Jack White after his Feb. 2 show at McCasland Field House on the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus.
The OU Daily did not do Jack White a solid. The Oklahoma college newspaper published his artist fee and made fun of his guacamole recipe. The paper’s photographers got into it with show security and its reporters made jokes about White’s crew’s food allergies during their stop at the McCasland Field House on the University of Oklahoma’s Norman campus.
Why’d they do it? I mostly blame a lack of adult supervision. These are the kinds of things college newspapers do, and I gotta hand it to them for trying to get an angle on Jack White before his big show last Monday. But publishing his entire tour rider, and dumbly commenting on his catering and financials, gets Jack White’s attention for all of the wrong reasons.
All this went down prior to the Feb. 2 show, and onstage Jack White cryptically told the audience, “Just because you can type it on your computer doesn’t make it right.” His reps at WME responded by kind of, sort of threatening to blacklist the school, although they’ve since walked that back. OU’s Student Affairs Council wrote their own letter reminding the naughty newspaper, “If we want to continue to have major artists choose to perform at OU, we need to give them a ‘Sooner’ welcome.” I love that. And Jack’s team issued its own statement through management company Monotone Inc., explaining that tour riders are important technical documents that take some music industry knowledge to read correctly. And they made a funny joke about the guacamole recipe White includes on his rider, and encouraged fans to make it themselves.
Team White took the high road. They made a poignant statement about personal privacy. They dispelled rumors about a blacklisting threat because they know it’s not fair to let a few ornery Sooners ruin it for everyone else. The newspaper responded with a primer on the First Amendment and journalistic freedom that seemed to largely miss the point. They half-apologized for pissing everyone off, but didn’t back down from their right to do so. And they ended it with a statement about WME not returning their calls, to which I respond, “Well, at least this was a teachable moment.”
One of the editors whose name kept popping up in this kerfuffle is Emily Sharp, the assistant life and arts editor for the OU Daily. She didn’t write the initial story making fun of Jack White’s catering rider, but she did craft the paper’s response and has since followed up with more reporting about the financials of the show. (Our interview with her is below.) Sharp is a freshman and therefore deserving of forgiveness and even maybe a little applause. Because that’s pretty tenacious — misguided, but tenacious. And I get it. Because I’ve been that young, eager reporter who blows past niceties in an attempt to generate attention. And then veils it idealism. But whenever I got too far out of line, I had an editor rein me in. And maybe that’s what this young reporter needs. A mentor who has her back, and maybe would advise her against pissing off JACK FUCKING WHITE!
You know what would also solve this problem? Having a third-party promoter do the show. Live Nation, AEG, even the race car driver guy from the Lipizzaner Stallions — any promoter would have more cover than the school’s Campus Activities Council. The CAC (great name) is subject to public records laws. Promoters should start adding this to their sales pitch — “Use us because our contracts with the artist aren’t subject to public disclosure.”
THE SPIEL — THIS IS GOING TO KEEP HAPPENING
I’m surprised we haven’t had more incidents like this. We’re in a highly charged media environment where exposing celebrity quirks is treated with the seriousness of Watergate. Not to mention, the hackers. Every day, another institution is being taken down by techno-terrorists who break into email servers and expose everyone’s petty little secrets.
There will come a day when someone in the music industry gets hit like Sony Pictures got hit. And all the emails, all the contracts and all the money will be embarrassingly exposed. It just takes one artist to anger a third-world dictator, or a hacker collective like Anonymous. And then everyone’s secrets are out for the world to read.
We should prepare ourselves for a future where privacy is far less private. Where every demand we type out and every bullet point on a contract is suddenly available for public scrutiny. So if we can’t control who has access to our private information, then we should at least be careful about what we say. And that’s why Jack White came out on top in all of this. Because he didn’t ask for anything that unusual. He just wanted his food prepared the way he likes it. And for the sound equipment to work correctly.
THE REAL — THREE POINTS TO CONSIDER
First, we should disclose what is disclosable. Meaning a venue should be upfront with promoters and agents about which records and contracts are subject to FOIA laws. I’m sure the OU Campus Activities Council didn’t anticipate the paper’s FOIA request, and hopefully in the future they’ll develop a plan in case something like this happens again.
Second, we have to rethink our notion of privacy, especially when it comes to contracts and artist riders. The more information we try to protect and keep out of the public domain, the less secure everything else becomes. Think carefully about which information must be kept private because it’s proprietary (artist guarantees and deal structures), and which information could probably be shared with anyone (technical riders and production specs).
Third, we should move to more secure forms of communication, at least with the information we want to protect. Encryption technology is a good starting point. We should also look at expiring documents that vanish after a certain amount of time, like a Snapchat message. This would not only help protect from hackers and data breaches — it’s also a valid reaction to increased snooping by government agencies like the NSA. What if the feds want to investigate one of your artists for tax evasion, or the artist’s relationship with foreign leaders or global entities? They shouldn’t be able to sift through your records without getting a warrant — encryption technology would make this government-style snooping at least more difficult.
And when stuff like this does happen, it’s important that we make it a teachable moment. When his tour rider was released, Jack White’s team explained the importance of the document and how it functions as a technical guide to sound and lights at his concert. Maybe this whole guacamole thing will become our generation’s version of Van Halen’s brown M&Ms story. It wasn’t rock star excess that drove the band to demand all brown M&Ms be removed from the candy bowl. It was a test of attention to detail — if the M&Ms were screwed up, the rest of the rider (including the production specs) would probably be screwed up too. Same goes for the guacamole. Make it right the first time.
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