Tuesday, May 15, 2007

In Praise of Creative Conversation

Imagine that Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan or the Beatles were breaking into the music and recording business today. Yeah, the question shows my age but bear with me. You can insert the most popular - or your favorite - recording artist from your own bad ass era. Do you think Lennon & McCartney would have a MySpace page? How much control would Elvis hand over to his fans? Would Dylan have peddled "Blowin' in the Wind" as an mp3 download on iTunes? What would Miles Davis blog be like? Would Johnny Cash have kept us posted while in prison?

One of the first posts I read from Mack Collier was his "100 CDs for 100 Bloggers". I thought "this guy must be in the music business"! Come to find out, he's a merely great marketer and social network wizard. I've chewed on different ideas of music marketing since then. Its no secret that cd sales are in the tank - something like 20-25% this year depending on what metrics you use. Downloads are way up although how many are being "purchased" is elusive to determine at best. Suffice it to say - you want music, its easy too find it. Music for money is a far different game than your momma and daddy played. And while there is a ton of mediocrity - there is also some terrific music being played and passed along. I still believe the best is had live by a bunc h of rank amateurs...but thats for another time.

Most recently what got me reflecting on internet music marketing (or any internet marketing for that matter) was a story by Clive Thompson in the Sunday magazine at nytimes.com. Titled "Sex, Drugs and Updating Your Blog", the article looks at current practices by "b-list" artists. None of the names above would be considered anything but "a-list" though they had to start somewhere - right? The piece is about 4500 words and well worth the read. I'm going to focus on one part of the story and call it "BobNotes". (no disrespect to Cliff)

A one-time computer programmer named Jonathon Coulton decided to bag his job for a year in order to write and record a song a week. Then he'd post them to his blog. Thats 52 songs in a year and no small challenge. He managed to embark on this "forced march to creativity" and by the middle of last year had more than 3,000 people on average - per day - to his site. The most popular songs were being downloaded as many as a half million times. What do you suppose he discovered along the way? He found that his fans not only wanted his music - but they wanted to be his friend. They wanted to interact and communicate. They want a conversation. hhhmmmmm? Sound familiar? They send email. And while he responds to each of the more than 100 emails per day, it has got to be tiring. Thompson writes "his replies have grown more and more terse, to the point where he's now feeling guilty about being rude". (although this may be overstating if you visit this post) There are music videos from fans on YouTube. Along with asking advice on how to make more dough with his music, Coulton has toured. How does he decide where to play? Post a poll for fan interest in a given city and if there's enough to make it worth while (more than 100) - he goes and plays. He asks, then listens. I'm going to put a label on him - populist artist.

Which is really what blogging and marketing is about - asking and listening. These are the times I tend to philosphize - isn't that part of what being human is also about? Listening and learning.

I'll conclude with 3 quotes, and my reactions, from the article. The first about online networking -

"It is the central paradox of online networking: if you’re really good at it, your audience quickly grows so big that you can no longer network with them. The Internet makes fame more quickly achievable — and more quickly unmanageable."
I'm not convinced its unmanageable. Seems to me we all make a choice how to deal with whatever attention is afforded us. And we all deal with it in different ways. Some are more hands on than others. It becomes a paradox when your unable to fulfill whatever goal you've set in any given situation. Thus the importance of setting a goal.

The next about what caused the biggest spike on Coulton's website -

"Coulton’s single biggest spike in traffic to his Web site took place last December, when he appeared on NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday,” a fact that, he notes, proves how powerful old-fashioned media still are. "

I'm a big believer in old media - and new media. My newspaper enters its 125th year on May 19. An organization in existence for that many revolutions around the sun plans to be around for a few more. Sure there are bumps along the way. Ain't life grand!

Finally, Thompson's observation on creativity -

"For many of these ultraconnected artists, it seems the nature of creativity itself is changing. It is no longer a solitary act: their audiences are peering over their shoulders as they work, offering pointed comments and suggestions. "

This statement might be defining the nature of creativity a little too narrowly. If the artist does not take time for herself - she will burn out. Its pretty simple. We also live in a time where pointed comments and suggestions come from anywhere and everywhere. Art by its nature is ever evolving and ever changing. Thankfully, we can experience current day creatives through ever broadening options. The opportunity to grow through conversation and connection can only make us better.


Mack Collier said...

Thanks for the link Bob, and thanks for posting the NYTimes article, I hadn't read it yet!

BobG said...

Shoot yeah, Mack - for all the good stuff you write and good things you do, I oughta link to you everyday.

Enjoy the article!