Guest Post II – Jennifer Moore on 'Interestingness'

[This post was originally posted as a comment on my “What Makes Your Music Interesting?“, but was far too wonderful, and involved, to leave as a comment. So please do read the other post first, and Jennifer’s earlier comments. Jennifer Moore is, as I said in the comments there, the first person I ever saw play a whole set of solo bass. A fabulous musician, and a regular commenter here, she always brings clarity and insight to whatever she comments on.]

::ponder ponder ponder::

I’ve been thinking more about all these comments, esp John G‘s use of the word “engaging”.

I’m thinking that “what’s good” vs “what’s interesting” (in the hooky/intriguing/initial-engagement sense of “interesting”) leaves something out.

“I was found by being interesting, not by being good” – Partly true, but you were partly just found by being there. That is both “there” at the event, and “there” on Flickr.

What about when someone sees you play live because they happened to be in that venue that night and you happened to be playing there? What about if they’re round a friend’s house and their friend says “listen to this”? What about people connecting to a song after they heard it on an advert, when they know nothing about the band or the song apart from that?

OK, they’re still not going to become a fan if they dislike the music, but it was nothing about you or the music that got you into their ears in the first place (except inasmuch as other people gave it airtime for some reason) – it was more like chance and proximity.

(I don’t think any of this is contrary to your general themes, because in other posts you do talk a considerable amount about logistics and what I’m calling here “field of hearability”.)

I’m finding myself wanting to divide the process up into what happens BEFORE someone has a direct experience of your music/art/”thing”, and what happens WHEN they have that direct experience.

OK, it’s not as binary as that sounds.

  • a) what someone’s experienced in the run-up also affects how they experience the thing itself – the way the narrative frames the art. (inc. reviews saying how fab you are, your own stories of what the songs/music/art mean to you, whether the listener likes what they know of you as a person, whether they think you’re cool, what part your music plays in the lives of other people they know, and so on.)
  • b) there’s a gradient as the surrounding narrative becomes more and more directly related to the art. (E.g. when someone checks out your music after seeing you around on Twitter – how much is your Twitter presence related to your art / the same as your art? could be any degree, depending on what specifically you said there and how much your art is expressible in words. Or e.g. how much is the album artwork part of your “thing”? That varies from band to band.)

So I’m not saying it’s actually two distinct phases. But I am saying there’s some kind of progression there from “No connection” to “Initial engagement / intriguedness leading to checking-out” to “Potential deeper connection directly to the art”. Well so actually that’s three phases, but there’s maybe not much to say about the first one 🙂

And I think the middle phase of those is more multi-dimensional than the “what’s interesting” question implies.

E.g. as well as flaunting your interestingness, you can consciously strategise to extend your reach of “thereness” – what you might call the “field of hearability” or “footprint” – although there’s still an element of chance in who wanders into it.

In other words, “Why are people going to listen to you and not the other 100 million bands on the web?” is a wider question from “What’s interesting about you” i.m.o.

I’m thinking of metaphors – one would be an atom with available valency bonds. There’s the music/art itself like the nucleus of the atom. And then there’s what valency bonds are available around it, for other atoms to attach in a music-listener relationship. You could even extend the metaphor to say that some kinds of bond are more likely to last, as some molecules make and break again easily (similar to a passing curiosity “solo bass?”, or being in the room when someone put your record on) whereas others form more stable bonds (similar to “oh I really like that song”).

Or, alternative metaphor: a seed with burrs around it. The burrs are how the seed gets back to someone’s garden. But once the plant starts to grow in the garden, the burrs aren’t needed any more – they’ve done their job. Which reflects the way that (i.m.o.) what counts long term is the connection people make with the music/art itself.

That’s not to say that it’s not useful to identify some specific interestingness if you can. Because interestingness is one aspect of engageability, and it’s useful to have your burrs pointing outwards, and knowing what they are might help you to do that 🙂

But i.m.o. the deeper connection doesn’t hinge on that kind of immediate interestingness. So the initial hook can be quite random and unrelated, and perhaps much more reliant on being “there” than on being “interesting” – as long as it gives people a chance to make the deeper connection.

I think there’s more to say about the relationship between being “there” and being “interesting”.

E.g. being “there” and not obviously/immediately “interesting” might still work – as it does for lots of reliable bands who get hired to deliver a good time of a particular genre, and go on to attract long-term fans who enjoy what they deliver. Whereas being immensely interesting purely in your bedroom probably won’t build any connections 🙂

And there’s the “there” of the person vs the “there” of the music – sometimes the person/band is visible but the actual music is hard to get hold of (guilty of this myself a.t.m.).

And there’s gradients of immediacy in the interestingness – e.g. seems to me Bass 2.0 is a very immediately recognisable hook for people who are attracted to the frontiers of bass playing, whereas “soundtrack for the day you wish you’d had” is more of an invitation for people to be curious, and a narrative which builds up gradually as people get to know you.

By that same token you could have bands that “everyone”‘s heard of but lots of people haven’t realised how good they are. Or you could have bands that very few people had heard of but almost everyone who had ever encountered them had found their way quickly into a deep relationship with the music.

This reminds me of something else, related to Mike R’s comment about “who finds it interesting as well as what is interesting”. I’ve recently been reading Havi Brooks’ blog The Fluent Self, and she talks a lot about the idea of “finding your people”, and one of the metaphors she quotes is the “Velvet rope“. It’s a kind of signal which attracts “your people” and gently discourages the people who wouldn’t like your stuff anyway.

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