Upcoming Events

The fall travel season will soon be upon me and I am hard at work preparing talks. On October 16th I’m going to be visiting Microsoft Research, giving a talk called “I Heard it on the Net: Recent Transformations in Online Music Fandom.” Here is the abstract:

Music fans have always been enthusiastic internet users, building community through mailing lists, news groups, and web site. In the last two years, however, there have been dramatic changes in how music fandom is practiced and with what consequences for fans, artists, and industries. Music-based social networking sites, MySpace, mp3 blogs, and the success of fan-authored webzines such as Pitchfork Media have given fans new ways to act as promoters, critics, and even culture importers and exporters.

The next day I will be in Vancouver at the Association of Internet Researchers’ conference where I’ve organized a pre-conference colloquium for PhD students writing their theses and a Saturday morning roundtable discussion about researching in social network sites. Here is the blurb for the latter:

Social network sites are rapidly becoming the most popular destinations on the internet. New ones, often targeted at increasingly narrow niches (stay at home mothers, the elderly), are launched faster than even ardent analysts can track. Yet scholarship, with its lengthy time to publication, has only begun to speak to this phenomenon. This roundtable brings together an international group of social networking analysts from within academia, independent research nonprofits, and industry to stimulate discussion on what is most interesting in these networks and what poses the greatest challenges for researchers studying them.

I am excited about this panel, not least because of the stellar people who agreed to be part. They are: danah boyd of UC-Berkeley and general netfame, Nicole Ellison of MSU, Jeff Hammerbacher of Facebook, Amanda Lenhart of the Pew Internet and American Life project, Daniel Skog of Umeå University, and Jan Schmidt of the University of Bamberg. I expect this mix to raise some fascinating issues and discussion and I anticipate that my brain will be on fire by the end. Plus AoIR is where I see all my favorite people. Yay!

Soulja Boy’s Not Ashamed

Usually when MySpace plays a major role in breaking musicians, they are eager to back away from it — “oh no, it wasn’t MySpace. Well, maybe a little, but WE TOURED! HONEST!” It’s as though making it through MySpace cuts your credibility. So in light of that, it’s refreshing to read this interview with Soulja Boy at AllHipHop.com in which he sings the praises of MySpace and direct communication with fans:

AllHipHop: You mentioned in previous interviews that you were lacking exposure on the streets, would you say the internet is a better alternative or just as good alternative to mixtapes?

Soulja Boy: The internet is a much more productive tool than mixtapes or the streets because I was hired for shows before I even signed a deal with a record label based on internet popularity. Everyone in the club, arena or stage where I performed knew word for word all of my lyrics to my songs off the strength of the internet. I wasn’t featured on any mixtapes or radio stations.

AllHipHop: What contribution are you bringing to Hip-Hop that hasn’t been done?

Soulja Boy: I am bringing a new way of getting exposure before you are signed. Other artists are big from the streets or mixtapes, I am showing people another avenue. I came up on the strength of a myspace page. From that, I had die-hard fans that wanted to hear my music no matter what it was. For me to become a star from the bedroom of my house is definitely something big.


AllHipHop: At such a young age, how are you dealing with the backlash from haters against your style and movement?

Soulja Boy: Haters are going to hate. I don’t pay attention to haters as opposed to my fans. I talk to my fans everyday through logging onto Myspace. They also send me emails on my Sidekick.

I’ve been thinking lately about how the internet can position artists as peers of the fans, rather than above them (the Swedes I’ve been interviewing seem to be looking to get rid of the barriers between band, label and fan), so was struck by this piece of the Soulja Boy interview as well:

AllHipHop: Do you think people can relate more to you than other artists because regardless of their financial status, they can throw together something from their closet that resembles your attire?

Soulja Boy: They look at me like someone they can be just like. That is why I dress the way I do. If I come into your city, you can have on the same or similar attire that I have. I keep it really simple and my fans can be just like me.

Seems like such a nice boy.

