Relating to Fans Means Helping Them Relate to Each Other

Here, for your reading pleasure, is a PDF of the talk I gave at MIDEMNet last week titled Making The Most of Online Music Fandom. Bruce at Hypebot, one of the excellent people I met there, was kind enough to do a near-instant writeup.

nancyatmidemnet

I identify 5 key social practices in fandom, 5 reasons the internet has superpowered fans, and make 4 suggestions for how artists and those who represent them can make this work for everyone. I argue that the key to fostering fans’ strong connections to artists is fostering their connections to one another by understanding and nurturing the activities that bind them together in their fandom.

For me, this page in the middle of the talk is the key:

Of course, the flip side to fans’ empowerment is what seems a lot like disempowerment to those who’ve been able to control music production, distribution and coverage. It’s natural to respond to this with fear. The threats are real. Those in industry  may want to stop fans from:  Criticizing them, spreading their music, using their name, bootlegging their shows, discussing their private lives, writing fantasies about them, spreading misinformation.

But getting control back is not an option. That genie is not going back in the bottle. The power struggle and the tensions it raises will continue for the foreseeable future.

The relationship between fans and artists is less and less like a business relationship in which artists and industry set the terms and audiences either buy or don’t, and more and more like a social relationship in which bands and fans have to negotiate terms together.

They are independent, they have their own goals, and they will do things you don’t like. They can also help you.

As always, your feedback is welcomed in comments.

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The Future vs The Past of Entertainment

Since leaving MIDEM my thoughts have been all ajumbled, but as they begin to settle, one thing that seems strikingly clear is the contrast between the dominant rhetoric I heard there, particularly from those within the music industry proper, and the rhetoric I heard at the Futures of Entertainment conference in November. In short, if the Futures of Entertainment was about the future – or multiple tracks the future is taking – MIDEM seemed to be largely about the past, sticking to old ways of thinking and trying to make old models work in a world they no longer fit.

In her write-up of the Futures of Entertainment conference, Flourish Klink does a great job of summarizing some of its dominant themes:

* The death of “viral” and “meme.” People choose what they pass along to other people. The content matters. If something is viral or memetic, it’s caught or coded into DNA, not chosen. “Viral” and “meme” are broadcast ideas, where the all-powerful content producer forces the weak consumers to enjoy and propagate something. They’re wrong. From Henry Jenkins.

* The birth of “spreadability.” When people say that they want a video to “go viral,” they mean that they want it to spread. Good media is spreadable media. From Henry Jenkins.

* Value vs. worth. Things have monetary value, but their worth is hard to measure. Companies exist in a world that’s all about money, but fans typically participate in gift economies. When companies try to “monetize” fans (and incidentally, the death of “monetize” was extensively discussed on the hashtag) they run into problems because fans don’t operate that way.

In contrast, the word “monetize” was in the very theme of the MIDEMNet program (“Monetizing the fan-artist relationship”) and was absolutely the dominant theme of the meeting. Viral got an occassional nod, though often as something scary, and the notion of spreadability was not even close to present (except when presented by those outside the industry). With a very few exceptions I heard very few people at MIDEM asking the question “how can we provide value to our audience?” Instead I heard them asking “how can we get money from our audience?”

The people at Futures of Entertainment, some of whom were working at huge mainstream media companies like HBO or NBC, were all asking: how can we use new media to get fans more involved with our product? How can we use these tools to keep them engaged and give them the resources to help them bring in new fans? How can we collaborate with fans in ways that make the product and the experience around it better for all of us?

The people at MIDEM were asking “how can we make sure that every time someone downloads a song, we get paid?” Though there were some great examples of keeping fans engaged (Mike Masnick summarizes them well here), with the exception of the industry people who worked directly with fans (like the person who runs Pearl Jam’s website or the guy who oversees Kanye West’s online presence) for the most part, there was simply no concept of “fan” there at all. Sure they used the word, but what they usually meant was “downloader,” an entirely different concept.

At MIDEM I met many industry people who are passionate about their work, and who see their chance to do what they do professionally disappearing. I spoke with a wonderful woman who used to be in music videos, for her the fact that fans will now make awesome videos for free is not a great example of artist-fan connectivity, but the end of her chosen career.

At the same time, I also met many many people who are building new careers by asking the hard and interesting questions about how to make the internet and mobile media work for both artists and fans. I left believing that the jobs are not disappearing, but they are shifting. I imagine if college teaching were replaced by, say, user-built wikis that could result in the earning of a college degree, I would feel profoundly threated as well. I would probably rant against it and point out its shortcomings.

But I hope that if I were faced with a seismic shift like that, I would be able to look toward the future and ask how I could use the skills I have to provide value to those students instead of looking to the long arm of the law, hoping they would pass regulation to ensure that students still had to take my classes the way I want to teach them.

Finally, lest this seem like I am unappreciative of having attended MIDEM, quite the contrary — I had a great time, I learned a great deal, and I find it very heartening that people like me and Mike Masnick were invited to speak there.

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We Are Ready to Barack and Roll

One thing I love about my new President is that he inspires his followers to create in ways that erase the boundaries between politics and fandom. Here’s to President Obama:

I’ve got this image on today:

my shirt

Now let’s fix the world.

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Spring Classes!

I’ve finished up the syllabi for the two classes I’m teaching this semester.

