Marie Digby: Feigning Amateur Status on Youtube and MySpace?

I am aware that some of you work in the media industry and may be studying online campaigns that tap onto the social media phenomenon. I am also aware that some of what you’re about to read goes on at different levels where you might work as well, though it might not be of heavy investment to raise any concerns yet.

I’m referring to the fake phenomenon which is a social affordance / risk of the participatory culture we breath in. For instance, “Doing a Walmart” where blogs are written by paid volunteers instead of purely authentic fans (a form of astroturfing).

I’ve been hearing about this story online via Morgan Webb’s “WebbAlert” videocast (thanks Lucian) and more recently via my newshound buddy (aka NuMental) who clued me into this particular article which unravels the whole case. This recent Wall Street Journal report makes LonelyGirl15 look like a walk in the park…

Here’s an excerpt:
A 24-year-old singer and guitarist named Marié Digby has been hailed as proof that the Internet is transforming the world of entertainment.

What her legions of fans don’t realize, however, is that Ms. Digby’s career demonstrates something else: that traditional media conglomerates are going to new lengths to take advantage of the Internet’s ability to generate word-of-mouth buzz.

Ms. Digby’s simple, homemade music videos of her performing popular songs have been viewed more than 2.3 million times on YouTube. Her acoustic-guitar rendition of the R&B hit “Umbrella” has been featured on MTV’s program “The Hills” and is played regularly on radio stations in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Portland, Ore. Capping the frenzy, a press release last week from Walt Disney Co.’s Hollywood Records label declared: “Breakthrough YouTube Phenomenon Marié Digby Signs With Hollywood Records.”

What the release failed to mention is that Hollywood Records signed Ms. Digby in 2005, 18 months before she became a YouTube phenomenon. Hollywood Records helped devise her Internet strategy, consulted with her on the type of songs she chose to post, and distributed a high-quality studio recording of “Umbrella” to iTunes and radio stations.


The fact that a big media company supported Ms. Marié Digby’s ruse reflects how dearly media giants want in on the viral revolution that’s changing how young consumers learn about new entertainment — even if it means a tiny bit of sleight-of-hand. It also reflects how difficult it is for new recording artists to get noticed now that young fans are paying more attention to Web sites such as Google Inc.’s YouTube and News Corp.’s MySpace than to traditional media like commercial radio. [continues…]

Of course it wouldn’t be fair not to include Marie Digby’s say on the issue:

September 5, 2007 – Wednesday
Media 101

I think today will be the first ever blog that I write … as i’m furious. fuming. angry beyond words.

Thank god for blogs because I can say whatever the F.. i want to .

So basically, I got a call recently that some shmuck from the Wall Street Journal wanted to do an article about me. He interviewed some people at my label and then asked to talk to me on the phone. I talked to this guy for an hour, told him every detail of my journey so far in music…

Here’s Lesson 1 for me in Media – The writer will use whatever quote he wants of yours to make it fit his ‘angle’. This loser was desperate for a good story… he knew what he wanted to write before he ever even talked to me.

The guy’s angle is this : that I am a complete phony and fake and a pawn of my record label in some brilliant marketing scheme. [Continues…]

Following her blog post, much of her fans seem to sympathize with her. While I understand some might feel cheated for discovering her talents only to learn about her record company’s backing later, others might not think too much into it, with the perspective that Ms Digby has talent anyway.

Such is the convoluted, convergent affordance of traditional and participatory media now. The conflux get confusing and dizzying, and after a while, we might be so conditioned (i.e. jaded) that we no longer think too much into it.

Does it ethically matter that it was a concerted commercial effort to create an amateur star? Or should we simply applaud the creativity of her record company’s marketing department?

Take a good look at her Youtube channel and her MySpace page, then decide for yourself.

13 thoughts on “Marie Digby: Feigning Amateur Status on Youtube and MySpace?

