On Vacation

I’m on vacation for a few weeks and too busy being a tourist to blog. But hey, there are nearly 400 posts in the archives so dig into the deep past if you miss me. Otherwise, fear not, I’ll be back before the ides of June.

10 Best Practices of Online Music Promotion

Get your music streaming : If you want people to get into your music, they need to be able to hear it. Get your entire catalogue up at Last.fm, load those songs on MySpace, make sure iMeem and iLike have your tunes, find out what services people are using in the regions you want to be heard and make sure those people have easy free access to your catalog. No one’s going to fall in love with thirty second tidbits, and if you’ve got a great song, people will want to know if the rest of your stuff is as good. Let them listen.

Use your own domain : Seems like a wee bit of a no-brainer, but I am always amazed how many bands use MySpace as their primary website. You don’t own MySpace. Why let MySpace own you?

Distribute your presence : You can’t be everywhere your potential audience is, but you can be a lot of places. Everyone needs their own website (more below), but don’t stop there. Among the possibilities? Every band has to be on MySpace unless they’re rebels, but don’t forget putting together your own YouTube channel, getting and using a Facebook fan page, signing up for ReverbNation and using their widgets, Twittering, posting pictures to Flickr … sure you don’t want to do all that stuff, but do some of it, and do more than one of it.

Integrate your presence : Your website should have links to all the other places you can be found online. Fans should be able to move seamlessly from one of your spots on the web to another and shouldn’t have to visit multiple sites to figure out what’s up with you. If you’ve got important news, get it up everywhere you are. I recently had to go to a MySpace page to see tour dates for a band who had not posted them on their own website — you know, the link they put on all the CD inserts. If your music is streaming somewhere that has a widget to put it elsewhere, put that widget everywhere you’ve got a presence.

Give some of your music away : Nothing creates addiction like being able to hear a song on your own machine whenever you want. You don’t have to give it all away (though that seems to be working for some), but at least let people download a few songs on your website, MySpace, Last.fm, and elsewhere. Giving music away also creates good relations with fans — people like it when you give them things. It makes them more likely to do things for you like, um, pay for the rest of your songs.

Get to know the mp3 bloggers : If you don’t already know which blogs cover music like yours, check out HypeMachine and other mp3 aggregaters to figure out where bands like you get discussed. Read the blogs, learn their interests. Write them a nice brief personal note telling them why you think they’ll like you and send them an easy link to an mp3 you think they and their readers would like.

Build an interpersonal relationship with your audience : Like I said about giving music away – when people can distribute your music amongst themselves through peer-to-peer trading, there’s no incentive for them to pay for your music unless they feel a sense of personal obligation to you. Nothing creates personal obligation like warm feelings of friendship. If your fans feel that you think of and care for them, they will be more willing to take care of you.

Reach out but don’t spam : It’s ok to recommend yourself to individuals on social networking sites IF you have really good reason to think they’re going to like you and communicate that to them. If anyone’s ever indicated an interest in you before, it’s wonderful to contact them again when you’ve got new music to share. It is NOT okay to blast yourself onto strangers’ walls and shoutboxes, send random friends requests, and otherwise be pushy. And even when you know you’re talking to the converted (like people who follow you on Twitter) remember that even the most dedicated fans do not need to know what you are doing every hour. A little mystique is okay. Really.

Encourage fan contributions : How can you let your music provide an opportunity for fan creativity? One independent musician who writes instrumental music told me he puts up demos and asks for help choosing names for the songs. Many artists have encouraged fan videos or remixes. There is a place for your fans to play with your music using their own talents. Give it to them. And let them have their own communities and do their own fan thing in there without the interference of you or your legal team.

Give fans promotional tools : As I wrote about in my last post, spreadable is the new viral. People who love you want to tell others about you. Create widgets they can embed on their own pages (again, ReverbNation has a great one but it’s not the only one), create ecards for your music, give them mp3s they can post without fear of lawsuits. Whatever it is that you want others to know, give it to your audience in a form they can easily pass along to others.

You got other ideas? Please post them in the comments below.

War of the Concepts: Virus vs Spread

Last Thursday and Friday I had the pleasure of attending a retreat of the Convergence Culture Consortium, an alliance between a core group led by Henry Jenkins and William Uricchio in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, industry partners, and consulting researchers made up of people like myself looking at issues around participatory audiences, media convergence, and all that good stuff.

