Visualizing Nine Inch Nails

The other day I was encouraging fans to figure out ways to upload information to the social visualization site Many Eyes. Searching around on there today, I found a few compelling examples. Take, for instance, this tag cloud and bubble diagram of the songs Nine Inch Nails played on their 2007 tour (click the images to go to the database and see how interactive it really is — on Macs, it works best with Safari):

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Or did you want that in pie chart form? (you can pull out the slices!)

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So just think what you could do if it weren’t just one tour, but all the tours… Makes my fannish heart go pitter patter.

To get a real sense of the potential for instant insight, have a look at this tag cloud of more than 600 William Butler Yeats poems:

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How those phrases leap! Hundred years! Years ago! Clock Tower! Long ago! Thousand years! Methinks I sense a motif … Paging Jane Austen fans!

There’s more fan stuff on there, including several very neat social network maps of tv shows and movies (and literature and the Bible, though I’m not sure the latter ought to be cast as fandom). But there ought to be a whole lot more, so start making those databases import-friendly now.

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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.?

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Making offline hay from online fans: the Street Team approach

Street teams have been used for a long time to organize fans to engage in (usually) local promotion in exchange for some kinds of rewards. I’ve recently run across two sites, one European, the other American, that are adapting the street team concept to a social networking approach.

URBANITED.com focuses on European bands in Europe. One fan of Norwegian band My Midnight Creeps reports:

If you have been to www.mymidnightcreeps.com you might have noticed they have a link to www.urbanited.com which is some sort of street-team collection that includes MMC and several other bands. For some reason I signed up for it, but I figured I would never hear anything about it again. But today I received a package from them, with MMC stickers, flyers, a signed “Histamin” CD (specified to me by name) and a free ticket for the Stavanger concert on Wednesday! How cool is that? (link)

FanCorps seems to be up to the same thing in the US, though explicitly tailoring its message to emphasize converting MySpace friends into people who will actually work on your behalf. They seem more stringent about who gets to be a member of a street team and really emphasize that this is a means to reach, organize, and work with “hard core” fans. I dislike the militaristic motif of the site, fans are not soldiers, this is not war (thank God), but I think I like what they’re doing.

Stickers, flyers… the materiality of fandom maintains its appeal. For all the ‘they’re just forming empty allegiances on MySpace and then stealing the songs’ that may be going on, the fact remains that fans want STUFF and will do things in exchange for it.

I suspect I’ve got at least one reader involved with FanCorps, and I’d love to hear any reports from promoters, fans, bands, about their perception of and experience with how well these web-organized street team sites work.

Update:  Reverbnation, a music social network site that has focused on helping touring regional bands connect with their own and potential fan bases, says in a message sent to users: In the coming weeks, look for our new Street Team feature that will more closely connect artists with their most rabid fans to carry out promotion activities all over the web.

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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.

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Fans as Import/Export Mavens

A topic I find increasingly fascinating (and which I am working into a proper research project about), is the role of fans in the export of Swedish music, particularly indie music. This is one manifestion of a much broader trend in which volunteer fans are serving a new (international economic) role in promoting entertainment media across international boundaries.

One example of this is the blog SwedesPlease, by Craig Bonnell whom I interviewed here. Another is Its A Trap, an all purpose news blog, mp3 blog, record store, record label, message board (to which I sometimes contribute record reviews and mp3 blurbs), you name it run by Avi Roig, who is up there in an elite class of music bloggers to whom artists and labels need to attend.

I keep meaning to interview him myself, but in the meantime, here is a nice interview with Avi (originally done for the Swedish press, here in unedited English form). It’s interesting background on Its A Trap and on his take on the increasingly chic Swedish scene (paging Peter Bjorn and John, of whom I can honestly swear to being an early adapter). Here’s a couple of bits about IAT in particular:

How long have you been running itsatrap?
Since September 2002. It’s been slowly getting more and more time consuming ever since.
You have to remember that it wasn’t always so easy to find information about Swedish music online – there was no myspace back in the day and a lot of bands didn’t even have websites, much less ones in English. I saw my mission as a challenge and still do to an extent. How is it that some American kid who barely can read Swedish (me) can track down all the latest music news much better than the local press? It defies all logic and I love it.

How many visitors do itsatrap.com have?
It varies quite a bit, but I typically see something close to 3k per day at my most recent count. You must consider however, that it’s not always about how many people you reach as long as you reach the right ones. That’s something I feel I do very well.

I agree that defies all logic and is something to really love about the internet that someone like him can do what he does with the level of success I think he achieves.

It seems like there used to be some really clear boundaries: Bands had a presence that was controlled by their label, with which they generally played along, then they had a presence that was created by the professional music press and professional radio programmers (ok, there was college and sometimes community radio). And then there were the fans who bought it and dug it and did their own social things with and around it, but who generally didn’t have much ability to promote it outside of their own immediate social circle. And we didn’t have international instant easy free publishing media. But now we do. And one consequence (of many) is that fans are serving as cultural ambassadors and promoters, exporting music across national boundaries by writing about it, posting it, explaining the networks of relationships behind it, and doing it in English (many, if not most, Swedish indie bands sing in English). As I say, I’m on the cusp of plunging into a deeper analysis along these lines (with Robert Burnett), so any thoughts you have on this topic — general or specific, background, references — are most appreciated.

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