  1. There is always a grey area between honesty and creative marketing.

    Cast Marie’s issue aside and take a look at our local indie music scene. Much as many fans proclaimed their support for “indie scene”, much of them do not realised the very indie band they support are backed by a major record label. The tactic used is to preserve the indie status, because such honesty may cause a loss in fans support. The major record label is not listed anywhere in their CDs, albums or even websites. Only insiders will know how the contract goes about.

    It becomes an issue of what “cause” are we standing up for?

  2. Rather funny how some people automatically dismiss the fact that during her radio interview, she said she was signed AND there were articles out before WSJ saying she was signed. Funny how people overlook that. It’s obvious that people like to believe controversy over the truth because that’s what probably makes their day or some crap. It also shows that some people will believe anything they read. Rather naive. Marie’ will have the last laugh in the end & all I have to say to those people that tried to make her out to be a liar is that they can go shove it.

  3. just because she was signed that doesnt mean that she will become famous for having a label. SHE WAS AN UNDISCOVERED ARTIST and now that she is finally getting something out of what she loves to do she is getting critized. im pretty sure that she worked hard to get to where she is right now just as much as the journalists who wrote this article to get a contraversial topic to get attention

  4. i don’t think a record label would spend so much time and effort on a singer who hasn’t even release a single let alone an album and utimately it was her own effort and talent that made her such a phemenon.

  5. Astroturf my ass!

    I first found Marie’ on the net doing a vanity search for my name in 2005. I loved her work and asked her permission to post a link on my website to her MySpace page.

    Over the last few years I’ve had many contacts asking about Marie’.

    A recent one came from a friend of a friend who books talent for a major New York City hotel. he first heard of Marie’ on my website, when he went there to listen to my interview of Donna Coney Island. He wanted to contact her for a booking in NYC.

    Did you do any research before slamming this wonderfully talented young woman.

    She is making it because of a voice that spells love at first verse.

    Your pal,
    Horace J. Digby (no relation)
    Setting the record straight!

  6. The Wall Street Journal got this story wrong.

    Marie Digby herself says the idea of using youtube was entirely her own, and the timing of her videos coincides with her story.

    Note also, the Wall Street Journal article contained factual errors. The post they cited as typical was not representative of what the vast majority of people in the topic. Most were thrilled for Marie.

    Marie Digby never lied. There is no comparison to the lonelygirl case, and by the way, she didn’t lie either, at least not as far as I have seen.

    It always struck me that there is a special term in journalists, i.e. “Investigative journalism.”

    Here’s the other, more accurate side of the story in Marie Digby’s own words.

  7. I have since found more information, and will update what I wrote above.

    The Wall Street Journal article was wrong. There was no deception. The article, using the term, “feigning amateur status” attempted to disparage Marie Digby, however, there is no indication she feigned anything. By all appearances, Marie Digby has always been herself.

    The article stated:
    “Ms. Digby’s MySpace and YouTube pages don’t mention Hollywood Records. Until last week, a box marked “Type of Label” on her MySpace Music page said, “None.”
    However, she had joined MySpace in 2004, roughly 2 years before she was signed, and she merely didn’t bother to update a setting, and she’d probably forgotten that setting even existed. I joined a MySpace music page, and it could even be missed when first signing up. And, since months after she recorded her CD, there was no indication it was ever going to be released, I wouldn’t expect that changing her MySpace status to signed would cross her mind, even if she knew about it. The article went on to state, “After inquiries from The Wall Street Journal, the entry was changed to “Major,” though the label still is not named.” Why name a record label when there is no indication they are going to release your CD? (Note, the CD, titled “Unfold”, finally came out on April 8, 2008. Buy it, it’s great).

