Surfing the net? Forget it, try Skating the Social Web

Quote of the day comes from Sean Adams, the figure behind the Drowned in Sound musicblog. Writing for The Times, Adams creates a beautiful new soundbyte in this:

‘when musicians view social networks the way skateboarders view architecture, a whole new creative process begins’ (article here: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/article7110757.ece#cid=OTC-RSS&attr=6861918)

Now, some of you may know that I am a skateboarder, so obviously, this quotation appeals to me. I should point out that the mainstay of my riding is in the discipline of downhill, or speedboarding. For anyone who isn’t familiar with speedboarding – it’s quite simple. You get a big, stable board, put on some protective gear, get to the top of a big hill and go down it as fast as you can. Ideally, in that kind of skateboarding, architecture is something you avoid. That notwithstanding, I understand what Adams means. Social networking, and its application to selling records, is not very well-understood by bands, indie labels, or the majors. It’s all very fine telling a band that they need to maintain a social web profile to remain or become competitive in the music market, but the truth is that even in the case of our own label – BlancoMusic.com – the weekly 40 hours I put into maintaining a social presence on the internet is not enough. At the moment attention is demanded from the social web on a constant basis, globally, incessantly. The downfall of the argument that social media would allow bands and labels to reach a bigger audience and fanbase than they ever could have done through traditional media is that, to do it properly, there is no time left to tour, write, record, practise or play. Let alone party.

Adams makes the case that it is now time that bands make a decision about how they wish to pursue the publicity and goodwill that can clearly be gathered from social media use. I’ve written here before about how my critical comments about the band Hot Chip led to a member of the band getting in touch with me via twitter. Over the course of the dialogue, the band’s spokesman convinced me that they were truly motivated by making music and that the hype surrounding them at the time was as much an irritation to them as it was to me. I bought the album. Social media used, and used well. But then when I think about it, it starts to look really daunting. Do Hot Chip reply personally to every harsh word said of them? Where do they find the time? Is it really fair to expect this kind of attentiveness form the musicians we love, or even the ones we don’t? Again and again I come across the misguided efforts of freetards trying to justify their actions in illegally downloading music for their own consumption. A recurrent argument is that musicians have no right to expect to be paid handsomely for what is, in the eyes of the freetard, a hobby. OK, we’re all more sophisticated in our understanding of the value and circumstances of artistic creation on here, but that aside, even the most understanding of listeners now demands some level of personal interaction between themselves and the acts whose music they purchase. Gone, it seems, are the days when we considered ourselves privileged to get to drink a pint at the bar with the band after a show. What Adams hints at is that it is this sense of privilege, of ‘being with the band’ that is being eroded by the access granted and demanded by social media interaction with artists. Hot Chip’s attention to the social media is, far from what the freetards would claim, more demanding than most peoples’ dayjobs. Maintaining FaceBook, Twitter, MySpace, Reverbnation, band blogs and e-mail relationships for one act alone, can become a full-time occupation. And it may just be more destructive than beneficial. Hence using the social web in the way skaters look at architecture. Let’s rewind, and think of a skater as one of those rangy kids with a clackitty-hop board, doing nosegrinds on park benches. Park benches are designed to be sat upon, and the majority of people use them that way. Skaters look at them differently, often to the consternation of those who wish to sit, but to the great applause of the skater’s peers. Perhaps therein lies the key of how bands should approach new media – with the aim of appealing to their peers and their chosen elite. Put some of the mystique back into the equation, and make it something to be earned and cherished.

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