There are a number of high-profile musicians who either think that the Internet is a detriment to their success or they don't want to waste their time and energy connecting with fans online (Hello Prince). Of course, there are examples on the other side, too; Lady Gaga has 10 million Twitter followers.
But harnessing fame and generating fame are two different things. For indie bands, the Web is a gift. When used well, it can propel artists such as OK Go up the YouTube ranks. And for some, such as Kaiser Chiefs, social media lets fans make a little money on the backs of musicians. The U.K.-based group recently handed over the success of their fourth record to their listeners, giving their fans the opportunity to generate money from selling a customized version of the Kaiser Chiefs' new album.
The concept is pretty simple. A fan picks 10 of the available 20 songs, designs their own cover art and then pays to download their one-of-a-kind mix. However, most interestingly, if someone else likes your choices, they can purchase the album and you make a buck. As lead singer Ricky Wilson explained in an e-mail to music industry analyst Bob Lefsetz, "We wanted to reward the fans for being our fans and thought this could be nice."
Nice, it is. Wilson goes on to explain that they're using their Facebook page to sell out concerts and they're allowing fans to pick the set lists. As Lefsetz says in his popular newsletter, the band is clearly taking risks that are working. Their Facebook page is pushing 400,000 friends, a real community where the band members share photos and use polls to determine which songs their fans like the best.
Locally, one of the best Canadian examples I've seen of an artist who is connected in an authentic way with her digital audience is Lights. Just last night I looked at her Twitter feed and saw, like always, that pretty much every waking hour she's interacting with fans (and she has a couple hundred thousand), offering up free music samples and sharing moments from her day. While record labels scramble to find the next Taylor Swift, there are endless stories of talented musicians such as Lights who have built grassroots followings online and are playing gigs and making money. Remember Justin Bieber? A star with hordes of YouTube fans before he was even a blip on the music industry's radar.
It seems that the artists who are generating so much excitement on the web share one thing - they have real talent. They can sing. They can play. That's not to say that record labels don't churn out their fair share of successful musicians, but a lot of what we're seeing coming our way these days is manufactured. The Kaiser Chiefs of the world, on the other hand, seem to understand the future of the business. Despite what Prince might think, the Internet music revolution is just beginning, and these acts don't want to get left behind.