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, 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.

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 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.

Austen mania

Lest anyone think that fandom is limited to the modern, The Times Books Online recently ran a nice article about the ascendence of “Austen mania” in which they point to the activity of online Jane Austen fan communities in fostering her continuing appeal:

Austen inspires devotion like no other author and the internet has allowed her fans a voice that travels far faster and further than the quill-driven letters of the 19th century. If anything, it has intensified their adoration of Austen and their eagerness to defenestrate anyone who offends her.

“The amount of activity on the web is absolutely crazy,” said one Austen expert. “There is a whole cult out there and it’s not something that happens to other authors.”

Antagonise the Janeites, as the most fervent fans are known, and their response is merciless.

Having studied soap opera fans on the net for a long time, I can’t say I’m surprised that Austen fans would be at it as well. The Austen Blog provides a nice looking guide to all the Austen news fit to blog, with links to many news sources. Pemberley offers discussion groups and describes its identity like this:

We, all of us, remember only too well the great relief we felt upon discovering this haven for Jane Austen Addicts. If your eyes did not widen, if you did not gasp in recognition, if you did not experience a frisson of excitement when you discovered a whole campful of soldiers – er – a whole websiteful of fellow Jane Austen Fanatics, then this place may not be for you. We are The Truly Obsessed here and have been known to talk for weeks about Jane Austen’s spelling quirks and Mr. Darcy’s coat (“No, no – the green one.”)

This site collects Austen fan fiction. And there’s a Jane Austen MeetUp group too. I’m sure there’s a rich social world (or worlds) hiding in there…

Update: I’ve been assured that there are indeed social worlds worthy of Austen novels to be found in her fandom. If you have insights or perspectives on that fandom to share, please comment. Sam Ford at the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium has also written a follow up post that nicely elaborates my implied Austen-soap opera parallel.

Update Update: Hi Pemberley people (and thanks for pointing out my spelling errors!). I’m still yearning to hear more about life in Austen fandom, so please feel free to offer insights in the comments!

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.

A Collaborative Bootleg Database

Dylanbase is an “unofficial Bob Dylan Bootleg Database.” Not unlike a wiki for Dylan fans, there’s a user-constructed database of Dylan’s concert history that can be searched by song, location, and so on. Registered users have their own pages on the site and anyone can add to and edit the database. The site is run by an American in Copenhagen who describes the page’s purpose this way:

The basic idea of the site is to build a structure so that Dylan fans can get a handle on this mountain of information, and create a giant bubbling information center full of setlists, reviews, comments, trading lists, quotes, ticket info, etc. The site is dependent on people logging in and doing just that. In the first two years of the site, people have submitted 11000 track listings, 1400 reviews, and almost 800 albums.. Thanks! As I’ve expanded Dylanbase, I have tried to balance the needs for user privacy with a way to structure the information. So to provide information to the site, you now need to be registered. I know this is kind of annoying, but basically it’s the only way I don’t have to constantly police the content.

Another thing- If you are looking to buy Dylan bootlegs; sorry, I can’t help! Try looking on the newsgroup Rec.Music.Dylan. I am not a bootleg dealer, and won’t be able to point you to one.

You’ll notice that there are no ads or anything on this site. This may change someday, as there are significant costs in hosting the site, and a hefty weekend time investment! If you want to support the site, knicknacks in the mail are very much appreciated! :)

I can’t even imagine how complex it must be to even get Dylan’s history straight if you weren’t there all along, let alone try to sort through the varying versions of Dylan songs to be found out there. This seems like a great resource and a great example of how fans will build collective intelligence resources that go so far beyond what any individual or even small group of fans could do on their own, and how they will do it as labors of love.