Pull Sponsorship, Damage Social Lives

File under unintended consequences:

As you may have heard, the musician Akon apparently gyrated a little too much with a girl a little too young, resulting in Verizon pulling sponsorship of the Gwen Stefani tour he’s opening. Bad news for online fans:

One effect of the move was the cancellation of a contest.

One fan of Ms. Stefani, April Van Zandt, of Landers, Calif., said she and several friends she had met online had labored on a home-made Gwen Stefani music video for a Verizon-backed contest that was withdrawn because of the company’s move. Ms. Van Zandt, 27, said she and her friends — fans whom she has become close to but never met — were hoping to win the contest, in which the prize was a trip to California, so they could meet for the first time. “I would think they would lose some business over this, not just me,” said Ms. Van Zandt, who added that she has a Verizon phone. “People are very upset.”

No deep insights on that one except that the pullout seems a little excessive.

Please forgive light if any posting these next few days as my computer undergoes intensive therapy in hopes it will relearn how to do things like start up. Three words you never want to hear: fatal hardware error. Lesson for us all: BACK UP! BACK UP! BACK UP! (Boy am I glad that I do!) Another lesson learned: write your passwords down somewhere. My computer remembers all of mine so I don’t have to and it’s been very frustrating trying to retrieve them from deep memory (fatal access error), root directories, scraps of paper here and there, etc.

We’re just not that into the Net

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has released yet another terrific report setting the blogosphere afire. This one shows just how many American adults are just not that into the internet:

Pew Table

According to this, there are about 23% of American adults who are really digging what the net offers them, 8% using it who are getting tired of it, 20% who use either mobile media a lot but not the net or who use the net but resent it, and then you’ve got almost half the population who’s curious but inexperienced, or just don’t give a hoot about the net.

There are countless ways to spin this, but I think the message in terms of reaching one’s audience is pretty clear: When you rely on the internet, and only on the internet, to get your message out, you are automatically eliminating most of the audience. Now people certainly ought to keep coming up with new ways to use the net to reach and coordinate fans (including fans with one another), but as we swoon over each and every clever new web-based campaign for this and that, let us not forget that unless that campaign also has some connections to things that do not happen on the internet, they’re looking at an audience smaller than they should be. The net is great, but so are other kinds of communication.

Digital Doesn’t Compete

Does the internet compete with “real life”? This has been one of the (most annoying and) most repeated concerns for about twenty years now, and the answer still seems to be “no.” Digital media are changing our patterns of behavior in important ways, but they are not leaving a decimated trail of old ways in their wake. Some activities we used to do in old ways (watching TV?) may get replaced with an online version (YouTube?), but other things — like having face-to-face conversations and phone calls, hanging out with friends, and taking advantage of community resources like museums and concerts — seem to be either unaffected or slightly increased by online versions of the same.

Now it seems we can add listening to digital radio to the list of online activities that don’t threaten their offline counterparts. According to a study reported in the New York Times:

As a group, fans of digital radio do not listen to traditional radio less than everyone else. In fact, they listen to slightly more, according to a study recently released by Arbitron and Edison Media Research.

The study was conducted through random telephone interviews with 1,925 Arbitron diary keepers, and it lumped together satellite subscribers, recent Internet-radio listeners and anyone who had ever downloaded a podcast.

The data suggest that, generally speaking, fans of digital radio are seeking to supplement, not replace, traditional radio. “Heavy users of digital media don’t think, ‘If I’m doing this more, I’m doing the other thing less,’ ” said Bill Rose, an executive with Arbitron.

This is such a neat parallel to the findings regarding interpersonal communication. And music downloading.

The message I take from this is: Digital radio is traditional radio’s FRIEND, not its enemy. Hurt one, and you may damage the other. Look to work the synergy instead of shutting down the new. Is it too much to hope that this could inform the future of the digital radio licensing fees debacle that seems poised to pull the rug out from under Pandora and every other online radio broadcasting in the U.S.?

Scorpions Bite

The French fan site for the Scorpions, Crazyscorps, is shutting itself down for 8 days to protest what they see as the unfair wrath of the band and its management in the face of their distribution of an already-leaked image of the forthcoming record cover. Their statement (also available in French and German) reads in part:

Moreover, the main reason of CRAZYSCORPS’ existence has always been to give our love and support to the Scorpions so that they continue to exist in the hearts and lives of the fans even when no promotion is officially organized by the main interested parties to this end.This is why, a short time ago, we put on line the artwork of the new album Humanity – Hour 1 we had found on the Internet. Unfortunately, we made the error not to inform us whether we had legally the right to do it or not. We reacted like simple fans filled with enthusiasm by this first concrete detail of the new album awaited so much since nearly four years.

