Call to Musicians

In September I had the pleasure of being a faculty mentor for the Association of Internet Researchers’ doctoral colloquium, where Ph.D. students presented their dissertations in progress and got feedback from faculty and fellow students. One of the fellows in my session, Hugh Brown of the Queensland University of Technology (in Australia), is studying the different ways that musicians are using the internet and with what effects. As he puts it: “The project’s purpose is to investigate the factors affecting independent musicians’ access to music markets and, focusing particularly on New Media aspects, to figure out how to make it easier for independent musicians to build a music business.” It’s an action research project, meaning that all of the data he collects and analyzes he’ll give back in the form of recommendations for what works in which ways.

Hugh now has a survey online and is looking for musicians willing to complete it. He estimates it will take about 15 minutes. It’s a worthwhile project — he’s really trying to figure out ways to guide independent musicians — so if you’ve got the time, please fill it out. And if you’re working with or know other musicians, please pass the word along to them.

You can find the survey here.

Fantasy Sport for Women?

Via Fanthropology I’m alerted to this story from Reuters about a new Fantasy soap game from SoapNet.

The game works along the same lines as fantasy football, in which real-life players are chosen for virtual teams and results are based on statistics from actual games.

Fantasy Soap players will pick three male and three female actors and five “soapy moments” from nine U.S. network soaps, and score points depending on what the actors’ characters do.

Taking off clothing, waking up from a coma, getting an organ transplant, day dreaming or “monologuing” — when an actor stands alone in a room talking to himself — are each worth a hefty 50 points in Fantasy Soap League.

Kissing or slapping someone, pleading, lurking or eavesdropping can also boost scores.

Players also win points if any of the five “soapy moments” they choose occur on any soap opera over a 10-week period.


Like ESPN, SoapNet enjoys a high degree of viewer loyalty, according to Nielsen ratings, and the soap network wanted to emulate ESPN’s robust online presence as well.

“We saw how much fun ESPN viewers have with Fantasy Football,” Blackwell said. “The game rewards people for something they already are doing and it encourages sampling of other soaps.”

I’ll be curious to see how this goes. On the one hand, hey why not? A lot of the fun of soaps is making predictions about what happens next. On the other hand, the kinds of things that earn you points seem to me kind of banal next to the kinds of predictions I see in the zillions of existing online soap talk communities. Really engaging soaps is so much more complex than guessing who eavesdrops, which is kind of like guessing that in a football game someone’s going to run with the ball at some point. Duh.

Still, soap viewing has never recovered from OJ’s trial, soap fans are among the most enthusiastic participants in internet fandom and have been for as long as there’s been an online fandom available for them to create (for the record, was one of the earliest Usenet newsgroups), and the more ways they can figure out to engage people in watching soaps the better. They may be on to something, but I can’t imagine wanting to play that way myself instead of getting into the nitty gritty discussion of storyline details. Unless there’s a big cash payout for the next time this dialogue occurs:

Him: Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t love me.
Her (looking him in the eye): I don’t love you.
He walks out of the room.
She goes to the closed door, places both hands upon it and begins sobbing.

(there are no cash payouts, just the status of being Queen of Fantasy Soaps — sounds like something you do with drag queens in a bathtub!)

Meanwhile, despite stereotypes, women everywhere continue to enjoy Fantasy Football.

The Wisdom of Ze Frank

Whenever I teach about creativity on the internet I start with those wacky people in the early 1970s turning punctuation marks into facial expressions and end with Ze Frank. I don’t keep up with his daily show, but I always appreciate what I see. I’ve got a student writing a paper about his fan forum this semester and she’s been telling me it’s pretty intense — if you don’t watch every day you can’t keep up and you better not try. So it was with interest that I saw the New York Times article on “Online Auteurs” (ooh la la) which, toward the end, has this to say about him:

Over a typical week, “The Show” is seen more than 200,000 times, and several hundred viewers post comments in Ze Frank’s forums. It seems that he’s reading every word. Unlike a film or TV audience, Frank’s viewers have a chance to connect right in the middle of the project, and he seems almost maniacal about his loyalty to them. “I think we may have experienced the last generation of actors who can be disconnected from their audience,” Frank says. He asks for show-theme suggestions and answers questions politely, and his need to include whomever is watching sometimes feels like a lifeline to keep him from drowning. He cites this ongoing conversation with the viewer as one reason that he refuses to post his show on YouTube.

