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Josh Urban and The Kindness Exchange: When Fans Become Collaborators

Beacon_treeJosh Urban is a singer/songwriter who's been exploring ways to connect with new audiences and build relationships by combining performances in alternative settings with social media participation online. This year his plans took a surprising turn when he came up with the idea of the The Kindness Exchange and found the response from friends and fans took on a dimension of its own. His experiences with this project are now causing him to consider new possibilities. In particular, he's wondering whether or not "collaboration and inclusion can be scaled all the way up to a massive scale."

I've written previously about the Josh Urban Rail Tour in 2012 and followed with the Search for Good Tour last spring. Last week we spoke about his most recent project, The Kindness Exchange

Josh Urban Announces The Kindness Exchange - #KindnessExchange

In my previous chats with Urban we've gone into quite a bit of detail about what he did and how he did it which I dug into in the above linked posts. But throughout those discussions the dominant theme for me was what I think of as "The Josh Urban Experience."

You may get a sense of it from the above video but what I get from more extended interactions is a spirit of openness and honesty that draws one into Urban's world where he's finding ways to connect with others through his music. This time when we talked, though there were details to share, his recent experiences with The Kindness Exchange and the response from others dominated the discussion.

The Kindness Exchange Takes On A Life Of Its Own

The Kindness Exchange began as what Urban thought would be a small idea as he prepared for a short tour. He invited folks to share a bit about something kind they did for someone leading into the holidays. He asked participants to:

"Do something nice for someone and post your action on social media using the hashtag #KindnessExchange."

"Tagged posts will be printed and displayed on a holiday tree shining in the darkness."

You can see some of the messages and responses on Twitter. Urban said he didn't expect a big response but soon he was filling up the tree in front of his house.

Participants even started their own Facebook group and Urban found himself in a true collaborative endeavor that he couldn't have planned. As he notes, he learned that opening up the stage to others doesn't have to lead to a crowded stage. It can actually make the stage bigger.

He also discovered that people hesitated to share their good deeds at times because they felt it was too much like bragging. So he found a way to shift the emphasis to the good deed, not the person doing it.

In addition, he pointed out that during the holidays there's a lot of outreach to do good, much of which involves donating money. He felt that taking money out of the equation helped people participate though he also thinks such fundraising is of great value.

Urban did a small tour that included DC, Charlottesville and Richmond, VA as well as Waldorf and Baltimore, MD. He also held a Skype event with a school in Wilmington, NC and hosted some Google Plus jams.

Stepping Off Stage and Into People's Lives

IMG_2910We discussed three performances in particular.

One was at a locked psych ward which was a new experience for him. He was taken through at least two locked doors and then dropped into the cafeteria where he was then announced to the patients as they had lunch.

Urban didn't know what to expect at that point but ended up in the middle of a group of patients singing Christmas songs, rapping, dancing and jamming together.

Another was at a homeless shelter in Baltimore where he met with a writing group. Some were already songwriters and after the workshop they went out on the sidewalk and jammed together. He described it as "magic on the street corner."

The third was a bit different. He did a Skype event for an elementary school in Wilmington, NC which included a Christmas sing-along and a rendition of "What Does The Fox Says."

The kids were apparently quite inspired and the school got involved with The Kindness Exchange. The kids filled up three Christmas trees with their good deeds one of which is shown above.

All in all it was a powerful flow of events with participants from many locales connecting via the #KindnessExchange hashtag.

What Is This Really About and Where Can It Go?

Urban explains more of his inspiration which he calls "The Clarence Effect" from the movie "It's A wonderful Life." His thinking was that:

"Perhaps the best way to save ourselves is to save others."

Starting from that point he pursued a path that helped those who often feel disconnected from the holiday season re-engage and in the process benefit others who were helped.

But while talking to Urban I could tell the experience was pushing him further, raising questions about what it would mean to continue in this direction and whether or not one could scale such an effort.

It's a good question, one with which others have struggled over the years. And I'm looking forward to seeing where Urban takes this approach.

Will he ultimately just become the star of ever bigger sing-alongs?

Or will he go all the way and dive deep into the sometimes murky waters of true collaboration?

And what will that mean when larger and larger numbers participate?

Stay tuned. I'm hoping he'll have some initial answers a year from now.


Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/Facebook) is currently relaunching All World Dance. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.