What We Can Learn From P*Star

When I say “rapper”, what do you think of? Probably not a preteen girl spittin’ rhymes about how she isn’t ready for a boyfriend yet. This documentary might change that.

PStar (Photo Credit: ewphoto on Flickr)

PStar (Credit: ewphoto on Flickr)

P*Star Rising is a documentary by Gabriel Noble that follows the growth (literally) of a 9-year-old female rapper from Harlem named Priscilla Diaz, stage name: P*Star.  While I don’t know if I would have picked a name for a 9-year-old that produces google searches about the adult entertainment industry, I was instantly won over by this little girl’s wittiness and extremely apparent charisma.  The film recently premiered at Tribeca Film Festival.  Check out the trailer.

We can all learn a few things from P*Star, the artist, and Priscilla Diaz, the girl.

Connections make you or break you. P*Star wasn’t born rapping (although that would be pretty sick).  She didn’t get signed by a record label because of her musical genius.  She got signed because her father, an ex-rapper from the 80s, knew the right people.

While most of us aren’t lucky enough to be born into families with connections in the field of our choice, we can use social media to forge connections with people that will help advance our career.  Start seeking out people on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter that will provide you with an outlet for your work.  Maybe it is a museum curator, or a record producer, or an employer.  Join the communities that these people are part of and start a conversation.  Make a connection by asking questions or establish yourself as competent by answering other people’s questions.  The questions can lead to an email, the email to an interview or audition.  Most successes don’t come from luck; they come from someone saying “Hey, I know this great person you should hear about.”

You can’t do it alone. There are going to be hard times.  Really hard times.  I don’t care how strong you are, you can’t believe that you are going to make it without some support system.  Whether it is monetary or emotional support, you need someone that will always be stable, because there will be times when everything else is not.

Have an interesting story. The thing I like most about P*Star is that she has a story.  She grew up in poverty with a heroine-addicted mother and cocaine-selling father.  Her father cleaned up his act and took her in, teaching her how to rap.  She had her first gig when she was 6, was signed to a record contract at 10, and now has a leading role on PBS’s revival of The Electric CompanyFind some things, or a series of things that make people go, “Cool!

5 Rules for Artists Using Social Media

In my last post, you learned that no one cares how good you are if they don’t know who you are.   Social media literacy is an essential skill for all artists to master.  And by social media literacy, I don’t mean being able to create a facebook event, or tweet about your breakfast, or add friends on Myspace.  My 10-year-old cousin can do that.  I mean being able to effectively use social media to self-promote and create a lasting, active community that will continue to support you.

When using any social media tool, there are 5 important rules to follow:

  1. Don’t lead with tools, lead with relationships. You aren’t going to get anywhere by blindly twittering promotional material 20 times a day.  In fact, that’s probably a pretty good way to annoy your fans.  Instead of looking at these tools as a platform solely for spewing content, think of them as a way to get involved in the conversation of your community.  Amanda Palmer, lead singer for the Dresden Dolls, is a great example of what an artist should strive for.  In May, she made $11,000 in one night. She twittered her fellow “Losers of Friday Night” (fans who had decided not to go out on a friday), got together a group of people to hang out on the internet, chatted about stuff, made a t-shirt on the spot about the stuff they were chatting about, and sold over 400 shirts in the next few days.  That is how you harness the power of a community.
  2. Great Big Sea (Photo Credit: Cindy Funk on Flickr)

    Great Big Sea (Photo Credit: Cindy Funk on Flickr)

  3. Use tools as an aide to build community. When you are an artist, community is everything.  It is your bread and butter and if your fans are not strong and loyal, you will not survive.  You do not have to be a household name to be successful if you have a strong community.  Have you heard about Great Big Sea?  Probably not.  They are a Canadian celtic-rock band.  Last summer I went to one of their concerts and then saw the Backstreet Boys the following weekend at the same venue (don’t judge!).  Can you guess which concert was sold out and which one wasn’t?   It’s hard to believe, but a Canadian celtic-rock band actually beat the Backstreet Boys in ticket sales. Great Big Sea enjoys consistently sold out concerts because they have an active fan base that will travel thousands of miles to see them and they recognize the power of having this community.  An example: their website is titled “The Community of Great Big Sea.”
  4. Tell your story. You want to use social media to connect and engage with your audience on a personal level.  There’s an Indian Proverb that goes: “Tell me a fact, I’ll learn.  Tell me the truth and I’ll believe.  Tell me a story and it’ll live in my heart forever.”  People remember stories, so why not tell yours?  And I don’t mean a stale bio that you find on all these artists’ websites.  I mean something personal, written by you, about you, that readers will want to tell other people.  One interesting and memorable anecdote or fact makes it easier for your fans to promote you.  I can’t count how many times I’ve bragged that Lady Gaga was one of 20 applicants accepted into Tisch early decision ever.
  5. Create an incentive for users to come back. There was a Mashable post a few weeks ago about 5 great Facebook fan pages.  They all had one thing in common:  original content.  You want to make content that is not available elsewhere.  We yearn to be on the inside, getting the “exclusive sneak peek”. Make your fans feel special and give them something they can’t get anywhere else.
  6. Don’t sign yourself up for more than you can maintain. Having 8 different profiles on various media platforms won’t do any good for you unless they are all well developed and updated frequently.  If you have enough time to maintain 8 accounts, then that’s great.  However, if you are an artist, you probably are busy working on your, you know, art.  Focus your time on one or two platforms (using points 1-4).  And don’t ever hire someone to maintain your profiles.  There is nothing that will make you look more out of touch with social media.  Your fans want to connect with you, not your 20-year-old intern.  The whole point is to engage people, and you can’t do that if you are spread across eight different platforms or aren’t even using the tools.

