Take Five: Rock Shop #8 – A Social Media Experiment

On Oct. 6, I attended the eighth installment of the Rock Shop series of music biz/promotion workshops for Boston bands. This event (cosponsored by JitterJam) was part of the FutureM series of events taking place across the metro Boston area this week, focused on the future of marketing.

Aaron Perrino of The Sheila Divine/Dear Leader, Keith Freund of RIBS, Michael J. Epstein of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling and Jake of Lagoon shared a stage with organizers/sponsors Charles McEnerney (Well-Rounded Radio), Clay N. Ferno (Middle East), Steve Theo (Pirate!) and Marty Watts (JitterJam) to talk about how they use social media.

Here are the band’s social media backgrounds:

  • Aaron – With the funds they’ve raised via Kickstarter to support the recording of a new album, they plan to Ustream weekly recording sessions and interact with fans during that time, and the fans could affect the ultimate product. A crowdsourced recording effort – pretty cool. Note: Aaron also works at Barbarian Group.
  • Keith – Reddit, of all places, gave the band their start, via  a personal post he made as an afterthought. That led to the band having the top rock release on Bandcamp, getting played on mainstream radio in Canada and selling 600 copies of their debut EP in the first week of release. The key, both Keith and Michael agreed, was posting as Keith, not as RIBS (such as Amanda Palmer tweets as herself and not as Dresden Dolls).
  • Michael – Since Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling (from their name to their songs) is inspired largely by the old 60s TV show “The Prisoner,” the band identified the places where fans of the show hung out on the web and reached out to them. That led to press interest in England (where the show was quite popular) before they had even played any shows. Connect with audiences that will respond in a unique way to what you’re creating, Michael advised.
  • Jake – Lagoon acquired a rather large but scattershot international Twitter following, for reasons unknown, and they have had to try to balance this against the need to cultivate a IRL presence in the local scene.

Aaron Perrino (performing my favorite Dear Leader song, “My Life as a Wrestler”)

And here are some of the key points made during the panel discussion:

  • Charlie – Every band needs to manage themselves like a small business.
  • Clay – Use social media for immediacy, to get info (like new ticket availability) out to fans quickly and directly
  • Michael – Balancing both sides of music – the creative side and the business side – takes time and hard work, and if you don’t like it, you may be doing the wrong thing.
  • Keith – In RIBS, they keep a standard list of administrative tasks that need to be performed, so that whoever is available — whether it’s a band member or a friend — can take care of them.
  • Keith and Jake evangelized for Google Docs and Google Calendar. It was odd to hear such testimonies on the Middle East stage.
  • Michael: “There used to be an obvious path, but there is no correct path anymore.”
  • Jake – The music scene is thriving on collaboration, not competition. Examples: Michael made a video of bands he shared a bill with to help promote a show; Clay gives band members admin access to events he created on Facebook.
  • Jake – Content is key, but don’t share unless it’s meaningful, and be consistent and stick with it — success and results do not come instantly.
  • Keith – RIBS mobilized their Reddit fans into quality connections who became ambassadors for the band.
  • Everyone agrees Bandcamp is the best thing ever.
  • In the website vs. Facebook/MySpace/etc. domain, the group was split. Aaron said he only uses Facebook, whereas Michael said it is important to have a website (which is the point of view I share).
  • Prior to the event, Michael blogged a social media manifesto, which is really quite a good overview of the basic principles of social media. You should definitely read it.

Lagoon

So, my thoughts:

The points made here echoed much of what I’d heard at previous rock shops on pitching to music bloggers and getting played on local radio: if you work hard and work smart, things will happen, and the music industry is ours for the reinvention. I was impressed by the savvy some of the musicians showed in their understanding of the social media landscape, particularly Michael J. Epstein. They echoed much of what I hear everyday from people who make a living in that field, so good on them.

Still, I think I had misguided expectations for this event. Dubbed a “Social Media Experiment,” I was hoping for crazy things to happen, like bands crowdsourcing cover song requests via Twitter, live streaming video, digital EPs or free MP3s distributed via QR code — activities that would demonstrate the way new media are changing the music business. None of this — aside from some iPhone UStreaming and my failed attempts to use Qik — took place. People shot videos and took/tweeted pictures, sure, and folks like Trish tweeted from the panel, but none of that to me really qualifies as an experiment. Also, while e-mails preceding the event implored attendees to check in to Foursquare and use the #rockshopboston hashtag, none of this was reinforced during the event. And hashtags, nowadays, are really the backbone of any initiative on the social web.

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

Initially, I was fairly disappointed by the way things turned out, but now I realize my expectations were probably unrealistic. I would, however, love to see a performance that encouraged this kind of social media experimentation and a breaking-down of the conventional walls between consumption and creation. You’d probably need to do more work ahead of time to get people invested in the idea, but I think it’d be worthwhile — a true experiment.

I was also disappointed in the turnout. Four really, really amazing bands gave their time and put on awesome performances — for free. And by the time RIBS came on, the place was nearly empty. I have no idea why that was the case. But I consider myself lucky I was there.

RIBS

Steve Theo has done a great job with the Rock Shop events. They are an incredibly valuable resource for the local music community. My effort in chronicling the ones I have attended is in the hopes that musicians who didn’t have the opportunity to attend may come across these recaps and gain a few tips that will help them better navigate these self-charted waters.

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