More Creative Musicians Working the Web

Jill Sobule is the latest in a string of musicians figuring out innovative ways to involve fans in their pricing and production processes.* She’s out to get $75,000 in donations from fans to help her record her next record and she’s quasi-mocking the Public Radio/TV pledge process in doing it:

  • $10 – Unpolished Rock (but with potential) Level: A free digital download of the album, when it’s released.

  • $25 – Polished Rock Level: An advance copy of the CD. Weeks before the masses.

  • $50 – Pewter Level: An advance copy and a “Thank You” on the CD.

  • $100 – Copper Level: All the above, plus a T-shirt saying you’re a junior executive producer on the album.

  • $200 – Bronze Level: Free admission to my shows for 2008.

  • $250 – Silver Level: All the above, plus a membership to the “Secret Society Producer’s Club,” which means you’ll get a secret password to a website where I’ll post some rough tracks, or… something worthwhile.

  • $500 – Gold Level: This is where it gets good! At the end of my CD, I’ll do a fun instrumental track where I’ll mention your name and maybe rhyme with it. And if you don’t want your name used, you can give me a loved one’s instead. What a great gift!

  • $750 – Gold Doubloons Level: Exactly like the gold level, but you give me more money.

  • $1,000 – Platinum Level: How would you like to have a theme song written for you? I’ll have a song you can put on your answering machine and show off. Again, this could be a gift.

  • $2,500 – Emerald Level: Mentioned as an executive producer of the album — whoop-di-doo!

  • $5,000 — Diamond Level: I will come and do a house concert for you. Invite your friends, serve some drinks, bring me out and I sing. Actually, this level is a smart choice economically. I’ve played many house concerts where the host has charged his guests and made his money back. I’d go for this if I were you.

  • $10,000 – Weapons-Grade Plutonium Level: You get to come and sing on my CD. Don’t worry if you can’t sing – we can fix that on our end. Also, you can always play the cowbell.

As of this writing she’s less than $9,000 shy of her goal, which I for one find pretty impressive.

Rob Walker expresses some doubt, he disapproves of the name-mentioning in a song (me, I wonder how a song can both be “instrumental” and “mention your name”). I don’t mind it at all. I think she’s being clever and playful and I can think of lots of ways to incorporate fans’ names in song without losing one’s artistry or being creepy. Indeed, I think a lot of songwriters might find it an interesting challenge to create a song with a set of names at hand (it reminds me a bit of R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It supposedly based on a dream Michael Stipe had where he was at a party where everyone but him had the initials LB — “Leonid Brezhnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs!” Birthday party, cheesecake, jellybean BOOM!)

On a related front, Trent Reznor, who’s always good for some innovative web stuff, has released a new Nine Inch Nails record online available in a variety of forms depending on how much you want to pay. The big news is that the $300 deluxe limited to 2500 copies has SOLD OUT. Someone wrote me this morning asking my opinion on whether album art and packaging is dying out in the age of downloading. This suggests that it may be a fantastic means of generating extra revenue from hardcore fans — 2500 x 300 = not too shabby.

* If you caught me on the Agenda last night, I apologize for spacing and confusing her with Jane Sibbery — those J.S. women doing cool net stuff, yikes.

Update: See here for another good patronage example, only with $750,000 vs. $75,000. recognizes user creativity

Last April I noted that “several users have developed means of taking music-listening data from the site and generating all kinds of interesting things.” I linked to the front page of the stats group where a user was compiling and maintaining both a listing of these tools (visualizers, badges, mainstream and eclecticism calculations, etc) and a space for their developers and users to discuss them. I concluded that post by saying:

And let’s hear it for the fans who are creating these programs. If I ran, I’d be trying to get some of these things incorporated into the site instead of leaving it all to clever fans to run on their own.

