May 18, 2007
New Ways of Reaching Audiences, Maintaining Identity, and Proselytizing and Evangelism

Since my research on fan proselytizing has made its way onto the blog from time-to-time, and since these issues cropped up just yesterday in the responses from Nancy Baym to my research on wrestling fandom in the arena, I thought it would be good to highlight a couple of things I read recently, or was forwarded, regarding music and viral marketing...or grassroots intermediaries, or else proselytizers, depending on what terminology and specific meaning you want to use.

No matter the terminology, I am fascinated by the process, and particularly by the importance in understanding brands and media texts as inherently social texts. My thesis project on soap opera fandom does just this, situating the soap operas that never end with no off season in relation to a transgenerational fan base for which the relationships built around these shows are key to understanding the consumption. Again, for those interested in that research, feel free to e-mail me at

Lynn Liccardo had sent me a great in-depth piece from Clive Thompson in The New York Times Magazine that I had planned to write about, and then I found that Nancy Baym had already done a great job of pointing to and reacting to some of the points from Thompson's piece. I encourage everyone to check it out.

A few further notes--

Thompson's piece focuses on how the whole notion of getting discovered is changing in the modern media landscape, in which upstart musical acts spend a substantial amount of time interacting with fans in one way or another and, rather than trying to build up support from the ground up in touring, can instead plan tours based on where their greatest concentration of fans are.

Of course, this is not particular to music groups. Indie wrestling phenomenon Ring of Honor has done much the same, building a network of "insider" fans who love their product by working through traditional tape trader markets and fan newsletters to distribute their products through direct sales on DVD. Since they know where their shows are going to for their sales, they can then base where they run shows on where that concentration of fans already are.

The whole idea of the Long Tail is about defying physical space, but products like pro wrestling and live concerts are still reliant on having enough fans in a particular geographical area to put on a show. This doesn't change with the Web, but rather the way in which one determines where to have these concerts changes as new ways to reach fans and track interest arise.

Thompson writes of Jonathan Coulton:

Normally, a new Brooklyn-based artist like him would trek around the Northeast in grim circles, visiting and revisiting cities like Boston and New York and Chicago in order to slowly build an audience -- playing for 3 people the first time, then 10, then (if he got lucky) 50. But Coulton realized he could simply poll his existing online audience members, find out where they lived and stage a tactical strike on any town with more than 100 fans, the point at which he'd be likely to make $1,000 for a concert. It is a flash-mob approach to touring: he parachutes into out-of-the-way towns like Ardmore, Pa., where he recently played to a sold-out club of 140.

Baym focuses particularly on maintaining public and private identities for these musicians who become so accessible to fans. She writes, "Where I come from, we'd call those 'relational dialectics' and we'd point out that they're inevitable in every personal relationship. They are balancing acts we manage throughout the course of every relationship. Each artist needs to find his or her own way, but each artist/fan base relationship and set of relationships within that is going to be its own context that calls for somewhat different balances."

I entered into a similar discussion with a heel pro wrestling manager recently who talked about how he kept his MySpace account private because his heel character was actually him and he didn't want fans reading about his favorite movies, lest it ruin his act. He even shared a story about stiffing a waiter for a tip because the waiter was a wrestling fan and he wanted to maintain his antagonistic relationship with the fan.

Two very different relationships these acts are trying to maintain, but that wrestling manager and Coulton are facing the same issue about the division between the public persona and the person.

In the meantime, look back to my post earlier today about maintaining identity. Also, see this post Jason Tocci sent me about the marketing push model versus the evangelism pull model, from Roger Ehrenberg of Information Arbitrage.

For more on fan proselytizing from prior posts, look here, here, here, here, here, and here.