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Social media makes music more personal, participatory

It's the desire for a personal connection that draws a person into music—the feeling that the singer in the band is talking about your life, your problems, your desires. While that interest in a personal connection—even just a perceived one—has long been a part of popular music, in recent years the Internet has changed the relationship between musicians and their audience from one that may have felt personal into one that actually is.

In the seemingly endless debate over whether the Internet is going to lead to the death or the renaissance of the music industry, one aspect that is often overlooked is the personal connection that has become possible through the medium—the Internet was, after all, a tool created to facilitate communication, not one meant to give you access to all the albums you want for free. From email lists and websites created on clunky, template-based platforms like Geocities or Tripod to MySpace pages, Twitter accounts and blogs, bands and musicians have long been at the forefront of utilizing available technology as a means for more direct and personal communication with a potential audience.

Blogs are perhaps the most effective tool available right now for facilitating this kind of new, intimate relationship between bands and audience. Whereas a website or a MySpace page have more permanence within the impermanent web—that is, they generally feature relatively stable information such as an official bio, some promo photos, maybe a few cuts off the latest album—blogs are transitory, changing from day to day, even hour to hour. The style of communication inherent in a blog is more conversational, and comment functions imbue the site with a back and forth between band and audience, also creating the potential for a community amongst people who read and comment on the blog.

One of the more innovative blogs available to music fans is Looking For Gold, the semi-official home of Toronto-based hardcore band Fucked Up. Run by guitarist Mike Haliechuk, Looking For Gold posts not only the experiences of the band while on tour, but links to articles about the band, posters from shows, alternative versions of songs it has released and demos that Fucked Up is working on.

"A blog by nature is supposed to be more confessional and I think it just gives you a different relationship with your content if you have a blog," explains Haliechuk. "A lot of time a band website will be really static—you'll update tour dates every couple of weeks or something but otherwise everything stays the same. I think it's cool that our band website changes every couple of days."

Perhaps the strangest thing about Fucked Up's blog is that it functions as the band's only official presence on the web. In three years of running the blog, Fucked Up has never had an official website or MySpace, nor does Haliechuk feel the band needs one. What started as a solution to not being able to program HTML and not wanting to relinquish control of the band's Internet presence to someone else has turned into a perfect solution.

"I would have gotten a website if I knew how to do it, and we would get a MySpace if we thought we needed one. We don't have a crusade against those things or anything," Haliechuk says. "We just have a website and I think it works pretty well."

Haliechuk's commitment to content for the blog is what sets it apart, though he shrugs off the suggestion that he's doing anything particularly innovative.

"We're a band, we write songs and make records so that people can hear about them, you know? So the reason we have a blog or a website or even try to communicate on the Internet is so that people can know about us, get interested in us," he says. "I just want people to come and read it so I try and put up as much information as possible."

There are any number of ways to run a band blog, however. For Edo Van Breemen, pianist and vocalist of Vancouver's Brasstronaut, his band's blog functions in a similar fashion to many other blogs—posting cool stuff Van Breeman has found while traipsing around the Internet—as well as a band blog—posting tour dates and updates about what the band is up to while recording or touring. For Van Breemen, the personal connection being made with the band's audience is important because the more you know about the band, he feels, the more you can get into the music.

"I think it just gives you some insight into the personality behind the music and for this band it's really important because we're not trying to make technical music for the sake of making technical music, I think we're just trying to make really good soul music and music that makes us feel good and music we can have fun playing over and over again, so I think our personalities have a lot to do with it," he says.

For Van Breemen, then, the decision to fill his blog with things that interest him and that he wants to share instead of talking about his own band constantly was a conscious one. In his mind, he explains, all of that band stuff will get out through other forms of media—it's the deep personality of the band members that can be best transmitted through the direct communication offered by having a blog.

"For me it's more interesting to read a band blog that reveals personality traits of the musicians that wouldn't otherwise be exposed in traditional print or online interviews," he says. "It's a very fun atmosphere when we hang out together so I guess I wanted to reveal that a bit."

While a blog by a band you already know and like might be more interesting than one by a lesser-known group, social media is still a good way to connect a band to potential fans. Plenty of bands book tours and some sign record deals through MySpace demos alone, and British band Ok Go's treadmill video went viral, bringing millions of eyeballs and ears to the little-known group. But not everyone has such an easy time—for most, using a blog to get a name out is the same as touring: a slow build.

A first tour is often a painful process full of empty venues, little money for gas, bad food and no places to stay. But as time goes on, and with persistence, that can change. The same is true of a blog. While no one will read your initial posts, keeping at it and working to get the message out will bring people to it. In fact the two can work in tandem—touring will introduce a band to new audiences, while the blog keeps them informed when the band is not there, and gets the audience excited for the group's return.

For Vancouver band Said the Whale, whose guitarist Tyler Bancroft does most of the blogging, Twittering and Facebook updates, the use of social media started out as a chore, but became more rewarding as the band gained fans through not only traditional means, but also through its Internet presence.

"It was the shameless self promotion thing, but it's turned around a little bit which is really cool because instead of us trying to shove ourselves down someone's throat, so to speak, people are actually interested in what we have to say which is really exciting," Bancroft enthuses. "I think it's important to stay as connected to your fans as possible because we're still just getting started and it's exciting for us that people are interested in our music and what we're doing."

Utilizing a blog isn't about some vague notion of "giving back"—this isn't some fan club from the '50s where a member gets a membership card and a hat or anything like that, this is about a conversation between people producing art and those consuming it. Blogs—all social media, in fact—are about creating an intimate space where fans and musicians can interact directly between tour stops, albums or interviews. It's about creating a new kind of relationship between bands and fans, it's about letting people behind the curtain a little bit, but not in some contrived VH1 type of way. If industry big wigs are to be believed, the Internet is killing music, but what it's actually doing is bringing musicians and their audience closer together than ever before. V

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