How to interview and SXSWi highlights

Back from my first SXSWi. General impression: A lot of wonderful people there, but way too many people. It was hard to find even the people I already knew, let alone meet new ones, though I did manage both.

I led a core conversation about interviewing, meant to pool our collective wisdom about how to be a good interviewer. It got nice write ups here and here.

I made up an interviewing cheat sheet, which you are welcome to use, reuse, recirculate or ignore as you see fit. Download it as a PDF.

My two favorite panels were Ze Frank’s and Devo’s. I have long admired Ze Frank’s amazing experiments in audience participation, including When Office Supplies Attack and Angrigami, and I expected him to be hilarious, which he was. I was not expecting him to be so insightful and moving. He spoke about how much emotion is out there on the internet, and how much it blows him away when he sees how people take the fun little tools he’s created at his site, like this flower maker, and use them to display and share profound feelings with one another. He also talked about making The Show as an experiment in living at the edge of continuous anxiety about not having anything to present and the ongoing process of learning to have faith and patience in his own creativity.

Devo presented a panel called “Devo, The Internet, and You” which was simultaneously a discussion of how they are seeking audience participation in their next album and a wicked wicked send up of corporate speak approaches to treating online audiences as marketing data.

Here is a link to their (unembeddable?) powerpoint which is more than worth the 1:43 it takes to watch it. Judging from the comments on the YouTube site, its status as parody wasn’t apparent to all, but it was crystal clear if you were there.  The highlight might have been the questions, when the audience slipped right into the same mode and asked lingo-laden queries that were as funny as the presentation (“I am really impressed at how you’ve managed to leverage synergies and I’m just wondering if there are any synergies you haven’t been able to leverage?” “Location seems to be increasingly important in this new millennium and I’m wondering if you are planning to offer location based services”). Mike Monello, of Campfire NYC, who’s a leader in transmedia storytelling (in addition to having been a maker of Blair Witch Project, he also does the transmedia for True Blood among other cutting edge projects) declared the panel “the definition of transmedia storytelling.” It was perfect.

I also enjoyed seeing Peter Sunde from Pirate Bay (and Flattr) skyped in from Sweden (“If I set foot in the United States I’d get sued so hard I’d never be able to leave”) who didn’t really say anything but was exceedingly funny and charming at it.

My biggest disappointments? Daniel Ek of Spotify offered no hope of a US launch anytime soon, and, yeah, that Twitter CEO keynote interview. Suffice to say the interviewer should have been at my session.

My biggest frustration? The panel on music curation. Anya Grundmann who’s in charge of was wonderful, but I was ultimately infuriated by music writer Chris Weingarten who at one point had the insight to say that “it’s not about finding a music blogger who has taste like you, it’s about finding a group of people who have similar taste” but ended up just whining that only the real (i.e. published in Rolling Stone like he is) music critics were capable of real critique and the rest were just wannabe fanboys driving the experts out of business. No sympathy here. And a total misunderstanding of the levels of in-depth critique fans practice every day.

p.s. best perks? Macallan’s ongoing free tastings of their 12 and 15 year scotches and free chair massage. I want that at all events I attend.

Amanda Palmer don’t need no stinkin’ label

Amanda Palmer, sometimes of the Dresden Dolls and sometimes her own sweet (?) independent self, has long been an enthusiastic proponent and exemplar of how to use the internet to connect with her audience. She’s got over 17,000 followers on Twitter, and writes a blog in which she’s profoundly personal (in keeping with her musical identity), and now she’s on a campaign to get her record label to drop her because they don’t understand the connection the internet has enabled her to create with her fans.

