Would you still idolize someone when you know what they had for breakfast this morning?
May 15th, 2007

The New York Times published an article on Sex, Drugs and Updating Your Blog that covers how times have turned for B list musicians and artists (of all kinds) who now cultivate and interact with their fans online, throughout the day – everyday.

In the case of Jonathan Coulton, a 36 year old singer and writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY:

Along the way, he discovered a fact that many small-scale recording artists are coming to terms with these days: his fans do not want merely to buy his music. They want to be his friend. And that means they want to interact with him all day long online. They pore over his blog entries, commenting with sympathy and support every time he recounts the difficulty of writing a song.

The dynamics of performing have totally changed, a model similar to what Seth Godin is also adopting for his recent book tour.

When he (Jonathan Coulton) performs, he upends the traditional logic of touring. Normally, a new Brooklyn-based artist like him would trek around the Northeast in grim circles, visiting and revisiting cities like Boston and New York and Chicago in order to slowly build an audience — playing for 3 people the first time, then 10, then (if he got lucky) 50. But Coulton realized he could simply poll his existing online audience members, find out where they lived and stage a tactical strike on any town with more than 100 fans, the point at which he’d be likely to make $1,000 for a concert. It is a flash-mob approach to touring: he parachutes into out-of-the-way towns like Ardmore, Pa., where he recently played to a sold-out club of 140.

You might say this is “On Demand” Concerts and the artist is now taking on the role of a publicity manager that gets personally involved with their fan base.

This trend isn’t limited to musicians; virtually every genre of artistic endeavor is slowly becoming affected, too. Filmmakers like Kevin Smith (‘Clerks’) and Rian Johnson (‘Brick’) post dispatches about the movies they’re shooting and politely listen to fans’ suggestions; the comedian Dane Cook cultivated such a huge fan base through his Web site that his 2005 CD ‘Retaliation’ became the first comedy album to reach the Billboard Top 5 since 1978. But musicians are at the vanguard of the change. Their product, the three-minute song, was the first piece of pop culture to be fully revolutionized by the Internet. And their second revenue source — touring — makes them highly motivated to connect with far-flung fans.

The NY times article points out the main montivator for an artist communicating directly with their fans is emontional satisfaction:

Yet this phenomenon isn’t merely about money and business models. In many ways, the Internet’s biggest impact on artists is emotional. When you have thousands of fans interacting with you electronically, it can feel as if you’re on stage 24 hours a day.

‘If some kid is going to take 10 minutes out of his day to figure out what he wants to say in an e-mail, and then write it and send it, for me to not take the 5 minutes to say, dude, thanks so much — for me to ignore that?’ He shrugged. ‘I can’t.’

But the whole thing goes two ways – with more intamacy comes more reponsibility:

All celebrities are accustomed to dealing with reporters; but fans represent a new, wild-card form of journalism. Franz Nicolay, the Hold Steady’s nattily-dressed keyboardist, told me that he now becomes slightly paranoid while drinking with fans after a show, because he’s never sure if what he says will wind up on someone’s blog. After a recent gig in Britain, Nicolay idly mentioned to a fan that he had heard that Bruce Springsteen liked the Hold Steady. Whoops: the next day, that factoid was published on a fan blog, ‘and it had, like, 25 comments!’ Nicolay said. So now he carefully polices what he says in casual conversation, which he thinks is a weird thing for a rock star to do. ‘You can’t be the drunken guy who just got offstage anymore,’ he said with a sigh. ‘You start acting like a pro athlete, saying all these banal things after you get off the field.’ For Nicolay, the intimacy of the Internet has made postshow interactions less intimate and more guarded.

And the nature of creativity is also changing as the fans co-create with the artists they admire:

For many of these ultraconnected artists, it seems the nature of creativity itself is changing. It is no longer a solitary act: their audiences are peering over their shoulders as they work, offering pointed comments and suggestions.

Link: New York Times, FutureLab


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