A new model for connecting fans and bands

Here’s a piece about a business start up trying to connect bands with fans and people who are likely to become fans. Reverbnation.com, based in North Carolina’s research triangle, a long-time hotbed of indie music, is set to launch this fall after getting $2 million VC$:

The Rosebuds are among the 100-plus musicians and bands that have agreed to test Reverbnation until the site launches publicly this fall. The artists are uploading concert schedules, sound files and biographical information.

The bands are also building links to their fans’ home pages, blogs and favorite song lists. Reverbnation wants to create a searchable fan database that bands and club owners can tap into to promote shows and CDs. The fans could be searched by genre, age and geographical location.

A musician’s economic value — and by extension Reverbnation’s — will be measured by the number of fans that use the site.

“It’s not just sales anymore — it’s eyeballs,” said Jed Carlson, Reverbnation’s chief marketing officer. “It’s how many hits is your MySpace page getting. That’s insight [for the music industry] into who should we call, who should we sign, who should we produce.”

Backed by $2 million from venture capitalists Novak Biddle Venture Partners in Bethesda, Md., and Southern Capital Ventures in Raleigh, the site is being developed by a team of seven marketers, Web developers and music industry veterans in Durham and New York City.

Music fans are hungry for sites that will effectively refer them not just to music they will like, but also to live shows in their area. If this site succeeds in getting its critical mass, it could be great. Or not. I’ll be watching with interest to see how the vision gets implimented in practice.

Cultivating Music Fandom: MySpace vs. Pandora vs. Last.fm

While MySpace gets all the attention and Pandora builds ever-greater popular buzz, Last.fm, based in London, has been doing some innovative things connecting music fans with one another. It’s loaded with examples of what to do and what not to do, so I plan to write about it here now and then. I thought I’d start of with a quick comparison between last.fm and its more widely known counterparts.

MySpace is much broader than a music space, but it’s nonetheless an important space for musicians and music fans: bands put their music up for those who visit their profile, people describe themselves in terms of music by listing bands with which they like to be identified, and bands and fans can friend one another. I’ve heard complaints from people in bands about the time required to approve all the friend requests, since indie bands need all the friends they can get to have a credible presence. Famous bands have queues large enough to require professional handling. But people are clearly getting turned on to new music through that site all the time, and for any artist seeking new fans, having a presence there is simply required. For a fan, I don’t think that’s as true. Personally, I don’t care for MySpace. It is (famously) ugly, and I’m bothered by the visibility of its advertising (AdBlock has fixed that). I went there to hear a song by an obscure Swedish pop band called Peter, Bjorn and John and there was a banner ad for Paris Hilton. I thought “I will not go to a site that juxtaposes Peter Bjorn and John with Paris Hilton” [on that note, google just bought the right to manage the searching and advertising on MySpace for $900 million. Yes, that's $900,000,000.]. I do visit MySpace on rare occasion when friends recommend particular songs, but I don’t have a profile and haven’t felt particularly left out on account of it. And I hear that all the cool 20-something indie kids are suddenly done with MySpace.

Pandora has fine-tuned abilities to generate personalized radio streams of music you’re likely to like based on bands you say you already like. The selections are based on their own analysis of the music itself – they’ve developed a system for breaking down the sound of a song into components and finding others that share many of those qualities (e.g. lengthy guitar solos, emphasis on harmonies, fast tempo). Search blogs and you’ll find plenty of arguments over how well it really does, but a lot of people really like it. What Pandora doesn’t do at all is connect people who listen to similar artists to one another – it’s a personal site, but not a social one. I’ve tried Pandora a few times and haven’t been impressed. I realize that to truly reap its benefits you need to spend time with it, letting it know which songs you did and didn’t like so it can better learn your tastes. I found that although I could hear similarites amongst the songs it chose for me, they were still different in ways that made all the difference to me.

