February 21, 2009
A 17-year old girl died from a reported drug overdose at the Perth Big Day Out music festival earlier this month, after taking three ecstasy pills to avoid being caught by police at the gate. This was an unfortunate, but unsurprising occurrence.
The surprising element is how Big Day Out publicity have marginalised her behaviour by silencing their highly active online community.
A statement published on the BDO site on 2 February 2009 reads:
Perth drug overdose statement
Early yesterday afternoon a 17-year-old girl was taken to hospital after a suspected drug overdose at the Perth Big Day Out. Tragically she died overnight.
While details have yet to be confirmed, it has been reported that the teenager consumed a number of pills outside the event to avoid being detected by police sniffer dogs that were in operation, in this instance with fatal consequences.
Big Day Out does not condone the use of drugs at the event. The same laws of the outside world apply inside the event. Over 3 million people have attended the Big Day Out in its 17 year history and this is the first time an incident of this nature has occurred.
Sniffer dogs are commonly used outside large events like the Big Day Out and are part of the police’s harm minimisation responsibility.
The investigation is being followed up by the Police.
To respect the privacy of the family, no further comments will be made.
In contrary to that final statement, there’s also a dedication page on the BDO site, containing a message from the girl’s mother.
While the Big Day Out brand will remain untarnished by this event – it’s arguably stronger than ever – this sad occurrence is now inextricably linked to the event’s brand in the same manner as 16-year old Jessica Michalik‘s death during the 2001 tour.
Where Michalik’s death was the result of inadequate crowd control measures – a mistake rectified from the 2002 tour onwards – Thoms’ drug-related death requires a conversation between Big Day Out publicity and the hundreds of thousands who attend the tour across Australia and New Zealand each year.
Critically, the online community who follow the event have been silenced: the highly active Big Day Out forum was disabled immediately after the news of Thoms’ death broke, and it remains closed almost a month later.
Silence isn’t the best response here.
In this case, Big Day Out publicity invite criticism by refusing to allow a dialogue to occur.
The only publicised offshoot of Thoms’ death is a Western Australian police commissioner agreeing that “amnesty bins” should be installed outside music festivals, to allow punters to deposit their drugs without fear of prosecution. And to minimise the likelihood of festival attendees overdosing in a panic before entering the venue, as in Thoms’ case.
There’s nothing new about youth drug culture. But when an unfortunate event such as an overdose occurs, people start asking questions of the police, of the festival organisers, of each other.
In a time of crisis or confusion, people want to connect with each other. And while an isolated festival overdose isn’t the strongest catalyst for either impulse, it’s still an occasion better met with community encouragement than marginalisation; with noise instead of silence.
I understand that moderating public opinion becomes exponentially more difficult as a greater volume of people converge in one location. The need to consistently and accurately monitor the fine line between opinion and libel is likely at the forefront of the organisers’ swift decision to close the public forum.
Censorship aside, an alternative forum named Small Night In has sprung up following the closure. But many questions remain unanswered:
- Why silence an established, highly active online community following a drug-related death?
- Why not encourage a dialogue between festival attendees and festival organisers?
- Why not partner with an established organisation such as the Australian Drug Information Network (ADIN) and encourage participation – both online and in BDO-sponsored community forums held in capital cities – to gauge youth opinion on drug use, so as to minimise the chances of a repeat e?
- Most importantly: why not work harder to turn a negative event into a positive by reinforcing a sense of community?
Funnily, I was only provoked into thinking about the BDO organisers’ handling of the Thoms death after I received an email sent to the BDO user database advertising Lily Allen’s June Australian tour.
Promote a tour; marginalise the voices of Australian youths itching to converge and converse.
Poor form, Big Day Out.
February 14, 2009
Brand marketing lesson: it’s just as quick and easy to disappoint your fans as it is to satisfy them.
In this case, it’s as quick and easy as an errant article appearing at the top of a news feed.
Headline: “Girls I’ve Had Sex With“.
Great! If I were visiting with Penthouse Confessions in mind, or Tucker Max, or the zillion other smut repositories online.
Awful! If I were visiting the site for some well-written critique on Australian youth culture. You know, music, the arts, film.
That’s why I visited the site. For good, relevant content. Not for the infantile scrawl of some punk who wants to share his sexcapades under a pseudonym.
