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Celebrity 2.0 – Fame in a Conversation-economy.

March 1st, 2009 | No Comments | Categories: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

Steve Lawson with Christine Cavalier and Annie Boccio in PhiladelphiaThis blog post was triggered by a twitter conversation with two lovely women that Lo and I finally met in person on our US jaunt, Annie Boccio and Tracy Apps – Annie and Tracy are both people we’ve been chatting to online, in both text and video formats, for months. We know loads about them, and have watched both their day to day normal stuff, and the special events, like their visits to podcamps/expos/etc.

I commented that meeting them (and Christine (pictured with Annie and I), Geoff, Angela ‘n’ others) was akin, in terms of the excitement and anticipation, to meeting a musician/celeb that I was a fan of. The biggest difference with them was that the excitement was mutual. However, the medium was very similar. Reading someone’s blog or watching them on video is fundementally the same experience whether 10 people are watching or 10,000,000. Any difference that is overlaid is what we choose to put on it, or what is implied by the way the person making the video or writing the blog chooses to present themselves.

The stark contrast between old style Celebrity 1.0 and ‘friends’ was that with the celebs, communication was all one way. You either knew someone and they were a friend, OR you didn’t, and heard about them via TV/Radio/etc. That made proximity a hugely desirable thing, and meant that the chance to meet your heroes after a gig was a really special, but entirely one-sided, encounter.

The numbers just didn’t add up – without a way to communicate quickly, easily and in groups with one’s audience, the experience of meeting them was pretty much akin to advertising copy – you could smile and be lovely for 10 minutes after a gig, and have them go home saying that you’re the nicest person they’ve ever met. Or, conversely, you could be having a bad night, and spend the next 2 years defending the accusation that you’re a surly bastard who hates his fans.

So what’s changed? Lots, obviously. Let’s break it down.

Before we even get to the conversation part, We no longer have a need for gate-keepers in order to provide our audience with ‘content’

– we don’t have to wait for magazines to write about us, TV producers to book us, radios to play our music – we can do all of those things ourselves. We can write, converse, paint, draw, do mime, interview eachother, play cover tunes.. whatever WE want to do that WE feel reflects what WE’RE really about. No more worries about the demographic of the show, the fact that we have 3.45 for the song, 15 seconds of applause to walk to the couch and a 100 second interview. No, we can put out as much or as little content of whatever kind we want, whenever we want. For free.

Secondly, All of that stuff is a) shareable and b) commentable

– it’s not a matter of just putting it out there for people to passively absorb, interpret in their own way and then adore you from afar. No, they can discuss it, with their friends, with other fans, and with YOU! They can share it, embed it, even remix it if you make it available in the right way. They can do the recording for you, and share it.

Depending on what you put out there, it’s quite possible, even desirable, to blur the edges between art and conversation – the same youtube channel can be used to post interviews that allow a response as well as polished music promo videos. Those youtube videos can then be taken and embedded as part of a conversation on a blog, or on another video sharing platform such as Seesmic or even in a bespoke Phreadz channel (if the artist is smart enough to have sorted that out for themselves).

Thirdly, what this means is that the difference between ‘idols’ and friends is no longer a binary equation. It’s a sliding scale

– What we now have are multiple asynchronous relationships. Which range from reading/watching the media output of a ‘huge star’ (like Bruce Springsteen’s Superbowl Journal on his own site, not in a mag, but still with no commenting or conversation – personal, but not interactive) through the Twitterings of the likes of Jonathan Ross or Neil Gaiman who, despite having way more replies to their tweets than they could deal with, still spend an inordinate amount of time replying to questions, comments etc (selectively interacting, and in a sense rewarding ‘good’ comments or questions with a response), all the way on down to the privileged position that indie artists like me, and lobelia and ben walker and jeff schmidt and all the other amazing people out there chatting with their listeners are able to do, which is reply to just about every query/question/comment, if we choose to. We put out media in a commentable way, we make our music and blog posts and video diaries and photos sharable and are vocally grateful when someone takes the time to do just that.

Once again, the small, mobile, self-contained indie artists are in the strongest position to make the most of social media to communicate with our audience, tell our story, learn from them, make friends with them, and have them help us amplify that story to those in their networks that wouldn’t find us by any other means.