There were more interesting things than I can begin to recount here, but one that resonated a lot with me was an argument in the presentation Henry Jenkins, Ana Domb, and Xiaochang Li gave where they (among other things) critiqued the concepts of viral and sticky, pitching spreadable as a better alternative.

They said, and I agree, that the goal of creating “sticky” internet sites — sites that hold people’s attention, provide a unified customer experience, provide only top-down information and so on — needs to be (or is being) replaced with the goal of “spreadable content” which circulates among diverse, dispersed people as they participate in social networks and engage in grassroots activity. I’ve talked about this in the context of providing fans with widgets they can export to sites of their choosing in order to spread word of (keyboard?) about whatever it is they’re into.

They also went after the notion of “viral” with its biological language of infection. When something spreads virally — take, for example, the flu — people receive the virus without realizing (and sometimes never even manifesting) it. They pass it on to others without any effort — indeed, if they realize they have it, they have to put effort into NOT spreading it. From a marketers perspective, if you can engineer the perfect “viral” campaign, the people will be powerless to resist. They’ll be diffusing your ideas before they know what hit them.

This creates an illusion of control — a viral campaign will work if we design it right — and therefore feeds into what I see as a dying model of media control in which the big content providers get to manage everything from the top down (see “stickiness” above).

In fact, people are active. We spread things “virally” not because we can’t help it, but because we think it’s cool enough that we want to tell others. It resonates with us, we think it will resonate with others, we are socially engaged with others, we talk about it. We make choices and we enact behaviors in order to spread the things we like around, we don’t stand idly by while the virus travels through us to other destinations.

That said, there is one piece of the viral metaphor that works for me in a way that spreadable does not, and that is the truly physical feeling I experience when I am sucked into a new record I love. This doesn’t happen all that often, once a year if I’m lucky. It happened a few weeks ago with The Last Shadow Puppets. It happened with The Fine Arts Showcase’s “Radiola.” Bigtime with The Wrens “The Meadowlands.” Needless to say it’s a near-continuous state with Madrugada. And when it happens, that music gets inside of me and consumes me in a way that really does feel like biological infection. I am compelled to listen to it. I ache for it. I ache while I listen to it. I don’t listen to anything else. I talk about them incessantly while my ever-humoring husband laughs at me. And it runs its course, just as viruses do. Gradually, after anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months, it lets up and I’ve built up enough resistance that I am no longer completely distracted. It doesn’t feel in those times like I have any power to resist at all. And what’s more, if I had power to resist, I wouldn’t.

In the end, though, when I write posts about it, or talk about it with friends, or send links to people, or twitter, or whatever I do to spread the word about that music, I’m making active choices that are deeply embedded in the social structures and connections I create through my everyday relational behavior. Even in the throes of the most infectious pop of all, the further spreading from me to the people I know depends on my making strategic decisions about what to communicate to whom and how.

Monday Copenhagen, Wednesday Toronto, Friday Montreal

Next week I’m living the globetrotter life, and I want to invite readers to come by and hear me talk if you’re in the region.

Monday, May 19, I am going to be in wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen where I will not be singing Danny Kaye songs, but will be talking about how the internet was understood as a social medium in the early years of its mass proliferation. This is a public lecture and you’re welcome to come. Here’s the info:

‘Speaking of the internet: American cultural reception of the internet as a social medium’

Hosted by the research group on Digital Communication and Aesthetics, Section of Film and Media Studies, University of Copenhagen

May 19, 2008, 1-3 pm
Room 22.0.47
University of Copenhagen, Southern Campus / KUA

New technologies are historically met with both utopian and dystopian scenarios regarding their social impact. This talk considers how the internet’s consequences for social life were portrayed as it changed from a medium used by an educated, affluent elite to a common part of everyday life for most Americans. Letters and responses published in newspaper advice columns, New Yorker cartoons, and interviews with college students are used to show how positive and negative views played off of one another and moved toward a resolution we have not yet attained. The visions of the internet debated through the letters, responses, and cartoons are both funny and insightful.

