout for Tomorrow’s Harvest included a scavenger hunt, in which six un-labeled LPs were delivered to record stores around the world on Record Store Day, each one playing a different series of numbers. And just as the band expected, the fans turned to the internet. One such record was discovered in Manhattan’s Good Music, in which the buyer went to Reddit and mentioned he found an unnamed Boards of Canada record, when another user chimed in stating that he also found one in the U.K., that played a series of specific numbers. One by one, each buyer shared their sequence of numbers, and when plugged into a terminal link tweeted by the band, the page led you to an official press release for the album (To this day, only one of these records was never reported found.)

Crazy isn’t it? To have such faith in your fanbase that you know exactly how far they would go to discover new material? By being in touch with contemporary culture, this lack of social media exchange is filled with such tactics that provide an intimacy social media could never conjure, as if it’s a secret language that’s kept secret between the artist and the fans.

All of these artists have become objects of obsession by projecting some shade of mystery. By retreating from the typical uses of publicity via social networks, these artists find their own ways to interact with their audiences, thus creating a special bond between them. It’s not enough to just release music and keep minimal interaction with your fans – creation and appreciation of your fans should go hand-in-hand, revealing realms of intimacy that exist beyond social media.


Featured image courtesy of Getty Images. 

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