Building community, making a personal connection, and actively engaging your audience is not only important, it is necessary to set yourself apart from everybody else. Be authentic and be yourself.

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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Andy Carvin of NPR On Crowdsourcing at Making Media Now

On Friday I attended Making Media Now 2009, a single day conference for media makers (largely attended by documentary film folk from the Boston Area).  MMN09 was a great experience – and I have to recommend that more social media and new media people attend in the future – there were some great filmmakers looking for partnerships with people who know how to get the word out using social media tools.

Photo Credit: Steve Garfield on Flickr

Andy Carvin in Cambridge, Photo Credit: Steve Garfield on Flickr

One of my favorite lectures was by Andy Carvin, head of the NPR Social Media Desk.  Carvin talked to us about crowdsourcing.  He pointed out that crowdsourcing is not new (the Longitude Prize was an early attempt at approaching a large group to solve a single problem).  He also gave some great examples of projects that used crowdsourcing to create something new:  Apps for Democracy, a crowdsourced project using DC government data, spawned several useful applications.  Stumble Safely, one of the apps, uses data about traffic, local bars, and street lights to give people safe routes to walk home along when drunk.  According to Carvin, the DC police actually use Stumble Safely when figuring out which areas to patrol at night.

Carvin works with reporters at NPR to use social media for their benefit – whether that means an entire 2008 election project, or working with a reporter who wants to find sources through Facebook or Twitter.

Carvin also told the story of how NPR got a fan page on Facebook.  Evidently, an undergrad in the UK decided to “help” NPR by making the official fan page himself.  Carvin emailed him, and the undergrad said when he tried to contact NPR about helping them get on facebook, he’d gotten an email thanking him for his support.  He took that as a green light to make the official fan page himself.  He promptly handed over the keys to Carvin, and went on his way.  Carvin said this story shows that when people say they’re afraid of losing control online “You never had control in the first place.”  People love and adore NPR, and sometimes, it’s impossible to hold back the crowd.

New Media Showdown at Columbia J-School

On Wednesday, the NY Mag Daily Intel blog posted about the Columbia Journalism School’s struggle to integrate new media skills with an old-school journalism curriculum. Linda Holmes of Monkey See points out that the good dirt is in the comments section, where, of course, a lot of posters claim that the Daily Intel has published information without citing sufficient sources.

Let’s put aside the veracity claims for now: I think it’s safe to say that all of us who work in new media have heard the phrase “you’re just playing with toys” at one time or another (Daily Intel attributes it to a J-school professor). The reality is that new media “toys” wield an enormous amount of power. Why else would a whole bunch of respectable journalists and journalism students flock to the Daily Intel website to refute claims about Columbia? If it was just a toy, it would be easy to shelve and ignore.

The dean of the j-school points out:

“You can go to the Learning Annex and take a Flash course. I don’t think what we should do is be replicating courses you can take at the Learning Annex. But you have to have some familiarity, or you’re not able to execute a website.”

In other words, journalism schools aren’t supposed to turn out graphic designers or Flash programmers. Nobody has really figured out yet if new media is an art, a science, a trade, or some other profession entirely. When you simultaneously integrate design, engineering and content, it’s pretty difficult for traditional academic categories to keep up. But where does that leave institutions devoted to teaching traditional media? Do the “new” and the “old” have enough in common to be taught in one curriculum?

Bargain Hunting on Craigslist

What do you still buy on Craigslist?  I find it useful for finding apartments and jobs (or gigs), but since Craigslist became a household name, shopping for cheap stuff has been replaced with avoiding the people trying to rip you off.