The joy of this comes back to the point I made right at the top. When Lo and I met Annie and Tracy, how many fans/followers/readers we each had meant nothing. What we had was a shared sense that meeting someone we’d read about, watched on screen and had communicated with was exciting, valuable and something noteworthy. They were, to us, very special people to meet. They could’ve blown it by being proper freaky unpleasant weirdos (as could we) but we were as impressed with them – and all the other amazing online friends we only knew virtually before we commenced our tour – as we’d hoped to be. And they, in their gratitude and excitement, hosted house concerts, brought their friends and family along to the shows we did, got excited about it, and helped us to take our music to an audience who were happy to become part of that story, and spend some money to be there!

This is a whole other understanding of the relationship between artist and audience – and none of the language we currently use to describe it gets even remotely close to defining the magic of those meetings, the importance of that contact in placing our art in a context, or the mutual benefit of working in that way.

I hope to explore the idea further, but please use the comments below to get the discussion started. What does it mean for musicians/authors/film-makers/etc. to think like this?

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  • tapps

    very well stated, my friend. i’ve always said that i really don’t have a “favorite celebrity” (well.. very few… i guess. but i don’t really hold them on much of a pedestal) but i would find much greater joy in meeting up with my friends than meeting a celeb. so my “friendship” category is really a “step up” from my “celebrity” category in hierarchy. :-)

    thanks for being a friend. :-)

  • Annie

    The difference is between fandom and friendship. I almost feel sorry for the real big superstars who really, due to shear numbers, can’t interact with fans (and potential friends) as easily. Almost ;).

  • steve

    Annie – I definitely feel sorry for them, knowing how much I gain from meeting the amazing people who listen to the music I make. I’m constantly amazed, inspired and encouraged that such a creative, funny, thoughtful bunch of people choose to soundtrack parts of their lives with the noises i make with a bass :)

    But I think the friendship thing needs expanding on, as it’s more than that, because of the sliding scale – there are people I’m not close enough to to be friends with whose social media output I admire. And I certainly have a lot of listeners/readers to whom I’m open and accessible but am not friends with… it’s having the path available that changes the game… Allowing the listener to choose where along the ‘passive enjoyment’ to ‘being fully engaged with’ they want to be, and allowing the artist/content producer to filter that interaction in a way that encourages/promotes healthy friendly productive interaction, but protects from/discourages weird freaky stalkerish behaviour.

    I think, FWIW, that Twitter is the best tool available at the moment for such interactions. Both the mechanics of it and the prevalent culture that’s grown up around its usage foster meaningful interaction and make it pretty easy to ignore/block/dissuade negativity…

    Oh, and both you and tapps are proper superstars. Social Media royalty round here :) Lo and I think you’re fab xx

  • Darren Landrum

    Andy Warhol is famously quoted as having once said that everyone in the future will be famous for fifteen minutes. He was referring to the revolution in television, and the general idea is that it would make more and more people famous for shorter and shorter periods of time. I think he might have had it slightly wrong.

    It seems that the time factor is not actually entering into it. What I think will really happen, due to the revolution of the Internet that Andy could not have predicted (or maybe he did), is that more and more people will become famous to a lesser and lesser degree for any possible period of time.

    What does this mean to us? Well, I think we’ve heard it before, but not quite from this direction: the age of music stardom is coming to a close, and now the focus will be on making a living with a sustainable career by interacting with fans in this new and instant manner that is now possible. This idea has a few names, “1000 True Fans” being one. Before that, one Brian Austin Whitney wrote an article on his “5000 Fan Theory” which says basically the same thing.

    The bad news is, we now have to do all the legwork ourselves. The good news is, we get all the reward, and at the end of the day, we can still go to the grocery store without having to worry about being recognized by almost everyone else in the store.

    This post is probably a little but of rambling on my part. Please forgive my stream of consciousness.

  • steve

    Darren,

    thanks very much, great contribution.

    your point about the grocery store is a really good one – I’ve always loved getting genuine acclaim for what I do, whether it be from an individual who digs it, or a magazine/radio station whatever… the idea being that it’s validation of my art. The quest for ‘fame’ in an of itself seems baffling, as it strikes me as being the intrusive downside of ‘too much acclaim’!

    Anyway, great stuff, Darren, thanks.

  • Carl Morris

    I think the Whatever 2.0 thing is a bit played out now – but I like your points!

    The advantage for artists, Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman and so forth is they can now compose their reply to a fan very rapidly. It reduces the burden for them but the positive effect on fans of receiving a message is the same as before.

    Obviously this is no more true than on Twitter. It removes the admin from fan correspondance, where before it may have been letters, postcards, even emails. And because of that burden, often hardly any contact at all.

