Online Music Fan Community Powerpoint

At by:Larm a number of people asked me to share the powerpoints of my talk. In it I argue that the internet has transformed fandom because it expands fans’ reach, transcends distance, supports archiving, provides group infrastructure, enables new forms of communication and lessens social distance. As a result, bands, fans and labels need to work out less hierarchical relationships in which fans are seen as equals who, when treated with trust and respect, will delight in spreading one’s gospel to more of the many corners of the internet than any one person can visit. I make the case through lots of examples drawn primarily from Scandinavian music fans, bands and labels.


One friend warned me to “never give away your powerpoints” but I’ve decided if I’m going to preach the ethos of free, I’d best be enacting it as well. I had a look-see at some of the slide sharing applications and none seems to be able to show the notes section as well as the slides and since that’s where most of the content in my talk was hiding, I opted for saving the Powerpoint notes page as a PDF file instead. You will have to imagine the sparkling live delivery filled with explanatory ad libs and examples missing in this version.

I hope you find it useful and all feedback is always appreciated.

Fan-Driven Reunion

I am just back from the Norwegian music festival by:Larm where I had such a good time I am now running on super-powered joy (which is good cuz heaven knows I’m not running on sleep!). There’s much to report from the event, but let me share quickly one of the best online fan stories I heard from Anders Odden who played guitar with the reunited “extreme goth” metal band Celtic Frost.

Apparently the band, which is considered pretty legendary in death metal circles, had broken up before the web took off. When the web got big, some fans bought the domain name and created a fan site. Apparently when the band members saw how much loving was still out there for them on this site, it inspired them to reunite. The site is now the official band site.

Among the other things fans do on there is post pictures of their Celtic Frost tattoos. I couldn’t find the page that has them (if you know it please leave the link in comments), but he told me there are something like 100 photos and that the band actually now has to think about how good a tattoo their images would make when choosing them. The cover of their last album featured a graphic of the singer’s face fragmented and one week after its release they met a fan whose arm was tattooed with that image.

He also said that although they are known for being extremely mysterious, they also spend as long as it takes after each show to sign every CD a fan wants signed, sometimes as long as 3 or 4 hours of signing.

Note the contrast between their encouraging fans to post pix of their tattoos and Prince trying to shut his fans down for doing so.

If you read Norwegian, there are write-ups of my talk here and here.  I have no idea what they say, but get the impression that the first is pretty much a summary and the latter adds some interesting examples. If any of you do understand them, please let me know the gist of them.

For those interested in by:Larm’s music, my write up of the bands I saw is here.

Fans vote for … Nike?

In my favorite case of online fan empowerment, the purchase of soccer team Ebbsfleet United by 28,000+ members of a website organized to buy a team is a done done done deal. The fans will be voting on team selection in March, but they’ve already voted for Nike:

Last week Ebbsfleet announced sportswear manufacturer Nike will manufacture home and away strips from next season after 91.26% of the 13,809 members voted to accept their offer to supply kit and merchandise.

Which just goes to show that fan-ownership by no means means eschewing corporations. [btw, I'm not sure how to read the contradiction in the article between 28000+ owners and just under 14000 members]

I’ve got a couple of slides I use in a presentation to make the point about fan influence — both happy and not so happy — and on the happy slide I wind up with this purchase because I still haven’t found a better exemplar of the trend toward ever greater fan power and influence.

Things like this tend to get a lot of coverage at the outset, but then get forgotten, so I hope we’ll see some analysis in months and years to come about how this whole fan-ownership thing actually pans out. When you’ve got 90% ready to get down with Nike there’s no conflict, but I wonder what will happen when they start getting bitterly divided over things like whether the goalie deserves a second chance…


On a housekeeping note, my apologies for being a slow blogger lately. Blame the flu and the grading. Today I am headed to Norway to (see pop bands and) talk at by:Larm. I am tickled beyond belief to be speaking on the same program as Jello Biafra — I never did like the Dead Kennedys, but if you’d told my punk rock 15 year old self that one day I’d be on the same program as him, I suspect it would have given me years of feeling like I had the future I hoped for ahead of me. Sometimes life makes the most unexpected spirals. I kind of doubt I’ll be blogging from Oslo, but expect to hear all kinds of things that will make it here when I get back.

