Why Artists Need Social Media

Editor’s Note: I’m happy to welcome Devon Hopkins to Still Indie.  He is an undergraduate at a competitive liberal arts university studying social psychology and group dynamics through choreography.  He also manages and promotes an a cappella group and a dance troupe. We hope you will enjoy his insights on collaboration and the use of social media for performing artists.

This is my first blog post.  I’ve shied away from the idea in the past because of something I think all artists have: self-doubt. Because we grow up in a highly competitive atmosphere, we are constantly questioning ourselves: “Why do I deserve to do this?” and “Why should I succeed over that person?”  What I have come to realize is “Who cares?”  You probably aren’t unique, but even if you are, it doesn’t really matter.  The focus should not be on whether or not you deserve to succeed, it should be on how you can succeed with the skills that you have.  That’s where social media comes into play.

Movement (Photo Credit: Oneras on Flickr)

Movement (Photo Credit: Oneras on Flickr)

No one cares how good you are if they don’t know who you are. From a very early age, in any art form (dance in my case), we are taught that the only way to survive in the world of art is to be the best.  “Do you think people will pay to see that pirouette?!” “You think you can fill seats with that documentary?” We are constantly pushed to be the “best”, when in reality, many of the best artists fail. So You Think You Can Dance just started its 5th season and after auditioning thousands of dancers over 5 years, they are still finding exceptional talent, enough so that the show is already auditioning dancers for a 6th season in the fall.  There is an endless pool of talented artists in all fields and your job is not to be better than your peers.  Your job is to get noticed first.

Thousands of people are competing for the same success that you are. Marketing yourself effectively is about making people remember who you are in a crowd of people.  I recently got to work with a choreographer, let’s call her Anya.  After college, Anya knew that she didn’t have the years of technical training necessary to become a well-paid professional dancer, so she decided to try out choreography.  She, like dozens of other dance hopefuls moved to New York, put together a show, and invited critics and members of the dance community to view it.  She, unlike the dozens of other dance hopefuls, fed her audience food and got them drunk on cheap alcohol, convincing them it was “part of her Estonian background.”  Was it illegal?  Probably.  But by marketing herself and turning her art into an event, she enjoyed consistent rave reviews while most of her hopeful dance buddies did not.

Art is not just about creating something.  It is about effectively sharing that something with a larger community. Anya acknowledges that she is not the best dancer now, nor was she ever in high school, college, or in her graduate experience.  Yet now Anya is a very successful professor at one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation.  How?  She knew how to market herself and her works.  What Anya did to make her art look like more than just another post-modern dance piece, you can do using social media.  With all the social media tools (Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Blogger, Digg, Flickr, Youtube) freely accessible, it is now your job to distinguish yourself from all the other artists doing what you do.  Independent artists and labels won half of this year’s grammy awards, due in part, no doubt, to their talent, but also to their access to and skilled use of online social resources.  It’s easier now than ever to make a name for yourself, by yourself.

“How?” you might ask. Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you.  Subscribe to Still Indie so you won’t miss my next post.

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Are You Guilty of Media Malpractice?

Last week I attended Making Media Now at Bentley University, where, among other really interesting panels, I saw Andy Carvin talk about crowdsourcing. I was also really glad to hear Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films talk about making media that matters with Lisa Mullins of The World. Greenwald also screened a clip from his upcoming work on the war in Afghanistan.

Robert Greenwald, Photo Credit: Brave New Films on Flickr

Robert Greenwald, Photo Credit: Brave New Films on Flickr

When asked by Lisa Mullins to fill in the sentence, “If you’re not using new media you are. . .” he answered, “. . . guilty of malpractice.” Greenwald described the new media scene as the opposite of Hollywood: “Suddenly the gatekeepers are gone.” With decreasing costs to make media, filmmakers can create quality work with fewer people on board. Greenwald says he takes an “if you build it they will come” approach – starting with a 2-minute version of a film he wants to make, and finding an audience that will support it.

Greenwald insisted that filmmakers think creatively about marketing and distribution – reserve a short simple URL when the idea for the film strikes, distribute short web clips if you can’t get a feature length doc on the air, collaborate with groups that will promote or financially contribute to the film, and, my favorite quote: “Think about it not as a microphone, but as a conversation.”

Twitter Shapes Advertising

Forbes has an article, Twitter Moms Sink Motrin Ad, covering the recent events in which general outrage among mothers on Twitter caused Johnson & Johnson to pull its advertising campaign about using Motrin to treat pains from carrying babies.

Twitter Bird Image from Twitter.comWould the backlash have gained such momentum so quickly without Twitter? The speed with which news and opinions travel is astonishing to marketers who are unfamiliar with the micro-blogging space. What are people saying about your brand on twitter? Try out search.twitter.com and subscribe to an RSS feed that updates whenever a new tweet matches your search query.

Keeping tabs on your brand on twitter and responding, especially when people have a complaint, is a great, inexpensive way to interact directly with your audience and manage their perception of you.

Will "Repo!" Steal Hearts?

Repo Promoting in Downtown Berkeley Image from shellEProductions’ PhotostreamDoes anyone else hate the phrase “Instant cult classic?” Instant classic is like instant chocolate brownies. It might temporarily fix your chocolate craving – but it’s nothing like a dessert you spent a couple hours baking from scratch.

Well, NPR is also a little skeptical of the idea that someone can deliberately create a cult film. Repo! the Genetic Opera is an upcoming movie starring Anthony Stewart Head, Paul Sorvino, Alex Vega and. . . uh. . . Paris Hilton. Combining organ repossession, rock musical numbers, a big bad corporation and a distinctly “Blade Runner” feel, the creators of “Repo!” seem confident that alternative kids will come running to a film made just for them.

Beth Accomando at the NPR pop culture blog points out that the movie is using a web-heavy marketing strategy out of necessity – they have no money for a big budget ad campaign. I am impressed that the film’s creators are interacting directly with fans – but I wonder if you can classify people who have yet to see a film as “fans.”

Increasingly, savvy directors and producers have deputized fan communities in the fight to keep a movie franchise making money. This creates a sense of “ownership” that is actually quite different than the fans of a cult classic like Rocky Horror. Rocky fans go to midnight showings because they aren’t supposed to: The film wasn’t intended to be made fun of and shouted at and have toilet paper strewn all over it. It’s not just an alternative film, it’s an alternative film-going experience. Whether or not “Repo!” can capture that sense of forbidden fun is yet to be seen.