RHUM is an Australian web publication targeting creative youths. Their mission statement:
RHUM – Rabbit Hole Urban Media – is a non for profit arts-media organisation. RHUM works together with musicians, writers, visual artists and all sorts of other like-minded creatives as well as events, gigs and festivals Australia wide; connecting the peeps with all that is worth a read, ramble and a bit of showing off too.
RHUM, ball = dropped.
Sure, there’s a place for that kind of content within the guidelines stated above (“..a bit of showing off too”).
But – front page?
Is this the kind of image you want to portray?
I received an email newsletter from RHUM events & media, which directed me to their site.
They had some good content that I wanted to follow. But at the time, they didn’t have any RSS subscription feature enabled.
I emailed on December 9 suggesting its inclusion.
A timely personal response:
Yes absolutely, it’s on my mile long to do list don’t you worry. We will send out a subscriber notification and email when this function has been activated.
Group Operations Manager
Rabbit Hole Urban Music events & media
And then, on February 4, an unexpected personal response:
Just wanted to let you know that RHUM has now released RSS feed capabilities to http://www.rhum.org.au, facebook.com content applications and Myspace.com content applications.
Sorry about the wait for that and thanks for your patience as we sorted out some technical glitches preventing earlier release.
Rabbit Hole Urban Music events & media
In an era of diminishing attention spans, brand memory is crucial. If you remember me, I’ll remember you.
Easy, right? So why am I still surprised that a company cared enough to follow-up my cursory feedback, six months later?
I’ve stopped logging on to MySpace. The only reason I’d continued to check it was to read bulletins posted by bands I enjoy.
But then the noise became deafening.
Too much effort for too little reward.
Processor-intensive Flash ads swarmed my homepage.
And instead of including bulletin pagination, to allow me to view 25 or 50 or 100 bulletins on a page, they kept with the original model of dividing bulletins into groups of 10. Each page yielded a new set of flashing ads. Awesome.
But that’s in the past. Bye, MySpace.
So if you’re a band I listen to or a band who thinks that I might like to listen to you, there’s a question you should be asking yourself. How are you going to connect with me, now?
How are you going to coerce me to join your tribe?
Or, more importantly: where is your tribe going to converge?
I don’t friend bands on Facebook, because Facebook is for human friendships.
I rarely visit band websites, as I’ve discussed.
If I don’t visit your Facebook profile or your website, it’s going to be tough to convince me to join your mailing list. And mailing lists aren’t the ideal method for artists to broadcast from, as it’s one-to-one. Not one-to-many like the sense of community you felt when browsing a band’s MySpace profile.
MySpace succeeded for several years because it provided the tools for musicians to share their craft and assemble a community in a central location.
But if the community is dispersing, where are they going to meet next?
Where is the next MySpace for musicians?
Finding a suitable answer for this question is as important for me, the music fan and critic, as it is for the artists who want me to hear their music.
I want a central hub to connect with hundreds of artists I admire and enjoy. I want to listen, to follow, to gain an insight into their recording process and international tours and personalities.
MySpace is no longer the answer. It’s old tech.
I don’t care about exclusive album streams. I don’t care about digital music store partnerships.
I just want to know when my favourite artists have recorded new music. When they’re touring. What other people think of their music.
Twitter is not the answer. Too shallow. When it comes to musicians, it’s a case of too little data spread too thin. I’ll happily read essays on subjects that I’m interested in.
If you’re a musician, I don’t particularly want to know what you’re doing all day, every day. Just the important stuff. Specific, anticipated, relevant. New music, tours, reviews, videos.
Again, these kinds of periodic updates could be delivered via mailing list. But I’m not going to go around visiting band websites and joining lists.
Like I said, this is as important a question for me, the music fan, as it is for the artists and labels.
Build something remarkable. Something worth sharing. Somewhere worth returning to. And I’ll be there.
November 12, 2008
I attended Q Music‘s workshop at the Troubadour last night. The topic was music promotion, marketing and public relations; speakers included Brent Hampstead (Media Hammer), Jo Nilsen (Butcher Birds), Megan Reeder (Secret Service/Dew Process) and Kellie Lloyd (Q Music/Screamfeeder). The venue was filled with seated bodies, mostly youngsters, who were privy to some valuable advice from the four experienced industry representatives.
What follows is a series of notes I took in chronological order. It’s best to take each paragraph as a separate thought, though they are all joined under the umbrella of music promotion, marketing and public relations. My interjections are italicised.
