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Case Study: Esperanza Spalding’s Exposure project

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 09:36
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The increasing necessity of using social media as the primary way to promote yourself in the Music Industry, can place a focus away from the creative ‘music making’ process and move towards a more business minded artistic approach. The amount of followers you have is now a key criterion in judging whether an artist is going to sell tickets to an event, which in turn, is about how much profit can be made.

Continually posting photos, videos, updates, news and now more and more live streaming means that the life of a musician can seem more about promotion than the actual art and dare I say it, joy, of music making. What is next?

Well, the artist Esperanza Spalding seems to have taken a step in a fascinating new direction. Esperanza Spalding is a Jazz artist who first came to the public’s attention when she beat Justin Beiber to the Grammy for the Best New Artist Award in 2011. She has won numerous awards, performed several times for President Obama, and has just been announced as a new Professor at Harvard, working with students on Composition and Performance. Esperanza has always been passionate about the purpose of her music and recently recorded a video ’We are America’ with Stevie Wonder discussing her concerns about prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Her 2017 ‘Exposure’ project was the first of its kind, for any artist. Esperanza  wrote, arranged and recorded a full-length album, over 77 hours, while streaming the experience live to a web audience on Facebook. The end result was available on CD and vinyl only - no digital downloads available - and there were only 7,777 copies available to purchase. All of which sold out. Bold, artistically brave and aptly named, this project exposed Esperanza’s writing process live and unedited over a significant amount of time. 

Live streaming gigs and rehearsals are one thing, but allowing your audience to observe your creative process over this amount of time, is surely a daunting concept. In this profit-driven world, huge credit must be given to her record label, Concord, for supporting their artist with this project and allowing her the freedom - many labels would just not take the risk.

Now all writers work differently, and this project will allow the audience to observe Esperanza’s process which will, obviously, be unique to her. The definition of songwriting is ‘The activity or process of writing popular songs or the music for them’. Simple enough and any guidance and insights into this process to help aspiring songwriters, is much needed. Will Esperanza help or will this be the start of some kind of reality album making trend? This could be dangerous. 

Imagine live streaming the creation of a number of drug influenced albums - think Kurt Cobain, The Beatles, Modest Mouse, Janis Joplin, Gorillaz, to name a few, who have openly discussed their drug taking in relation to their album creation. Or imagine if live streaming had been around during Billie Holiday's traumatic touring observing the Klu Klux Klan and writing ‘Strange Fruit’?  Admittedly a fascinating insight, however, there is a fine line between promotion and exploitation and ultimately, the audience must be engaged by something ‘interesting’ to culminate in views. Is this something that could be used to raise awareness of pressing issues? Sinead O’Connor’s recent videos are clearly a cry for help that have highlighted some of the many mental health issues in the music industry.

Do we want to see the artist's actual songwriting journey? Isn’t part of the beauty of a song, connecting to it, in your own personal journey? The message you take from the song, is part of the wonder of music. It may not be the message the composer intended, but you connect with it with your own personal story or insight. However, many aspiring writers  value an insight into the process and Esperanza’s project has, inspired many and help develop their own writing process, which was Esperanza’s intention.

Does this mean that as creators, we now need to think about audience engagement as we actually create and before we create? Is this just a gimmick or something that should be pursued and considered? The impact of social media is not just about having an online profile, it is about engaging your audience and keeping them engaged and to achieve this, we need to continually think of new and innovative ways of doing this. Keeping up on industry trends is vital to success in the industry and it will be fascinating to see where this leads.

Learn more about Esperanxa Spalding on her website and Facebook page


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Pearson.


Trained in dance, drama and music Fiona Ross has been working in the creative arts Industry for many years with her first professional job at the age of two. Currently working in the jazz industry, she has released four critically acclaimed albums in the past three years and performed in London’s top jazz venues. Fiona is also a freelance journalist for three major jazz publications and passionate advocate for mental health promotion and is a patron for the mental health organisation Insomniac Club.

She is involved in teaching, leadership and arrangement in education and was Head of British Academy of New Music, London, for nearly nine years (Ed Sheeran, Rita Ora, Jess Glynne etc)


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