In Which You All Rock Whole Wheat Radio01/22/2010 at 12:49 am | Posted in How to this-or-that, Music, News & Explanations, Stories from Alaska | 14 Comments
So. Last week this thing happened, and it blew my mind and stuff. Thought I’d share it with all y’all.
I played a concert at Whole Wheat Radio in Talkeetna, Alaska last Friday that streamed live around the globe. This was my third appearance at Whole Wheat, and I’m becoming sort of a junkie for their online wiki radio station as well as their actual house concerts. I’ll be driving up to hear Melissa Mitchell and Spiff Chambers there next month. Talkeetna is pretty close to heaven on earth for a scenery/baked goods/music/bacon lover.
(Incidentally you can download Friday’s WWR concert, in its entirety, here, along with tons of other amazing acoustic concerts Jim and Esther have hosted at their cabin in the woods. Free live music = good! Get some!)
Lately I’m waist-deep in a massive recording project, so it’s been over a year since I’ve released any new music. My Twitter and Facebook friend-fans remind me daily that I ought to provide more tuneage. (Why is Twitter so awesome for musicians? Because I can simply ask my listeners what they want, and they can tell me, in real time. Also they can answer my questions about wireless routers and insult my Momma in real time.)
So at the WWR show, I decided to release a CD of raw-sounding live concert cuts. I called it the Marian Call Bootleg CD. It would be available for one night only. In all of two hours I came up with the track list, advertised it on my many many social networks, and set up the sales mechanism online. I snagged a spindle of blank CD’s to burn on my laptop, a few jewel cases, and I was good to go. Presto! The future is now. The two-hour CD release is simple.
About twice a week I think, “Why don’t I try this crazy idea and see if it works?” about some element of my career. With no label, no manager, and no inner voice of reason slow me down, I get to experiment all I want. 90% of my crazy ideas have to do with social networking — which I spend half a lifetime doing, despite the crap I take from my family and Real Life friends. (Hey, some of us actually do bond over web comics, starship replicas, the fail whale, and photos of stuff on cats.) Mostly my nutty ideas work just a little bit. Some are epic failures. But my experimental flopping and floundering inches me closer to the day when I’ll be totally financially independent as a full-time musician. Plus it’s more fun than having a real job.
But every now and then a crazy idea works really really really good. Bam!*
I planned to sell 20-40 of my little bootleg CD’s. Silly me. I sold well over 200. My little stack of jewel cases looked so pathetic.
WholeWheatRadio.org broke every record for online listenership, CD sales, tips — everything. The more listeners tuned in, the more tuned in, and the more money they gave, the more money they gave. The crowd online was thrilled to be breaking WWR records. I drove away from Talkeetna having earned about $4,000 in one night, with a new CD to produce in just a couple of days and an avalanche of e-mail and publicity requests to deal with. Seldom have I been so happy and so panicked.
I ran home to Anchorage, got the disc commercially duplicated at a local joint that has helped me out before, printed up liner notes, and got busy stuffing and signing and smooching CD’s. I went through more lipstick in two hours than I do in the average month. I ran the discs up to Talkeetna, stopping along the way for a quick interview with Alaska Dispatch, and we tried to get them all mailed to their proper owners. It was a helluva week for Jim Kloss of WWR and me. (Thank you, Jim.)
Here’s a video from the concert, BTW, thanks to @akcook. Punk mandolin and zombies. We had muchly fun that night!
I can’t entirely explain this minor windfall. I am certainly among the less “famous” artists Whole Wheat Radio has hosted. Yet I can speak to one contributing factor, and some of you have asked me to, so here goes my little rant:
I spend SO. MUCH. TIME. playing with friends on the internet, particularly on Twitter and Facebook — and I believe there is value in cultivating real relationships with people online. It’s an investment. I’ll use that word again: I am genuinely invested in the lives of my friends online. Not in selling online, not in promoting online, I’m invested in friends there. (Doubters on this count need only meet folks who actually know me IRL. I care. For reals. Pinky swear.)
Social networking doesn’t come easily to everyone, and I think that many musicians who find it difficult are trying to use it as a promotional tool. It’s not. I mean, it is, but — it’s not. It’s correspondence, sharing, like being pen pals with thousands of strangers. That’s both simpler and more fun than hacking away at a Facebook Fan Page that just won’t manifest any life or energy. What would you talk about with pen pals? You wouldn’t send them a list of all your shows. You’d tell them how your burnt your toast for breakfast and how the weather’s been kooky lately. Because those silly details are 90% of what relationships are made of. Social networks are notoriously frivolous and fluffy, because, well — we are. Human beings are mostly held together by fluff.
Businesses and musicians that succeed at social networking are the ones who create community somehow. There’s no trick to creating community: just abide by the golden rule. If you would be interesting, be interested.** I spend as much time reading Twitter as writing on it, and that’s a rule that enriches my life. If you want your online connections to care about your career/read your blog/comment on that Youtube video of your hamster, spend time doing that for them. Visit their websites, blogs, photo albums once in a while. I’m far from perfect at doing this, and I can never give all my online friends as much attention as I wish I could. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I need a clone.
But all this time I’m “wasting” fuzting on the internet, investigating what my friends are doing, is the only way I can repay the favor of the attention they give me. My listeners’ time is incredibly valuable, and they can spend it on a million things — any time they choose to spend on me is meaningful and ought to be honored and reciprocated, to the extent that’s possible on a scale of several thousand people. That effort is what moves us beyond a vendor-consumer relationship. I’m not in an independent singer-songwriter so I can vend to consumers. Gag.***
It takes a lot of hours, but I’m more than paid back for the time I spend on social networking. In cash-money a little, but in other forms of currency a LOT. Attention is currency. Friendship is currency. Conversation is currency. And as a traveling lonely musician, these mean a helluva lot more to me than money. Being alone on the road for months is only bearable because when something funny or frustrating or beautiful happens, I can share it with thousands of people I’ve never met on Twitter. And I can read thousands of 140-character true stories from other times and places and moods to remind me how small I am and how vast the world is.
That’s all I have to say about that. I’m happy to share a success story, because I meet a lot of musicians who are having a hard time navigating the changing music business. Often I’m one of them. Thanks to those of you who participated in my magical Friday night. The energy was amazing, your generosity was overwhelming, and I owe you everything. Stick around and I’ll do what I can for you, though I’ll never have enough hours or enough brain cells to catch up completely on giving you what you deserve.
*Said I, a Lady. FTB.
**Yes, I am quoting Nathan Fillion’s myspace page. I learned a lot about social networking, online friendships, and healthy boundaries from that page. Thanks Nathan & friends from that little corner of the internet.
***If you’re all like, “Marian owes me an e-mail or a favor from ages ago!” or “How come she never goes to my website?” Well, A) I’m trying so hard I promise, B) fanmail/fan favors are the hardest stuff to answer, and C) if you chat with me on Twitter/#FB semi-regularly then I’ll get there. I follow 2,677 people on Twitter so I may not be entirely caught up on your life. Especially if you change your avatar. Also, D) I still need a clone, science.