Social media and the DIY music scene: Part 2 (the interview)

This may come as a surprise to those in the music industry, but for musicians who’s careers are not based solely on hype, social media is not the most essential tool they have.  For hardworking musicians who write, record, manage, book, and promote themselves, the personal connections that are most valuable to them are made the old fashioned way, according the Frank Copenhaver, Hurricanes of Love.  Frank’s amiable and memorable personality makes it easy for him to make strong connections quickly, and besides being a phenomenal musician, this is probably his greatest asset.  Frank says he does use Facebook to keep in touch with the people he meets on the road but more often than not he will use his cell phone to get a hold of contacts while on the road.  There is something just a whole lot more personal about receiving a phone call and hearing someone’s voice on the other end.  This fits in with Frank’s whole ethic, as described to me by Andy Kruczkiewicz.  “Be involved and be flexible.   You have to use social media to get the word out but it helps to be memorable, nice, and larger than life, like Frank,” said Andy.  Facebook’s events function makes it a lot easier to promote shows.  Frank said there is a Facebook event page for every show on his tour and Frank is usually pretty active on these pages.

Frank cautioned me about getting detached from this process.  He told me a story about a band he played a show with the other night that had a booking agent and all the other “hot-shot accoutrements”.  He said this band showed up to the gig, played their set and left without talking to a single person.  Frank said they didn’t even stay to collect their portion of the donations.  Instead, they had their booking agent contact the guy who collected the money to ask for their cut.  “They were good but they were so detached. They didn’t want to communicate and they expected this anonymous person to collect their money.  It was out of this world,” said Frank. “ It was like a lesson in what not to do.”

Shane Donnelly warned me about getting caught up social media hype.  He said, “A lot of music blogs are super specialized. They might only have about a hundred readers.”  This seems logical when you think about the long tail theory. Shane also said he has met a lot of bands with “blown out egos, that think they’re famous just because some blog mentioned their record…For me, as an artist I try not to pay to much attention to that.  I try to stay in touch but not get wrapped up in the hype,” Shane said.

Shane also noted another peculiarity about the music blogosphere; the fact that for a lot of bands it’s hard to solicit a bloggers review.  “A lot of bloggers don’t want to hear from bands. They want to feel like they discovered the band, not the other way around,” Shane said. “It’s a strange mindset, it’s almost like some music bloggers are just vying for bragging rights.”

All the hype aside, Andy noted, social media does have one really important role to play in the DIY music scene.  “It’s a great way to listen to music if you can’t get a hard copy. Social media is eliminating the need to physically pass a CD along,” said Andy, “and that makes it a lot easier for your band’s music to spread by word of mouth.”

My interview closed with Frank, Shane and Andy all giving me a little sound advice from their experience on the road.  ”More than anything else, you want to connect with people spiritually, you need to get in tune with the spiritual web of life,” said Frank.  ”I bust my ass seven days a week eight months out of the year so I can have the winters off to do this sort of thing and when I’m waking up at seven a.m. on a Saturday during the middle of summer I just tell myself these experiences make it all worth it,” Andy said.  ”The point is, it’s hard work but, if you want to do it you can do it,” Andy stated in summation.

 

Social Media and the DIY Music Scene: Part 1

For this last blog post, I figured I would share a little bit of my first hand experience with social media and the DIY (Do It Yourself) music scene.  I’m writing this after a late night of gigging and chatting with fellow musicians.  Last night, my played a gig at the Crayola House, one of the few remaining houses in Harrisonburg, VA that still has all ages, no cover, shows several times a week.  The line up was Battery Acid Stories (my band), Big Drum in the Sky Religion, Hurricanes of Love, and Many Mansions.  My band was invited to do the show by Frank Copenhaver, or Frank Hurricane, as he likes to call himself.  Frank is a larger than life character and one of the most genuinely good-hearted people I know.  His solo act, Hurricanes of Love, is a uniquely moving blend of psychedelic, folk and blues.

I first met Frank about four months ago when my other band, Malatese, played a show with him at the Blue Nile.  The booking manager/sound guy, Mark Finks, asked us if Frank could stay at our place.  We agreed to put Frank up for the night and after the gig we hung out for a while.  That’s when I got to know Frank. Frank stayed at our place again when he came through on another tour last month.  That’s when he asked us to play last nights gig with him.  Both times Frank came to Harrisonburg in the past, he played at the Blue Nile, but this time he wanted to play a house show, which isn’t that hard of a thing to arrange, but it was even easier because the drummer in Battery Acid Stories lives at the Crayola House. We secured the venue and informed Frank who passed the word along to Many Mansions.

So around seven o’clock last night Fank and Many Mansions (Shane Donnelly and Andy Kruczkiewicz) showed up at my place. Then around nine o’clock we went to Crayola House to set up for the gig.

