The Curse Of Web Success – Matt Good’s Dilemma

Taking advantage of social web tools has MAJOR benefits for just about any creative type with something to say.  But it can also create MAJOR problems.

Take the excellent example of Matt Good. He’s signed to a major label and has what most would consider  a very successful career.  Unlike the majority of music artists, though, he’s also a VERY passionate user of new media. His website, matthewgood.org, is not just a home base for fans of his music, but fans of his writing – whether it’s about politics, human rights, or a variety of other topics NOT related to music.  And his consistency in regularly posting smart, relevant, valuable content has developed a large audience.  I’m betting most of them come to read what he’s written and not just to listen to his music. He’s also on Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and most interestingly, Twitter, posting everything from updates on Montreal Canadiens sports scores, to interesting web links, to alerts about new posts on his blog.

Why is this important?  Because a couple weeks ago, his new album, “Live At Massey Hall,” was released and it quickly rose to #2 in the Canadian iTunes store and hit the top 40 in the U.S. iTunes store.  And apparently, there wasn’t a single scrap of promotion from his record label.  According to Good, the only place the album was significantly promoted was on his own website.

Think about that.  A passionate and engaged community that visits Good’s site regularly because he has a lot of interesting, controversial, and strongly opinionated things to say about things that AREN’T necessarily about music helped to deliver a huge first week of sales of a music album.  How much influence can his site have on touring?  Merchandise sales?  ANYTHING else related to Matt Good?

He’s got his “1,000 true fans” and then some, but this tribe wasn’t created solely through exposure to his music.  Matt is an extremely compelling example, perhaps the poster child even, of why musicians need to do more than just make music. (Even though something tells me that Matt would have this site whether he made music or not…)

Without actually asking his community directly, I can offer a few pretty good guesses as to why he’s had so much success:

  • Matt’s audience feels like they ‘know’ him because of his web presence, in a very different way than they know him from buying or listening to his music.  There’s an intimacy created that’s unique and separate from recorded music.
  • Matt and his web presence have become part of their digital ‘routine’ – it has become valuable enough that Matt has earned credibility as a source of quality, trust, and relevance.  If his blog is this entertaining, why wouldn’t his music be equally so?
  • Matt’s community can talk to and with each other on his blog through commenting.  Many of them know each other, too, and feel like a member in the ‘Matt Good appreciation club’
  • Matt actively engages his community.  He’s currently posting new site designs previews on his Flickr site, presumably for feedback.

Here’s the big problem…  Matt has become a victim of his own success.

He’s currently redesigning his entire site because he can’t afford to hire people to maintain it and deal with the level of traffic he gets.  He gets zero funding for the site from his label (which is ironic, since the site is probably making them a lot of money this month…).  He’s considered scaling back considerably and eliminating commenting, although the protests of his community appear to have changed his mind on this.

I believe that if Matt’s site loses commenting, his impact will shrink considerably.  The ability for fans to actively participate – to be heard by Matt and to share ideas and thoughts with each other – is what nourishes and grows a community.  Participation breeds loyalty and without it, the reasons to come to a site regularly diminish.

So what should Matt do?

I don’t how his site works, how much work goes into it, and how much editorial judgment is needed on a day-to-day basis, but my gut is that Matt should turn to his community for help.  I know of a great many sites that use their community to help moderate comments, edit content, provide design help, etc.  There’s always a great deal of discomfort in giving up control over things like this (particularly if you’re an artist!).  It’s a GIANT leap of faith.  However, faced with the option of a limited community versus a passionately run community facilitated by the community themselves, I’d choose the latter every time.

Frankly, Matt’s in the rare and unique position of having a problem that most artists would kill to have – too much traffic to manage.

And that’s the point.  If Matt, without any external support or funding (despite being a successful major label artist), can take the time and effort to build a community like this, why aren’t more artists (who need a passionate, engaged community even more than Matt) following his example?

Take a risk.  Put yourself out there.  Let your fans get to know you.  Let them talk to you. Ask for their opinions. Talk back to them.  Share your opinions on THEIR blogs.  Give them a reason to come and visit your website every day or every week whether you’ve got a new album or a tour or not.

And if you provide regular value, relevance, and connection to them, they will return it to you when you need it most.

Just ask Matt.

***P.S. Don’t judge Matt’s site by its current design – he’s reverted to a very basic WordPress template while he works on the new version.

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