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Being Interactive...


Over two million extra people voted in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, most of them voting for the first time even though a lot of them had been eligible to vote for years. Nearly all of them were young, and nearly all of them voted for Barack Obama, and that’s one of the reasons he won. (Not the only reason, of course—but we’re not discussing politics here.)

Those two million extra votes happened in large part because somebody on Obama’s staff ran a very interactive campaign. There was an Obama blog, regular YouTube videos, an Obama Website where you could sign up for a mailing list, to do volunteer stuff, or just leave comments or maybe even ideas. You could even get Obama text messages on your cell phone. I heard some radio interviews with some of those voters. Did he ever answer them back when they left messages? Well, no—but it didn’t matter. What was important was he was communicating with those kids in ways they were used to being communicated with by their peers. He understood, in other words. And they voted for him because he understood.

Is there a lesson in all that applicable to the music business? I think so. There’s a solo musician back East who’s doing the Obama Thing. (Actually, he was doing it before Obama.) I thought the guy was an Urban Legend until I found one of his Websites (he has several). Another fascinating statistic: roughly half the population of the United States has high-speed Internet now. (Not many years ago, half the population of the U.S. wasn’t even connected.)

So how do I start being interactive? I could start with a PROJECT.

Some months back, there was a band that got hundreds of ideas for a new logo by soliciting submissions on MySpace. I probably have too much confidence in my abilities as a graphic designer to do that. I already have a logo (designed by my daughter), and the last two times I thought about asking for help with an album cover, I had an acceptable design for the cover myself within hours. I really am more comfortable with my own graphic work than anybody else’s, even though my tools are primitive.

I’d have the same trouble asking people what songs ought to go on an album. I think I already know. I see people’s reactions when I’m performing, and which songs get requested the most. And I already do hear from some folks saying such-and-such song has got to be on the next album. I probably don’t need to ask.

What about SOUTHERN PIGFISH, though? I need to finish their album this year, and they are a little short on material. They’ve got three songs I wrote for them, and maybe a couple more of mine that would be really appropriate, and that’s it. Oh, the album could be all my songs in a pinch—most of my material is cross-genre capable—but would this be the opportunity to ask for outside input? I do know rather a lot of writers—on four continents, in fact.

Could I send out a call to all those people, asking for original material for the band to record? Might get a lot of submissions, but I’d duly sift through all of them. Have to make it clear to everybody that Southern Pigfish are not big-time: the best one might get (besides a few bucks in copyright fees) is being able to tell people one of your songs got on the latest album by Southern Pigfish (and if you say that in the right tone of voice, you will impress people—trust me).

I need to do a few things before I can reasonably pull that off. Southern Pigfish will need a MySpace “page” (that seems to be sufficient for a lot of bands), with a couple photos and one professionally-recorded track, so people have an idea what they’d be writing for. Y’know, this could be a lot of fun…

I need to make myself interactive at the same time. My name needs to be out front, both as producer (and publisher), and as a member of the band—it’s me most of those writers are going to know, not the band. I have started arranging the Joe Website, and I should get another cheap webcam like the $12 one I gave my daughter last year so I can try my hand at video. I, too, can “Obamanate”—anybody can. And the only way to find out if it works for me is to try it.

UPDATES: I did find a recording studio in Portland—that’s what triggered all this—the guy has decent rates, and was interested in recording a country band because he’d never done that before. My kind of situation. The weather—heavy rains, and landslides in all directions—cut down the attendance at the Friday Night Group, but we still had seven musicians and people in the audience dancing. Somebody requested “Valvoline” again; that was a Dodson Drifters hit, back in 1980, and it’s surprising (and gratifying) that some people still remember it. Got more people saying they want to buy the next CD when it comes out.



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