There are many ways to develop a creative work from its inspiration to completion. We could construct a spectrum, in fact. On one end would be Shoshona Bean, a singer/composer who works from within, incorporating all she feels and knows into her music. At the other end would be the people at Netflix who work from without, basing creative decisions about content and casting as well as delivery on their viewers’ preferences.
Shoshona Bean’s new album, O’Farrell Street, is old-school soul. It has a grittiness and authenticity that can’t be faked. You can hear some of the tunes and watch the making of it at this YouTube site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zrAc4ecUevA
On the other hand, the writers of Netflix’s House of Cards, like the politician in its leading role, tend toward manipulation. They give viewers exactly what the viewers’ past 15 years of viewing choices suggest they want, even to the casting of Kevin Spacey in the lead. Author Gina Keating, Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America’s Eyeballs, explained this in an NPR interview: “A very powerful matching algorithm underpins the way that your Netflix page works,” she said. “Everybody’s Netflix page looks different based on what they’ve viewed in the past and liked. [Netflix] can aggregate those communities to create audiences for content.”
Shoshona Bean raised $28,000 on Kickstarter, to make her O’Farrell Street album, finding grassroots support of her vision. She gathered a team – instrumentalist, singers, production people — who aligned with her goal. I am proud to say our son Tim wrote the instrumental arrangements and produced it.
Netflix released their 13-hour House of Cards series at one time, catering to binge viewers who gobble the whole thing in a day or two. Immediate gratification. Total submersion. I wonder if any of those viewers go back for a second runthrough?
Shoshana Bean’s new album begs to be listened to again and again. That’s how it is with things made from the heart. As one reviewer wrote: “Bean spent years blowing audiences away with her voice on Broadway (she starred in Wicked), but this album finds her at home in her element, singing songs about love and heartbreak… at once throwback and undeniably current.” I can’t wait to listen again. It’s a lasting thing of beauty.