Now you find things posted above list price rather than below.  I wonder if there are people who actually overpay for these things or if the sellers are just hoping to find someone to haggle with.  Occasionally, a good deal will crop up, but is sifting through the overpriced ones to find it still worth the virtual trip?

Personally, I use keyword RSS feeds.  I check my Google Reader almost daily (or several times depending on the day), so it makes sense for me to check there instead of going to Craigslist to browse the deals. To set up a feed for the camera flash I’ve had my eye on, a Canon 430EX, I did my search on Craigslist and clicked the RSS icon in the lower right of the page to get that feed and add it to my reader.

Most days there are no entries, but whenever someone posts a 430EX for sale, I see it in Google Reader. Most of these deals don’t even beat Amazon’s price for a brand new 430EX, but yesterday I noticed one listed for a good 15% below the best price I’d seen anywhere else.

I immediately emailed the poster, and shortly received the reply: already sold.  Even with my custom keyword RSS feed and frequent visits to my reader, I still wasn’t fast enough to take advantage of none-too-common bargain.  Maybe I should set up SMS alerts to my phone.  Has anyone had success with a similar setup?  What deals have you found on CL?

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.

ABC’s Earth 2100: You, too, can be Al Gore!

Our special agent in New Jersey gave us a tip on a new web  and television fusion project from a major network:

Image from *L*u*z*a* return to nature

Image from *L*u*z*a* return to nature

Earth 2100 is a “television and internet event” set to debut this fall on ABC [Editor’s Note: The site now simply says “Coming in 2009”]. Here’s how they describe it:

The world’s brightest minds agree that the “perfect storm” of population growth, resource depletion and climate change could converge with catastrophic results.

We need you to bring this story to life — to use your imagination to create short videos about what it would be like to live through the next century if we stay on our current path. Using predictions from top experts, we will feed you detailed briefings from the years 2015, 2050, 2070 and 2100 — and you will report back about the dangers that are unfolding before your eyes.

Your videos will be combined with the projections of top scientists, historians, and economists to form a powerful web–based narrative about the perils of our future. We will also select the most compelling reports to form the backbone of our two–hour primetime ABC News broadcast: Earth 2100, airing this fall.

They have a few sample “reports from the future” up there already. Kudos to ABC for trying to combine documentary, fiction and user-generated content all in one go. I see some problems with the approach. . . for one thing, the “reports from the future” are bound to be depressing and bleak – because that’s what all the experts are describing. There is also the problem of combining gorgeous HD footage of experts with cheesily shot, low budget versions of Children of Men. I don’t want to be a wet blanket here – I love documentaries, and I love cheesy, homemade science fiction. . . but I don’t know if I can take the leap to watch both at once.

This project STILL doesn’t solve the “can’t I just get it on YouTube?” problem. Meaning, if you bother to make a movie that’s as clever as the sample clip with the snorkel and the pink walrus – why would you let ABC decide whether or not to distribute it for you? Why would you go to the ABC site, rather than google video or YouTube?

The fact that ABC is going to put some of these in a national broadcast is certainly a draw, and I am all for educating people about climate change and public health any which way you can.

Boston Media Makers: July 6 at Doyle’s

Boston Media Makers
Image by grazr
Boston Media Makers is one of the best social networking groups I’ve found since moving out here.

They are an exceedingly welcoming bunch. Everyone sits around a big table, enjoying a hearty breakfast, and presents the group with a new project, new shiny toy, or a question. Then everyone mingles for about an hour afterward, swapping cards and emails.

Here are the details:

Sunday, July 6
10am-12pm
Doyle’s Cafe
3484 Washington Street
Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA, 02130
1-(617)-524-2345

Metcalfe’s Law

Andrew Chen has a post about Metcalfe’s Law and corollary Eflactem’s Law (M-E-T-C-A-L-F-E backwards, you can probably figure this one out).

“In fact, you see this happen all the time at dinner parties or events. Things are great until one or two people announce the intention to leave. If those folks are fun and entertaining, there’s an immediate realization that the quality of the experience is about to go down. And yet more people announce their intention to leave, and so on, until you are left with the party hosts and a big mess ;-)” 

Essentially, he posits that while adding a user increases value exponentially, losing users shrinks value by the same order.

Anna and I were discussing this phenomenon:

Anna: Awww, the Friendster party hosts must be so sad.
Teague: (laughs) Yeah.
Anna: It’s such a sad mental image, ’cause it was like they had this sort of okay party with Bud Light and Sun Chips but then Facebook came along with its local microbrew and cru de te and it was all over.