We were informed by the webmaster of the official website that the band itself had been informed of our mistake and that they are angry with what we did. It seems today that the band members and the management hold us responsible for having unveiled the new album artwork and really feel angry against CRAZYSCORPS.

We find this reaction completely disproportionate compared to the error we made. On the one hand because we ourselves had found this image on the Internet and on the other hand because the band should understand that we never did that to harm them but by excess of love and enthusiasm.

I love that these fans are saying “hey, we are providing a service (promotion) for them, and if they are going to get ticked off at us for that then we’ll strike.” It’s an empowering and empowered response (though how effective remains to be seen). On another level, though, there’s a strong sense of hurt — “we love you, we do this to connect with others and build on our love of you, and you go and get totally flipped out over THIS?” And that’s sad, both for the fans and for the band, who ought to be building connection with these people.

I ran into this story through Blabbermouth.net, where a stream of anti-Scorpions rhetoric has been unleashed in the comments. My favorite: I guess they are going down the “We suck the corporate cock of Satan” Path.

What should the Scorpions have done? Sent them a few more secret preview things to share through the site to help build more excitement for a band who haven’t left the masses breathless in years.

Here is my funny anecdote: I was in the Albuquerque airport about 20 years ago and in came this kind of dumpy overweight nondescript guy with an anvil briefcase and a woman who was about 6 inches taller than he was, in stiletto heels, looking like a supermodel, and I thought to myself “that man is the tour manager of a successful rock band.” And then the Scorpions walked in. Sometimes social cognition really works well.

Tape Trading in the Digital Age

I’ve had a half-written post lying around for a long time in which I wanted to reflect on the change from tape trading to torrenting but I’ve never been quite sure what its final point is. This excellent article about bootlegging, in conjunction with a couple of emails I’ve gotten recently from people talking about differential levels of respect for bands that do and don’t allow bootlegging, makes me want to finish that post. The linked article talks about the Woodstock-era Deadhead origins of tape trading, the pros and the cons of it from band and fan perspectives, the bands that play along, the ones that don’t and the legal and ethical issues entailed by both positions.

I was pretty active in tape trading in the 1980s, collecting mostly REM shows, but also a lot of other bands in the ‘college rock’ scene of the early 1980s. I have a dusty drawer full of what are probably now warped cassettes. To be involved in the tape trading scene, you had to really know people who knew people. You couldn’t just hop in as a novice fan and build a good collection. You had to work the social network to get the good stuff. For instance, one of my great coups was when someone in a band (the dBs) gave me the secret address of someone in Chapel Hill, NC who had all kinds of early recordings of southern pop bands and told me to tell him that he’d sent me. Those tapes were treasures when they arrived.

And now you just fire up your torrenting program of choice and bam, all those shows I collected like treasure hunts are right there, in multiple for everyone. I can’t help but feel a little bit like something’s been lost. But maybe that ‘something’ is elitism — I used to get social status for the boots I’d collected, and now I’m just another torrenting geek, and a less obsessive one than many at that. The internet’s made everyone as cool as they want to be.

I also rethink my sense of loss when I realize that despite the easy availability of many recordings, in fact, torrents do not last forever and personal connections still matter. The internet enables us to build more of those connections than we used to. When I got interested in Norwegian band Madrugada, I devoured their records and wanted more. I found a fan community that posted a lot of torrents, with the band’s permission (for more on this and an interview with the webmaster, click over here to an earlier post), and I built myself a nice collection. But some of the very best stuff I got came not from the torrents but from a person on that site who felt bad for me never getting to see them in concert and snail mailed me over a dozen live recordings (from France!). Those cds were treasures when they arrived.

I have never believed that trading bootlegs (not selling: trading) takes any money away from anyone. Live recordings can enhance the fan experience dramatically. The flaws in the performance, when there, give us that much more to appreciate about the recorded versions, and the transcendent shows when the songs just flow one into the other and the band plays like one organism do more to enhance attachment to a band than any studio recording ever could.