More Pictures

…because David asked, here’s the gorgeous valley that goes up to Independence Lake just off Highway 82. You have to imagine that if you turn to the left you will see even more of this stuff, including a beautiful little lake nestled in a small valley (Linkins Lake, one of my favorite hikes). And if you turn to the right, the valley descends forever into Aspen and the road over Independence Pass hangs precariously on the side of the steep steep slope:

Up the valley toward Independence Lake

And here I am, on top of the world, looking appropriately happy to be there:
I'm On Top of the World!

That’s what I did yesterday. Tonight I am going to go see a free show on the little ski slope at Snowmass featuring Keller Williams, Son Volt, and a laser light show! Fun for the whole family!

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The Summer Research Life

It’s a busy time for little old Nancy these days. In addition to extended vacationing in Colorado, I’m working on several research projects. I don’t usually dwell too much on my researcher persona on this blog, but I thought some of you might be interested to hear what I’m up to, so here goes:

I’m about to collect data for two research projects that touch directly on fandom. First, I’m conducting a survey about the meaning of “friending” on Last.fm. I’ve long been intrigued by the use of the term “friend” in social network sites and the complexities of relationships that the term may mask. The topic’s been addressed to a small extent in Friendster, MySpace, and LiveJournal, but as far as I can tell, no one has looked at it in a site devoted specifically to fan-based activity. If you use last.fm, or know people who do, your participation is welcome, whether you have any Last.fm friends or not. The survey is posted here. The Last.fm office crew have been very supportive of this project and I want to thank them for that.

I’m also getting ready to conduct interviews for a study about the role(s) of online fans in Swedish indie music fandom. Obviously, this is a fandom with which I strongly identify (click on the last.fm radio button on the lower right to hear some of the music involved) and I’m very curious about how active online fans are carving out new roles for themselves in distributing, publicizing, (re)releasing, and other things I hope to discover before long. If you’re involved with that fandom as active fan, blogger, label person, musician, or otherwise, and are willing to be interviewed, please shoot me a message!

And then there’s the little matter of the book I’m writing for Polity Press, called Personal Connections in a Digital Age that’s part of their new Digital Media and Society series. They publish some amazing authors and books and I’m honored that I’ll be in that kind of company. For the last several years I’ve been teaching a class called Communication and the Internet, and last fall I taught a graduate seminar called Personal Relationships and Communication Technologies (click for course syllabi). This book will pull together the topics covered in those courses and serve as a one-stop-shop for people who want to know more about how people use the internet and mobile phones in personal relationships and what social consequences their uses may have. It’s aimed at students, scholars, and general readers who are more interested in what the research shows than in polemics. The book is not about fandom, but that will certainly rear its head, especially in the chapters on online community and social networks. It won’t be done for several months yet, and likely won’t see publication until late 2008 or even early 2009.

So right now, for whatever reasons, I find myself very motivated to work on these, and a bit less motivated to work on this blog. I’ll certainly keep posting here, but the daily stuff is going to subside for a while. If you’ve got tips to send on things I should cover, though, please keep sending them along! I’ll leave you with this (mirror image) shot of the well-situated scholar at work. What can I say? Someone’s gotta use that deck* :)

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* my sister calls it “Baymwood: A pretentious patio restaurant in Aspen.”

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Does the internet make it easier to be a female music fan?

The other day I got an email from a female music fan who (in reference to this post in which I laid how the qualities of the internet that have most impacted music fandom) asked:

With the internet transcending time, space, social distance, its permanence and searchability, how do think these aspects affect female music fans? I wonder whether the internet allows female fans to express themselves more openly about the music they like without being perceived as a groupie?

A great question and I’m of mixed minds about it. Can we express ourselves more openly and find more likeminded souls? Definitely. Are we still assumed to be hot for the boys? Definitely.

One of the great early hopes for the internet was that it would erase sexism. Once we couldn’t see gender, we’d be judged on the quality of our ideas and not our sex. And now huge sectors of the internet are porn sites and games where female avatars look like porn stars with fantasy metal bits instead of genitalia. And that’s only where it’s smack-you-over-the-head obvious how fully sexism thrives online. Sexism may well be worse online.

Meanwhile, music on and offline is as much of a boy’s club as it’s ever been. When I worked in a record store (the only woman who worked at that store), almost all of our customers were male, and all of the ones who came in and dropped tons of cash on large stacks of records and later CDs were. Women in bands are expected more than ever to be sex objects as well as singers (have a look at coverage of the most recent American Idol if you doubt that). But few and far between as women in bands are, fewer and further between are women behind the counters at record stores, working at record labels, acting as managers (let alone producers or engineers), and working behind the scenes at “Music 2.0” sites. We can’t expect the internet to overcome a playing field that unlevel to begin with.

As background, let me just say that I set aside my own youthful plans for a career in the music business (I dreamed of band management, not musicianship) because it became apparent to me that if I went that route I would spend far too much of my life saying “no, I work for them, I don’t sleep with them” and I knew I deserved better. This revelation came to me when I was hanging out with R.E.M. As soon as they started to get big, that assumption was always there from the men (and some of the women) who didn’t know me. In one of those R.E.M. books, the one that’s an oral history done in interview quotations, my friends and I show up and the quote about us is from a label rep and goes something like “they were really cool, wherever we went in the Midwest, they were there. You could never tell whether they were sleeping with the band.”

So I know the assumption that female fan = groupie of which she speaks. Whether it’s there or not, they’re looking for it.

