Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond

Courting bloggers – grass roots promotion that works.

March 3rd, 2009 | No Comments | Categories: film/tv · tips for musicians |

Watchmen image, by Dane Rot blackThis morning, Lo and I went to a blogger’s viewing of Watchmen, The new Zach Snyder film, based on Alan Moore’s classic graphic novel. The screening was in the viewing cinema at the Paramount offices out towards Richmond, and a beautiful cinema it was (if all cinema experiences were like that, I’d go 5 times as often as I do!)

I’ll get to the film in a bit, but what’s more interesting to me is the whole idea of a multinational film company doing screenings especially for bloggers. The invite for this came through Dan Light, a lovely bloke, and an incredibly forward thinking film marketer. He was integral to the Seesmic interviews with Spielberg and Harrison Ford last year at Cannes, and is constantly pushing innovative ways for films to be marketed outside of the usual channels.

So this was booked via an open call on twitter for bloggers who wanted to see the film. Lo and I were both free-ish this morning, so put our names down and went along.

The discussion off the back of it has been really interesting – despite disagreeing with a lot of the other people who saw it, I can’t imagine a more erudite, clued up, smart bunch of film-goers to see a film with. They were a mix of Watchmen fans, culture-buffs and film people, who all had different takes on it. The result was an intense flurry of conversation on twitter about the film (about 10% of today’s twitterstream appears to have been about the showing), with the result that the digital footprint of the showing is probably in the hundreds of thousands of impressions.

It got me thinking about the whole idea of courting those who blog in a particular area. Inviting journos to gigs is a regular thing to do, but as musicians, we really ought to take better care of the bloggers who for free spend their evenings promoting the music they love.

I may well end up doing a ‘blogger’s preview’ of my next album… we’ll see. (if you’re interested in such an event, please feel free to register your interest in coming along in the comments!)

As for what I thought of the film, that raises a whole other set of questions – can I say what I thought if a) I can’t really be bothered to write a massive review of it, and b) it’s really not very complimentary, so may not add much to the discussion…

There are some big questions over the nature of ‘publicised opinions’ – if someone took it on themselves to say how much they dislike what I do (as has happened a few times online), I would find it rather odd, and possibly hurtful, that they took that effort, especially if there was no transaction like the one today where they were part of an invited audience asked to give their critique…

It could also, given the scale of what I do, have a disproportionately damaging impact on people’s perception of me. So I guess the answer lies in the point at which critique becomes bullying… if I was to pick some up and coming musician and write a blog post about how much they suck, that would be cyber-bullying. To write an honest review of a film I’ve been invited to see, that will make hundreds of millions of dollars regardless of whether I thought it was amazing or thought it was one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, that’s critique.

What’s also worth considering is, would I write differently if I knew the director or actors were reading it? If so, that’s an issue. It’s on the web, so they might…

I’ll come back and write the review of the film some time later. But for now, I just want to congratulate Dan and Paramount on hosting these kinds of events in such a forward-thinking way. Good stuff.

Here are two magazine reviews that are worth reading, BTW – one good one and one bad one.

And here’s a fascinating piece from the Guardian a while back, where Tom Jenkinson, AKA Squarepusher, interviews a load of music critics about the whole nature of criticism.

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  • Idea IS the format» Blog Archive » The one thing worse than being talked about…

    […] by the soundtrack.  And Steve Lawson, despite disliking the movie intensely, has written a very positive assessment of the event as a whole, exploring the benefits of taking this approach to driving conversation as […]

  • Catherine Randle

    I’ve worked as a journalist/ band reviewer and a film reviewer for the Wellington Post, when NZ had an evening newspaper, and I struggle with exactly the same questions. Another question I find a challenge is you personally may love the film but critically it doesn’t work. So what do you say? If something sucks fine but if you don’t say why the band being reviewed can’t improve. They will be able to work out for themselves if you ‘get’ their music, just as a savy reader will work out if they want to go. Often I will got to see a film or band on the back of a bad review. If you are just excerising your ego readers will work it out. They can tell if you want ‘music’ to be supported or your just turning up for a meal ticket. I always thought bullying was an ongoing process not just one post. Please educate me if I’m wrong. Good write up!

