The Irrelevance of the Internet in the Rise and Fall of Voxtrot

Sometimes I’m a little slow to pick up on American pop culture these days, what with my obsession with Swedish pop and all, so I managed to completely miss the Voxtrot blog buzz in 2005-2006. Voxtrot have been called “the perfect web 2.0 band” or something like that, with their blog and (former) status as darlings of the mp3 blogosphere. But they’ve got a highly ambivalent relationship with the net, as manifested most directly in singer Ramesh’s blog rant against the internet last March:

The internet is fickle. Everything is disposable. Everything is fleeting. The internet is a very dark place to be. Everybody’s a fucking authority and everybody knows better than everybody else. [...] Sorry if I sound a bit critical, but I guess that, at this point, I’m not talking so much about Voxtrot specifically as I am about the relationship that every band is forced to maintain with the internet.

My rant:

So, this guy is like 23 and because he wrote some songs bloggers like, I guess that makes him an expert in the internet and its societal effects. But let’s smack a little realism in here. First, disposability and fleeting things predating the internet by a long time. Anyone remember the 1980s? How about that great 1970s pop hit “Wildfire” (I apologize if you lived through that and had successfully forgotten it). There have been disposable pop hits as long as there’s been pop hits. That’s part of the beauty of pop music — it’s ok if it’s disposable. If it makes you feel good for a little while, it’s done its job. You want great art no one criticizes, try classical music, and even there the Bachophiles go off on the trash that Beethoven dude wrote.

Second, “the internet is a very dark place to be.” Uh, not like, say, inner cities? Iraq? Darfur? Because you have to face the fact that some people aren’t into your music? Or the same things you are? Because on the internet criticism and the conversations that have happened offline every day as long as people have been having conversations about pop culture become visible? Well I don’t like reading negative reviews of my work on the net either, but … and this leads me to the third point… I recognize that it is the PERSON WHO WROTE THE REVIEW that has that opinion, not THE INTERNET, and that if I look elsewhere I will find rays of sunshine that are great ego boosters. The fact that your skin is thin does not mean the net is dark.

The band “is forced” to maintain a relationship with “the internet”? No, bands that want to be successful have the opportunity — an unprecedented one — to form and maintain relationships with THE PEOPLE WHO ARE INTO THEM. The internet doesn’t give a hoot about any of us. It’s a bunch of signals and wires. It’s a communication medium. The net gives bands a means of reaching their audience. They are also going to encounter people who think they stink or, worse yet, are boring. That’s because the internet mirrors everything else, not because it’s a dark force.

And don’t even get me started on his titling the post “get off the internet, I’ll meet you on the street” because, guess what, I’ve actually done research on this and read a whole lot more, and the internet is not a substitute for face-to-face interaction. It’s a supplement, and even an enhancer. Alienate your online fans and they won’t be joining you offline, they’ll be too busy with their friends.

But his reification of the internet gets suppport in this recent article about them in the Baltimore Sun titled Internet killed the radio star:

A funny thing happened to Voxtrot on the way to pop music stardom: The Internet moved on.

A year ago, the rock group from Austin, Texas, was the darling of music bloggers everywhere. One site described its music as verging “on the Platonic ideal of indie pop.” [...] But the experience of Voxtrot this year has proven that what the Internet gives, the Internet can take away. Internet love is fleeting and fickle. Fans must be nurtured and cared for. Or else they can turn on you with all the viciousness of a cliched pop song heartbreaker.

The same bloggers who fawned over Voxtrot last year are no longer so hot to, um, trot. The band’s new album, released in May, was met with yawns at best.

“The Internet moved on.” “Internet love is fleeting and fickle.” Hello bloggers, you are not people, you are The Internet. That wasn’t YOUR love, it was “internet love,” which is a whole different thing, I guess. So different that it bears no relationship to, oh, every band whose sophomore record ever got trashed by people who loved their first in the entire history of rock and roll. Which is like, just about all of them. Isn’t it maybe just a little bit possible that THEIR RECORD WASN’T AS GOOD AS THE EPs and it’s about people making astute judgments and sharing them with others rather than the medium moving on?

Man, I remember the heyday of England’s New Music Express (NME) and how unbelievably fickle they were. There was an internet back then, but none of us knew about it yet. It wasn’t called the internet yet. Yet we managed to like some stuff bands did and not like other stuff they did and talk about it with each other anyway. Amazing.

I will agree with the claim that “fans must be nurtured and cared for,” but don’t kid yourself that if you are good at creating relationships with your fans they will like anything you produce. Fans are individuals with judgement, and they will decide whether or not they like your music based on how it makes them feel. They may still like you, but if you put out a lame record, it won’t sound like the bells of heaven in their ears just because you update your blog and respond to friend requests on MySpace. And they might even dare to say so.

Now after all that ranting, I will confess that I love Voxtrot’s EPs, which I discovered AND BOUGHT through the internet, and I even like their album a lot, though I don’t think it’s as good as the EPs. But as an internet scholar, I get really freakin’ sick of people’s pop analyses of the medium. As though no one has actually done any real rigorous consideration of these issues and to quote Ramesh, “everybody’s a fucking authority.”