Wednesday, the 21st, I am going to be in Toronto at Mesh taking part in a panel about the blurring boundaries between public and private in this age of social networking, twitter, etc:

Are society’s notions about privacy changing? Does anyone even care about privacy any more? Once you provide your information, does it belong to you or to Them? Younger Web users seem perfectly comfortable disclosing even intimate personal details to people they meet online. But some are concerned about what seems like excessive disclosure, and also wonder what happens to your data once social media sites get hold of it. Come and discuss these issues and more with Internet researcher Nancy Baym of the University of Kansas, philosophy professor and author Mark Kingwell, and assistant federal privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham, in a panel moderated by Rachel Sklar.

Mesh does require registration, and I gather it’s near sold-out, so if you’re in Toronto and want to come (I’m far from the only interesting person speaking!), sign up now. Whoops, sold out already. Congratulations to the organizers!

Friday, May 23rd I will be part of a panel called “Music Goes Online: Dissemination, Acquisition, Meaning, and Place” at the International Communication Association meeting in Montreal. With my collaborator Robert Burnett, I’ll be presenting a paper called “Constructing an International Collaborative Music Network: Swedish Indie Fans and the Internet.” Here’s the abstract:

As major labels, corporate radio, and the mainstream music press wane in importance, recording artists and labels increasingly find themselves competing for attention in a digital space that provides endless opportunities for listeners to discover new music. Having a MySpace page offers direct access to fans, but provides no guarantee that fans will take up that access. In this new environment, small sets of highly active fans come to serve crucial new roles as promoters and filters, becoming de facto taste makers and steering listeners toward new music. This paper presents a model of this phenomenon in the context of the Swedish independent music scene, where fans who write mp3 blogs, news sites, generate online archives, and book Swedish music clubs outside of Sweden are essential in exporting what would previously have been regional music to international audiences. Interviews with such active fans, musicians, and independent label executives are used to argue that these three agents work together to collaboratively construct international and local subcultures in which their shared interests can thrive. Robert Burnett is Professor of Media and Communication at Karlstad University, Sweden. His work on the music industry, the media, and the Internet has been published in numerous books and journals. Nancy Baym is an Associate Professor at the University of Kansas. Her work on online communication, fans and community has been published in the book Tune In, Log On: Soaps Fandom and Online Community (Sage) and in numerous journals and book chapters.

That panel is scheduled from 1:30pm – 2:45pm in Le Centre Sheraton, Salon 3. You are supposed to register for ICA, but if you sneak in to a panel no one will care. Except the people charged with making sure ICA is adequately-financed, that is.

After that, I will be going on vacation with my family for a few weeks. So though I hope to continue blogging, don’t be surprised if my posts are less frequent in the next several weeks.

Coldplay vs. Judas Priest -or- The Benefits of Widgets

Last week, Coldplay made their new single “Violet Hill” available free for one week (one week? lame) for download from their official website. Last.fm tracked its listens and what a lot of them there were:

10,000 times in the 5 hours since the track was released. That’s 1 play every 2 seconds. Apparently the last time a track was listened to this intensively on Last.fFM was ‘15 Step’ from Radiohead’s free In Rainbows album, which clocked up close to 22,000 listens in 12 hours.

Not to be outdone, the somewhat-less-popular these days Judas Priest took another route to the release of their new single, “Nostradamus”, via ReverbNation widget (for more about what I think is the coolest widget out there for bands, read this).

According to ReverbNation COO Jed Carlson, they initially placed the widget that streams their song on 4 sites, but since the widget can be grabbed by fans and embedded wherever they want, it spread rapidly to more than 500 websites.

Everytime a song is streamed through a ReverbNation widget, they get tracking information back. The result? According to ReverbNation:

The track was streamed once every two seconds during the first 24-hour period. Fans who listened or received the download were directed to the Judas Priest website where they could pre-order the album, scheduled for release on June 17th.

Color me naive, but when a Judas Priest single can get as much play as a Coldplay single without the media going nuts over a Hot Big Mega Band Being Creative And Wow with the internet buzz, I’m impressed. What I love, to no one’s surprise, is that most of the places where people were able to stream the song were places it had been placed BY FANS WHO WANTED TO SPREAD IT. Henry Jenkins talks about “spreadable media” (a topic I’ll be hearing more about at the Convergence Culture Consortium retreat over the next few days). This is a great example of how it works.

Now I want to see Rob Halford face off against Chris Martin. Oh, Rob’s not in the band anymore? Nevermind then.