Introduction: marketing your music incorporates promotion and publicity.
Steps as an artist:
Record some music.
Decide whether you’re distribute it online or in physical form.
Write a marketing plan with specific targets. Budget? Street press goals? MySpace? Pitching to radio station? How do you plan to spend your budget?
Decide and arrange how you wish to present your image as an artist. Use a creative photographer.
Conduct a cohesive launch of your product into the market.
Create a community from a grassroots level – since that’s where you’ll be starting.
Don’t overcommunicate your message; people have their own lives.
Andrew: If they’re willing to take the time to listen to your music, that’s great. If they’re willing to reach out and communicate with you, that’s amazing. I don’t think enough time was spent discussing this. Getting a person to hear your music in an accomplishment. Being remarkable enough for a person – not a friend, family member, or acquaintance – to take the time to add you as a friend, send you a message, give you feedback on your creative output – that’s incredible. That’s to be cherished. It’s the equivalent of a person stopping you in the street and commenting on your appearance. That shit rarely happens. If I were a musician, I would not take my first fan for granted. The first ten. The first hundred, the first thousand. Attention is a scarce resource, and I think this is absolutely worth keeping in mind.
Personalise your responses to any feedback or thanks, wherever possible. To be successful and valuable at any level of media, ensure that you engage in personal, polite and professional feedback.
Acquire or subscribe to the Australasian Music Industry Directory (AMID). This contains key information that you’d otherwise spent hours Googling. Brent mentioned that the importance of the AMID was one of the strongest take-away points.
Electronic press kits aren’t used much anymore. Instead, press releases via email – bio, photo, compressed mp3.
Mailing physical copies of your recorded CDs is a waste of valuable merch money. These products are just added to a pile in an office and are easily ignored.
Megan explained that Dew Process have people devoted to digital content creation and maintaining interest in their artists, through MySpace updates, video blogs, regular content to reminder each artist’s fanbase of their activity.
Brent stated that you should think about online content as early as possible. Record and document as much as you can, as you’ll never know when you’ll want or need it. Andrew: This is an important point that they didn’t really dwell on – this generation has greater access to information and the ability to record and publish than any other. The cost of storage and data is constantly decreasing. Take advantage of this.
Brent mentioned Short Stack as a great example of a band who have built a strong online community around them which has translated into success, popularity, tours and a record deal.
Some web companies will provide content for free. Jo mentioned Moshcam, who’ll record your show (in Sydney) and provide you with a DVD recording free of charge. Andrew: This sounds a little hard to believe and requires further investigation.
How do you attract people to your site, or your online community? This relates to setting out a coherent marketing plan. Target, in order: blogs, street press, newspapers, community radio, JJJ, television.. solidify each community before moving on. Andrew: They forgot to state that this takes time and requires patience, and dedication. But I guess that goes without saying.
Prepare a biography that tells a story. How do you want to be presented? Answer the obvious questions – how you met, where the name came from – to avoid these being repeated in interviews. Though you’ll always get writers who have under-researched. Brent stated that your bio needs a hook – you need to give someone a reason to want to read about you.
Print media runs on two types of lead times: long and short. Bigger publications such as Rolling Stone and Jmag tend to set a deadline six weeks in advance for the majority of content. Street press generally run on a one or two week lead time. Online is shorter again, due to the ability to quickly turn around content. Andrew: I just discovered that Rolling Stone Australia has no online presence. What a missed opportunity.
Set a release date for your product – single, EP, album, gig – and work backwards from that point. Stick to it. Plan ahead so that you’re not caught out. Organise marketing efforts – remember, this incorporates promotion and publicity.
With regard to street press – don’t hound them. Politely request interviews, reviews, features. They’re generally nice, but constantly under pressure to turn content around on a weekly (in the case of Rave, Time Off and Scene) or monthly (Tsunami) basis. The best way to get your name out is to gig regularly and be heard. Social proof! Again, Brent stated the importance of personalised invitations – in the mail, if you’re willing to go to the effort, since it will often be appreciated. Email costs nothing and takes little time.
Extensive discussion which indicated that Richard Kingsmill decides whether you’re played on JJJ and effectively holds the keys to your national career. No one commented on how sad this is. Brent cracked a joke about how JJJ is taxpayer-funded: if you’re a taxpayer, it is your right to be played on the station! Though perhaps you’ll require greater tact than this to improve your chances.
