A query for the fanfic crowd

I get a fair number of hits to this site from people looking for rock band fan fic. I’ve seen that Franz Ferdinand, Duran Duran, and Morrisey are among the bands who get fanficced (is that a verb?). I had always associated fanfic with narrative genres, especially TV shows, so it came as a bit of a surprise that band fanfic even existed.

So I’m looking for a crash course. Are there some bands with TONS of fanfic about them? Are there particular kinds of bands more likely to get fanfic about them? How do fanfic stories about bands work? If fanfic based on narrative genres plays off of the ‘official’ story, what does band fanfic play off of? Is band fanfic considered just another part of the fanfic scene or is it off on its own? Is there any scholarship on band fanfic or readings about the phenomenon someone could point me toward?

Any insights on these or questions I should have asked most appreciated.

Thx to this thread on Fanthropology for heightening my curiosity.

ReverbNation Street Teams

Yesterday I wrote about ReverbNation’s approach to helping bands spread themselves across the internet by providing an easy means to create distributable resources and track how those resources were employed and with what success. Jed Carlson, CMO, gave me a guided tour of the site recently, and in this second part, I want to discuss their view of fans, Street Teams, and the business model on which they’re banking.

They view fans as a funnel. At the widest end are the people who listen to the music. Then there are those likely to buy (converting ‘fans’ to ‘customers’ is one of their missions). Then there are the “promoters,” those who place widgets around the net and spread your music on your behalf. ReverbNation gives the bands easy ways to give fans what they need to be promoters and to track which fans are doing the most and the most successful promoting.

They see Street Teams as the narrowest end of the funnel. Fans can sign up to be on a Street Team. Band can launch ‘missions’ (spreading the music, promoting shows, recruiting new fans, driving traffic, and spreading the word offline are the five mission types built into the interface). Bands can build in rewards (e.g. backstage passes for the five team members who bring the most hits). Street Team members can choose whether they want to join a mission or not, and on their site, the mission and those who have been most active in accomplishing it are displayed. In contrast to a site like FanCorps, they have very limited means for Team members to talk to one another – no chat rooms or forums. Instead, the focus is on the bands.

Right now the Street Team piece is in Beta. Four bands are testing it, and it is set to go live no later than mid-June.

I asked where the money is to be found for them in all of this since all of these services are free for the bands and the fans. They have three primary revenue streams. First, the pages have ads (which I think are rather discreetly tucked into the corner) and artists share 50% of the revenue that views of their pages generate (in other words, the more page hits a band gets, the larger their share of ad revenue will be). Second, the artists can sell their music on the site using SnoCap and ReverbNation takes a modest cut. Finally, they offer bands some “premium services” for a prices. These include what they call “Fan Reach” which allows bands to do highly targetted fan contacts (like: send an email to all the fans in Ohio), and the ability to have the ReverbNation resources appear without ReverbNation branding.

What I like about this scheme is that there are no built-in motivations to screw either the bands or the fans. The more money the bands make, the more they make, and the less the bands make, the less they make. If they don’t put the bands and their needs first, they won’t make money. That’s a powerful incentive to remember their own mission.

Update: Fan Reach is free, not a premium service.

ReverbNation’s Spread and Track philosophy

I wrote recently about a couple of Street Team websites that help bands identify, coordinate, manage, and reward hardcore fans for getting the word out about them. ReverbNation plans to launch Street Team capabilities this summer and their CMO, Jed Carlson, gave me a sneak preview. In the process he also let me see a lot of the ‘under the hood’ mechanics of what they offer bands, and gave me a short course in the ReverbNation philosophy. I’ve been covering ReverbNation since their beta and had the general sense that they were good guys. Now I’m sure they are.

To understand their motivation for Street Teams it helps to understand their general philosophy. Today I’ll talk about that. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about how they see fans, their model of street teams, and their business model.

I had thought of the site as fan focused, but I was wrong. They like fans, they’re all for fans, but they are all about the bands. They’re only going to develop things for the fans if they clearly help the bands. As Carlson put it, they are “artist-centric.”

What I find particularly savvy about their approach is that their mission is not to have a “moat” like MySpace, but to be a one-stop-spot where musicians can build resources that they can then export all over the internet. ReverbNation is mean to be the “home base” from which bands can “spread their seed” all over the internet [better virtual seed than a trail of pregnant fans, I guess?].

Rather than competing with MySpace, Virb, Last.fm and other sites, then, ReverbNation is aiming to provide resources and that artists can use when they create a presence on those sites. They only expect a small percentage of ReverbNation activity to happen at their own domain.

The twist is that when this seed is spread, through embedded media players, images, messages, whatever, it contacts home and ReverbNation can provide bands with statistics about what went where, what got hit by how many individuals, and more. They also collect some stats about fans with accounts on the site, so that a band can see statistics such as the age and sex distribution of their fans. I asked whether their site might be a skewed sample, and was assured that it may not be random, but that if a band has an older audience on the site, they were going to have older crowds at their shows. Conversely, if a band can see that they’re drawing young people, they can work to have their shows all-ages.