Here is a link to a Voxtrot song from one of the EPs Mothers, Sisters, Daughters & Wives from their own website. If you like it, give them the credit. If you don’t, blame the internet. You know how It can be.

The Eyes of Aspen Are Upon You

Aspen Eyes

Aspen is beautiful close-up too.

A Pause While I Gush

I saw Chris Isaak last night for the third time in a mere 18 years.

The Divine Chris Isaak

What a singer, what a showman, what a band, what a great great show.

A guy like him should have better fan sites than the current (mostly outdated) crop that’s out there.

Managing Robbie Williams Fans, Part 2

picturePart 2 of an interview with Shell, webmaster for, a Robbie Williams fansite. Yesterday we got an overview of the site and its relationship with Robbie Williams and his associates. Today, she shares her insights and lessons learned from running the site:

What do you think has made the site as successful as it is?

Good, fair, impartial management who have alot of enthusiasm for the site and his membership base. Original content, that is updated constantly and a site that is very user friendly.

The members play a huge part too. They are friendly, welcoming, diverse and alot of firm friendships have developed and grown. The atmosphere on the community is great, whereas on some fansites i have come across in my research i cannot say the same.

Members are very supportive of the site and it’s staff which is also a major factor of being successful.

You’re also involved in The Admin Zone. For people who aren’t aware of that, can you tell us more about that site?

The Admin Zone is a site for new and old forum community administrators and moderators. It offers help and support as well as a reviewing service and original articles and tutorials to help build, manage and maintain a forum based website.

What insights have you gained into managing fan communities as a result of your involvement with

It wasn’t what i expected to be honest. Managing a fansite has thrown up alot of insights. The main being the treatment of celebrities by the tabloid media both online and off. I’ve learnt about online promotion and believe fansites go along way to help promote their subjects new material as well as supporting the artist online. The legalities behind online music, videos, lyrics and images has also been an insight.

There’s also a negative side to fandom. We have come across a few obsessives and the staff team have had to learn how to deal with this in the best possible way behind the scenes in private without it effecting the community as a whole. It can be quite shocking and disturbing when you come across these people but the good easily outweighs the bad and luckily on Pure Robbie 99% of fans using the site do so in a positive way and respect the site’s and artists wishes .

One of our main insights was when questioning just how far discussions could go. The artist recently admitted himself into rehab for addiction to perscription drugs. Obviously this was a concern to fans but some discussions were beginning to, in the staffs opinion, intrude too much into his personal life. Fans were assuming and speculating about his health to a degree that made us feel uncomfortable and even though his management didn’t disapprove we felt that out of respect fans shouldn’t speculate and only listen to the facts both the artist, and his family and management put out relating to this personal and sensitive subject.

There’s been alot of debate on the site since about how far discussions should go and what should and should not be discussed on a public forum/fansite.

What advice would you offer others who are interested in creating a fan site?

I’d advise researching the market. If there are other fansites already for your subject look what works for them and what doesnt and build upon that. Add originality wherever possible to make your fansite stand out. Pay attention to detail when creating the sites design and layout. Theme and design should be tied together. Have a logo that is brandable, original and recognisable.

Things to include on a fansite are:

Biography, discography, filmography, an archive of all ‘old’ information on your chosen subject, image gallery, news section, original reviews and articles as well as site exclusives.

Get members involved in all areas of the site.

Consider how to generate site revenue as fansites can grow rapidly and you need to be able to generate enough revenue to keep the site up and running as things like bandwidth useage can send your hosting package up the scale pretty quickly, be prepared. You will also need revenue to run competitions etc to keep generating interest. Research advertising opportunities and member subscriptions or donations.

Also be the site that brings the news in quickly and constantly. Give members a reason to keep returning and try to maintain a good atmosphere on the community. Get members as involved in the site as possible Fansites are all about fans opinions, ensure they have outlets for these.

Are there any other things you think we should know about that I didn’t ask?

I believe Pure Robbie, and the majority of fansites online have changed the relationship between artist/subject and fan and also contribute to the online promotion of the artist and their work.

Online Fansites also help an artists profile online, their supporters can share opinions with other like minded people from around the world. Information is delieved to a wider audience alot more quickly making the fan feel closer to the artist as well as being able to keep up to date on all his goings on like future releases, projects etc…

Fans opinions, posted on fansites are picked up by search engines placing their opinions on many subjects relating to the artist/subject alongside those of critics in search engine results, giving anyone looking for information about the artist/subject a rounder, more balanced and informed perspective.

Managing Robbie Williams Fans, Part 1

Though we Americans have rarely heard of him, on the other side of the pond, Robbie Williams is big big news. And he’s got a big big fan following to go along with that. I recently spoke with Shell, the webmaster for, a very successful fansite. Shell is a mid-30s student of English, living in England, who turned her interest in online community management toward her interest in Robbie Williams about a year ago. She also works with others helping them manage fan communities. Today and tomorrow, I’m happy to share her insights into this and other fan sites:

Can you give us some background on PureRobbie? How old is it, how many users do you have? What do people do on it?

