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Social Media – first principles for musicians (Pt 2)

October 21st, 2008 | 6 Comments | Categories: Uncategorized |

House Concert in BournemouthOK, let’s jump straight into part 2 with a few of the fears musicians have when making ourselves available to talk directly with our audience.

We’ll look at 3 areas we often get wrong when interacting with our audience, which are:

  • How to treat your audience like friends rather than your ‘target market’. (notice I keep using the more neutral term ‘audience’ rather than ‘fans’ – I’ve never been all that comfortable with the word ‘fans’, seems a little patronising in some contexts, but substitute it if you wish…).
  • allowing people to comment on what you do doesn’t mean you have to put up with insults and slander.
  • don’t confuse inviting comment with asking for advice.

These three are biggies in terms of HOW we actually treat our audience.

  • If You Treat Them Like Friends, They’ll Stick Around Longer. I was going through some old letters earlier today (we’re moving house) and found one from a guy I knew when I was a kid. It was the first letter I’d got from him in almost 2 years, and he was trying to sell me insurance! No introductory message, no catch-up, no context. Just ‘I’ve got a new job selling insurance; want some?’ It all came flooding back to me how used I felt when I got the letter, how insane it seemed, even back in those pre-spam days.The parallels with talking to your audience like friends are obvious. If all you ever say is ‘buy my shit!’, there’s no level of which it’s a friendship. Think about it in terms of ‘how would you feel if everyone you talk to on social media started behaving like you back at you?’ – if you’d be getting hundreds of adverts a day, it’s time to change your approach
  • Allowing People To Comment On What You Do Doesn’t Mean You Have To Put Up With Insults And Slander – this is probably a bigger issue for Americans than Brits, given that you guys have a much stronger attachment to the notion of ‘freedom of speech’.I was chatting with Ben Walker last night over curry, about all the things that happened around the viral explosion of his Twitter Song video. One of the things that he got that seems to be endemic on Youtube was the hateful, nasty comments. Hundreds of them. From people who hadn’t even watched the video, but just spend their time posting hateful comments for absolutely no reason. Fortunately Ben found it funny. His girlfriend, less so. I never allow insulting comments to stay on any site that I moderate. Disagreement is fine, but politeness is a must.My rule is, if someone said it to me in a pub, would I walk out? I’ve stopped posting on a couple of bass-related forums because I was being insulted by a handful of posters. It’s not that I get upset by it, but it does become a waste of my time. I’m not one to court negativity or ‘controversy’ by getting into arguments with internet trolls. I’m happy to chat with people who don’t ‘get’ my music, but insult me and I leave the conversation – as the person in the conversation who has a reputation of sorts, you’ll never win. So the lesson is, keep such discussions to places you can moderate – Myspace, twitter, facebook fan-page, Ning pages, reverbnation comments, self-hosted forums : all of those are places you can keep the atmosphere at a level you’re socially comfortable with. Don’t feel like you owe airtime to people with a grievance. Deleting insulting posts isn’t censorship, it’s selection – censorship suggests you’re denying them a voice, when actually you’re just choosing not to allow them to hijack YOUR audience. Anyone can set up a blog posting about how much they dislike whoever, they just can’t do it in my forum. Simple as.
  • Don’t Confuse Inviting Comment With Asking For Advice – a lot of musicians, in order to stimulate conversation, ask their audience for their opinion on their work, be it released work or ‘works in progress’. It’s a good way to start a discussion, but there is a fine line between inviting people to pick their favourites, and getting completely unqualified criticism of your work from people with no idea what you’re actually trying to do.
    Crowd-sourcing advice for your music is a sure way of
    a) confusing yourself, and
    b) losing any sense of a coherent narrative to what you do.
    I make it as plain as I can without sounding stuck-up that I don’t make music FOR anyone except me. Not because I don’t care what they think, but because I can’t. I can only soundtrack the world as I see it, as best I can. Someone else telling me what I could do differently to best suit their aesthetic, their view of the world is completely futile.

    That’s not to say that I don’t have people whose opinion I trust who can comment and critique what I do – I have a whole list of them – it just that each of them have earned that place over years of listening and conversation. It has context. It’s also certainly not to say that I don’t like hearing what people like and don’t like about what I do. It’s fascinating to hear, and hugely encouraging when people ‘get it’, on whatever level. But as an example, we recently had a letter back from a record label about the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album (have you bought it yet? :) ) The guy said he really like it, but threw in ‘maybe it needs a female vocal?’ – why? Why would it ‘need’ anything? Why do we need telling that? because we don’t know any female vocalists? The last few gigs we’ve done as a trio have featured one of the finest female vocalists I’ve ever worked with, and if we felt like we needed to add her voice to the album, we’d have done it. I’ve no idea who this dude is, I’m glad he likes the record, but have no real interest in whether or not the album sounds like it needs samples of dogs barking or clowns being kicked squarely in the nuts on it, in his estimations. It’s not that his opinions aren’t valid to him, they just lack context in relation to how and why WE made OUR record.

