Artist j.viewz creates the DNA Project to open up the album-creation process to fans

Guest post by Sarah Jospitre (G ’15). We encourage feedback and commentary on all Student Outlook contributions. Leave a comment below or tweet us at @NYUMusicBiz.

I first came across j.viewz and The DNA Project when I was looking for an innovative figure to profile for the final piece of my Literary Reportage elective class at NYU. After talking with my friend and MUBG peer, Suzanne Rollins—who was interning for j.viewz (a position she found on the MUBG listserv)—she agreed that he would be a great fit for my piece on music innovation, put me in direct contact with j.viewz and the rest is history.

Jonathan Dagan, known as j.viewz, is an Israeli-born, independent songwriter, producer, remixer and visual artist. He has always been frustrated with the music industry’s standard model: spend a year or two recording an album away from the fans, release it, and then tour with a bunch of songs that are no longer fresh. He is challenging this model with the DNA Project website, which is designed to open up the album-making process to fans. The artist explained, “There’s a lot of value in creating an album. I want to share and open that up to the audience.” As a result, the website will enable fans to track the creative process for each song in real time, from inspiring moments on the road to new sounds from the studio and meetings with labels.

Standing at about 5’6, with tousled brown curls, a well-kept goatee, and wide, thin-rimmed spectacles, j.viewz’s physical appearance fits the mold of how one would expect a Grammy-nominated, avant-garde electronic folk artist to look. But don’t expect any brooding here. The multi-genre artist, whose sound has been compared to Cashmere Cat, Young Wonder and Slow Magic, is an optimist at heart who believes in the power of music and using it to elevate communication between the fan and the artist.

j.viewz, born in Haifa, the cultural hub of northern Israel—which is approximately 56 miles north of Tel Aviv—explains that growing up in the country’s third largest city contributed to his proactivity in discovering new music. “When you are into music growing up in Haifa, you have to be really active about getting the music you want. There was no internet, so you’d have to travel to Tel Aviv and go the record store to hear the new Nine Inch Nails record. I had to seek out people with the right records, people who knew about music.” In so doing, the indie artist confesses that he was not affected by Israeli music, but instead his experience with music in Israel made him extremely active in finding and being appreciative of different genres of music.

Prior to moving to Brooklyn, NY, j.viewz found himself in a breakbeat band—unconventional in Israel—where he performed at psy-trance parties. Recalling those early days of his music career, j.viewz explains that such times molded him into the artist he is today: “I had a breakbeat band and the only place they could book us was at psy-trance parties. Now it’s different in Israel, it’s very popular to know good music and the average level of musicianship is really, really high. But avoidance of what was mainstream in Israel back then made me what I am.” Avoiding the mainstream for a deeper path and looking to create music that mattered to him, Jonathan Dagan moved to the United States and became j.viewz.

The DNA Project, which went live late last year, has enabled the indie artist to release music sooner and make it easier for him to respond to his fans. “When you listen to an album, you can’t interact with it. It’s a two, three year-old created product given to you. You’ve got to accept everything that comes with it.” Consequently, j.viewz is using the DNA Project to create an interactive environment where both he and his fans can create, comment and edit music, in real-time.

This isn’t the first time Dagan has experimented with the process of creating and distributing music. He was one of the first to use downloading and direct-to-fan interaction to sell albums and his second full-length album, Rivers And Homes (2011), was released one track at a time to fans who paid to subscribe to his music service. Once completed, Dagan distributed the finished album in physical form to his subscribers and later made it available to the general public. Rivers And Homes was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Recording Package, presented for the visual look of an album. Dagan didn’t stop. In addition to recording the music, he shot a video for the title track off Rivers And Homes. The footage, which was shot in New York and Israel, was used to create two parallel videos—a “normal” music video which showed j.viewz walking through a snowy field wearing a cat costume and then another made up entirely by fans holding frames from the “normal” video. Each frame from the normal video was printed and handed out to fans in the audience during his tour in Israel. In total, 300 fans were recruited to hold the still frames and 2,000 images were used in the making of Rivers And Homes, creating an “ingenious animation” within the video. The frames were then reassembled as a stop motion video in which fans could tag themselves via a Taggable Player he designed. Rivers And Homes was nominated for an MTV Music Award for “Most Innovative Video” as well as a UK Music Video Award.