But I also want to say that rock and roll is meant to be sexy. And a lot of women who love rock and roll do think boys in bands are as hot as boys come. I’ve loved a lot more music than I have boys in bands, but I’d be lying if I said I’d never lusted for any of the men whose careers I followed, though that lust always followed a deep love and appreciation of what they were doing musically. So for me it’s not just a question of proving that we can be every bit as into the arcane details and the music itself as the boys are (that ought to be a given), it’s also about asserting our right to claim our sexual response to it and admit when it turns us on without being stigmatized for it.

Not too long ago in a band’s fan forum I said that their music is phenomenally sexy. It is. It’s the best aphrodisiac I’ve found. (Does that mean I want to sleep with the band? Not at all, they’re way too young and funny looking. And besides, I have a serious thing for my husband.) Some other women on the board chimed in that they too had this response to the music. We got into a discussion of which songs were sexiest. The boys on the board snickered and hypothesized that come morning we would have all come to our senses and deleted our messages. How patronizing is that? Like I need boys young enough to be my sons telling me I’m irrational and giddy when I talk about what’s obvious to half the band’s fans.

I also want to point out that aside from having to say “no, I’m not a groupie, I don’t want to sleep with boys in bands” way too many times and dealing with incidents like the ones I’ve described, I have always been able to be a highly successful music fan and I know many other women who have as well. I’ve been respected and befriended for my musical expertise since my early teenage years, and ultimately I have never found my sex to be a barrier to that. In some cases, I think it’s worked to my advantage. So I think women have been pulling off being expert music fans for a long time, and they still do online. I think it still intimidates some men, but I think other men think it’s really cool to meet a woman who can talk about the subtle variations between live and recorded versions of an obscure b-side, especially men in bands.

But all that being said, at this point, almost everyone I connect with online to focus on music (on Last.fm and on mailing lists, my 2 main music-activities online) is male. I get on just fine, but I am usually aware of being female, and that is often a latent issue. It has not disappeared on account of the internet, and I don’t think it’s going to any time soon.

In closing, this is probably an appropriate point at which to plug the “fanboy/fangirl détente” series Henry Jenkins is running on his blog. He’s got male/female pairs of fandom scholars interviewing one another every Thursday and Friday through early fall in a combined effort to bring wider attention to many fandom scholars and to address gender issues that arose on Kristina Busse’s blog following a recent conference. I’m up in early August. And I have to say I feel really weird about it because unlike Kristina’s experience, if there’s one place I have not felt sexism, it’s in the response to my research. Maybe that’s because I compare my scholarly experience to my music fandom experience?

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The Exemplary Labrador Records

Absolut Noise has an interesting interview with Johan Andergård who works behind the scenes at Sweden’s Labrador Records, and is a musician in several Swedish indie bands including The Acid House King, The Legends, and (my favorite of the three) Club 8.

I was particularly interested in this excerpt:

How do you use the net? How do you picture the future of the relationship between Internet and music?

johan AThe Internet makes it a lot easier to discover music and so it’s a lovely promotion tool for us. It’s a great way to make people hear our music and spread some songs. We encourage people to download our singles and always give them away for free and I think this has helped a lot when it comes to people discovering Labrador artists, and perhaps especially new bands like The Mary Onettes. You can actually listen to the whole Labrador catalogue at Last.fm. Then the internet has of course made it a lot easier to buy stuff from small indie labels, either if you buy CDs or download.

What I don’t like so much about the internet is that people’s way of listening to music seem to change a bit as they’re downloading more and more and listen in their iPods. I’m a bit conservative and like having the album in my band to look at and the listen to the album all the way through. This way I feel I’m introduced to the band’s world and I let their music be my world for a while. The iPod listening has changed this a bit and a lot of people only choose a song or two from each album or artist for their playlists. I think this drives the listening to be more hit-focused, even when it comes to indie pop.

Labrador is an exemplary label as far as recognizing the potential of the internet. If you go to their site you can really explore and get a good feel for the sound of their bands. You can download the singles and spend time with them. I’ve gotten turned on to more than one through their site, and I’ve also realized others just weren’t for me after all. They’ve also succeeded in creating a cluster of people who are fans of the label as well as the bands, the sort who will be eager to hear something new simply because it’s on Labrador (see here for the Last.fm Labrador fan group). Not a coincidence!

FWIW, my opinion is that listening to singles first is just fine. I’ve fallen in love with plenty of bands because one song got under my skin, and I doubt I’d have wanted to plunge right into a whole album right away. Not all of us have the time to focus on a whole album right away. For instance, I fell in love with Club 8 because of a single on a Parasol compilation. They are not my usual cup of tea, and if I hadn’t had that one song and heard it often enough to decide I really needed more, I never would have bought their CDs. And yes, I bought their CDs.

Missing from Johan’s equation is the role of the fans who run around the internet screaming “you’ve got to hear the Mary Onettes!” (or in my Labrador-related case, “listen to Pelle Carlberg! I can’t get this lyric out of my head!“) It’s not just label to fans, it’s label to fan to fans. It’s these fans in the middle, the ones who serve as unpaid and passionate publicists online who intrigue me, and about whom I’ll be writing a paper this summer and fall. Thoughts welcome!

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Greetings From Colorado

Independence Pass

Regular readers can expect lighter posting for the next few weeks. Or maybe this will just become a photoblog for my Rocky Mountain fandom ;-}

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