  • steve

    Hi Catherine,

    I think the fact that you’re concerned about these questions means you’re unlikely to descend into bullying 😉

    I guess the part of bullying that can happy on a blog is that of someone ‘stronger’ picking on someone ‘weaker’ – as the example I gave about up and coming musicians.

    My thinking now is that my review of the film would end up having so many qualifications and caveats as to be effectively useless. I didn’t like it, for myriad reasons, but in talking to people who know the book there’s a ‘reason’ for almost all of them. Not one of them that I’ve heard makes the film any better, or the bits I found to be morally/ethically dubious any less so, but they would have to be mentioned due to their now providing the shape and context for my feelings towards the film.

    Also, the bloke from the New Yorker review said prettty much what I wanted to say, but with more authority 😉

    I make a point of not talking specifically about bad music (though will talk generally about things I like or dislike..) – when I remember; I do have occasional lapses in which I bitch about certain bands, but they’re always big enough for it not to matter 🙂

    I still haven’t worked out why I feel differently about film… It does somehow feel like something ‘critique-able’ in a way that a bad record doesn’t. Bad records are generally best ignored.

    thanks for commenting – did you read the piece from the Guardian I linked to? would love your thoughts on that.

  • Jim

    Definitely a good reminder that the media outlets tend to be shifting from newspapers to blogs. The question is, how do you do something like that effectively in the States? NYC would work well I guess, but so many bloggers are spread out it would be hard to hit them all at once, I imagine? Inviting them as part of the guest list for a tour could work fine (and obviously has been a music industry standard for a while). Am I missing the point with this?

    Also, I haven’t seen the Watchmen yet, but it looks like a nerds’ paradise, so I am excited to see it.

  • Jim

    Also, and my opinion on a review depends subject to subject. A review on a tech product or medical equipment needs to be unbiased. By its nature, music/art is impossible to be unbiased. This is why the Backstreet Boys ever existed, people can like music that totally sucks. So as long as the writer remains objective, and abstains from too much hyperbole, I think that’s the best you can get.

    On the business side, I would focus my product towards the sections that would be receptive. IE, Rolling Stone would slag something like Led Zeppelin, but Guitar Mag would love it. Etc etc. So, targeting marketing segments is important.

  • Patrick

    I often write about gigs I have been to on my social/cultural blog. Aside from the difficulty of dancing about architecture, I always assume that anybody could read anything I write. I don’t think that makes me blog differently about music I have seen – any more than it would writing about dance (which bizarrely I find easier than writing about music).

    On the other hand, I always pay to go to gigs – I have to want to go to see a band play. A friend of mine is a jazz promoter, and I won’t let her give me free tickets – why would I want to go to something just because it was free?

    (Interestingly, this doesn’t intrude into other aspects of my life, where I think free is good!)

  • steve

    Jim – there’s no reason why you couldn’t do multiple screenings, especially if the big studios were to share their network of screening rooms (which no doubt sit empty 5 days a week…)

    For bands, the idea of hosted listening parties scales really well, as the bigger the band, the less the need for proximity for the event to still be full of excitement. If U2 did listening parties for bloggers for the album before it came out, they’d cover the web with reviews, with excitement, and it’d cost them a fraction of what it costs to fly all the world’s music press to one place for a press conference… they could even devolve it further into a house party thing. take it right back to grassroots. It’s all about knowing your audience and taking some risks.

    I think we also need to foster an enviroment where we can disassociate the art from the artist, somewhat, and also from those marketing it. I really didn’t like Watchmen, but am still so pleased that Dan’s marketing campaign worked so well. I like Dan Light a lot, I respect his forward thinking, innovative approach, and his love for the original graphic novel, so am not in anyway feeling that my opinion is invalidated by the success of the film, or that his success should be diminished by me not getting it. Art is art, not science 😉