January 22, 2011
How artists are making the most of social media to connect with fans
This is the first in a series of liveblogs by Music Ally‘s Stuart Dredge.
This morning’s MidemNet keynote saw two artists take the stage – to talk rather than play. Imogen Heap and Damian Kulash (the latter from OK Go) had plenty to say on social media, creativity and technology, and connecting directly with their fans.
Heap talked about her Royal Albert Hall gig in London last November, for which she asked fans to send in video clips of nature, which were then turned into a short film to be projected during the gig. “It wasn’t just about the clips, but the stories of the people who made the clips.” It reached 482,000 people online.
In March, Heap is planning another event, where she’ll aim to write a song online with the help of her fans over the course of a week. They’ll submit audio clips, lyrics and videos, which Heap will then use as the basis for a song. “We’re planning to do one every three months,” she said.
Meanwhile, Kulash said that OK Go’s next online video release will be in April. “We’re gonna make the entire thing in HTML5 with developers from Mozilla,” he said. “It’s unclear at this point what exactly it’ll be, which is exciting… We have a running list of 50 or 100 ideas that would be awesome if we could get the time, or the resources, or the talents to do them.”
Heap talked about the “long steady build” in her career. “The more blockades of people between me and the fans that I managed to bang down, the closer I got, the more creative I got and the more fun I had.”
Moderator Bruce Houghton asked Kulash about how involved he is not just in the ideas for OK Go’s videos and stunts, but in the actual doing of them.
“I have a team of five people I work very closely with, and they answer to our goals, not to a set of goals provided by somebody else,” he said. Heap added that her team also includes her fans, including getting them to write a ‘Twitter biography’ for her, made up of 140-character tweets from fans about Imogen.
What technology are the pair particularly excited about? Heap talked about Vokle, a tool to host your own online video broadcast. “It’s basically like a YouTube, but has live TV broadcasting capabilities,” she said. Heap used it to audition cellists to play at gigs on her US tour, using Vokle to check out their skills, while also letting fans have their say.
“It seems like new technlogies are tumbling past so quickly now, the trick for me in finding a good creative idea is to figure out creative boundaries that are simple and concise, that I can push up against and discover new things within,” he said. “One of the problems with this HTML5 project we’re doing right now is that everything is possible.”
Kulash stressed that OK Go’s video projects always follow the process of actually writing songs, but that increasingly the two are interwoven. “Right now we’re figuring out whether we even want to work in album cycles any more,” he said.
Advice for young artists? “Try to make it feel like a hobby,” said Heap. “Try not to second-guess everything too much, and try not to over-think things.”
How do the artists react to negativity? Several have retreated from Twitter after encountering haters – John Mayer for example. However, Heap said she has been lucky enough not to encounter the issue, while Kulash said it’s a question of perspective.
“It’s no different to reading a review of somebody who doesn’t like youre record. You can choose to focus on the things people don’t like or the things they do like. It’s easier to be really touched when someone says that yours was the song that got them through their father’s death.”
The pair were also asked about recent comments from Neil Tennant out of the Pet Shop Boys, along the lines that fans should never be invited into the creative process. “I violently disagree!” said Heap, while Kulash pointed out that there is no ‘one right way’ to make music.
“Having total tyrannical control over what you make doesn’t necessarily make it better,” said Kulash, while accepting that crowdsourcing can involve giving up the idea of quality control.