    This is why it’s pointless for big celebrities to hire somebody to run their Twitter. That would diminish the advantages when it’s no work at all to have some bitesize intimacy!

    Someone should show this to Ringo Starr. Remember last year when he refused to take any more fan mail? (I wrote a blog post about it at the time.) There’s a certain irony to the fact that he used an online video clip to disseminate his message to tell everyone he didn’t want to communicate anymore… Massive lost opportunity.

  • steve

    Carl – maybe I should’ve italicised the 2.0 bit… it was rather tongue-in-cheek, stemming as it did from @tapps’ silly response to the conversation we were having on twitter. :p

    Anyway, you’re right. Especially about Ringo

    peace and love, peace and love. 😉

  • Darren Landrum

    Ooh, very good point about “acclaim gone wild.” :-) Seeking fame for its own sake is what creates people like Paris Hilton and Jade Goody (though I do still feel for her latest plight, the same way I would feel for anyone having to go through that).

    Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately when it comes to entertainment media is, if not Hollywood, and if not the major labels, then who, and how? If so many people want Hollywood and the major labels to “go away”, to be replaced by some idyllic Commons-based ecosystem, then the tools for creating high-quality movie and music productions will have to filter down into the hands of people who can use them. The people with that level of skill will then need to be convinced that they can do well enough staying where they’re at and working with a highly-enthusiastic and motivated group rather than moving to Hollywood and taking the chance on getting a job there.

    It seems to me there is need for some infrastructure to help support this. It’s already happening in music, with house concerts and direct-to-fan marketing and communication. Maybe we it can happen in cinema as well.

    Again, please regard this as a stream of consciousness. :) Thanks for letting me ramble into somewhat off-topic territory. I had to get this out *somewhere*, though.

  • Geoffsays

    Hammer, meet nailhead. YESS! This is why I love you Steve. Your insight into this whole new world we live in constantly amazes me, even though this is all so experimental and there are no rules.

    Thinking back to when we met for the masterclass, I have to say that I did indeed have the same nervous anticipation of meeting you and Lo as I would have for any mainstream superstar. Why? You may not be a widely recognized celeb, but you’re a celebrity to ME. That’s important and probably cuts to the heart of what you’ve posted here. You should probably draw the line when I ask you to autograph a body part though 😉

  • Todd Johnson

    Steve,

    Man, I’ve taken your advice and have been “going to school” on your blog etc.

    I have to tell you that you are an excellent writer. You’re really a joy to read my friend!!! And….most of all, I’m REALLY learning a lot. Thank you for all the information and wisdom you share. REALLY well done!!

    This article was simply excellent! There it is…I’ll stop gushing…

    TJ

  • Bruce Warila

    another gem Steve..

    I always grab little sentences from your posts and write them in my journal. “Amplify the story…” was today’s takeaway.

    Cheers,

    Bruce

  • LEMills

    And then there are those of us who just like connecting people in any which way we can. Thanks for giving us that opportunity, too!

  • ChuckEye

    Blogs, YouTube, CD-Baby… they’re all aspects of the democratization of media. Last time I was in the studio cutting an album, we spent $15,000 and were recording to tape (DA-88’s). Now days any musician with a decent computer and a few hundred dollars can record at home, burn a CD-R, send one copy to CD-Baby and get on the iTunes Music Store.

    Today I bought a Flip Mino HD pocket hi-def video camera for just over $200. Five years ago a hi-def was only an option on pro cameras costing $12,000 or more.

    It’s not necessarily that there are more content creators, but the tools to create quality content are in a lot more hands today. Likewise, the distribution models have changed to the point where anyone who has anything to say, be it in words, music, video or other stimuli can upload something, somewhere for free.

    So we’ve got content. We’ve got distribution. Now it’s simply a matter of curating all the new stuff that’s available. Social networks, friends’ recommendations, iLike, Last.fm and the like are just a few ways for us to sort through it all.

    It’s overwhelming, but it’s invigorating at the same time.

  • Greg Collins

    Social media is a huge enabler of dialogue. In non-musical context I can read my hero Lance Armstrong’s tweets and know what he is up to but that remains a one way street. I can read Will Carling’s tweets (ex-England Rugby captain) and he does sometimes respond to mine. One of the keys of this type of interaction is that the celeb in question is in control of their level of interaction; they can block me, ignore me or respond as they wish. The first time Will replied to a tweet from me he went up about 1000000% in my estimation. Mr Lawson introduced me to the music of the most very excellent Miriam Jones – ok maybe not a celeb exactly – I tweeted her and she responded back. How likely am I now to promote her music amongst my circle of friends? Instant evangelist for her music and approach to her fans.

