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Eight Recent Social and Technical Phenomena That Are Making Your Music The Only Thing That Matters To Your Success.

I will argue here (just to be controversial) that prior to becoming popular (as in financially viable), you could choose to have no website, no Facebook fan page, no widgets, no videos, no album, no twitter, no centralized location on the Internet, and never do much of anything on the Internet that could be called self-promotion, and that your fans can and could effortlessly do everything for you now; including the recording and the distribution of your music. 

Moreover, I will also stipulate that all the stuff I just listed above is practically a waste of your time now, as it’s all being steamrolled anyways.  See the list below:

Social Amplification.  With the unprecedented, widespread use of social utilities like Facebook and Twitter, hundreds of millions humans now have super simple mechanisms that enable all of us to rapidly connect, communicate, and share thoughts and stuff between targeted and/or widespread groups of people.  Collectively, people are currently doing this billions of times a day.
Swarming Capabilities.  With wireless devices, GPS, and the location-aware and geo-tagging capabilities that are (or will be) part of Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Flickr, YouTube, and part of countless other programs, humans can and are swarming upon physical sites, happenings and events.  If the swarm/crowd/herd wants to be someplace together, they can and will be.

Fan-Driven Crowd-Control.  Prior to obtaining 50,000,000 spins / impressions (niche-fame), fans can and will exert unprecedented and real-time control over the size and the composition of your crowds.  The shared knowledge of who is going to your shows, and who is already there, is equal to, or more important than…you are.

Effort Shifting.  The camera, video and recording capabilities that are baked into the devices that ordinary people carry in their pockets now, are capable of capturing moments and events, and at a quality level that’s entertaining enough, to engage today’s entire online population.  Fans can and will record everything and anything that’s remarkable.  You no longer need to do this for them.

Brand Un-Control.  Your brand name, your images and your music will be linked and tagged to thousands or even to tens of thousands of images, videos, and status updates that may or may not have anything to do with you or the brand you once tried to control.  You and your brand will often be sideshows attached to someone’s permanent online memory.

Thumbs Up.  And all those images, videos, recordings, and status updates that are linked and tagged to your name - they’re all being quality-rated…in real-time.  Think about the Facebook thumbs up button; it’s not only a rating tool, it’s a social amplifier.

Decentralization.  Both Microsoft Bing and Google Search feature mixed search results that include traditional text-based search results, audio, video, images and real-time stream postings.  Look for social (quality) ratings, location awareness, scheduling and other tidbits to also become part of every search-results presentation. 

Your brand (and brand rating) will be everywhere and anywhere fans put it and rate it.  Search results are becoming (to artists and fans) what MySpace use to be (a glorified directory).  However this time, you won’t be able to completely control the presentation.  Every bit of information about you will be found and smartly presented as the result of a search query.

Remixing.  The ability to slice, dice and remix whatever you create is also unprecedented.  There are even smart phone applications that will enable fans to remix your show before you have even left the stage.  Don’t expect anything to remain as you intended it.

Given these eight relatively recent social and technical phenomena, the only three things you have to get right now are: 1) incrementally improve your songs or a song, until it is, or they are, all over the Internet (via the efforts of fans); 2) incrementally improve your live show to the point where fans are asking you to turn up the volume; and 3) learn how to throw an ongoing party that keeps people coming back week after week, or month after month (to be covered in my next post).  If you give fans great songs, a great show, and a great party…they can and will do everything else now.  Everything.

About Bruce Warila  and on Twitter

Reader Comments (11)

Bruce, it's a very hopeful controversy. Perhaps not as new in all respects as you present.

1. The telephone used to have much the same effect (in fact, it still does)

2. Yes, a couple of thousand kids arrive in Hyde Park to chuck water at each other, or several hundred arrive to trash some poor sod's house party, slightly more efficiently. But young people have always managed to communicate the essentials to each other. And I don't believe Foursquare is a happening tool - actual physical eye to eye contact works so much better. Sekai is fun but then so is writing graffiti on the toilet door.

