Social Networking Rocks — But Only for Some Bands
Many bands take every opportunity to use social networking, such as Twitter and Facebook/. We all expect that. But other artists are reluctant to embrace these tools despite expert assertions that such activity grows a band's fan base and, ultimately, its revenue.
Choo Choo loves the way social networking tools let them connect directly to their fans.
"I'm not sure it hurts bands that don't do it, but there's no question it can help the ones who do," said TopSpin CEO Ian Rogers. And some networks (Facebook, Friendfeed, Twitter, etc.) reach not only interested fans, but also their potentially interested friends. "The connection to fans ... turns a casual listener into a fanatic," added Rogers. "It makes them marketers of your art, in many cases, since those fans are plugged into not just you but networks of other similarly-minded individuals."
Ariel Hyatt, founder of CyberPR and social networking guru to none other than Derek Sivers (formerly of CD Baby), agrees: "It's a fantastic way to peel back the curtain as much or as little as you want, and show whatever other aspects of yourself you choose."
Switzerland's Choo Choo, which cranks out satisfying '60's-style rock, could very well be the most technologically well-connected band at this festival — or anywhere else for that matter. Its members employ an encyclopedic array of social networking tools to communicate with fans and attract new followers: Bebo, CouchSurfing, Facebook, Flickr, FriendFeed, iLike, Kyte, Last.fm, MySpace, Twitter and YouTube.
"On a regular day, when I'm at my day job, I post up to 90 messages a day," said Dan Choo, pictured above second from the left. "We upload fresh pictures and short videos every morning to our Flickr account, Facebook, Kyte.tv, stuff like that." Organist Lili Choo confessed she's occasionally late to work when she loses track of time online.
Dan Choo says different services meet different needs for bands looking to strengthen the crucial relationship with fans, business contacts and fellow musicians.
"I like to think of all the different social media platforms as different countries," said the singer. "Each has its own culture, people and demographics." For instance, on MySpace, "the only exchange we have on there is with clubs and other bands. Talking to fans and friends — that's on Facebook or Twitter."
Sam Choo, above right, added, "We use them all, because they all make sense somehow."
However, Choo Choo admits that this approach doesn't translate directly into more people buying its music. "I don't see anything in sales," said Dan. "But in terms of getting shows, getting reviews, getting to know the right people — that's all happening on these channels." Sam said social-media engagement is responsible for the majority of the band's live draw, and because bands tend to make their money from performances these days, that is no small matter.
Other bands have mixed feelings about this level of exposure. Members of Los Angeles's Great Northern shoot videos of themselves driving, sleeping and setting up equipment on the road, as part of a contract with Kyte. They maintain other online presences as well, but the band keeps some of itself to itself.
Great Northern's Solon Bixler, left, and Rachel Stolte perform at SXSW. The band uses some social networking tools, but tries to maintain a little mystique. Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com
"It's a weird thing, informing people what we're doing," said singer/guitarist Solon Bixler. "We're into that, but do people really want to know that we're stopping at a truck stop and we're peeing right now?
"Being accessible at all times is a little bit scary — but good. I guess you have to put little filters on yourself of how much you let out there."
Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Rachel Stolte agreed: "Keep a little mystery alive."
Knowing everything about how your favorite bands spend their time is like understanding how special effects work in films, according to Bixler: When you see the nuts and bolts, you can't buy the illusion.
"There used to be a mystery to rock 'n' roll, and there was a mystery to movies, and now you know how everything is done — through green screen," he said. "It's nice to ... I don't know, tell people we recorded a record in Moscow, when we really didn't."
Electronic musician Max Tundra, aka Ben Jacobs, is even more reticent about using these tools. Although his excellent music is the most modern-sounding of the bands mentioned here, Jacobs actively resists these promotional techniques. As videos of his shows started popping up on YouTube, for instance, he sent each uploader a nice note asking them to please delete the video, because his admitted control-freak streak means he doesn't want to "spoil the surprise" of what his live shows are like.
Eventually the tide of performance videos grew too strong to fight, so he no longer tries to get them taken down. But neither has he embraced social networking the way some of his peers have.
Jacobs (pictured right) admits that like Choo Choo, he uses MySpace mostly for communicating with other bands, rather than fans. But he reserves Facebook for his actual friends, and doesn't mess with Twitter at all.
"I don't want people who I've seen that night at the show to know that I'm leaving the house [unattended] for a week," he said. "Facebook is private — it's just for my friends. And I know there's Twitter, and I know there's Bebo — I just feel that you don't need to be on all of them. It almost shows a sort of desperation — 'Here I am! I'm here, I'm here, I'm here!'"
When fans try to friend him on Facebook he ignores it, having already purged the account of those not directly known to him after club nights being thrown by people he didn't know started showing up in his feed. One week he deleted a hundred "friends," and the following week, another hundred got the ax.
"I'm too busy living my life to blog about it," Jacobs said. "If there's time to write about what I'm doing, then I'm not doing enough."
Nonetheless, Hyatt says, artists who shy away from these networking tools are "missing out on a huge opportunity to ... get to know fans outside of the context of 'hey check me out,' or 'come to my show,' or 'buy my CD,' which is sadly still the way most artists communicate."