Reactions to “Fans or Friends? Seeing Social Media Audiences as Musicians Do” by Nancy Baym

What struck me the most about this research is what it didn’t cover.


The author’s focus was on the extent and characteristics of the relationships musicians (on the spectrum of major to minor celebrity) have with their fans.

The extreme case of stepping over that boundary is what Taylor Swift does with her seasonal Gift of Giving–sending gifts to social media followers.


She goes even further with her Secret Sessions–actually meeting with select groups that she hand picks from the Internet at her mother’s house.


She’s gone even further–surprising select fans at their homes.

I think A-List artists need to step out of their shells and embrace the media. Having worked for Warner Brothers in the 1990s, I’ve tracked the emergence of MP3s, the transition to sharing, and the evolution of streaming. Warner Brothers is currently 1/3 its size at the end of the era of physical media distribution.

There was a series of articles in the New York Times Magazine about the demise of the music industry and crowdsourcing of “hits” from samples of Internet content–the crafting of “musical memes.” Mobi did this better than anyone–adapting his mixing skills after DJing in NYC dance clubs for 10 years. The skill-set transfered…

Blossom Dearie was the last artist I worked with. She’d started her own label in order to have complete control over her content and distribution (she and her brother handled the latter). She would stop a show if she caught anyone in the audience with a recording device, let alone taking a flash photo.

I reminded her that the Grateful Dead actively encouraged bootleg recordings at their concerts, and even set aside seats in the orchestra section for people with professional caliber rigs.

Their argument was that people were going to make and distribute pirated recordings regardless, so why not tap into that black market to broaden their fan-based. Moreover, the diehard fan was the first to go out and buy their studio recordings upon release. In a way, the more obscure the content–the greater its value–and the more it was sought.

If you can’t beat them, appropriate their tactics.

Blossom (or “BD” she self-referenced) bristled at the idea, but I was able to convince Jonathan Edwards to embrace it on a chance meeting after a concert he gave at Infinity Hall in Norfolk, CT. He’d made a comment about people in the audience with their “blinking sound recorders.” We happened to be spending the night at the same country inn, and happened to have breakfast at adjacent tables the next morning. I mentioned he should reconsider the matter, and he came back to continue the discussion in the lobby afterwards.

I think the “analog artists” mentioned by Baym in the article are destined to become obscure unless they embrace YouTube, Vimeo and social media in general.

It has also “made” numerous Indie artists, and leveled the playing field. Think Justin Beiber and Jacob Collier.

I believe it was Ice Cube (sic?) who made Internet history by releasing his album on the web and brokering his own concert deal in Russia, which sold out in hours. I recall more accurately his keynote at the 1999 Internet Music Convention, saying ‘MP3 is this great big alien spaceship about to land, and you can be damn straight that when it takes off my b _ _ _ _ * is gonna be on it.’

Personally–I’ve learned more music history and discovered more artists serendipitously through YouTube than in the class I took on the subject as an undergraduate.

Moreover, most undergraduates can’t afford CDs, don’t have the space to store them and multipurpose their cell phones as stereos anyway.

I think the real value of the Internet, ironically, is in revaluing live performance. The reach these artists have–whether famous or obscure–is greatly enhanced.

They should aim to be in the upper 10% of the power distribution curve. We’re going to stream it anyway. Only then will we consider actually showing up at their concerts. That’s the new guise of customer relations in the industry.


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