Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: Interview with David Bowie

Nash, K. (1999). “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: Interview with David Bowie.” ComputerWorld. Retrieved August 1, 2001:,1199,NAV47-STO39387,00.html

The is a screen shot of David Bowie’s Home Page as it appeared on June 24th, 2010.

In this interview, David Bowie, a musician and philosopher, shares his view of the Internet and how it may evolve and influence society but also the music industry over time.

His depiction of his website serves as a starting point to his argument. The individualized portal, BowieNet – where he chats with fans on daily basis and keeps a personal journal – is telltale when it comes to his approach to the net. As a matter of fact, Internet is a huge decentralized village in Bowie’s point of view. The portal – by enabling the creation of online personas and by providing links to all the fan blogs on him – offers the opportunity to foster a village-like facet of internet with a free circulation of information and a sense of community built around him and his music. In fact, such interaction enables, according to Bowie, a new way of knowing people. He confesses that he likes to take on other names to simply observe what happens in the chat rooms. In this respect, Bowie argues that no corporation – even Microsoft – can monopolize it as Internet “thrives on its own chaos”. There are too many smaller and informal units and portals providing information that unite and dissolve.

Alongside, he develops the argument that Internet and technology have a strong influence on music composition, its listening, and therefore on its production. As chaos seeps into each step of the process, it is changing the landscape of the music industry. Referring to a computer program built for him to cut and reassemble his lyrics, he explains that what Joyce used to do with paper-cutting and glue he can now do it faster thanks to this software. The power of technology emerges as the process goes further than the human mind and sheds light on unusual associations between words – making for a chaotic and surreal writing – which, to his mind, will last long in the future. Parallel to this, music listening is changing because of music distribution on the Internet. He admits that being able to buy individual tracks would be the perfect deal and a new way to build the ideal album. Concerning this phenomenon, he draws a rather passive image of record corporations that are trying to resist this change in vain as there are many independent companies interested in the potential of internet in the spread of music downloading.

As Bowie lays emphasis on the weigh of people on the changes taking place in the relation to music and to internet itself, he also highlights the widening of a social as well as generational gap. Unlike television, Bowie explains that Internet will always create a discrepancy between people who have access to a computer and those who don’t, especially in education. What is more, parents will feel the disparity in knowledge and reference points when it comes to Internet. He nonetheless qualifies the revolutionary dimension of internet showing that change comes slowly.

Concept Design

On the concept, I will first notify that his website needs a registration to have access to anything for the amount of $ 64.99. To me, this changes everything he says about “the village aspect of the Net”. Given the fact that this interview was publishes in 1999 it is interesting to see how things have evolved and how some issues remain latent today. The BowieNet village appears more like an exclusive community you would want to be a member of to have access to premium services rather than a portal to get to know people and build a community around common interest. Today, this is done by social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, where subscription is free. Such communities create another relation to the artist where random people keep in touch with artists and share their daily activities have exclusive pre-sales for concerts and have direct updates. I wonder what would push a fan to pay to be part of the community on this website when he can get all the information for free. Paying for access to him seems something difficult to do as celebrity build proximity with their fans for free through Facebook. Selling access seems rather tricky and not very easy today.

Besides, the notion of free information has seeped into the will to get free access to music and free downloading. The issue of music listening has gone one level higher since Bowie’s interview. Responding to a new demand for one-track online files rather than whole album CDs, corporations have put in place online shops which has resulted in the vanishing of record stores in the US. This enables the creation of the “album of your dreams” Bowie referred to. However, overseas, European governments are trying to impose rules and laws to fight illegal downloading. This seems very difficult as Internet is indeed chaotic and made of innumerable global portals one-step ahead of the official tracking technologies. Bowie’s interface only offers a Jukebox which gives a selection of ten of his most recent songs. The fan who has not subscribed to his website can only listen to the first thirty seconds of the track and if he/she wants to buy there is a link to the singer’s online shop. This is at odds with groups like Radiohead who put their album for free downloading for a certain amount of time giving the choice to people to pay or not, or bands like Coldplay that gave a live album to their Facebook friends for free.

Interaction Design

When focusing on the interaction, the idea behind Bowie’s website is interesting and pioneers the social networking at the time. However, today this portal seems out-dated as it does not respond to fans’ need to have access to free exclusivity. At a time when Facebook and MySpace give the opportunity to have artists in your “friends” and to get free information and exclusive offers for pre-sales of concert tickets and exclusive information as well as a seemingly close relation, having to pay for the same things seems useless. However, when it comes to listening to music, corporations, alongside selling individual tracks, are shaping a new discourse around music: authenticity of sound comes from listening to music on vinyl records. Using artists to spread such a message seems to be working well as vinyl sales are increasing.

However, the whole relation to music seems to be changing as people invest more in music concerts and festivals. Looking at concerts only, there is a strong proximity built – on social networks especially – around the love of music and live performances. It is interesting to see how more and more artists post their impressions or ask for feedback after the concert on social networks. What is more, some artists use their blogs – like the French singer Cali – to organize after-shows with the fans in a bar near the concert place. Unfortunately, this proximity vanishes as artists get more and more popular. One counter example would be Keziah Jones who keeps a strong link with his audience via internet and is pro-free music sharing. He argues that the relation to music should be thought in another way with no money interference.

Interface Design

Finally, when it comes to the interface, by making the BowieNet portal paying, the image the artist exudes is changed. Having a focus on exclusivity and premium information and services is essential. This being said, the portal will give the impression of inequality and disparity, not between those who have internet and those who don’t but, between fans that have the means to invest money to have exclusivity and those who don’t. Today, this portal can almost make the artist look like a luxury product. Even if there is a direct discussion in the chat rooms with the artists, you are paying for it. However, the layout of the website is such that the offer seems appealing and the interaction and connectivity to other people and the artist are palpable when on the homepage of the website albeit in the frame of this high premium product: the artist, David Bowie.

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