I asked how they are doing. When I first checked in, they didn’t seem to have very many bands and even fewer with known names. Carlson says they are coming up on 9,000 artists, their growth is doubling monthly, and that they now have 17 of the top 40 indie artists on the site. Pretty impressive.

Tomorrow… their view of fans, street teams, and business models.

How to relate to your fans online

The band Wilco have been exemplars of how bands ought to relate to fans, providing a great model for the ‘new social rules of Internet fame’ that I wrote about yesterday. Today their new record is released, months after it’s leaked and been widely distributed online. At the end of last week, they emailed their fans what they titled “a modest proposal” (no baby-eating required):

[...] We continue to make lots of music available free to all in the road case, continue to allow taping/photos at shows, and basically just try to keep the things we do charge for of a quality that make you feel like you got a bargain. You know, mutual respect and all that. We like the way it works… a lot. We really do believe in trying to keep as much of it as free and open as is humanly possible. That seems pretty obvious… but somehow it remains a slight novelty in the modern day music business. So much so that people continually mention it in their stories when they write or speak about the band or the somewhat sad state of the music business.

Anyway, what we’re getting at here is that right now we need you to participate in a way that is part of what has made this nice little story work. We’re actually asking you to please go out next week and do the right thing for Wilco. That is, vote with your feet and prove the band’s faith well-placed and buy the record. [...]

Okay, enough campaign speeches. You get the message. And we trust that you’ll act on it as you always have. Other things on this week’s extremely busy agenda…

They trust their fans. They give to them and they assume that their fans will give back. They treat them with respect. They have been remarkably good sports about having their albums leaked over and over, they’ve all-but-outright encouraged fans to tape and distribute their concerts, they’ve made extras available online, they’ve streamed their music before releasing it, they send nice letters to the people on their email list regularly but not excessively.

They have every right to expect that their fans should reciprocate, and I love that they’ve provided what the letter calls a “reflection on the dynamic between us and you” to preface the simple call to please go out this week and buy their record.

I might add that a friend loaned me his complete Wilco collection a few years ago and I ripped it. After listening for a month or two I went downtown to the local indie record store and bought them all. I’m clearly not alone in putting my money where my ears are.

“The new social rules of Internet fame”

Clive Thompson’s got a wonderful write up of the changing relationship between musicians and fans that has been a central theme of this blog in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine. He talks to several bands (Jonathan Coulton, the Hold Steady, Ok GO, the Scene Aesthetic) and presents a nicely complex description of how “B-List” musicians find new career paths open to them online, paths that require a continuous online presence spent forming “symbiotic” relationships with fans. Such relationships can be extremely helpful to artists in practical and tangible ways:

… followers have volunteered hours of their time to help further his career: a professional graphic artist in Cleveland has drawn an illustration for each of the weekly songs, free. Another fan recently reformatted Coulton’s tunes so they’d be usable on karaoke machines. On his online discussion board last June, when Coulton asked for advice on how to make more money with his music, dozens of people chimed in with tips on touring and managing the media and even opinions about what kind of songs he ought to write.

They require, however, a new model of connection that looks much more like interpersonal than mass communication. Thompson describes performing artists as “eager, even desperate, to master the new social rules of Internet fame.”

In Thompson’s analysis, the key challenge is managing what to keep private and what to tell. Says a Hold Steady, Tad Kubler, “I vacillate so much on this, I want to keep some privacy, some sense of mystery. But I also want to have this sense of intimacy with our fans.” The other challenge is the sheer time involved (at one points, Thompson describes a musician as “losing” 2-3 hours a day in communication with fans, hopefully betraying more of his own attitudes towards fans than those of the artists of whom he writes). It’s clear, though, that sustaining one-on-one relationships with each fan is only sustainable when a fan base stays small. Thompson also touches on the fact that fans turn, and that the sense of intimacy can lead to fights and outbursts as well.

As you may or may not know, teaching a course called “Theories of Interpersonal Communication” has been the bread and butter of my career since 1986 and I gotta say… challenges of balancing privacy and disclosure? Challenges of having all the time and freedom to do your own thing without concern for the other people vs. wanting to be involved and interdependent? Where I come from, we’d call those ‘relational dialectics’ and we’d point out that they’re inevitable in every personal relationship. They are balancing acts we manage throughout the course of every relationship. Each artist needs to find his or her own way, but each artist/fan base relationship and set of relationships within that is going to be its own context that calls for somewhat different balances.

The social ‘rules’ aren’t out there yet, but here are some starters:

1. Treat each other with kindness and respect.
2. Respect one another’s boundaries.
3. Tell the truth.
4. Give at least as much as you take.

But even if there were a complete list of rules to follow, it will never be easy and the challenges will never go away. There’s a long list of ‘rules’ for interpersonal communication that people have studied, taught, read about, lived for decades, centuries, millennia, and we still haven’t yet figured out how to ensure that our personal relationships lead to symbiotic growth that benefits us all. We can’t expect bands and fans to solve that one. It’s a wonderful goal to strive for, though.

(Thx to Holly for making sure I found this article.)