Fans, Translation, and Cultural Flow

My favorite band, Madrugada, has released a new record. It’s an emotionally-loaded time for them and their fans: their guitarist, whose contribution to their sound cannot be replaced, passed away last summer, just a month after most of this record had been recorded. The surviving members returned to the studio, finished the record, and have just released it to fawning reviews.

As a fan, I find myself tremendously moved by the music and eager to consume anything that will enhance its experience for me.

The challenge is that Madrugada are Norwegian, and the only media covering them are Norwegian. I don’t speak Norwegian.

But on their fan forum, fans are dutifully and rapidly translating article after article into English so their international fan base can be as informed as they are. While it may be fun for some of these people to get to practice their English skills (which, I might add, are humblingly good), their effort is extremely generous — the rest of us have nothing to offer in return but gratitude.

These translating fans are making critical contributions to extending Madrugada beyond Norwegian borders. On their MySpace page, part of a new entry reads:

And thanks to you Madrugada are charting on iTunes stores: 1 Norway and Greece, 20 Sweden, 23 Germany, 34 Switzerland, 44 Netherlands. Considering it is the fans who know as there has been no radio or press outside Norway.

Against this backdrop, I was interested to see Henry Jenkins’s report on a conversation he had with a journalist in Shangai:

She notes that some of the amateur media fan groups in China can translate as many as twenty television shows a week, suggesting how Prison Break fits within larger patterns of cultural practice. She noted that the technical languages used on contemporary procedurals such as CSI and the slang used on many American programs posed particular difficulties for Chinese translators, who had mastered textbook English but had less exposure to more specialized argots.

Add translation to the list of fascinating ways fans are reshaping global entertainment flows and global entertainment flows are reshaping fans.

Fanning Viral Flames

Science New has an article about social influence that challenges some assumptions about how ideas spread through populations. Instead of focusing on “opinion leaders,” this research suggests that what matters more is “the influenced”:

More important than the influencers, the researchers found, were the influenced. Once an idea spread to a critical mass of easily influenced individuals, it took hold and continued to spread to other easily influenced individuals. In some networks, it was far easier to get an idea established this way than in others. The entire structure of the network mattered, not just the few influential people.Dodds compares the spread of ideas to the spread of a forest fire. When a fire turns into a conflagration, no one says that it was because the spark that began it was so potent. “If it had been raining,” Dodds says, “that same match wouldn’t have had an effect.” Instead, a fire takes off because of the properties of the larger forest environment: the dryness, the density, the wind, the temperature.

The upshot of the study, Dodds says, is that “in the end, you don’t have control over how people spread your message.” The best way to increase the odds of person-to-person transmission of an idea is to make it a good idea and to give it “social worth,” he says. “Some things are just fun to talk about.”

This leaves me with two points worth unpacking. First is that this means targeting key individuals (say, people who write popular mp3 blogs or maintain popular fan sites) is not enough. Better to spread an idea far and wide. Or better still, better to target those individuals AND places you might not expect an idea to catch hold. To use the ‘sparks start fires’ metaphor, different social ecosystems are going to have different environmental conditions, and a spark might only catch hold in one or two of the many places it’s seeded, yet spread effectively to those other spaces once launched elsewhere.

The other point I take from this is the point about “social worth.” If you want people to carry sparks around, you have to give them a reason. The sparks have to be appealing. This is what indie labels do so right when they give their singles away. People will proselytize with glee if they’re benefiting already from what you’re trying to spread AND if they think those they tell will be able to reap that same benefit. Give them good treats to spread and fans will happily… fan the flames. And to think we used to think the word “fan” came from “fanatic.”