By: Jessica Hopper
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her — confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame
Our band recently changed our name after many years. We had our old name at the seeming dawn of the internet-band-craze-age where MySpace was king. Back in those days "real" bands didn't have much use for a social media presence. I find it disheartening that bands/ side projects of bands I loved and still love — whose heydays were long before the internet (Six Finger Satellite, Fugazi solo projects Deathfix and Joe Lally, The Reigning Sound etc.) are on Facebook and such. That they're having to pimp themselves out in this manner like all the other dregs that play the barkeep's cousin's urinal at SXSW. Can a band exist these days — or more importantly can people hear your songs — without partaking in social media? Are there examples of new up and comers who keep off the Internet a tad, leaving a bit of mystique out there for you to find on your lonesome? Could there be a new trend on the horizon of anti-Internet? Am I an old person?
P.S. Our web handle sans Zuckerberg: hobbyistband.com
Thanks for your time,
I'm going to tackle the heart of what I think you are getting at, rather than all your questions as most of them are just rhetorical grousing dressed as query. No shots at rhetorical grousing, of course — that's how I make my living.
Being an olde tymer, you remember musicianhood before Facebook and so you remember the the old ways. You've seen people cycle through platforms as they get outmoded and unfashionable. Younger people and younger bands were effectively born into Mark Zuckerberg's monolith and so the idea of not having a Facebook page for a band seems absurd; current bands seemingly have no skepticism about handing the reigns over. Which seems absurd to you, and in turn you feel alienated and kind of mad about it. You are also bummed that a Providence disco noise band who made their best album in 1996 is on Facebook. Okay, let's talk this out.
My friend Jonah Matranga has, wisely, built his long and unconventional career by maintaining connection to his fanbase — in essence, that is his whole thing. On the splash page of his website, he asks for an email address before you enter. He has a little spiel explaining why — he wants to maintain a direct connection to his fans and not be filtered through some site's platform. He doesn't want to lose that connection when Facebook goes the way of Friendster. Email lists aren't as fun as social media, but they are direct and the power is in your hands; Jonah knows who his fans are and can get ahold of them. This is a very smart move and one few bands make.
The thing many bands don't even consider is this: if your entire connection and method of connecting to your fans is through a platform that is not your own (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Soundcloud, Instagram, Pintrest, Tumblr) — what happens if all the sudden that site shuts down or radically changes it's terms of service? Starts charging for service? If your fan quits using it regularly? You might never reconnect with them again. How can you track them down? How can you tell them about these summer tour dates? You're a teeny regional band — Brooklyn Vegan isn't going to post your dates and get the word out for you. What if your fan doesn't even follow music news? Your connection to them is effectively severed because you were lazy and assumed that no one ever quits Facebook. And by you I mean everyone.
Facebook should not be your sole tether. Because it is not even your tether to begin with.
With your own site or with an email list you are in control of what you post and how/when/who gets to see. Whether your fans see your post about a new t-shirt design isn't contingent on whether they've "liked" you lately or on a site's algorhythms; your communication with fans and the gen. pop. is not mediated by someone else's empire nor dictated by the tides of social media. Having that control, that ability to maintain that connection as it best serves you and your band is incredibly valuable. The smartest thing a band can do is utilize Twitter and Facebook and other social media to direct people to their own site. In the long run, all the "likes" in the world don't mean shit. Owning the means of production/distribution does.
That said, Facebook is an easy way to promote and invite people to your shows. It's an imperfect, kinda creepy, too-easy device that now seems absolutely crucial to bandhood — which is exactly how Facebook (and other sites) need us to think in order to survive. It can be incredibly useful, especially for touring bands and people interested in promoting their music who want that accessibility. I don't really want to say, yes, every band should have a Facebook page, but for most bands, it's probably a fine idea.
Whether and how your band uses social media really depends on what kind of career you are interested in having. Contrary to popular thinking, constant self-promotion doesn't have to be a fundamental part of music making in 2013. To paraphrase good ol' Ian MacKaye, if people really want an alternative, they will dig (or Google) until they find it. It is fine — liberating, even! — to live and make art, as your termed it "sans Zuckerberg," and get by on word of mouth and flyers. I mean, that's how bands have promoted shows ever since Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego started playing out — it still works.
To address your other issues: Is it possible to get heard without putting your music online? Yes, but this is the primary way that people — especially young people and people interested in new music — consume it. There are surely bands that do not use the internet, but it's hard to imagine "not using the internet" would be cool enough to gain foothold as a widescale trend. And, yes, you are old; getting bent up over the last little bands on Dischord having Facebook pages seem like a poor use of anyone's brainpower. Also, "pimp" is a pretty loaded word in relation to a band fanpage. The world is a different place since Six Finger Satellite's heyday, thank fucking gosh for that. Being discerning about a band's big picture morals [or lack of] and how they navigate their relationship to their fanbase is even more crucial now that corporate tie-ins are the pervasive norm — but using social media is a relatively minor offense on the selling-your-soul-for-a-chance-at-the-bigtime scale.