“For me, the show itself is far less interesting than everything around it. And if you stick it on YouTube, out of context, it loses all the inside jokes, all the responses, the history of what led up to that show. The framing gets lost. Also, you can’t make money off of YouTube. Unless you are YouTube.”

YouTube sells ad space, but contributors are paid nothing. And Frank is perfectly happy with the revenue from the small ads on his Web site. He says he makes about as much from a single text ad as “an entry-level hooker in Washington, D.C.”

Maybe I’ve had all the wrong career aspirations?

But following up on yesterday’s post about building your online presence through proprietary spaces, this just drives home the point. I wouldn’t advise people against using those sites, and I think a lot of what Ze Frank does could well stand alone elsewhere, but it’s a good point that on your own space you get to create the context as well as the content. Plus of course, no one’s going to buy out from under him and change how things work without his having a say.

If you’re not familiar with his work, you’re in for a treat. I am crazy about his build yer own kaleidescope but all his interactive stuff is great. His participatory projects are super fun too, check out Office Supplies Attack for a glimpse of what he can get his fans to send him.

The dangers of proprietary promotion

At, Joe Taylor tells a cautionary tale with a happy ending about a band called Bones who almost lost their MySpace profile, complete with history and friends aplenty, to Fox TV, who wanted it to promote a new TV show also called Bones. As he points out, while this story ended ok (the band got to keep the screen name):

it’s another reminder that promoting someone else’s domain name on your printed material and press kit is an invitation to disaster. [...] MySpace’s terms of service indicate that they can — and will — take back your screen name if they want to. It’s really nice to hear that they stuck up for a member this time, but you can’t guarantee that they’ll do it again.

And, for all the folks that think MySpace is never going anywhere, ask the senior members of your favorite music business bulletin boards what it was like when vanished after it was purchased by an international media conglomerate. (Some folks are still stinging from that one.)

It’s such a good point. The more we build our online personaes and social networks through sites that other people own, the more vulnerable we are to changes in their ownership, design, vision, or even existence. We can be thrown off without reason or recourse. We can be erased through some bug and we don’t have the backup to reload. All kinds of nasty things can happen. We extend an incredible amount of trust in their goodwill and faith in the Computer Gods who make them work.

An industry into fanfic

Romance novels have got a reputation even worse than soaps, but people who step back and pay attention recognize that not only is this one of the most popular and enduring pop culture genres out there, it’s no more formulaic or stupid than most of what you can see on TV or in the movie theaters. It just gets stigmatized because, horror of horrors, it’s written by, for, and about women and it focuses on emotion (if you really want to hear me rant about this, read the first chapter of my book!). One of the first and most important audience analyses was Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance. While I don’t like it when she goes all psychoanalytic, it’s still a great and highly influential work amongst those of us who think that the best way to study how fans engage texts is to, you know, talk to fans.

And here’s another reason to appreciate the romance novel industry, they’re not only welcoming fanfic, they’re encouraging and mentoring its production via Avon press’s site Avon Fanlit. For the last 8 weeks they collaboratively created a new romance novella by having fans submit chapters, creating forums for fans and writers to discuss them with authors and editors, and voting on which was best. There were lots of prizes, some of real value to aspiring writers. They let the fans vote as well as compete (something I always advocate in these conferences). And they’ve published the result as an ebook you can start reading here. Notice they’ve put the fan/authors front and central instead of sucking them entirely into their own corporate persona.

Very cool.

Of course, they might not dig it quite as much if the fans were taking characters from existing copyrighted novels for their own.