In an open letter to her label, she explains why:

i had to EXPLAIN to the so-called “head of digital media” of roadrunner australia WHAT TWITTER WAS. and his brush-off that “it hasn’t caught on here yet” was ABSURD because the next day i twittered that i was doing an impromptu gathering in a public park and 12 hours later, 150 underage fans – who couldn’t attend the show – showed up to get their records signed.

no manager knew! i didn’t even warn or tell her! no agents! no security! no venue! we were in a fucking public park! life is becoming awesome.

also interesting: i brought a troupe of back-up actors/dancers on the tour (we were only playing 300-1000 seaters) and had no money to pay them, so we passed the hat into the crowd every night. each performer walked from each show with about $200 in cash. the fans TOOK CARE OF THEM. they brought us dinner every night, gave us places to sleep. (i couldn’t afford to put up that many people in hotels).

all sans label, all using email and twitter. the fans followed the adventure. they LOVED HELPING.

There are two points here.

First, she no longer needs the label to reach her fans. In fact, she can reach her fans more effectively than they can.

Second, she’s doing what I talked about in my talk at MIDEM — creating a social-exchange relationship with her fans in which they choose to give her (and her performers) not just their attention, but also their money, because they want to. They know intuitively that it is the right thing to do.

It’s not about them feeling guilty if they don’t. It’s about them understanding that she has given of herself to them, and that if they want to keep that relationship in balance, they should give back to her. That’s how loving relationships work. Attention and money are two ways they can repay her for the music, the attention, and the loving that she gives them.

This is what a morality-based relationship between artist and fan looks like.

See you at MidemNet 2009

Next week I am headed to France to attend my first MidemNet conference. I’ll be offering a “master class” called “Making the Most of Online Music Fandom” in which I will overview the social activities that motivate fans to engage one another, how the internet transformed those activities in ways that empower fandoms, why this terrifies people used to having all the control in the relationships between musicians and fans, and I’ll suggest some key principles for forming symbiotic relationships with fans.

When I was first asked to do this, it inspired a long line of thought about who I would invite if I were going to put together my dream program to hear people talk about building relationships between musicians and fans.

I’d include people having great success with the patronage model of fan funding for recording costs like someone from Marillion or Jill Sobule.

I’d want some people from labels who have been genius about opening new avenues for artists and fans to interact, people like Terry McBride or Martin Thörnkvist.

I’d want people from companies like ReverbNation who are always one step ahead in figuring out how musicians can marshall fans’ enthusiasm in ways that benefit them both.

I’d want a good analyst from the outside, like Mike Masnick from Techdirt.

And then, you’d need some people who lead successful fan sites, like MadonnaTribe.

Get some managers who’ve been really good at communicating with fan boards, like Robbie Williams’s manager.

Add in some executives from the important companies.

And then, for good measure, include at least one artist who’s now representing many artists trying to make sense of the digital music industry, someone like Feargal Sharkey who, in his late 1970s incarnation as singer of The Undertones drastically improved the quality of my life for decades even if I’m not sure I like what he’s up to now.

So imagine my glee to read the final program and see every single one of these people on it, plus many other excellent choices, and this list doesn’t even include the keynoters (the full program is here in PDF form):

