Rock stars used to have fan clubs. For a few bucks a month you’d get a newsletter and maybe some pictures (depending on the artist), and aside from the gossip magazine and entertainment papers that was about it. There was a huge distance between fan and artist; we were butts on seats and record purchasers — the vast army of faceless fans who paid for our rock gods’ mansions and castles by lakes. Then Al Gore invented the Internet and everything changed.
At first, record companies, artist managers, bands and artists treated the brave new Internet world with the same PR mindset they had adopted in the past. A website was just another vehicle to push product, make announcements and count the cash. And for some, that was good enough. But with the old record business model imploding and more and more artists turning independent rather than hiding behind the skirts of major label nannies, our rock heroes started to reach out, to communicate and understand that fans are more than dollar signs.
When Facebook and Twitter muscled the old muso’s standby, MySpace, out of the way, it was because of the ease of communication and interaction. Consumers are no longer fans, we are followers and friends. We have opinions, interesting comments and useful feedback to contribute. Rock stars have got the message: Slash understands the value of Twitter like few others, maintains an active community and keeps his followers updated on a regular basis. Older artists have grasped the massive potential of direct interaction with fans, as well: Daryl Hall’s www.livefromdarylshouse.com is one of the best examples of an artist connecting directly with his supporters and giving them something new and exclusive. Jazz great Wynton Marsalis recently hosted an exclusive question-and-answer session on Facebook. He received over 500 questions and had a real-time discussion with fans on his page.
Indie band, A Fine Frenzy, fronted by the witty and eloquent Alison Sudol, have over one and a half million followers on Twitter. The trick? She communicates regularly and is interesting and entertaining and, most significantly, replies to followers. Texas singer/songwriter James McMurtry talked to me recently about his appearance on Videoranch3D, an online music venue where fans can communicate with the artist during the concert. “The direct communication, the feedback that the Internet brings, is of great value as an artist. We’re in the communication business and now the communication is a two-way street.”
Indeed, as the record industry morphs and artists embrace the global scope of the Internet, a social media-savvy act can sell product all over the world, set up tours through followers in various countries and even raise funds for a new recording directly through “friends” and “followers.” For artists who understand that interaction is the key, and that relationship building is more valuable than Internet billboarding, the world really is their oyster. As a wise man once said, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”