It started innocently enough.
It started like this:
Scrounging around the hipster fodder of Pitchfork, I read about and streamed a new track by an unknown singer.
Intrigued, I did a quick Google search.
I read an article that described the outsider artist that only left me with more questions.
I picked up my phone and dialed the phone number that is scrawled along his album art.
No one answered.
I did another Google search and was floored by a YouTube video:
I clicked another link and was floored again:
And then found performances with a band:
I looked around for copies of the Found Magazine package that was released in limited quantities by Found, Quimby’s, and Ebay all proved to have nothing (though the cover of Found #7 is another Beals artifact).
And then I found copies of visual and narrative art supposedly by the same person.
Did I mention there is a website with even less information?
At the end of the day, I began wondering how much of the enigma of Willis Earl Beal is marketing for his forthcoming major-label debut?
Even the Roots have tweeted about the simmering response he is sure to receive by mainstream media.
Aside from providing a glimmer into my browsing and listening habits in the early days of 2012, I describe all of this to illustrate the changes in information seeking for me. Growing up, musical discoveries were the banal clichés many probably go through. I felt like an insider because I was listening to Velvet Underground and Nico because of the opening pages of Please Kill Me. Likewise, Our Band Could Be Your Life made Mission of Burma a staple in my college listening habits. I “discovered” Yo La Tengo because of … a featured review in Rolling Stone. Before the Internet allowed me to dig toward a more personally curated music repertoire, things like the Factsheet Five guided me toward specific forms of listening.
That an outsider artist like Beal has a significant stream of online media is unsurprising. The machine of online rumor, gossip, otaku fandom, and marketing make someone like Beal an irresistible tidbit to tweet or share in online spaces. What is significant, however, is just how much of a dead end Beal’s online presence has led me. Despite all of the links of information I’ve found. I feel like I still haven’t been able to find out who Beal is beyond a superficial context. I have only found a limited amount of his work and–gasp–I haven’t been able to support this artist’s work or financially invest in a download or physical purchase (aside from the print-to-order art books noted above). That’s not to say that this won’t significantly change in the near future, but I find Beal’s present case an interesting one contextually. In a time when bands regularly give away more music than people can keep up with Beal sparks my interest because of the dearth of content surrounding him.
This process of seek and stream and download is a relatively new one. It’s a process that interlinks search queries with media consumption, participation within affinity groups and individual focused engagement. As I occasionally felt frustrated at not finding the results I sought, I wondered if I was doing things correctly. As digital literacies exhibit a confluence of different skills happening concurrently, self reflecting on a process like diving into the Beals mystery are useful in recognizing changes in day-to-day online practice.