    The Wall Street Journal article also contained:
    ‘Most of Ms. Digby’s new fans seem pleased to believe that they discovered an underground sensation. A YouTube user posting a message in response to a cover of Linkin Park’s “What I’ve Done” wrote, “you truely have talent! get urself out there…if u really wanted im positive u could land some sick record deals!! id buy a CD 4 sure!”‘
    In fact, the vast majority of the posts were about her music, and not about “discovering” her. For most of us viewers, a huge number of people had already seen her videos when we found her, which were posted long before the WSJ article, so we could hardly claim to have ‘discovered her.’

    The term “feigning amateur status”, used in the WSJ article seems completely ridiculous to anyone who has watched all of her videos.

    Consider the following quote in the article, with the subtitle, “The Lucky Nobody”.
    “As Ms. Digby’s star rose, other media outlets played along. When Los Angeles adult-contemporary station KYSR-FM, which calls itself “Star 98.7,” interviewed Ms. Digby in July, she and the disc jockey discussed her surprising success. “We kind of found her on YouTube,” the DJ, known as Valentine, said. Playing the lucky nobody, Ms. Digby said: “I’m usually the listener calling in, you know, just hoping that I’m going to be the one to get that last ticket to the Star Lounge with [pop star] John Mayer!” The station’s programming executives now acknowledge they had booked Ms. Digby’s appearance through Hollywood Records, and were soon collaborating with the label to sell “Umbrella” as a single on iTunes.”
    Note the use of the term, “played along” as if the stations were doing something sinister. Note, Marie Digby had not had a CD released at this time, and the radio station’s DJs announced, over the air, that they found Marie Digby on youtube. And, what Marie Digby said is so totally credible that to cast it in disparaging terms seems incredibly cynical, even for someone in New York City! Note, Marie Digby claims the idea of posting videos on youtube was her own idea, and the radio station, and Carson Daly, both claim they found Marie Digby on youtube. Sinister? Hardly. Read the last quote again, and think.

    While I dislike the term, ‘nobody,’ because everyone is ‘somebody,’ nonetheless, Marie Digby was known to few people other than family or friends before the youtube video, so, if Marie Digby was playing a part, it was herself. Again, to disparage someone based on supposition, which also require manufacturing a nonexistent conspiracy, is beyond disingenuous. I would say, given the factual error, and the complete lack of research, the Wall Street Journal reporters who covered this were “feigning professional status,” however, that might be a bit harsh. After all, there is a special term, “Investigative Journalism!” Clearly not all journalist meet that standard.

    Marie Digby has posted that a Wall Street reporter talked to Marie Digby for about an hour, but they never asked the questions that would have cleared this up. Instead, they took her response, which merely meant that her signed status wasn’t relevant to her goals (and frankly, would have seemed ridiculous in the videos), as meaning she was hiding it.

    There were radio station interviews, before the WSJ article, where she mentioned being signed. If she were hiding it, she would have hid it there too.

    In most of her videos, she didn’t speak unless singing. Her personal business is her business, and nobody elses. The WSJ article took an irrelevant omission, and turned it into a conspiracy.

    I gather Marie Digby’s family is rather well off. She never mentioned that in her videos either. I wouldn’t say she was, “feigning middle class status,” but I’m sure some people would! Sad!

  8. I think it’s true because in an article it said that she actually had a and say and apparently she said she did it because she thought people wouldn’t like her if they knew she was signed.

  9. TC,

    There is no evidence she ever said what you asserted, and she herself denies that. Read closely what she said in the Wall Street Journal article. She said she posted the videos because she wanted people to like her.

    She did ‘not’ write that she withheld information because she wanted people to like her.

    See the difference. It’s quite possible it never even occurred to her to mention she was signed. Why would she do that?

    There is not even any evidence she was withholding that information intentionally, rather, it just wasn’t part of her goals.

    However, and this is key, even if she had been withholding that information, that’s still not lying. The implication that it’s deception is absurd. She was openly mentioning she was signed in other places.

    By the way, I have no connection to the record companies. If you do the same research I did, you will see that the Wall Street Journal story is full of factual errors, including the main premise of that article. The premise doesn’t make sense.

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