A few weeks ago I spoke at the San Francisco MusicTech Summit, an event that brings together smart people at the intersection of music and technology.
I spoke on a panel called Engaging Your Community. And later in the day I sat in the Artists Panel to see what they had to say.
I was amazed at how utterly different the discussions about social media were at these two panels. The artists were so resistant. In fact, I asked a question of the artists, which began: "With respect, the vibe here is of a bunch of big babies..."
It seemed to me that the artists pined for the good old days where radio, Billboard Magazine, major labels, and CDs were the rule and "stealing music" on the Web wasn't yet a pain in the ass.
I got news for artists. We're not going back to the good old days.
But why complain in the first place? My gosh, for the first time in history it is easy to reach fans. My sense is that artists are okay with that. But many of the artists I spoke with with were so damned egotistical. The fact that fans can reach them is an issue!
I was amazed that many on the artist panel advocated ghost written social media entries. Well, okay. They must lip-synch at their live shows.
As I looked around the standing-room and sitting-on-the floor only audience, my sense was that many were not agreeing with these artists.
In a stunning twist, the entire Summit is available for free audio download on Archive.org. It's amazing to me that what so many artists hate (free downloads) are exactly what they want in an event like this! Kudos to Brian Zisk, Summit Executive Producer, for making the content available.
Here is a video I did with Meredith Chin about how artists can use Facebook to build a fan base. Meredith works with many artists. She cites Joe Purdy and Javier Dunn as two non-superstar artists who have done a good job on Facebook.
Joe and Javier are not big fat lip-synching social media babies.
See? Artists like Joe Purdy and Javier Dunn engage with fans.
The tone was set for the panel by the moderator, Tamara Conniff, who was formerly the chief editor of Billboard. Her first question was: "What's too much? The artist used to be shrouded in mystery. But some of that has been lost with too much engagement in social media. How do you keep the artist to fan romance alive."
I reject the entire question! But I wasn't on the panel, so I couldn't say that.
This is the sort of big media "woe is us" kind of question that people who worked at a place like Billboard ask about social media. All this pesky interaction! All those bloggers who are not real journalists! All the time it takes to be on Twitter!
The recurring theme on the panel was: "Who cares what I had for breakfast." This lament came up so often from the big babies.
Most of the artists seemed to miss the point that social media is much more than Twitter and breakfast. Now you can reach your fans directly without your label babysitting you!! Facebook, YouTube, and blogs and other forms of media are good, aren’t they?
Lip-synching your way into social media
I was disappointed that many on the panel advocate that artists use third party people and companies to handle social media. Ugh.
Isn't ghost writing your Twitter feed the same as lip-synching at your live show?
Here are some choice (paraphrased) comments I wrote down:
Dan Lebowitz (Lebo) - Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO)
I want to focus on writing music. I could spend my entire week on social media.
Raul Malo – solo artist.
Social media has opened up some negatives. There should be a certain mystery. I don’t want to know everything that my wife does. There should be a fine line. An artist should communicate through the music and the live show. We need to maintain a balance.
Del The Funky Homosapien
You need other people to handle things like Twitter.
Evan Lowenstein - Evan and Jaron / StageIt
We need to pull back like Colonel Tom Parker did with Elvis and help the artist leave the audience wanting more. There is a romance that needs to be between fans and the artist. Getting too close can make the romance sour. Artists should not be talking about the weather. We create experiences for fans.
I ask my question at 48:20 – With respect, the vibe here is a bunch of big babies. Since 1995 we have the Web to communicate. There are three billion people on the Web and a half a billion on Facebook alone. Do you listen to people?
Got a few whoops from the audience. The answers were interesting.
Special commentary for any artists reading this
I had some side conversations with artists who said: "You don’t understand!"
Oh, but I do.
We're in the same fundamental business, you music artists and me. We make our living in the exact same way. You create content and do live gigs for a living. I create content and do live gigs for a living.
You create music content and choose to self-publish or publish with indie or major labels. I create text content and choose to self-publish or publish with indie or major publishers.
You can choose to open your music up and make it free (or clamp down and say "no"). I can choose to open my content up and make it free (or clamp down and say "no").
You can tour and play your music live. I can tour and give live speeches.
You can choose to engage your fans in social media (or not). I can choose to engage in social media (or not).
Amanda Palmer is not a big fat lip-synching social media baby.
We're lucky to be able to engage. Why does it seem such a problem?
Bonus for Grateful Dead fans
At the Summit, I connected with my friend Jay Blakesberg who did the photos for my book with Brian Halligan Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead.
I also met Betty Cantor, the Dead's live recording engineer for many years (of "Betty Board" fame). It was a particular thrill to meet John Meyer, CEO of Meyer Sound Laboratories, who worked on the Dead's stunning live sound system during the band's heyday. Here I am with John (who is holding our book).
PS > If you are an artist, you must read Bob Lefsetz, the best music writer on the planet.
David Meerman Scott's book "The New Rules of Marketing & PR" spent six months on the BusinessWeek bestseller list. His book Marketing "Lessons from the Grateful Dead" (released August 2010) is getting buzz around the world and his new book "Real-Time Marketing & PR" achieved #2 on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list upon release in November 2010.