Upcoming Events

The fall travel season will soon be upon me and I am hard at work preparing talks. On October 16th I’m going to be visiting Microsoft Research, giving a talk called “I Heard it on the Net: Recent Transformations in Online Music Fandom.” Here is the abstract:

Music fans have always been enthusiastic internet users, building community through mailing lists, news groups, and web site. In the last two years, however, there have been dramatic changes in how music fandom is practiced and with what consequences for fans, artists, and industries. Music-based social networking sites, MySpace, mp3 blogs, and the success of fan-authored webzines such as Pitchfork Media have given fans new ways to act as promoters, critics, and even culture importers and exporters.

The next day I will be in Vancouver at the Association of Internet Researchers’ conference where I’ve organized a pre-conference colloquium for PhD students writing their theses and a Saturday morning roundtable discussion about researching in social network sites. Here is the blurb for the latter:

Social network sites are rapidly becoming the most popular destinations on the internet. New ones, often targeted at increasingly narrow niches (stay at home mothers, the elderly), are launched faster than even ardent analysts can track. Yet scholarship, with its lengthy time to publication, has only begun to speak to this phenomenon. This roundtable brings together an international group of social networking analysts from within academia, independent research nonprofits, and industry to stimulate discussion on what is most interesting in these networks and what poses the greatest challenges for researchers studying them.

I am excited about this panel, not least because of the stellar people who agreed to be part. They are: danah boyd of UC-Berkeley and general netfame, Nicole Ellison of MSU, Jeff Hammerbacher of Facebook, Amanda Lenhart of the Pew Internet and American Life project, Daniel Skog of Umeå University, and Jan Schmidt of the University of Bamberg. I expect this mix to raise some fascinating issues and discussion and I anticipate that my brain will be on fire by the end. Plus AoIR is where I see all my favorite people. Yay!

Soulja Boy’s Not Ashamed

Usually when MySpace plays a major role in breaking musicians, they are eager to back away from it — “oh no, it wasn’t MySpace. Well, maybe a little, but WE TOURED! HONEST!” It’s as though making it through MySpace cuts your credibility. So in light of that, it’s refreshing to read this interview with Soulja Boy at AllHipHop.com in which he sings the praises of MySpace and direct communication with fans:

AllHipHop: You mentioned in previous interviews that you were lacking exposure on the streets, would you say the internet is a better alternative or just as good alternative to mixtapes?

Soulja Boy: The internet is a much more productive tool than mixtapes or the streets because I was hired for shows before I even signed a deal with a record label based on internet popularity. Everyone in the club, arena or stage where I performed knew word for word all of my lyrics to my songs off the strength of the internet. I wasn’t featured on any mixtapes or radio stations.

AllHipHop: What contribution are you bringing to Hip-Hop that hasn’t been done?

Soulja Boy: I am bringing a new way of getting exposure before you are signed. Other artists are big from the streets or mixtapes, I am showing people another avenue. I came up on the strength of a myspace page. From that, I had die-hard fans that wanted to hear my music no matter what it was. For me to become a star from the bedroom of my house is definitely something big.


AllHipHop: At such a young age, how are you dealing with the backlash from haters against your style and movement?

Soulja Boy: Haters are going to hate. I don’t pay attention to haters as opposed to my fans. I talk to my fans everyday through logging onto Myspace. They also send me emails on my Sidekick.

I’ve been thinking lately about how the internet can position artists as peers of the fans, rather than above them (the Swedes I’ve been interviewing seem to be looking to get rid of the barriers between band, label and fan), so was struck by this piece of the Soulja Boy interview as well:

AllHipHop: Do you think people can relate more to you than other artists because regardless of their financial status, they can throw together something from their closet that resembles your attire?

Soulja Boy: They look at me like someone they can be just like. That is why I dress the way I do. If I come into your city, you can have on the same or similar attire that I have. I keep it really simple and my fans can be just like me.

Seems like such a nice boy.

Swedish Pop Invades Facebook!

In the last few weeks, the Swedish indie music scene has come on to Facebook in droves. When I started writing about how distributed this scene was across various spots on the internet last March, there was nothing going on on Facebook. When I did the final proofread of my paper on that subject in early August, there was enough that it needed to be mentioned. Now the scene I wrote about there is all over Facebook.

For instance, Magnus Bjerkert of Adrian Recordings, has created an Adrian Recordings group. There is a group for Hybris records, an inside job by their own Mattias Lövkvist (I confess to a wee bit of inadvertent intervention there since the Hybris persona appeared on Facebook within a few hours of my asking him in an interview whether he was using Facebook for Hybris, to which he responded that he was only using it for himself). In the last two weeks I’ve ‘friended’ a few of my favorite Swedish musicians – no one famous, but people whose music I really love.

Magnus at Adrian is doing a particularly good job of using Facebook. He’s made a group for the label, but also for its most successful artist, Familjen, and is currently using the site to encourage people to vote for Familjen in a contest with a large cash award. He’s putting up videos left and right. He’s sending out event invitations for upcoming Adrian artist events.

Now one might say “isn’t this just the MySpacification of Facebook?” and maybe it is. But I think it’s different, at least for now. And here’s how: on MySpace, from the start, bands came on as bands, and fans friended them as fans. The band/fan distinction was really clear. People in bands may have had individual accounts as well, but they were a different entity.

