In the last post, a lot of interesting issues were raised and contentious points made. This is exactly what New Music Strategies should be about and I’d like to thank everyone, including (indeed, especially) those people who did not agree with the points I made, for their valuable contribution.
One of the themes that emerged over the course of that discussion was one that comes up rather a lot, so I thought I’d throw it into the mixed bag of Questions I Keep Getting Asked About Music Online.
It’s the one about revealing things about yourself personally. On the internet, what should remain private? Can you still be an elusive and enigmatic artist if you have a blog? Is Twitter just a step too far into an Orwellian world of mutual surveillance? And should blog comments ever be anonymous?
Short answer: ‘What do you feel comfortable with?’
After all – if you’re on Twitter, then what you decide to make public about your activities and movements is entirely up to you. Not wanting people to know what you had for dinner is not a reason to avoid a really useful piece of social media technology. That little fact about your diet can remain the object of deep mystery, should you wish.
The longer answer is one I often give about storytelling.
I do not really exist
As a media person (which is, like it or not, what you are if you make music for public consumption), your public face is something you get to have a say over. Essentially, you are telling a story about who you are and what you do everytime you go out there into the public realm.
You can call it PR if you wish. Or you can call it perception management. Engaging your audience might also fit. I just think of it as storytelling.
I like to imagine that you and I have got to know each other a little bit over the time you’ve been coming here. So it may surprise you to learn that the Andrew Dubber whose thoughts you read here on New Music Strategies, on my personal blog, at Dubber & Clutch, and on Twitter does not, in any concrete sense, exist.
I am essentially a fictional character devised by a man of the same name, and that character plays different roles in different contexts.
That is to say, what you read here is a construction. Everything I write on the internet is – at least in part – designed to portray a version of myself I am trying to convey.
Now of course, the Andrew Dubber (the character) that you read online is based in no small part on the Andrew Dubber (the author) that actually exists in the real world. The one that does all the mundane stuff like take out the rubbish, pay bills and go grocery shopping. But when I write, I am conscious of narrative, continuity and – above all – character development.
It’s a slow arc, certainly – and it took me a long time to figure out what I was doing here – but I have developed some rules about blogging that help me decide what to write. These rules may not necessarily be true, but I believe that if you act as if they are, you’ll get much better results.
1) Blogging is storytelling. That means that it has a beginning, middle and end. There is conflict and resolution. Small particulars point to larger universal truths. Nothing is incidental. Everything moves the story along. Characters learn, grow and change over time. They are a little bit larger than life, and – like the Queen – hardly ever go to the toilet.
2) Most good blogs are soap operas.Stories are always about people. People care about characters. The ones they like – they want good things to happen to them. They don’t necessarily wish harm on those they dislike, they usually just stop reading about them. But things have to happen to people. When I have bad travel experiences (as I so often do), I always think – “ah well – at least this will play well on the blog…”
3) You are not bound to the truth. On being asked for the thousandth time ‘Is blogging journalism?’ recently, my friend Paul Bradshaw responded simply ‘Is ice-cream strawberry?’. Your blog need not necessarily be an unassailable document of factual record. To put it bluntly, you can make shit up. My blog posts are usually mostly representative of what went on. They have, as Stephen Colbert puts it, qualities of ‘truthiness’. But if a fact threatens to spoil a story, story wins every time.
4) Stories are journeys. The simplest way to tell a story is through a sequence of events. One thing happened and that led to another thing happening, which then led to this other thing happening – and so on.
5) People equate self expression with selves This cuts both ways. If people like the storytelling, they will tend to like the storyteller. If people get to know the character and care about them – they’ll tend to translate that to that character’s music. I have friends whose music I wouldn’t ordinarily be drawn to, because it’s not in the genre areas I ordinarily hang out – but I love their bands, because I love the people and know their stories well – and this maps perfectly onto their music, which I now, of course love.
So – while you may not feel comfortable revealing things about your personal life – or even letting your fans peek behind the curtain from time to time, I’d suggest that the more you do that, the more your fans will engage. But you get to decide what they see, and how much of that is documentary truth.
You can be as real as you like; you can join Eminem, Marilyn Manson and Simon Cowell in the realm of pure fiction – or you can come and hang out somewhere in the middle with me.
What are you not comfortable about revealing online? Do you always sign your name to blog comments? Is your ‘stage’ persona the same person as your ‘real’ persona? How do you use construction of identity to build an audience, or keep it at arm’s length?