Create a network of friends – interstate bands, radio announcers, street press and blog writers. If they like you, they’ll become your champion. Andrew: This is absolutely true. Word of mouth musical recommendations are still my biggest influence; if the word’s coming from a respected or esteemed mouth, then I’m highly likely to listen.
Being a musician is a constant juggling act: releases, gigs, merch, press, radio. Brent stressed the importance of multiple impressions across as many media as possible. Be relentless! But don’t overcommunicate. The more impressions that you’ve got circulating out there, the more potential eyeballs and ears to see and hear your output.
Advice on approaching bands, promoters, street press, radio, or anyone throughout your life in general -just ask. Put yourself out there. Be tenacious, and sneaky on occasion. If you’re serious about making this work – what the hell are you holding back for?
Advice on the music industry in general – be meticulous, patient, and prepared. Always.
Andrew: Hopefully this’ll be of some use to those who missed out, or whoever stumbles across these notes in the future. The above summarises the thoughts and opinions of four music industry figures in late 2008. It’ll be interesting to look back on this post in 12 months’ time.
November 10, 2008
200 Nipples is an online t-shirt store with a twist:
That’s how many nipples we assume will be covered by any single run of our high-quality shirts. (We’ll have the third-nippled buyer in there occasionally, but we didn’t want to count on it when naming the company; this is serious business, after all.)
One hundred shirts per month, individually numbered. Shirt prices range from US$1 to US$100 inclusive. First in, best dressed.
I’ve had my eye on them for a few months, since they were mentioned on Seth‘s blog. Funnily enough, I can’t find the post where he initially linked to them.
At 4pm, I logged onto the site and found that their 100-item cart showed that no shirts had been bought. Weird. I proceeded to checkout and received order confirmation of my longsleeve shirt, which cost US$11 including postage. Sweet.
Except that their shopping cart and database broke, and 76 users thought they’d snapped up shirts for a dollar or two. Whoops.
This potentially painful ordeal was handled brilliantly by Wade, 200 Nipples’ founder. He replaced the storefront with a temporary ‘out of order’ page and kept hundreds of repeatedly-refreshing users in the loop by updating two blog posts.
A couple of dozen users chatted amongst ourselves in the comments sections until Wade initiated a ‘do over’at 4.30pm. Best of all, Wade defused the fiscal situation by creating and publishing a 33%-off coupon, which was valid for an hour.
Shirts 1-30 were snapped up in minutes, but I snagged #11 for US$11.
This year, Seth’s all about tribes. He posits – bolding mine:
Tribe management is a whole different way of looking at the world.
It starts with permission, the understanding that the real asset most organizations can build isn’t an amorphous brand but is in fact the privilege of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.
It adds to that the fact that what people really want is the ability to connect to each other, not to companies. So the permission is used to build a tribe, to build people who want to hear from the company because it helps them connect, it helps them find each other, it gives them a story to tell and something to talk about.
At a guess, Wade’s tribe numbers in the low hundreds right now. His tribe was brought closer together today, by sharing a disruptive experience that was elegantly and openly managed.
We ended up taking a $150+ hit on the coupon code, but that’s OK. Above all else, we always want to deliver a good experience to you, the users of the site. The overwhelming majority of our customers were very cool about it. Thanks so much for your understanding.
Perfect. This is the kind of experience that gives Wade’s tribe a story to tell and something to talk about. You can bet I’m going to tell this story to everyone who asks about my long-sleeved shirt.. which mightn’t be worn for months, since it’s almost summertime in Australia.
Tribes is a great concept and a book that I look forward to reading. 200 Nipples is an example of gathering a tribe around a niche concept – attractive, limited, (potentially) cheap shirts – and today, a great example of masterful tribe management.
October 20, 2008
Imagine that you run a free weekly music publication. A pretty popular one named Time Off, that’s read widely across Brisbane, a city home to 1.8 million. You recently got bought out by – sorry, merged with – Street Press Australia, who own several similar publications across the country. You decide to upgrade the magazine’s website, which has become outdated.
You’ve got two options: fast, easy and crappy, or slow, meticulous and attractive.
Which option do you think Time Off chose?
I think it’s pretty obvious.
It’s an out-of-the-box, CMS-based site with minimal focus on design. Okay, fair enough; not every site needs to be eye-catching, so long as it gets the job done, right?