On the Facebook event we made for the show it said to arrive at nine, but no one ever arrives on time.  So Battery Acid Stories didn’t go on until about 10:15.  After us, Big Drum in the Sky Religion played an awesome improvised set reminiscent of Bitches Brew era Miles Davis.  Then Hurricanes of love played with Many Mansions providing auxiliary percussion.  Frank’s voice has a soulful quality that really shined on the Crayola House PA, which is a hodgepodge of speakers and mixers in a constant state of decay.  Frank’s set sent chills up my spine several times and really put me in a blissful mood.  After Frank, Many Mansions went on.  Shane operated the sampler, synth, and mic, while Frank and Andy did percussion.  Many Mansions blends psychedelic, afro-beat and soul to create some truly amazing tribal, dance music that had everybody in the crowd dancing, including myself.

Crowd size was about 25 at its peak but fluctuated through out the night.  By the time the show ended, around 1:30, there were only about four or five people left who weren’t in bands.  The donations bucket had a pretty hefty amount of cash and Frank and Many Mansions split it to help pay for gas.  All in all it was a pretty good turn out for a Wednesday night in Harrisonburg.  Looking back now, the Facebook event had 31 confirmed guests so it was a surprisingly accurate indicator of crowd size.  Usually the Facebook event attendance is somewhat inflated because it is real easy to click the attending button and totally forget about the concert when show day arrives.

I left Crayola House around 1:45, citing the amount of work I had left to do on this blog project as the reason I couldn’t stick around and hang out.  When I got home I ate some food and brewed a pot of coffee, preparing for the all-nighter that lay ahead of me.  That’s when I had the idea to interview Frank, Shane and Andy, real life touring musicians, on how they use social media.

 

SXSW and the Future of Social Media

South By Southwest (SXSW) has a history of being the launching point for new social media applications, according to Daniel Terdiman.  Back in 2007, before Twitter really took off, the buzz it generated at SXSW helped bring Twitter to the forefront of social media.  In 2009, location based service, Foursquare, launched at SXSW and garnered a lot of attention.  Since then, the interactive portion of the SXSW festival has been seen as the jumping off point for new social media applications, as well as the proving grounds for existing social media applications.  This should not come as a surprise, SXSW is also a major launching point for rising musicians. Each year, Austin TX is overrun by tech savvy twenty-somethings, and the buzz generated during the festival can make or break the career of musicians and app developers alike.  So the big question is: What does SXSW 2011 hold in store of the future of social media?

Once again in the forefront of the social media discussion are location-based services.  Right now, these services are experiencing considerable birth pangs, according to David Berkowitz.  Services like Foursquare and Gowalla are trying to expand beyond the niche market that a purely location-based application attracts to a wider audience.   During these tentative times, location based services are trying to move passed mere novelty to something useful for a large number of people.  As a result, this year’s SXSW has seen the introduction of coupon elements to location-based applications.  Perhaps these special offers will breath life in to location based services or maybe they will fade into the background, as strictly coupon based services overshadow the hype location-based apps originally garnered.

This years SXSW also highlighted an interesting flaw in the social media design behind Twitter: what happens when too many people use it.

 

As seen in the above video the sheer number of people using Twitter during SXSW may be its only weakness.  In the future, Twitter will need to figure out a way to make it easier for users to access only the most useful information so that they aren’t overwhelmed by the mass flow of information.

Twitter: A new way to connect

Twitter is one social media platform that holds benefits for a wide rage of people and industries.  Across the board, companies are finding that Twitter allows them to connect with potential customers in a way that traditional marketing methods never have.  According to Tom Humbarger, Twitter can help companies build a better reputation, market their products more effectively, and engage with customers.  Musicians are attracted to Twitter for these same reasons.  As with large companies, the kind of reputation an artist has is integral to their success.  An artist’s reputation can affect the way they are viewed in the professional sphere, as well as with fans.  A good reputation can mean a loyal fan base and strong professional relationships, according to Louis Oliveros.  The subject and tone of an artist’s Twitter has a major impact on the artist’s reputation.  Artists should be conscious of this whenever they post something on Twitter.  In addition to building a reputation, Twitter can help artists market their music to fans in a way that allows both parties to benefit.  The two-way communication that occurs on Twitter makes it possible for artists to promote themselves without fans feeling like they are being subjected to an advertisement.  Also, marketing with Twitter is ultimately more effective because artists can communicate directly with a narrower, more responsive audience, according to Dj Naves.  The two-way communication that Twitter facilitates provides artists with another advantage: increased fan engagement.  Artists who use Twitter well can not only communicate to fans but also listen to what they are saying.  Breaking down the barrier that has traditionally separated artists and fans can create much more meaningful relationships, which are essential to the careers of artists and musicians.