Radiohead=Buzz of the Week

So blink and you’re behind the times. Radiohead have surprised us all and done something that isn’t boring announced that not only is their new surprise record coming out IN A FEW DAYS, it will be self-released, and — here’s the buzzworthy part — if you choose to buy the download vs. tangible version, you can set your own price. Anything from nothing to … however much it’s worth to you.

This will be a fascinating experiment to watch, and I hope that they will be forthcoming with data on how many people paid how much and how their take compares to their major label releases. My conjecture has been that given trust, loving, and relationship-building from the band, fans will voluntarily pay back to the extent they are able (click on the link for a theoretical explanation of why). Whether this works when a band is perceived as rich superstars will be a great test.

Major kudos to them for risking it. Color me impressed. Rainbows of impressed.

Update: Lots of intelligent and wide-ranging comments on this here.

Indie Labels on Sharing, Streaming and Giving It Away

I’ve been interviewing people involved in the Swedish indie music scene these last few months. Today I thought I’d dive into them a little and share a few quotes from people running labels that I think represent a real shift in the way indies are doing business as well as how they differ from the major labels. I’m not going to identify the interviewees because I didn’t get their permission to quote them by name for this purpose, and I’m not sure it matters that much right now.

First, though some are making money on CD sales, they don’t seem to expect to and have other ideas about where the money is going to be made: live music, clubs, and sponsorship. They are high on giving their music away, or at least the singles. Says one label guy:

As a label, simple things like giving away every single as an MP3 helps a lot. If you’re a small label you have nothing to lose by spreading your music. Having a record label isn’t the best way of making money anyway… but coming from a very indie background, most 7″ singles I bought when I was younger sold 500 copies or less. Albums around 1,000 perhaps, I’m sometimes surprised the music we release sells as well as it does. [...] There are a lot of records stores closing down. But the ones closing down are the ones which aren’t niche-stores. And there’s an increase in venues to play and clubs I think. Everyone has their own club nowadays. Having your own fashion brand or starting a club is the new starting a band.

And another:

I’m giving up on selling CDs, but we’re making CDs and trying to get them on elsewhere, we can’t make money from selling them. I’m trying to figure out different ways to earn money and get artists to be professional musicians: Setting up clubs, trying to get people who have money to pay for the music. Like companies pay for using your music because then you can rip some fuckers with money off, like sponsorships. I have nothing against that. If the sponsorship thing is good and you feel like both parties are winning on it. Companies realize they can’t get their logo on everything.

I was particularly interested in how a third label person articulated what I see as a major theme in my interviews, the use of free music to create not just a buzz about your band, but a cultural scene around your kind of music. One could argue this has always been the case with indie music, and certainly the scene has always been important, but where the scene used to be built primarily through touring, it now can be built through file sharing, and that seems new:

If we didn’t put out mp3s, we wouldn’t get the attention we need, so it can only be positive. I view file sharing as a positive. It’s affecting the culture, listeners who are into our kind of music, they are more music fans than the general listener. That kind of person has increased in number over the last 5-6 years. In Stockholm now there are tons of clubs that play our kind of music. It’s 100% file sharing and the internet that we have to thank. All people involved in indie music have known that if we could only get exposure we’d be huge. The majors had marketing and budgets, but the internet made it easy for the independents.

He goes on to talk about the importance of active online fans and mp3 bloggers:

It’s a big thing. A lot of our fans share common values with the whole file sharing, the culture benefits. It’s a very important factor, it translates some kind of interest that we share a common value — shared music taste, discontent with the dominant major labels. mp3 bloggers are important in the development of mp3 culture. In the beginning there weren’t many mp3 blogs, it had very big impact if we put up our own site because everyone would go to the site. Nowadays mp3 blogs have taken that place. The label isn’t enough of a filter anymore. It’s great for us. If a big mp3 blog puts up a track by one of our artists it gives it credibility. It makes it easier for people to like it and accept the music.

Says the first label guy quoted above:

Hopefully, MP3s, MySpace, internet, blogs and all that changes things so that we more and more have to put our trust in people’s good taste in music (and our way of of presenting our music I suppose) rather than big muscle marketing.

Some key words in there: trust & common values. No wonder I like these guys :)