I’m teaching an undergraduate course called Communication On The Internet. The sections of the course outline correspond to the chapters of my book Personal Connections In A Digital Age, which I hope will see the light of day around this time next year.

I also teach a graduate course on Qualitative Research Methods in Communication Studies, which includes some material on qualitative research and the internet, including, of course, the book Annette Markham and I just co-edited on the topic.

I hope they’re useful for some of you.

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See you at MidemNet 2009

Next week I am headed to France to attend my first MidemNet conference. I’ll be offering a “master class” called “Making the Most of Online Music Fandom” in which I will overview the social activities that motivate fans to engage one another, how the internet transformed those activities in ways that empower fandoms, why this terrifies people used to having all the control in the relationships between musicians and fans, and I’ll suggest some key principles for forming symbiotic relationships with fans.

When I was first asked to do this, it inspired a long line of thought about who I would invite if I were going to put together my dream program to hear people talk about building relationships between musicians and fans.

I’d include people having great success with the patronage model of fan funding for recording costs like someone from Marillion or Jill Sobule.

I’d want some people from labels who have been genius about opening new avenues for artists and fans to interact, people like Terry McBride or Martin Thörnkvist.

I’d want people from companies like ReverbNation who are always one step ahead in figuring out how musicians can marshall fans’ enthusiasm in ways that benefit them both.

I’d want a good analyst from the outside, like Mike Masnick from Techdirt.

And then, you’d need some people who lead successful fan sites, like MadonnaTribe.

Get some managers who’ve been really good at communicating with fan boards, like Robbie Williams’s manager.

Add in some executives from the important companies.

And then, for good measure, include at least one artist who’s now representing many artists trying to make sense of the digital music industry, someone like Feargal Sharkey who, in his late 1970s incarnation as singer of The Undertones drastically improved the quality of my life for decades even if I’m not sure I like what he’s up to now.

So imagine my glee to read the final program and see every single one of these people on it, plus many other excellent choices, and this list doesn’t even include the keynoters (the full program is here in PDF form):

Norman Abdul Halim, President & Group CEO, KRU Studios (Malaysia)
Amul Batra, manager of James Yuill and Managing Director, Fwinki Music (UK)
Nancy Baym, Social Media Researcher, Online Fandom Blog (USA)
Tim Bierman, Manager, Pearl Jam Ten Club (USA)
Michael Bornhaeusser, Managing Partner, 5 Continents Consulting Group (Switzerland)
Bryan Calhoun, VP of New Media & External Affairs, Soundexchange (USA)
Neil Cartwright, Managing Director, Million (UK)
Tim Clark, Manager of Robbie Williams & Managing Director, ie:music (UK)
David Cushman, Director of Social Media, Brando Digital (UK)
Michael Doernberg, CEO, ReverbNation (USA)
Ben Drury, CEO, 7digital (UK)
Mark Earls, HERDmeister, HERDconsulting (UK)
Marcel Engh, Managing Director, SBX / VP Brand Entertainment, Sony Music Europe (UK)
Daniel Graf, Founder & CEO, Kyte (USA)
Allen Guo, Founder & CEO, Yobo.com (China)
Denzyl Feigelson, Consultant, advisor to brands such as iTunes & Coca-Cola and Founder & CEO, awal.com (UK)
Duncan Freeman, Founder & President, Band Metrics (USA)
Betty Yip Ho, CFO, Executive Director, A8 Digital Music (China)
Peter Jenner, Emeritus President, IMMF (UK)
Mark Kelly, Keyboard Player, Marillion (UK)
Eric Korman, President, Ticketmaster (USA)
Nicholas Lansman, Secretary General, UK ISPA (UK)
Gerd Leonhard, Media Futurist & Author, Mediafuturist.com (Switzerland)
Andrew Martyn, Founder & CEO, Mubito (Sweden)
Michael Masnick, Editor of Techdirt Blog and President & CEO, Floor64 (USA)
Rob McDermott, Manager of Linkin Park & President of Music Division, The Collective (USA)
Kenth Muldin, CEO, STIM (Sweden)
Cory Ondrejka, SVP, Digital Strategy, EMI Music (USA)
Pharrell, Editor, Fluokids Blog (France)
Paolo Olivi, Co-founder & Webmaster, MadonnaTribe (Italy)
Shailendra Pandey, Senior Research Analyst, Informa Telecoms & Media (UK)
Juan Paz, Head of Research, Music Ally (UK)
John Possman, President and Co-Founder, Two Four Seven (Japan)
Ian Rogers, CEO, Topspin (USA)
David Schulhof, co-Founder and co-CEO, EverGreen Copyrights (USA)
Feargal Sharkey, CEO, UK Music (UK)
David Smith, CEO, Global Futures and Foresight (UK)
Jill Sobule, Singer & Songwriter (USA)
Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive, BPI (UK)
Martin Thörnkvist, Managing Director, Songs I wish I had written / The Swedish Model (Sweden)
Tim Walker, Co-founder & Managing Director, The Leading Question (UK)

And how much do I love that angry rants in response to one of last year’s MidemNet keynotes serve to get me invited rather than ostracized!

If you’re planning on being at Midem or MidemNet this year and ever peek at this blog, I’d love to meet you. Shoot me an email so we can connect.

If you’re not able to be there, the MidemNet blog may be your next best bet.

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