    Life, for me, is about building and maintaining good relationships with others. That the others can now be people we admire who, in the past, were out of our ‘reach’ can only be a good thing.

    Now if only I could get BiL tweeting!

  • Dan Duval

    The points you make here are all totally valid, although for many artists who want a huge audience, social networking sites are no substitute for the assistance of a well-run record company. But hey – prove me wrong! Use Facebook to go platinum, my new friends! I enjoyed this article a lot, thanks for writing it.

  • steve

    Dan – thanks for commenting. I guess I’d have to question why anyone was looking for ‘a huge audience’ in the first place, as something to actively chase, rather than as something that happens because you’re doing what you love and are great at it.

    The promise of huge audiences is what has kept record companies going for decades, and before the web, they were the ones who had the ear of all the gatekeepers to reaching an audience… They were massively inconsistent in fulfilling that promise back then, and now they have very little to endear me to them.

    With sites like youtube, it is possible to land a gargantuan audience without a label (x-ref Jean Baudin, Andy McKee etc. etc.) – the deeper questions are all about the costs involved in reaching that audience, the expectations they put on your music, and the way you keep them interested beyond your one single/album.

    If you’re a blogger, please feel free to expand on what you see as the limitations of social media, and post the link here. I’m going be writing a post about what happens to large ensemble music in this kind of environment in response to a great email I had from an orchestral music fan…

    thanks again!

  • Phil Wain

    I think it’s a neat potential counterbalance to the fame/celebrity obsession of the media – your article describes lucidly how things like Twitter are allowing quick and speedy social interaction to a range of people. I’ve found most musician’s open to a chat if they’re in the mood in a public setting but I’ve always been hyper-conscious of people’s privacy. I saw my hero Joe Zawinul alone in a bar a few months before he died but somehow felt uncertain about bothering him and trusted my instincts – a meaningful nod was enough.

    I think there is a huge continuum here from people who you meet and chat with frequently to people you have occasional interaction with (as you pointed out) – I guess at least it’s still interaction as opposed to the one sided fan-celebrity interaction.

    One can tell that some people are into Twitter just for the celebrity watching aspect and seem to be kind of missing the point – I hope Twitter continues to develop a culture that values real, honest interaction and community based on ideas but I guess like all organic things, it may develop in other directions.

    Thanks Steve for your insightful writing – if I didn’t follow it I probably wouldn’t have begun to use Twitter – and if I had I probably would have used it less productively.

    I’m going to have to rethink how this all affects my music – working mostly as a sideman I am having an influence on this kind of thing but am still stuck in the clubowner/agent/bars type world and I need to plot my own escape strategy.

  • linda

    Great comments all.

    Really interesting.

    What an intelligent lot :)

    What’s being discussed is just as relevant to artists as to musicians, (Artists don’t usually perform in the same way as musicians, neither do they have “fans” or followers in quite the same sense as that discussed above.) however we all need to find the best ways of getting out things out there and sharing ideas.

    (How Twitter develops is going to be the possible wonk in the wheel for I can’t quite get how the numbers will pan out. I.e.Things will have to break into smaller units, but that’s maybe not a bad thing.)

    You write extremely well Steve, seems to me you’re a natural communicator. Many thanks for all the ideas and interpretations of new situations and data.

  • steve

    Phil – you’re most welcome. I’m really glad you’re getting so much out of twitter, having found out about it here. That makes me smile. I’m just glad to have so many lovely people from so many different areas of my life converge in one space. Makes it easy to keep up with news. :)

    Linda – definitely the same ideas for artists, the format just needs tweaking for the way that your work is shown. I’m wondering if there’s room for digital ‘viewing rooms’ – where people can get in and see your work, watch videos of you talking about it, details – a series of mini documentaries that make the most of the small screen to show off the bits of the art that work in 2D – nothing’s going to be as ‘good’ as seeing it in real life, but there are things you can do with art on a screen that you can’t do in real life… Worth thinking about! x

  • Howlin' Hobbit

    Dang, man! I’ve been trying to cut down on the number of blogs in my RSS thang, but now I’m going to have to add yours.

    I found you via Dubber and, in one of those synchronicity things, you, Dubber and my pal from the Order of the Fez all recommended Twitter on the same day.

    So I’m following you there and have enjoyed your take on music and life in general.

    This is a great post. I’ll be pointing to it from my own blog.

    Be well!