Well, I suspect that the riproaring success that is Facebook Applications was more of an incentive than my exhortations, but just did this by creating Build — “Free tools built by the community to extend your experience.” Except for that little thing about a business model, the concept is much like FB Apps. If one looks more closely, however, most of what they have done is to take the work users C26000 did on the stats group page and MrSmithey did with tools, and given it an interface that looks more like a page.


I commend for recognizing and encouraging this kind of fan activity — it’s a great demonstration of how fan enthusiasm can benefit both fans and developers. I suspect that this will result in more stats geeks figuring out fun ways to play with the data.

At the same time, though, it’s a shift that walks that fine line between supporting and appropriating. I don’t think are guilty of exploiting here — they are not taking any credit for the tools and they are bringing them much broader notice. On the other hand, in contrast to, say, Facebook apps, there doesn’t seem to be any model to give back to the fan/developers other than “we think this is so cool we’re linking to it.” Now, for many that may be more than enough. When they’ve written some of these up in the blog, people have been deeply flattered by the official attention. But they will need to be mindful of the potential for such official recognition to make free labor start seeming more like work than play to those who do it.

The person who runs the stats group has expressed mixed feelings — he likes the official page but wonders whether it leaves a space for the group he’s been overseeing. The one response in his thread as of this writing is — YES, it gives us a place to discuss it. Which I find doubly interesting since does a much better job of things like incorporating fun tools than it does at supporting community discussion. But that’s a topic for another post.

I must suppress a giggle that the tool that appears in the upper left corner (ExtraStats) prominently features a beautiful colorful river graphic display of my own charts (its developer loved the visual effect of my obsessive listening habits almost as much as I love the graphic).

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.

Can you be too engaged with your fandom?

Yesterday I stumbled across this quote from Russell T. Davies, the executive producer of Doctor Who:

Every program on the BBC has a message board on the website. I forbid it to happen on Doctor Who. I’m sorry to say this, all the science fiction producers making stuff in America, they are way too engaged with their fandom. They all need to step back.

It’s taken from an LA Times article which is now hiding behind a firewall, so I don’t know the context.

My initial reaction was [myownknee] “jerk!” but then I thought twice.

I don’t know about the claim that American scifi producers are too involved with their fandoms. Certainly the people who make Lost, Futurama, and I’m sure plenty of other shows are thinking about their fandoms as they work. Frankly, sci fi TV is not my genre and there are so many other fandom scholars who’ve got that area covered that I don’t think all that much about it. [paging you -- what do you think about this quote?]

But I’ve been working on the keynote I’ll be giving in Oslo in a few weeks, and one of the things I’m talking about there is how labels and bands ought to treat their online fandoms. One of the key points I find myself coming back to repeatedly is the importance of letting fandoms have their independence — providing enough information, goodies, and attention to nurture it, but letting it belong always to the fans who create it. When fandom is a subsidiary of the production company it sets everything up for power struggles, for self-censorship, for legal-enforcement dilemmas, for feelings of accountability and betrayal that are beyond the bounds of duty on both sides. Fans need their own spaces to do their own things.

I’ve never thought that official fan sites hold candles to the ones fans build themselves. If I were one of the thirty zillion Dr Who fans traipsing about the internet, it’s hard for me to believe the BBC would really offer the best fan discussion, even if Davies allowed it.

Fandoms can’t operate as though they belong to and are supervised by artists and producers. By the same token, artists can’t operate under continuous supervision (even internally imposed) of the most active fans any more than I, as a teacher, can forget about the students who aren’t as into my classes or the content of what I know and believe needs teaching and just teach what they want to hear to the ones who love me most. I’d be negligent and odds are my classes wouldn’t be as good. The fans who get into fandom may be more important than other fans in terms of the promotion, spearheading, and enthusiasm they provide. They may provide the most trenchant critiques and hence are usually worth listening to. But they are still a small segment of the audience, and producers need to think audience as much as they think fandoms. But even more than that — producers and artists need to operate first and foremost under the guidance and supervision of their own muses. It’s their creative process, just as fandom is ours.