In contrast, Facebook has a culture of profiles representing real individuals, and though that is increasingly getting watered down by organizations (including bands) creating Facebook profiles, I think that when an artist or record label person creates an account on there, there is still a sense that this is the person, not just the persona. On MySpace I could be friends with Hell on Wheels. On Virb I am friends with Hell on Wheels. On Facebook, I’m friends with Rickard from Hell on Wheels. That feels different. This is enhanced by the fact that most profiles are not visible unless you are in someone’s network or already friends. That is part of what was so disappointing about the REM member profiles.

It may be that accumulating large numbers of Facebook friends will become important for bands as it is on MySpace, but for now, it seems less like people are paying attention to how many friends someone has and more like people are linking to people with whom they have some kind of pre-existing connection. The promotion is happening for the people who are already into it, not to recruit new fans.

Today I created an It’s A Trap group on Facebook. IAT, as you may know, is a website that promotes Scandinavian music internationally. I write occasional reviews for the site and now and then I get to push an mp3 as well. Here is an interview with the site’s founder and workhorse extraordinaire, Avi Roig. He, understandably, feels like he’s got enough internet stuff going on without taking on Facebook as well. But I felt that as the scene grew and grew on there, the absence of IAT was more and more significant. Did we need a group? Well, no, we’ve got one in the IAT site. We’ve got one on Last.fm. But it just seemed like where the action is, It’s A Trap should be. And I guess it speaks volumes in regard to my own identification with the scene, and IAT, that I’d go and set it up (after running it by Avi, of course). I’m becoming an action ethnographer without even trying. I like it.

How People Discover Music

I missed it in July, but today The Listenerd drew my attention to a survey conducted by mp3 blog aggregator, the Hype Machine which asked people: How Do You Discover Music?

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in social sciences (I hope!) to spot some immediate reasons to question the survey’s validity — it was conducted at an mp3 blog aggregator, which ought to skew it toward mp3 blog readers in a big way, and it was not open-ended (apparently they didn’t include “radio,” as was noted in the comments — 7.6% said they used the radio in the ‘other’ category, but would more have said so had it been asked?).

At any rate, though, here are the results of the 1,430 answers they got (people could check all that applied):

Total Responses: 1430


These findings have some interesting implications, though I think we have to discount the fact that “online editorials” (i.e. mostly blogs), came out as the first given the nature of the sample.

(1) Friends rule. Still. In their own interpretations, they go right to Last.fm, but I am not convinced — especially after seeing the role of music in friending on Last.fm in my survey data (still working on that stuff) — that it’s really online friend connections where most meaningful recommendation is happening. If it is online friends, I think most of those friends, or at least a very substantial proportion of them, are friends offline with whom one also connects online rather than friends formed online for purposes of sharing musical taste.

(2) Algorithms such as Last.fm and Pandora’s (“Online Mechanical”) have a long way to go. This may be on account of people not using them, but I suspect it also has to do with the difficulty of capturing just what it is that makes Band A appeal to someone when Band B doesn’t. Last.fm has spent the last 2 years recommending me people I know I don’t like, to the point where I quit checking my Last.fm recommendations. Lately though it seems to have gotten somewhat better (except for that it now recommends bands I already listen to!).

This really suggests the tremendous potential of things like iLike and Last.fm applications on Facebook for spreading the word. If you get the music recommendations where the offline friendship networks are already mirrored, word spreads. This has been happening on MySpace already for a long time, but people have acted as though it’s a straight band to fan phenomenon when it’s always been friend to friend, with the band as a social commodity exchanged between them.

It also means that the more ways that labels and bands can make their music portable so that friends can ship it around easily to one another, the more they’re going to thrive.

It was funny to run across this because just yesterday I was thinking that someone really ought to do a study where they ask a large random sample of people how they heard about the last artist whose music they got into and whether or not they had purchased the music. That’s what you’d really need to do if you wanted to know how people are getting turned on to new music. Unless someone wants to hire me to do that study on their behalf, I doubt I’ll ever do it myself, so please steal this idea (or hire me!) because I want to know the results.

I’m becoming my own reality

Ever have the feeling you’re becoming the butt of a joke you started?

Like when you start posting about Facebook fakesters and come home from a camping weekend to find a friends request from a fictional creation? You fanfic fandom people are going to have to clue me in to the backstory on this one, because I have to confess total cluelessness. I know only what I google.

On the other hand, I’ve been watching the Swedes rush to Facebook for weeks and patiently waiting for my new(ish) musical crush to get on there so I could send him a friend request, because that’s just the kind of tramp I am. And he did! Ooh! Ah! And he accepted my friend request! Ooh! Ah!

But… now that I’ve been doing the fakester rant, I’m paranoid! Is it really him? Ok, I lie, this one I’m pretty sure is the real thing, though maybe it’s his sweetie who handles his web stuff, which is just fine too so long as she tells him some dorky professor in Kansas thinks he’s the bee’s knees.

And I have to say that even though I think the Vampires and Zombies trends on FB are very annoying, when a guy with a voice like that (free mp3 — listen to the first 17 second of that song. swoon swoon total swoon) gives me a vampire bite, it’s kind of hot. Though not hot enough to add the application.

Here’s another free ‘n’ legal mp3 of his new single, Modern Love.

[does anyone know why I can't embed last.fm radio or youtube videos in my posts? is it a wordpress thing or am i doing something wrong?]