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.

Why Musicians Need To Do More Than Make Music

In the last week, I’ve talked with Jordan Kawchuk (Producer of the Radio 3 video podcast, R3TV) and Grant Lawrence (Champion of Canadian music and web radio/satellite radio/podcasting host) before they spoke at panels about  ‘web 2.0’, ‘music 2.0’, and ‘the youtube era for musicians’.  Jordan spoke to a group at the Western Canadian Music Awards and Grant was moderating a great panel at CMJ in New York – thousands of miles away, but both organizers wanted a lot of the same advice for artists.

This makes me think that there’s a lot of musicians who are still daunted by the prospect of all the tools available to them on the web, who aren’t sure what kind of content they’re supposed to create with them, and who don’t understand why they’re so vital to their future success.

Whether you’re signed to a major label, signed to an indie label, or making music in your basement, you need to do more than make music and put it on MySpace (and New Music Canada, of course 🙂 ).

Here are the basics.  I’ll have more detailed thoughts on creating relevance and credibility online in the coming weeks.  But the price of entry is this:

You need to blog.  You need to use Twitter.  You need to use Flickr. You need to use Youtube – and not just for posting your music videos.  You need to participate in communities and comment on other people’s blogs.

Why? You need to build a community, communicate directly to them without a filter, and empower them to help make your music and your other creative projects reach more people.

If you’re a music artist looking to get more people to hear your music, looking to tour more to places outside of your hometown, province / state, or want to sell more of your music, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have a blog?
  • If so, are you posting daily?  Or at least weekly?
  • Are you on Twitter? (Do you know what Twitter is?)  Are your tweets creating value – ie: should I as a potential new listener care about what you’re tweeting?
  • Have you put anything other than a music video up on YouTube?
  • Have you put up any photos on Flickr?
  • Do you visit and comment regularly on the blogs of music fans (especially those who write about your genre of music – or even better, YOUR music?)
  • Are you using Facebook, MySpace, Upcoming, New Music Canada, etc to post your gigs, album releases, etc?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is ‘no,’ you’re missing a chance to connect with and grow your audience and community.  What are you waiting for?

RELAUNCH! A New stevepratt.com

I can no longer put off taking my own advice.

For the last several years, I’ve been advising a LOT of people – from musicians to book authors, from people wanting to get into the media to people wanting to make a living with an odd passion – to start using a blog (and other web tools like twitter, youtube, flickr, etc) to create a professional identity for themselves in the space they want to be in.

And all the while, I’ve been using my own website as a totally personal blog, with an intended audience of only friends and family who would be interested in the exploits of my children and pictures of my dog flying through the air at the beach.

No more!  On the new site, kids, dogs, and sunsets head to the dumpster.

This marks the point where I begin using this space to talk more about my professional passions, the future of:

  • media
  • music
  • creativity
  • content creation
  • reaching audiences
  • creating community

For those who are still interested in the adventures of family and pet, the archives and continuing stories will now be at steveprattfamily.com.