Pure Robbie opened in April 2006. I began researching this project in Nov 05 because he was embarking on a massive world wide tour and although he has some good fansites out there i wanted to create one with a focus on original articles and reviews written by fans, to bring them together in one place to share their experience of the tour and admiration of the artist and his work and one that was able to accomodate a large membership base that spans the globe. Alot of his fansites are small groups and country specific, whereas Pure Robbie was intended to accomodate fans from around the globe. I was in contact with the artists management who knew of my plans and offered advice when i needed it.

In just over a year the site has 6,000 members and 30,000 visitors every month. The members have created a massive 11,338 threads/articles and made 630,228 posts.

On the site you can find all the latest news, reviews and interviews relating to the artist from the media and discuss these with other fans plus original reviews, interviews and news written by the site staff, reporters and members. In the year we have been open we have exclusivly interviewed members of his band, management and collaborators, the latest being Mark Ronson who is currently having alot of success in the UK album charts and he has just released an album in the US featuring Robbie Williams.

There’s a large image gallery full of pictures from the start of his career to the present day. We also have an amazing fan fiction section where members actively post and read fiction, poetry and drama relating to Robbie Williams. On the site there is also a live chat room and we run monthly Superfan prize competitions that are very popular.We also have a ‘blog to Rob’ section where members can blog about anything or send messages to Robbie in the hope he pops by and reads them.

There are also sections on the site to discuss his music, books, films, videos, gossip, tv and radio appearances, L.A Vale (celebrity soccer team managed by Robbie Williams) as well as a download section. There’s also advertising space for fans to exchange Robbie goods.

As distractions from discussing Rob we have a very active general chat area and a games and quiz section and we run alot of prize competitions. Members have also organised meets offline in London, Germany, America and the next one is planned for Amsterdam. All of which have been very popular and fun.

You mentioned that there are a number of related resources outside the site, can you tell us more about them?

As well as the main site we have a Myspace social network. The Myspace links members of the site to other fans on the www as well as promoting our exclusive interviews, news and reviews around the www and puts fans in touch with others fans spaces which helps develop friendships.

We then have our own blogspot where again our news, reviews and interviews are promoted around the www. The news on this blog often contradicts the lies the tabloids write about him in the hope the ‘truth’ gets a shot of being heard too. Subscribers to this blog recieve daily email alerts.

We also have our own store where Robbie Williams music and goods can be bought new or second hand.

What has the attitude of Robbie Williams and his associates been toward the site?

ie music management, who have looked after Rob for over a decade have been great. They assist us in the kind of content we post on the site to keep our download section legal and pass on things the community wish to send to Rob such as messages of support, fan feedback and birthday cards/gifts. They’ve been very supportive, sending us congratulations on our first year and advising us on how to handle any media inquiries which was a great help in light of recent events surrounding our artist/subject.

Robbie has met a number of Pure Robbie members and has taken alot of time to speak with them, pose for pictures and sign Pure Robbie banners, cds, pictures etc.

Why do you think this is?

I believe they have been very positive towards the fansite as they know it is managed with experience and assists in the online promotion of the artist and his work in a very positive way. Our fansite works alongside the artists official site and does not compete with it, we offer something completly different, interaction. We offer fans a place to discuss the artist and his work and we also promote the latest additions and goods published on the official site.

Speaking to a fan recently Robbie Williams expressed that fansites like Pure Robbie were good because we could post and discuss both negative and positive media articles relating to him whereas the official site is not able to do this. For me this showed approval of his fansites and what they can achieve online.

Do you feel like you and your site have any influence on Robbie Williams and his career?

I’d like to hope so. Hopefully he and his management gain an insight into what fans think about his music etc through our comments and reviews but our main aim is to dilute all the negative articles from the tabloids, especially the UK ones, online by publishing our own news which show the tabloid lies for what they are and to get the truth, as we know it, out there.

For example, there’s just been a media frenzy relating to a new video blog he published on his official site. The UK tabloids wrote headlines like ‘Rob found God’, and questioned his mental health, whereas our news article stated what had really occured on the video blog which was an artist playing a sample of a new tune in his studio and having a joke or two. In the search engine results relating to this, our article stood beside the negative ones, hopefully helping to ‘counter attack’ it. We were also lucky enough to recieve Rob’s reaction to the media story when a fan interviewed him at a soccer game and was able to add this quote to our news article, adding strength to our ‘truth’, and helping to dilute the lies. Rob admitted the tabloid story was lies, to put it mildly.

The site also promotes respecting the artists privacy wherever possible. We do not allow any of his personal details or private engagements to be published on the site and advise fans on how to respect his personal space when around him.

We also advise on safety etc at concert venues, giving advise on parking, buying tickets, the best gates for the best view, food, accomodation and travel to these events in the hope both fans and the venue’s organises have an event that runs as safe, and smoothly as possible, giving everyone involved a great experience when seeing their idol.

Tomorrow, more from Shell on the insights she’s gained from working on this site and others.