 

Foursquare: Revolutionizing the concert experience

For those of us who have never used or even heard of Foursquare, it might be helpful to start with a little background information.  Foursquare is a social media site that is centered around real time interaction with real life places.  According to Chris Catania, users can “check in” at various locations via Foursquare’s mobile app.  When users “check in,” they can earn points and rewards.  This adds a competitive edge to Foursquare because the users with the most points can become “mayor” of a specific location.  Foursquare can also be helpful if you want to meet up with friends at a location.  Whenever you check in, you can see all of your friends that have also checked in.  Foursquare is now working on expanding its user base by teaming up with companies who want to use Foursquare as a marketing tool.

SPIN Magazine used Foursquare and last year’s SXSW (South By South West) with great success.  SPIN Magazine had several badges that Foursquare users could earn by accomplishing various feats of festival going endurance.  According to Jennifer Van Grove, the first ten users to earn all the badges won two tickets to a SPIN Magazine’s SXSW showcase.

In a similar fashion, a historic Los Angeles concert venue, The Roxy, has used Foursquare to reward users who “check in” with free CD’s, according to Glenn Peoples.

While Foursquare is still in it’s infancy, it has great potential.  Imagine going to one of the larger music festivals like Bonnaroo or Coachella and using Foursquare to find friends you didn’t know were there, or earning awesome rewards by taking part in a festival-wide scavenger hunt.  Foursquare co-founder, Naveen Selvadurai, also sees potential for artists who use Foursquare.  In the video below, from a recent MIDEM conference, Selvadurai talked about the capabilities Foursquare could offer artists who wanted to give fans the chance to follow them on a day-to-day basis.

 

From the midem blog.

Soundcloud: It’s kind of a big deal

On its face, Soundcloud, a simple platform for artists to upload and share their music, might not seem like the revolutionary tool. However, when you consider the state of music sharing online before Soundcloud, Soundcloud’s simplicity and functionality are quite impressive, according to Luke Lewis. Before Soundcloud, just about the only way for artists to get their music played online was with MySpace music.  From the artist’s perspective, MySpace music has some major shortcomings. First, you can only upload relatively small files on MySpace music.  Which means only low quality files could be uploaded.  For artists who spend a lot of time and money recording their music, this is kind of a slap in the face.  Secondly, MySpace music’s media player doesn’t have an embed function, which is horribly annoying if an artist has the crazy idea of sharing their music on another web venue.  On the other hand, Soundcloud allows artists to upload 120 minutes of high quality music for free, and with a paid account an unlimited amount of music.  Soundcloud also makes it easy for its media player to be embedded on almost any other web platform, so artists can share their songs on Facebook and blogs.  With its artist-first mentality Soundcloud has attracted more than 1 million users according to music week. Now, record labels and music blogs are starting to join in.  Record labels like Domino Recording Co. use Soundcloud to safely release music before the actual album comes out and receive demos from artists.  Music blogs are also using Soundcloud to find out about new artists.

 

Social Media: Increasing Connectivity

The music industry, unlike many other industries, has always had a social aspect to it.  Music is something that is best enjoyed when it’s shared with other people.  Live concerts provide the kind of face-to-face interactions and collective experiences we all crave.   The highly emotional nature of music can facilitate strong personal connections between artists and listens.  So, it is not surprising that artists are beginning to utilize social media to generate even stronger personal connections with fans.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can perform several important functions for artists.  According to an AFP article, social media is changing the way  artists promote shows.  Using social media to promote shows allows artists to reach interested fans who might not have heard about the show otherwise.  Artists can also build anticipation for upcoming shows by keeping fans informed.  This inexpensive way to get publicity can be extremely valuable to artists.   One Oklahoma based artist, K.C. Clifford says she regularly uses twitter to excite her fans before shows.

In addition to publicity, social media sites can give artists the ability to connect one-on-one with fans.  K.C. Clifford says social media is breaking down the artist-fan barrier.  Fans are able to have personal contact with their favorite artists through Facebook, Myspace, Blogs and Twitter.   The cultivation of personal relationships with their fans can give artists a real advantage by generating a loyal fan base.  Wayne Coyne, lead singer of The Flaming Lips, uses his personal Twitter account to share pictures and opinions.   His personal twitter has about 37,000 followers and is referenced on other music news sites.

Many artists have had great success with personal blogs.  One excellent example of an artist blog is the blog run by the lead singer of Deerhunter, Bradford Cox. In his blog Cox shares his musical influences, stories about his struggle with Marfan syndrome, and hours of free music with fans.  Recently, Cox released four albums worth of bedroom recordings and demos that could be downloaded for free.

The bottom line is that artists now have the ability to cheaply and effectively do a lot of self-promotion with social media.  I think this self-promotion will ultimately be more effective than more traditional forms of promotion because it feels more organic and personal.  Artists who use social media correctly can have real and meaningful conversations with their fans, which will only increase the intimacy of the personal relationships between artists and fans.