Unfortuntately, the redeveloped Time Off site fails to get the job done. Content is cumbersome and slapped onto the site directly from the latest printed issue with little rhyme or reason.
Two live reviews from last week’s issue – #1395, 15 October 2008 – are attached to the same article named ‘Feedback’, which is the name of the live review section in the print magazine. The fact that they opted to devote that issue’s entire Feedback section to 2000 words about the Time Off-sponsored Sounds Of Spring festival is another discussion. What’s more, that review was part one; part two will be printed in #1396. Can’t wait.
Clicking the top-level Time Off item on the site’s menu results in the following page, cleverly named ‘Rock’:
Wow, useful! When were these articles published? Let’s click one to find out. Gig guide, sure. Oh, another page, that lists those three associated articles. Two named ‘gig guide’ and one named ‘venue guide’, all authored by ‘Webmaster’. I’m really glad that it shows me how many ‘hits’ each article has! Unsurprisingly, the gig guides are pasted in a plaintext format that’s needlessly difficult to process.
Okay, so their content sucks, and it’s evident that no one within Time Off gives half a crap enough to check for consistency, or anything resembling quality control. That’s fine, I didn’t really want to use the website much anyway.
But after clicking around a bit, I uncovered some truly awful content that I must paste for posterity, as they’ll surely change it once someone decides to actually.. I don’t know.. look at their fucking website.
This is under the readership section. Subtitle: Who are our readers?
Time Off readers are divided equally between male and female.
Time Off readers are predominantly aged between 17– 30 but the nature of the industry and the refusal of bands such as Rose Tattoo to call it a day suggest readers will more often than not continue to pick up SPA publications well into their 40’s.
Time Off readers are avid consumers of music, entertainment and technological devices and products. They own iPods, Blackberrys, video game consoles, Macs, Laptops, Wiis, records, record players, Mobile Phones, DVDs and MP3s. Their need to have the latest model/product available coupled with the urge to spend rather than save sees readers replacing said items as frequently as once every 6 months.
Time Off readers have access to the internet both at work and at home, on which most time is spent accessing websites of bands and performers, shopping online, watching video clips on You Tube and blogging about how the band they saw play last night changed their life…. or destroyed it.
Time Off readers go to shows, get their hair cut, buy new jeans, are addicted to coffee, see films, occasionally turn up to Uni and party hard. And wherever they are doing these things, SPA publications are within reach.
Time Off readers are a product of a consumer driven age where brand awareness has taken place of literacy and social etiquette. They were born in the ‘80s when greed was good and they know what they want and when they want it, which is sooner rather than later. This puts them and their peers ahead of their game.
Time Off readers have one best friend that never lies – the mirror. They preen, puff, spray, squeeze, flash and luck all in the name of fashion. They buy what they don’t need and are willing to try anything once if it’s considered hip, regardless of cost.
Time Off readers are educated and informed. They value substance over transparency and integrity over wit. The wool is not often pulled over their eyes.
Nevermind that it’s the most awkwardly-worded piece of copy you’ve read this month, possibly this year. Nevermind that nobody at Time Off cared enough to edit out all the instances of ‘SPA publications‘.
No – most of all, I’m genuinely disgusted that Time Off, or moveover, Street Press Australia felt it necessary to attempt to classify their readership using some broad, sweeping statements that are neither funny nor accurate. I’m not sure which outcome is more disturbing – the fact that someone was commissioned to do a half-arsed hack-and-paste job to create content just for the sake of it, or that the above paragraphs made their way onto the site apparently without quality control.
What a fucking shambles.
Hey, Time Off. This is 2008. People use the internet all the time; they check your website, and if it sucks, you’re going to get called out about it. Invest the time and money into planning a genuine strategy for the website to complement the printed magazine, or don’t do it at all.
The old site sucked too, but at least it didn’t describe me as someone who “preens, puffs, sprays, squeezes, flashes and lucks”.
The bullshit readership copy quoted above was at least partially correct, though: I’m educated and informed. I value substance over transparency and integrity over wit. The wool is not often pulled over my eyes.
So who the fuck are you trying to kid, Time Off?
Disclosure: I write for fellow Brisbane street press Rave Magazine – who have a functional, attractive and well-utilised website – and I work for a Brisbane-based web development company. The sentiments expressed above are my own, and should not be attributed to any entity other than myself.