Talk to your audience like friends
don’t patronise them
don’t shout at them
listen to them but don’t pretend they’re your producers
share things of value with them
invite them into your creative pathway
give away information and ideas that have currency
help them and they’ll help you.

I’ve said before on a number of occasions, my audience is almost always entirely made up of people I’d love to go out for a curry with after the gig and chat to for hours. Demographically, my favourite people in the world are the ones that go to Steve Lawson gigs. If I wasn’t Steve Lawson, I’d be hanging out at his gigs to meet cool people. Somewhere along the line the approach to drawing an audience into your world that I’ve outlined above has worked pretty much perfectly for me.

Take the principles and examples, think about them, discuss them, adapt them, play with them, jump in and try chatting to your fans. See what happens. Please post and thoughts, comments or questions below.

Part 3 I’ll look at some of the software and hardware tools that work best.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Nathan Phillips

    “I can only soundtrack the world as I see it, as best I can. Someone else telling me what I could do differently to best suit their aesthetic, their view of the world is completely futile.”

    Steve, I think this is one of the most insightful things I’ve heard recently. I’ve been wrestling with the problem of “I sound too much like X” or “it’s not up to the standards of X,” and it got to the point that my writing had slowed to a trickle. My mentor and I had a conversation about this today, and some very famous guitarists he’s had dinner with that have had the exact same fears.

    I’ve seen a lot of musicians that are like this, and I think it’s the ones that just so blatantly AREN’T that succeed. Conforming to someone else’s standards – “selling out,” as most garage bands see it – compromises the artist’s vision. And we are indeed artists at the core. We’re in this business because we hear -something- that no one else does in quite the same way. Setting this against other people’s music or [negative] criticism will twist and warp it. I used to use the music of Michael Hedges as the bar for my own compositions to shoot for, and I was never satisfied, for obvious reasons. The less I worry about other people’s music (and the more I listen to singers and other instrumentalists as opposed to guitarists), the easier it is for me to connect the sound in my head with the fretboard and the ears.

    I may have to blog about this soon.

  • Neil

    Hey Steve – another outstanding post. Interesting to “look inside” and try to figure out where I’m at personally with these things. I agree completely with Nathan,
    >“I can only soundtrack the world as I see it, as best I can. Someone else telling me what I could do differently to best suit their aesthetic, their view of the world is completely futile.”< is rather insightful to say the least.
    Not that I’ve ever pandered to audience – or anyone. I’ve had musicians in my own groups tell me “why do you want to change styles so much?” Sorry pal, that’s the way I hear it. Next!
    Thanks again -

  • Jennifer

    If I wasn’t Steve Lawson, I’d be hanging out at his gigs to meet cool people.

    ::haha:: this made me laugh – what a great way of putting it! and certainly a gig ambiance I aspire to emulate :-)

    On the online stuff etc, my no.1 concern about this area is not one I recall seeing you talk about yet. It’s about the scalability of it – like how to keep up with the emails etc. as you get more successful. Because the more attention you get, the more emails and blog comments you’re gonna get, aren’t you – and you’ve got to manage and channel that responsibility so it doesn’t get in the way of making the music.

    (of course in one way that would be one of those “nice problems to have” :-) )

    Part of why I’m saying this is that I have a sense of you as pretty gregarious and sociable in life in general, and therefore naturally well suited to the path you’re pioneering here. I suspect I’m not as far as you in that sociable direction. I like gigging, but I also like to hibernate and ignore the world sometimes. I feel very cautious about promoting expectations that I’m gonna answer people’s emails day in day out.

    I do have some ideas about how to adapt the principles of your methods into different practical expressions that might suit me better, but would be interested in your take on that dynamic as well.

    Any thoughts on it? & any points so far where you’ve found you were actually getting too much attention & conversation, and had to fall back and regroup?

  • steve

    Jennifer,

    the two issues you raise are two MASSIVE ones – scalability is a big issue. The simple answer is you start to limit access to you to those who choose to engage on a certain level – you shut down the more general channel in favour of those that are more managable. So instead of leaving your email address on the site, you use twitter or a forum, where others can answer general questions for you, and where answering those things is a reward of sorts.

    There are specific tools that do this better than others, and it’s also possible to tie it in with the idea of Street Teams, where that kind of 1st person contact is reserved for those who are active in the street team.

    Your second point about gregariousness is another really big one – the key here is to make sure that your presentation is honest to who you are. Copying my approach if you’re not that kind of person would end up being a massive headache. But finding the space where you can be you and still tell your own story is a really important part of the process, and one that may involve a little discomfort as you adjust to putting something of yourself out there for others to read/watch/listen to… there’s a degree to which it’s part of the job of promotion (which ties in with the ‘employ yourself’ post that I wrote for Creative Choices a few months back…

    It’s also why getting some outside help is often a good way to go for a musician – sitting down to plan a specific strategy and find a tailored set of tools for what you are good at is a really useful thing to do. Tomorrow I’m spending the day with a French bassist called Albin Suffys – http://www.myspace.com/albinsuffys – working on his web presence and a way for him to build an audience and tell his story. His music is great, I’ve got to help him get it out there :)

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