Norman Abdul Halim, President & Group CEO, KRU Studios (Malaysia)
Amul Batra, manager of James Yuill and Managing Director, Fwinki Music (UK)
Nancy Baym, Social Media Researcher, Online Fandom Blog (USA)
Tim Bierman, Manager, Pearl Jam Ten Club (USA)
Michael Bornhaeusser, Managing Partner, 5 Continents Consulting Group (Switzerland)
Bryan Calhoun, VP of New Media & External Affairs, Soundexchange (USA)
Neil Cartwright, Managing Director, Million (UK)
Tim Clark, Manager of Robbie Williams & Managing Director, ie:music (UK)
David Cushman, Director of Social Media, Brando Digital (UK)
Michael Doernberg, CEO, ReverbNation (USA)
Ben Drury, CEO, 7digital (UK)
Mark Earls, HERDmeister, HERDconsulting (UK)
Marcel Engh, Managing Director, SBX / VP Brand Entertainment, Sony Music Europe (UK)
Daniel Graf, Founder & CEO, Kyte (USA)
Allen Guo, Founder & CEO, (China)
Denzyl Feigelson, Consultant, advisor to brands such as iTunes & Coca-Cola and Founder & CEO, (UK)
Duncan Freeman, Founder & President, Band Metrics (USA)
Betty Yip Ho, CFO, Executive Director, A8 Digital Music (China)
Peter Jenner, Emeritus President, IMMF (UK)
Mark Kelly, Keyboard Player, Marillion (UK)
Eric Korman, President, Ticketmaster (USA)
Nicholas Lansman, Secretary General, UK ISPA (UK)
Gerd Leonhard, Media Futurist & Author, (Switzerland)
Andrew Martyn, Founder & CEO, Mubito (Sweden)
Michael Masnick, Editor of Techdirt Blog and President & CEO, Floor64 (USA)
Rob McDermott, Manager of Linkin Park & President of Music Division, The Collective (USA)
Kenth Muldin, CEO, STIM (Sweden)
Cory Ondrejka, SVP, Digital Strategy, EMI Music (USA)
Pharrell, Editor, Fluokids Blog (France)
Paolo Olivi, Co-founder & Webmaster, MadonnaTribe (Italy)
Shailendra Pandey, Senior Research Analyst, Informa Telecoms & Media (UK)
Juan Paz, Head of Research, Music Ally (UK)
John Possman, President and Co-Founder, Two Four Seven (Japan)
Ian Rogers, CEO, Topspin (USA)
David Schulhof, co-Founder and co-CEO, EverGreen Copyrights (USA)
Feargal Sharkey, CEO, UK Music (UK)
David Smith, CEO, Global Futures and Foresight (UK)
Jill Sobule, Singer & Songwriter (USA)
Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive, BPI (UK)
Martin Thörnkvist, Managing Director, Songs I wish I had written / The Swedish Model (Sweden)
Tim Walker, Co-founder & Managing Director, The Leading Question (UK)

And how much do I love that angry rants in response to one of last year’s MidemNet keynotes serve to get me invited rather than ostracized!

If you’re planning on being at Midem or MidemNet this year and ever peek at this blog, I’d love to meet you. Shoot me an email so we can connect.

If you’re not able to be there, the MidemNet blog may be your next best bet.

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.

Surrendering to the Realities of the Internet

Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams has long excelled at communicating with fans. He’s the faithful author of a long running blog in which he has been very open with his fans. They have built a strong rapport and have a lot of communication going on there. He blogs often and an average post gets well over 100 comments.

Now he’s gone and reinvented as a combination archive and DIY Mashup site. The idea is that fans can replace the official punchline with their own and then vote on which “mashup” is best. In The New York Times Blog, Adams is quoted as saying:

“I’m surrendering myself to the realities of the Internet,” said Mr. Adams in an e-mail message. “People can already doctor strips. We’re just making it easier so people have more reason to visit the site.”

“And it’s fun,” he said. “This makes cartooning a competitive sport. It’s a game changer.”

Excellent as the idea is, and it is excellent indeed, the comments on the NYT post suggest that the site itself is causing problems for some users, especially those with slow connections. There’s also the minor fact that it’s not technically a mashup since it’s not really mashing different already-existing texts together.

And then there are those who think fans couldn’t possibly be as funny as The Author:

This is a terrible idea. It does nothing to make good comics, but is a great way to pander to fans. Some “media” (I guess “art” is too quaint and precious a term for our day and age) shouldn’t be a collaborative effort. All the old-school media types trying to be relevant by handing over the keys to their audience is a sad, desperate, and doomed attempt to stay relevant amidst the swirling currents of change. I don’t want to read a “Dilbert” that some John Stewart-worshiping chucklehead in my office dreamed up. I want to see what comes out of Scott Adams’ brain. I am hoping against hope that this faux-egalitarian, “interactive and conversational” trend will die a quick death as the Internet — and its audience — matures.

Of course the silliness of this perspective is that Scott Adams is still writing Dilbert. If one wants only official versions, they are still being produced, they are still being archived, they’re still there. Fans doing their own thing with support from The Author doesn’t preclude the author continuing to produce work that meets the standards of fans who don’t much want to write punchlines themselves.

And anyone who thinks fans can’t come up with good stuff on their own has been reading too much Andrew Keen and not paying enough attention.