3. This has always been the case - so the word is more amplified, the effect is the same. The ability to 'hide' someone's posts on FB means you are already exercising the age-old snobbery (who's cool? Who 'knows'?) of high school politics.

4. Actually pocket cameras have been around for years - fan pics will never replace artfully positioned 'official' photos. When Whitney Houston was at the height of her fame there was just ONE picture of her doing the rounds (in a vest!). Of course there were many other pic's taken but this was used for all kinds of reasons, not least because it probably made for a tight PR bombing pattern.

5. Remember the Who's male symbol, as found on the backs of parkas during the mod revival in the UK and States? Of course, it didn't originate with the Who - brand appropriation has been going on for years. What did it come to mean? You're a Who fan? A mod? A revivalist? A man? Isn't the whole point of a the visual manifestations of your brand that they become viral? It's a sign of success when they do.

6. Facebook thumbs up are not to be trusted - it takes so little to invest in the click.

7. Now this I can believe. But there are ways to control online information, including flooding disinformation (not sure why an artist would want to...). What it means to sales and fans etc I don't know. What did it mean when girls found out that David Cassidy had a pet cat called Puss or Who fans that Keith Moon drank a lot?

8. There's only so much remixing possible without access to individual parts, some of which people have been doing with their bass and treble knobs for years... and most of the fan video footage is just awful, as it would be, coming from a someone holding up a little bit of metal and plastic in one hand, getting jostled and covered in beer - can't see that replacing a live experience.

But your summation - absolutely, that's it! What we should be hoping our artists are aspiring to, as it was when Elvis walked the earth and as it is as my daughter prepares to go to the T In The Park festival this weekend (100,000 people drunk on chemical lager in a field in Scotland).

July 6 | Registered CommenterTim London

^^ Having said all that, there's 1000X++ more end-user generated content than there is artist-generated content (any random popular artist), and it's probably viewed 10,000X++ more on any given day, and that includes mentions, images and video.

As an aside, do you read Clay Shirky's blog? Check out this relevant post:

I guarantee when the stats on the Facebook thumb are released, they will be eye popping.

Thanks for the link - interesting read.

I would be interested to know if TV viewing has dropped. Certainly radio listening hasn't (in the case of BBC R4 and 6 in the UK it's grown).

We're talking about types of content. When Beck and others introduced the 'lo-fi' concept to pop in the 90s it was seen as refreshing. Good lo fi is actually as hard to make, in some ways harder, than your standard shiny, 'well' produced pop. Access to a portastudio and a Tandy mic means nothing if the material doesn't match and you haven't got the ears to make the fuzz work. In the case of a track like White Town's Your Woman I'm sure the fact it sounded so different from a lot of pop around at the time was what sold it.

There is a fashion at the moment for certain artists to have home made looking promo vids - with the advance in video technology a lot of them look very good, but whether they get viewed more than once by most people is debatable. As ever, if the idea is good, the tune fits and the artists are in the right box then it can be a relative success. But for serious money releases the shekels are still thrown at videos with good financial effect: multiple plays on vid channels that are still watched by huge numbers (

Good content is people heavy. It's hard to photoshop perfect skin in Final Cut pro, let alone iMovie. Telling a story that transcends the every-day needs, even in these clever techno days, a load of production. In some ways, it's neither the technology or media distribution, it's access to appropriate people who will work for nothing and, with perhaps more media savvy generations tumbling over each there are more people who can be trusted to operate technically complicated gear, who can help make content look fab. That's new, granted.

Yes, there's a lot of user generated footage which people enjoy on their computers and, yes, there's always been a lot of waste and flab in all the media industries that will be shed in hard times, but there's nothing indicating that viewers and listeners want the shaky shit instead of the shiny shit. We want it is as well, is all!

Re: the FB Thumb - as a comment on the human condition I rate it right up there with stand up comedy or the French protest vote...

