One of the most valuable currencies that anyone (music-person or otherwise) has online is their recommendation. Loads of people have written about this (Chris Brogan wrote a book about it called ‘Trust Agents’ …that I haven’t read.), but basically, if you talk about things you believe in, the people who hear those recommendations are going to find things that are awesome to someone. They won’t necessarily agree, but that’s not the point – you’re not pandering to an audience, you’re getting excited about greatness.
So, how does this work in a world where we’re all meant to help each other out? I mean, I also talk a lot about the way that collectives and coalitions can work in favour of musicians…
The workable reality is as always somewhere in the middle – there’s nothing wrong with feeling grateful and acting on that. To take your impetus to finally get round to blogging about a band from the fact that their drummer just tweeted about how awesome you are is perfectly natural and fine. Contrast that with the ‘if you put us in your top friends on MySpace, we’ll do the same…’ mentality. ‘Do this for me then I’ll do this for you’ is a recipe for the survival of the pushiest, not the awesomest. And it also overstates the value of a recommendation, link or ‘top friend’ in and of itself. The existential value of such a thing is negligible. It just being there means next to nothing. It’s only real value is in the energy that’s behind it. And that energy is cumulative, but can also be diminished by dilution.
If I get an endless stream of links from someone about lame-assed music, it doesn’t suddenly make me like rubbish music. It makes me think that either
- their taste and mine really don’t match, or
- they’re not to be trusted cos they link to any old shit that may lead to them getting a link back.
That’s the death of value.
Same goes for only ever linking to stuff in which you have a vested interest – if the only bands you ever plug are people you’re working with, it looks like you just want more people at your shows. It stands to reason that you’re going to want to work with musicians you think are awesome, so this isn’t some unworkable call to never draw any benefit from the stuff you put out there – of course not, almost all of us want to have more listeners, more gigs, more people to play to. (Or at least, have more people wanting to see us so we can pick and choose the gigs we do!) It’s all about finding the balance, and building a social DNA chain that points to you being not just a producer of great music, but a curator of great everything.
The principle is one of ‘value-added’: how many extra ways can you make your story – and the media, events and supporting cast that surround it – compelling to the people who are discovering it? You can be exciting, funny, sexy, distracting, educational, passionate, inspiring, consoling, wise, dangerous, scary.. you can be a node-point for finding great things, a recommender of great books or films or food, a philosopher, theologian, comedian, curator, historian, essayist, guitar-ninja, recording advisor, producer, svengali…
When I hear musicians saying ‘I just want to make music, I don’t want to have to be a social networker or marketer’, I do have to wonder what they really want to fill their days with. The big question becomes, ‘yes, but what do you want to make music about??’ Great music – world-changing, awesome music – never exists in a vacuum. It’s always part of a story, and its inspiration is very often a big part of the value in it. Don’t try and tell me that the success of the Beatles wasn’t down to their personalities, stories, controversies and cultural experimentation/boundary-pushing as much as it was the notes on the record… Whether the music was the gateway to the story or vice versa is largely moot – they feed one another in a loop. Story leads to music about the story when leads back to the music.
And the music you talk about is part of that story ‘check out my friend, cos he wants you to check out me’ is a really really shitty story. ‘Check out this amazing film, it changed my life’ is a far more compelling story, and one that will make me want to hear your music. Srsly.
In Pt II, I’ll talk about this with live gigs.
For now though, have a listen to Premonition Factory’s album – pure, gorgeous ambient goodness. Got this at the weekend in Antwerp. Fabulous stuff: