Celebrity 2.0 – Fame in a Conversation-economy.

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?