July 7 | Registered CommenterTim London

I know artists/teachers that do very little online but are very successful. In some cases they have been around for a while and are well known, have assistants, or use offline advertising (guitar magazines, etc). They have people record their performances/lessons on video and publish them online. So the artists focused on performing/teaching and developing their craft.

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterWill


Perhaps this getting off track but, I find myself telling artists lately that you don't need a lot of money to go viral. Here's a note on videos I copied from an email I sent last week. There are many more examples, but these are the ones I scraped up in two minutes..

Created last week by a kid using XrtraNormal
(anyone that can write can create these)
1,704,000 views in a week so far..

Signed a record deal.. (this could have been staged)
However there are other covers of the same song with millions of views.


Sure, Bruce, and here's another one:

Sons Of Admirals look like they made it for peanuts on a low quality camera (or phone?). The track sounds like it was recorded for peanuts and even the song is second hand. They are connected to Don't Forget To Be Awsome who apparently take youtube stars and help them make money. They are exceptional. Everything fits together, from the wholesome looking 'love interests' to the zits. The product fits the media. I don't see them as heralding a revolution, I see the sun kings and queens in their pop palaces making as much money from all the media as they ever did. Mick Jagger was only correct in his recent statement about pop musicians in that relatively unsuccessful artists will not do so well. Very successful artists will probably do better than they ever did, as they regain or hold on to their rights.

Even the more successful indie artists would be hard put to come up with amounts equal to the advances regularly given out by record labels until fairly recently.

The money generated by viral success has to be seen in the context of so much more competition. That's why TV and radio stay successful - they have sophisticated filters already in place (you don't have to agree with how they work or who controls the filters to accept their existence) and by the time consumers are presented with a choice, it's an extremely limited one.

Movie people call viral word of mouth - the interweb is an almost immediate source for word of mouth. But for every WOM movie there are many that blow half their budget on promotion, where an ad on the side of a bus, ten times seen, will always beat interrupting online poker or porno to look up a series of balanced reviews.

Believe me, I want the world you say is around the corner to be here, even if all it means is that a new power structure falls into place. The slight transition we're in now is bringing great opportunities for all kind of artists. Perhaps something bigger is happening, but if it is, it's happening VERY slowly.

July 7 | Registered CommenterTim London

I haven't fully absorbed either the post or the comments. (I will as soon as I have more contemplative time).

My first impression is this:

Even with all of the above, who will have staying power? My sense is that you can be great, but being able to hang on to your fans more than a few years, let alone decades, seems so unlikely these days. It's never been easy -- we have relatively few bands/artists who have been consistently holding on to fans as music styles/preferences change -- but even the good ones seem to drop out of sight quickly now. So much of the discussion seems to focus on what's new and who's hot today. Once you're old news, so many people seem to move on. I think it goes along with how we consume media these days. A lot of Internet people focus on real time news/events. They look at what's trending each day (or even each moment) and have no interest in what happened last week, last month, last year.

The point of the post is I believe you have almost no control over your brand or your content or your turnout. Other than a 9 page hit piece on a hate website on myself I haven't had any brand or content control issues. Also being in mostly rural locations, flash mobs are not a possibility either. As for going viral my black magic dance video once had close to 7000 views in less than an hour, but stalled out as the network is was riding exhausted its connections.

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterCrowfeatheR

@Suzanne - I mostly agree with your observation (with exceptions). That's one of the reasons why artists should consider the list above. There's very little time or money available to invest in or to worry over things that 1) fans can and will do for you, and 2) you no longer really control.

As Groucho Marx said to the piano player waffling on and on: "If you get near a song, play one".

July 7 | Unregistered CommenterVille

Although this can all be disheartening for artists, the game hasn't really changed.
The entertainment industry has always been boom & bust, at least now artists can boom & bust for very little financial expence.

July 8 | Unregistered CommenterBM

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