This Day in 1995: Natalie Merchant Live Chats

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
This Day in Music

22 years ago today, Natalie Merchant became the first guest in a series of live chats on Elektra Records’ website.

While we realize this seems pretty insignificant in a world where anyone with even a modicum of fame can do a Reddit AMA if they’re of a mind to do so, you have to put this in perspective: at the time, this sort of thing was virtually unheard of.

For proof, just check out the below article, which appeared in Billboard in advance of the chat:

“Elektra Records is adding a live-chat feature to its recently launched World Wide Web arena and will inaugurate the section with a ‘live’ appearance by recording artist Natalie Merchant Wednesday (23) at 8 p.m. EST.

“Merchant, who is promoting her new album, TIGERLILY, will be the first in a planned series of Elektra artists stopping by to chat in real time with Web visitors within the label site, Elektra says.

“To take part in the chats, users first need to download a special software program, ‘Global Chat,’ which is being made available for free through developer Prospero Systems’ home page. The chat room is accessible through a link within the Elektra site, which is designed as a ‘virtual’ office, complete with snaps of Elektra employees at work.”

You’ll notice the use of quotation marks around the words “live” and “virtual,” which one presumes were done because it didn’t seem like it was really live if it was over the computer, and the concept of virtual reality seemed so much like science fiction at the time that it necessitated something to indicate that, no, it’s not really an office.

When Billboard included this moment in their “This Day in Music” feature a few years later, they made note of how Merchant felt about the experience: “[She] says she won’t make a habit of chatting online, since it would hurt her eyes and make her feel lonely when the machine was off.” (We suspect she may have changed her tune in the intervening years, but we don’t have formal confirmation on that.)

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