Last.fm takes a very different approach. When you play music on your computer, information about what you’re listening to is uploaded to your (public) profile on the site. Last.fm generates personal charts of your listening habits and, out of its enormous and ever-growing repository of over a million users’ actual listening habits, it recommends “neighbors” (an interesting metaphor) who have similar taste and makes music recommendations. Like Pandora, it incorporates personalized radio streaming, but it has many more ways to personalize it. Last.fm also offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of communicative possibilities for fans and for labels and artists seeking to reach fans – friending, shoutboxes, personal messaging, journaling, discussion forums, artist wikis, user groups. Like a true fan, I have a love/hate relationship with last.fm. To have a social networking site that is based on actual music listening habits is just great. It enables me to find people I’d never otherwise find who are interesting to have brief chats with and who are able to make some really great recommendations. I also enjoy that it offers a space for writing about music and I think it’s inherently interesting to see one’s own habits laid out so objectively over time. Each week I’m surprised at who made my weekly top 10. I discover I like some bands more than I thought and others less so. But I find the site a source of endless frustration as well – they are trying to do too much with too few people. There are often glitches (though it has been functioning far more smoothly since its recent upgrade), the organization of the site is far from user-friendly, I don’t like the aesthetics of the new design, and I am continuously frustrated by the communication between last.fm staff and users.

At any rate, it’s all happening on last.fm — direct fan-artist communication, web radio, artist/fan fan/fan artist/artist label/fan label/label etc networking, and anyone interested in the future of the music industry and online fandom ought to be keeping an eye on the site.

Shout to Madrugada fans

I’ve been getting a lot of visits lately via Reidar’s gracious write up on the Madrugada fan board, so HELLO to all of you and thanks for stopping by. I’ve written what amounts to a love letter list of reasons I love Madrugada here if you haven’t found enough to read about Madrugada on this site :)

Fan sites in trouble with the law

Two stories this week about fan sites being sued. The first seems fairly clear cut. Fans who have been running an ABBA site in Australia for several years are being sued for selling ABBA bootlegs through their fan site. The argument of the guys running the site has its merits from a fan’s point of view:

Mr Read and Mr Whittingham deny Abbamail.com distributes “pirated” music. There has been no suggestion that Abbamail has sold pirated versions of “official” commercial recordings.

“I’m sure that’s the view of most record companies, but the problem is that the kind of stuff that we’re selling is the stuff that they’ve refused to sell,” Mr Read said.

“Over the last 10-15 years Universal have just released the same kind of crap over and over and over again – Greatest Hits, Forever Gold, the Definitive Collection.”

Mr Read said Abbamail was trying to make available rare material that “hardcore” fans would willingly buy from Universal, if it was offered for sale.

They also claim on their site that their products are purchased by fans who have bought the official releases, that the site encourages rather than harming the sales of those releases, and that Universal Music itself has acknowledged their contribution to Abba’s enduring popularity. Ok. I can go along with all of that, but I have to go with the industry here:

“…these guys, no matter how fanatical they are about ABBA and the fan club, which I completely appreciate and understand, it still does not mean you can be selling pirate CDs or DVDs, in this case for commercial gain.”

On the other hand, I’d probably have a little trouble making this concession myself:

MIPI would consider the matter closed once all the bootleg recordings were removed, but only if Mr Read handed over his personal collection – which he has refused to do.

Meanwhile, in Ireland a webboard is being sued because of alleged defamatory statements made by its users:

MCD, Ireland’s biggest concert promoter, has discovered that controlling the internet is a lot harder than controlling live music events — and that’s tough enough. Just weeks after it tackled a website for publishing a comment criticising its Oxegen festival, another has been set up that will provide disgruntled fans with a dedicated forum for their grievances.MCD is taking legal action against the site boards.ie for allegedly hosting a defamatory statement about Oxegen. The discussion forum was targeted by the Denis Desmond-owned music promotions company, after festival goers used it to complain about tent-burning and fighting at the festival in Kildare last month.

The article points out that:

Irish law covering defamation on the internet has not been tested in the courts. It is unclear if website owners can be held responsible for comments posted on their site by others. A source in MCD said it believed websites should be held as responsible as a newspaper.

If we’re gonna get all lawsuit happy, maybe the people running the James Bond franchise should think about suing this evil operation run by James Bond fans:

New James Bond reads Internet, discovers fans ‘hate me’
Associated Press

NEW YORK — Daniel Craig, the new James Bond, wants critics to give him a chance.

“If I went onto the Internet and started looking at what some people were saying about me — which, sadly, I have done — it would drive me insane,” the British actor says in an interview in Entertainment Weekly magazine, on newsstands Friday.

