Fans or Friends? An interview

I recently did an interview with Dave Cool for Bandzoogle’s blog.

We covered topics like how social media have affected online fandom, benefits and challenges of social media, whether bands need to use social media and/or have their own website, whether they can keep mystique, whether they ought to be trying to be friends with fans, and even a bit on how I mix personal and professional in my online identity and why.

Read part 1 and part 2.

Fans or Friends?

Last weekend I gave a talk at the International Communication Association about the increasingly interpersonal nature of the relationships between musicians and friends. In it, I draw on the interviews I’ve done with musicians to identify some of the positive new rewards they get when they can interact directly with their fans, cover many of the tricky interpersonal issues they face in trying to negotiate how much those relationships can be like friendship, and briefly summarize the main strategies they use to manage boundaries in ways with which they are comfortable.

Here it is in PDF form for download:

Fans or Friends?

Any and all feedback (especially the constructive kind) is welcomed!


Embracing the Flow

Last spring I wrote a research memo for the Convergence Culture Consortium about dealing with the unfettered flow of content in contemporary entertainment industries. It’s now public and you can download the PDF here.

Here’s a teaser from page one:

One of the most vexing issues facing the content industries is their loss of control over the distribution of digital material. Combined with the ability of consumers and fans to organize and voice opinions more loudly than ever before, many industries, including recording, broadcast, and motion picture, find themselves acting from defensive postures, seeking to shut down grassroots activities and file sharing.

In contrast, some in the industry, particularly (though not exclusively) independent artists, have embraced this unfettered flow of materials and discourse. This C3 research memo (1) briefly identifies the current situation of information and content flow and the kinds of steps being taken to combat it. Against this backdrop, it then (2) identifies the reasons one might choose to embrace these changes rather than fighting them (3) argues that these industries need to consider the role of social exchange in addition to the economic exchange models they are used to in building consumers’ willingness to pay for content they can obtain for free and (4) proposes specific strategies for building social exchange relationships in this environment. In what follows, I use music as an exemplar, but the discussion will not be limited to music.

On the Pirate Bay Verdict

I never really paid a whole lot of attention to Pirate Bay. I have a torrenting application, but have only ever used it to download one band’s concerts from their fan board (where they are posted with the band’s tacit consent). But I was totally taken in during the trial, particularly with the Twitter spectacle of it all– both the posts of defendent @brokep with his mastery of twitterspeak and with the #spectrial tagging that included real time moment-by-moment translation of the trial and ongoing commentary. If you were following me during that time you might have noticed I was bordering on obsessed.

So now the verdict is in, at least in phase one, and they’ve been found guilty with jail time and massive fines to pay if the verdict is upheld.

As someone who’s spent much of the last few years paying way too much attention to the independent music scene in Sweden, and who chanced to meet @brokep when I was going to meet some independent label guys for lunch in Malmö last fall, my feelings are very mixed. He had a sweet smile and was instantly likable. More importantly though, he was hanging out in an office with people running two of my favorite Swedish music labels: Songs I Wish I Had Written and Hybris. Both labels are associated with The Swedish Model, a collective seeking to foster a new future-oriented dialogue about the music industry.

When I interviewed independent Swedish label heads and musicians, every single one of them spoke of downloading as a good thing. They viewed it as an opportunity to reach broader and more international audiences, to increase the number of people into their kind of music, as a chance to build a whole new culture around music. Martin Thörnkvist, head of Songs I Wish, most vocal spokesperson for The Swedish Model (and guy who introduced me to Peter from Pirate Bay), told me he uploads their whole catalogue to Pirate Bay so he can have control over the quality of the recordings people download of their songs. Each spring Labrador Records uploads a sampler full of their singles to Pirate Bay.

It isn’t that these people don’t want to make any money from the music, it’s that they recognize that file sharing is not a choice, but a given. The question is how to use it, not how to stop it.

On the Digital Renaissance blog, Thörnkvist wrote:

Today’s ruling has only one positive aspect. I look forward to the music business investment in new services that were promised when the “copyright issue” is resolved. Up to evidence, out with you on the dance floor and show what you can do. Release control of your catalouges and let the service developers that are the best test their wings, instead of the one that currently can give you the biggest advance.

Of course this is not the end of the juridical process. The appeal will come as fast as it takes to download a torrent. But in my dream world the record, film and computer games companies withdrew their claims and instead spend all their money and creative energy to develop what they are actually best in the world at. Until then, Peter, Fredrik and Gottfrid have my full support in their dreams of a free internet.

Thank you, The Pirate Bay for putting a blowtorch in the ass of those who own 80% of all music ever released. Your work will ultimately lead to the re-recognize value of its core business and the will to sanction better services to restore music as the best provider of emotions.

It hurts when old business models to burst, but in this case the grass is really greener on the other side – not least for musicians and music lovers.

Or as Mike Masnick put it:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t think that most file sharing is legal or right (and I don’t participate in any of it). But, millions of people who know that it’s illegal have absolutely no problem taking part in it, and no “education” campaign or shutting down of a particular site or service is going to stop that. Continuing to pretend it will doesn’t help the industry at all. What helps the industry is to stop denying that this is something that can be stopped legally, and finally moving on to experimenting with business models that work

I don’t think all music should be uploaded and downloaded freely. I am all for investment in music and return on investment in music, and I realize that money is inevitably part of that equation. I also think, though, that the pursuit of money, and sometimes very large amounts of it, has colored the music business in some weird ways so that money is too often taken to be the only kind of investment or reward that can motivate good music. Ultimately, I want the music business to survive, but, like Martin, Mike, and the people I’ve interviewed, that’s only going to happen when everyone accepts that whether they like it or not, whether it’s morally and legally right or not, file sharing is not going to stop.

I love the idea of embracing it. Of seeding the music yourself. I have heard the arguments, but I am not at all convinced that in the end it means fewer copies will sell.

I want more ways for us to pay artists in addition to buying the CD or the downloads. I want scarce goods like fabulous packaging and great bags, shirts, posters, and so on. I want a way to pay every artist what we think their music is worth directly (let them work out the payback for songwriters, producers, financers and other behind-the-scenes people).

Some past posts about Swedish labels and file sharing:

Indie Labels on Sharing, Streaming, and Giving It Away

The Trap of the File Sharing Debate

Music Is All About Money

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.