Dagan says that he never innovates just to innovate just as he does not want fans to engage in his work for the sake of engaging; there is a clear, strategic and valuable purpose behind all that he does. As a result, the DNA Project has fans participate at specific times and emphasizes how the fan and the artist are both a part of the same goal; the same journey. According to j.viewz, “an album doesn’t have to be a documentation of something that happened in the past. It can be an interactive experience between artist and fan that exposes the creative process.” Through the Project, the electronic-folk artist is symbolically opening up the studio to the fan in order to make the process of music available to everyone and essentially, make the process part of the art itself. It is a huge leap in the evolution of the artist-fan relationship.

j.viewz is also an advocate of trying new things, being committed to that experience and overall, remaining optimistic. The indie artist explained that days before the Kickstarter page went up to fund what is now the DNA Project website, he jumped out of a plane. “It symbolized jumping into a new experience with no doubts. You can have doubts but you must still be committed at the end.” j.viewz explained that in jumping into a new experience, one must always have one thought in mind: success. However, success, not in the modern sense of the word—which praises money and all things materialistic—but rather in thinking positively, in believing that the outcome you are after will come into fruition and most importantly, in being optimistic that people will support your efforts.

It is this way of thinking that has enabled j.viewz to make human connection become a real and consistent thread weaved throughout his work. In doing so, he has not only contributed to the evolution of the artist-fan relationship but has allowed his fans to become investors in his art and essentially, his career; gradually erasing the role of the fan as a passive and silent investor. What is being created as a result of this evolution is a synergic relationship where the fan becomes more involved in the artist’s career and in turn, the artist uses the relationship to further sustain their career.

Through past and current projects, j.viewz continues to allow his fans to take on the role of what academic Carsten Winter calls “prosumers”—the hybrid of consumer and producer that the digital age has created. The fan, no longer a silent investor in the artist’s career, has become the creator; crafting content that often progresses the artist’s career and simultaneously, creates valuable engagement. “Fan participation creates a bigger togetherness. If I ever had a doubt of putting my heart out there, those events [i.e. the making of the Rivers and Homes video, the DNA Project, etc.] encourage me to do so.” From their roles as collector—one who adds tags to web pages or photos (as fans did in his 2012 Rivers And Homes video) and joiners—those who support the artist through social media, blogs and crowdfunding (as fans did for j.viewz’s Kickstarter page to fund The DNA Project website)—to the ultimate role of creator—those who upload audio/music, videos and artwork that they create (as fans have done for the DNA Project)—the indie artist has made fan interaction his signature priority.

In discussing the double-edge sword role that technology plays—allowing users to interact more frequently yet simultaneously shortening our attention spans as we quickly move onto the next phenom—j.viewz is an optimist. The indie artist explained that with the temporary trait that comes with technology, there is an “impermanence of music” being expressed. Because we, as music fans, are more aware of how brief each moment is, we are able to embrace and appreciate each event. j.viewz romanticized, “There’s something beautiful about honoring the moment together with our short attention spans. It’s all a brief moment—we celebrate, we dance, we die.”

The digital age has radically put a damper on the music industry’s plan of pushing music onto passive consumers. Thanks to digital network media such as YouTube and SoundCloud, ordinary people are now creating value in relation to music, without the involvement of record labels and at lower costs. Everyone is now a prosumer. Using these new media to undertake activities like commenting, criticizing, sharing, producing, posting and publishing, “prosumers” are able to innovate socially and culturally while simultaneously, creating cultural and social value instead of just economic value. Gone are the push-method days of the industry spoon-feeding us which genres to consume. Prosumers are now pulling the music and the artists that they want towards them.

The impermanence of music has enabled music fans to be far more proactive in not only discovering new artists and music but most importantly, connecting with the artist. The growing trend of artists communicating with fans via social media as well as fans supporting their idols through crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter has essentially broken down the barriers of communication between fan and artist. With the door to communication wide open, another fascinating result is occurring: the mysterious, god-like image of the artist is gradually fading. j.viewz proclaimed, “Impermanence of music has reduced the fantasy. The artist is no longer untouchable, inaccessible.” Live-streams of artists in the studio and backstage at shows can now be viewed and shared, personal photos from their everyday lives can be liked, their random thoughts for the masses can be retweeted: transparency is the driver of the new music economy.

Ultimately, j.viewz’s mission is to explore different ways to improve the communication aspect of music and uncover how technology, when used in certain (unconventional) ways, allows us to connect to people in an immediate way. The indie artist continues to radically shape the industry through his persistent, innovative efforts to bridge the gaps between music and technology as well as the artist and the fan. “I think music is the best communication tool. If I want to translate my experience to you, I can do it in words, but there are only so many words. With music, there’s no word for it, but there is a chord for it. When you put yourself and your heart out there, people will respond.”

Connect with j.viewz on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, and Youtube.