“They hate me. They don’t think I’m right for the role. It’s as simple as that. They’re passionate about it, which I understand, but I do wish they’d reserve judgment.”

A group of James Bond fans have launched a Web site, www.craignotbond.com, to protest Craig replacing Pierce Brosnan in the 007 film franchise, and to boycott Casino Royale, slated for release Nov. 17.

I just don’t get the part about loving Pierce Brosnan in that role. But then, I liked Roger Moore as Bond so who am I to judge?

UPDATE: So much for irony, www.craignotbond.com no longer seems to exist. If anyone knows the backstory on that one, please tell.

Celebrity blogging and the “ART of telling the truth carefully”

Blogging may seem like a fairly simple, low-cost way to improve celebrity marketing (and I use “celebrity” to loosely mean anyone who might have fans). But, looking at it from the perspective of interpersonal communication research, blogging celebrities face some interesting challenges. Generally, in American culture (which is at an extreme on this matter), the prevailing pop wisdom is that the more a person self discloses, the closer his or her relationships become. That’s why you hear people bemoaning that “we don’t communicate” when in fact, they’re talking all the time. At the same time, we’re living in what’s been termed a “culture of confession” where everyone’s fessing up their private business for public consumption via talk shows, ‘reality’ tv, and half-heard mobile phone calls. Against that backdrop, blogs offer an obvious unprecedented new way to build a sense of closeness between celebrity and fan through celebrity disclosure.

But does self disclosure = relational closeness and large audiences? Interpersonal research tells us very clearly that inappropriate self-disclosures can kill a relationship. There are lots of things we don’t want to know about other people. Just as we’re likely to move gently away from the casual acquaintance who mentions at a party that he has recurring nightmares due to a lack of maternal attention in his early childhood, blogs have enormous potential to turn off fans either by revealing more than fans want to know or by revealing things that irreparably damage the fans’ image of the celebrities. If this is true in an American context, it’s even more so in cultures that place more value on public cool than openness. Consider, for instance, this disclosure from Amanda Palmer, singer of The Dresden Dolls, writing about an incident that happened when she was seventeen:

we pounded. then my hand went through the nail. i screamed. was it serious? well, it was bleeding, but not much. it was a hole, a nice little german stigmata. it only took 15 seconds before i didn’t know myself whether i was crying to get attention for a wound that wasn’t all that bad, actually in pain or shock, or crying about the fact that i was confused about whether i was crying for some real pain or over the confusion my possible ruse. this was a typical pattern in my life. maybe i was homesick. maybe i was just looking for a reason to weep and the nail was just a little gift. we bandaged and disinfected. the incident was easily forgotten. i think jan wasn’t there. but he must have come home at some point. thwok thwok thwok thwok thwok. is there anybody out there?

Now, the Dresden Dolls, who call their music “brechtian punk cabaret,” are always dramatic and over the top, and she always seems to be disclosing her deepest secrets as she sings. Could a celebrity whose career isn’t founded on being maudlin blog about this without damaging her image? And yet, even Palmer writes on her blog, about her blog:

all the journalists ask me: “aren’t you afraid you expose your private life too much?” i find this funny. my family reads this blog, my manager reads it, the label publicist reads it, brian reads it, our crew and promotors read it. this is the fucking ART of telling the truth carefully.

if i actually shared my private life in all it’s complexity and detail, i would anger and worry and confuse these people so much….i’d be crucified. so i generally save my personal conflicts, my true heartbreak, for the emails i send to the ones who don’t need me as a boss, a rock star, a musician, an idol, a promotional tool or even an artist.

it shouldn’t come as a surprise that everything i share here is heavily censored, well, slanted at least..a combination of the reckless impulses to emote and the simultaneous, hyper-conscious measuring of the consequences.

Interpersonal research makes it clear that even in our closest relationships we need privacy. It’s always challenging for celebrities to have a clear public/private persona boundary of which they are in control. With a blog, the celebrity has the added challenge of creating a very clearly defined public persona which nonetheless appears to be a private persona. Looks like Amanda Palmer has got this down, but how many others do?

UPDATE: Current comment excepted, this post has become a target for spam comments and has therefore been closed for commenting. If you’d like to comment on it and aren’t a spammer, please email me.