For over 100 years the expectations of how bands and fans connected was relatively well defined.
Until the last few years, fans could bring a band into their lives in 2 direct ways:
1. Fans could buy music and feel an intimate connection with the bands they loved by purchasing records.
2. Fans could buy a concert ticket and share in an experience where they were physically in the same space as the bands.
The Internet shattered the ceiling of limitations.
We constantly evaluate where to put our energy, and how to most effectively communicate with fans. In the last few years we have grown to expect information and communication to always be available. Our impatience has turned many of us into needy media monsters.
Between 2005 and 2008 MySpace was at its peak of popularity and acted as the preferred tool for musicians to share music, tour dates, and connect with fans around the world. Part of MySpace’s strength came from its ability to create a unified user experience for both bands and fans. Although it allowed a band to edit its profile, the content was limited within defined parameters. Ultimately the music was highlighted and the songs were left to stand alone. For the first time on a global scale, “Commercial radio, MTV, retail stores, and record companies lost their exclusive tastemaker status, while consumers morphed into de facto music programmers who shared information and music via message boards, Web pages, e-zines, and MP3 blogs” (quote from Ripped by Greg Kot).
MySpace was meant to be a social community, but many users were never taught their responsibility to be part of that community. Information was shared and the network grew at an exponential rate with no series of checks and balances.
Too many times bands put in hard work to create a fanbase they one day could mobilize, only to turn their back on the hard work and tactics that had gained them a following in the first place. In a recent interview Evil Vince summed this up by saying “too many times, just as things start to get the most professional in a band’s career, the band begins doing the least amount of work and too often takes the easy way out” (*I paraphrased this from my memory of what Evil Vince said, I am at least a few words off).
“Post my banner on your MySpace profile,” “Tell all your friends to come to my show,” “listen to my new song.” Fans and friends were equally taxed as musicians and managers delivered self-destructive advertisements one after another. It was the gold rush, and we had our picks ready to strike, as we all raced for the most friends, profile views, and plays per day.
At this time businesses were born to drive up the number of profile views and plays per song. Many bands gave their trust to people they many never had met in real life and said “populate my page, get me friends, make it look like I am getting listened to more than X,Y, Z band.”
*One possible reason for hiring a company to take over this role was because the majority of bands were burning themselves out over MySpace. I worked for months from my bedroom wearing the same pajama wardrobe from 8am-10pm, trying to find the code to turn MySpace into a sensation of success. I read the book MySpace For Musicians, with highlighter in hand. I paid a person in Europe who said they could guarantee my band 500 plays per day for $5. I abused fans trust by asking my friends in bigger bands to put the artist I managed in their top MySpace friends.
Like major record labels who paid stations for radio plays, we undermined the trust of fans and contributed to a system of self-promotion that cheapened the tool that gave us power in the first place.
We cheapened our art by cheapening how we communicated with fans. Outsourcing Of Authenticity became commonplace.
MySpace became one giant chain email and the network all but died because of it. I will not make that mistake again. I now approach Social Media with something I learned in kindergarten.
“Treat others the way you want to be treated.” I want to be treated authentically by the artists that I love.
**Most of the text above comes from an email that I wrote to a friend a couple of years ago. It also occurred to me that right now many new bands may never have had a MySpace profile. That does not matter, the story is the same. Be yourself. Don’t abuse trust. Treat others the way you would hope they would treat you. I will also go so far as to say that – we are no longer in middle school. The cool kid breaking the rules, stealing lunches, cheating on papers, etc, that kid is an asshole. Surround yourself around the people you aspire to be like.
I did a quick google search for Outsourcing Authenticity and found this great blog post. Here is a guy who writes about things in a way that I aspire to. Great stuff.