Tag Archives: community

a new fan-driven musical economy?

In 2006, the Damnwells became an unfortunate music-industry cliche. Despite a knack for crafting smart and catchy songs, critical acclaim and a building fan base, they were cut adrift by Epic Records, which also shelved their sophomore album.

And while they would eventually get that disc, Air Stereo, released by Zoe Records, they found themselves at a real crossroads. Their solution? Turn to the Web, social media and innovative measures.

They made their third album, One Last Century, available free to all on the Internet in exchange for an email address. They used those email addresses, and social media, to let fans know they are assembling their fourth album in a novel way: Via donations and fan feedback.

Through a service called Pledge Music, the Damnwells look to raise $20,000.30 to record the new album. This weekend, they passed the 75 percent mark and continue to steam forward. Donors can start as low as $12 to just get a copy of the album, go higher for a variety of public broadcasting type premiums (for $25, I’m getting a signed CD and T-shirt) or even things like Skyping into a recording session ($55), introducing the band at a show ($125) or admission into a sound check ($150). The band will provide a public performance wherever you want them at the high end; for $5,000, someone in Tokyo, Turin or Tahiti can even have The Damnwells play in their house (it’s $1,500 in the U.S., $500 in NYC).

Just as valuable is that any supporter gets a password-driven code to download demos and outtakes (all of which are pretty good), read Alex Dezen’s blog about the record and gain other inside information. Fans can provide feedback on posted demos on the blog to play an even greater part in making the record. On top of all that, part of the funds raised will aid a number of worthy causes.

Or is this totally new? During the Renaissance, artists and musicians were funded by wealthy patrons who enjoyed their creations. But this more democratic system makes even modest donors part of the team. And taking the future of music out of the hands of a closed, shortsighted music industry and into a forward-thinking community of music lovers definitely represents an improvement.

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fans pages: hands-off? hands-on?

A funny thing happened to the SUNY Oswego Fans page while I was out of town this weekend.

A few questions came in from students entering this fall, not unusual in itself. But all of those questions were answered by other fans — quickly and correctly.

I did answer the question I saw on Saturday morning, but I was pleasantly surprised when — after driving, attending a wedding, sleeping and driving some more — I arrived home Sunday afternoon to find all the new questions handled. A similar thing happened when I was on my first actual vacation in years earlier this summer and most page questions were answered by others.

When members of a community become involved in problem-solving, this is good on many levels. It shows they care enough about their community — virtual or physical — to take care of it. It means that conversations are more organic than if the institution (or other moderator) always jumps in. And it also means that genuine connections are forming between those who asked the questions and those who answered them. (Interesting that it was three people, not just one do-gooder, who responded to the questions. NOTE: It looks like one of the answers disappeared. Am I the only one noticing comments disappearing on Facebook lately?)

Thus I’m kind of torn. I prefer good customer service, which means checking the Fans page frequently to provide answers. An unanswered question, to me, looks as out of place as an undone zipper. Yet I know that if fans answer the questions instead of me, presuming those answers are accurate, it’s better for the sense of the community.

It’s a teaser. What do you think?

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thursday travelogue: rochester’s rising south wedge.

The reborn South Wedge neighborhood of Rochester, N.Y., shows that sometimes when you want to wake up a community, you just need a little coffee.

Boulder Coffee's tasteful decor.

Boulder Coffee's tasteful decor.

And while the Boulder Coffee Co. didn’t single-handedly revitalize the neighborhood from its once-seedy reputation, it’s a cornerstone location from which regular live entertainment, a farmer’s market and festivals radiate. I visited in the middle of the Boulder Festival, featuring bands, an eclectic selection of vendors, flavorful food and drink, and a sample of the diverse neighborhood’s residents and customers. A caterer called Freshwise — with a slogan of If It Ain’t New York State, It Ain’t On My Plate — served great food that also reminds us to buy local. Young ladies with hula hoops, maturing urban hipsters with families and the occasional hairy gent who dances to everything gathered with a friendly vibe flowing.

The Boulder Festival on a Saturday afternoon.

The Boulder Festival on a Saturday afternoon.

OK, I’ll admit a bias to hoping this particular neighborhood succeeds. A former intern of mine when I worked in the festival business and his wife, both Oswego grads, played a major role turning the neighborhood into the hip place it is today. They started with Boulder Coffee and now own some 30 buildings in the area, many of them reclamation projects. Throughout South Wedge — which has, one should note, its own Ning — you’ll find funky eateries and bars, bakeries, second-hand stores, salons, a seller of parts for historic homes, parks and a planning committee that advises local doings. All things urbanists would say makes for a great community, so many of which happened organically.

[Hula] Hooping it up.

(Hula) Hooping it up at the Boulder Festival.

But you look at vibrant revived communities and they often circle back to a few dreamers, often artistic types. SoHo started with artists squatting in abandoned buildings and evolved into a place whose cool attracted everyone. Atlanta’s Little Five Points, Fremont in Seattle, Buffalo’s Allentown district and countless other neighborhoods owe their pedigree to folks who wanted to do their own thing, create something different and cultivate a living style envied from miles away.

The many historic homes in the neighborhood have a business catering to their particular needs.

The many historic homes in the neighborhood have a business catering to their particular needs.

When I look at cookie-cutter subdivisions that can’t draw tenants and compare them to vibrant neighborhoods who celebrate the spirit of individuality, it’s no surprise the latter attract more attention. And South Wedge is one such place, a surging hot spot that oozes urban cool.

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non-branding branding: starbucks in wolves’ clothing?

I read with great interest this Seattle Times article about Starbucks going hyperlocal by rebranding some of its shops without any Starbucks branding. The throwback 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea test store will offer nary a Starbucks logo and even serve wine and beer as some traditional neighborhood coffeehouses do.

It will launch as the first of at least three remodeled Seattle-area stores that will bear the names of their neighborhoods rather than the 16,000-store chain to which they belong, the Times’ Melissa Anderson writes, and if successful will replicate in other markets. Starbucks’ SVP of global design, Tim Pfeiffer, notes each store intends to have a community personality, to look and feel more like an organic part of a neighborhood than a chain store.

But while going neighborhood and hyperlocal are things I applaud, what does it say about Starbucks’ belief in its own branding that it rolls these out each under its own customized name almost as stealth shops? Are they admitting people equate the name Starbucks with chain stores that spread like kudzu and often choke out native coffeehouses? In Seattle and Vancouver, for example, Starbucks are so abundant that it’s clear they are looking for overall market share rather than same-store sales, the usual indicator of an individual establishment’s success.

Reaction among actual neighborhood coffeeshops ranged from bemusement to anger — the latter because Starbucks representatives would essentially squat in their stores and observe goings-on. Starbucks reps spent the last 12 months in our store up on 15th [Avenue] with these obnoxious folders that said, ‘Observation,’ said Dan Ollis, who owns soon-to-be neighbor Victrola Coffee Roasters. So apparently the rebranding also involves culling the best ideas of the competition plus non-use of the Starbucks name with all the economy-of-scale advantages the company famously leverages?

Granted, existing businesses launch new units all the time, but usually because they see a niche or void in the market. I’m no fan of Wal-Mart, but when they rolled out Sam’s Clubs, it found a ready audience for shoppers’ clubs with bulk sales (and named it after founder Sam Walton). Sometimes it’s aspirational, like when FX Matt Brewery started its Saranac line of craft brews to appeal to those who wouldn’t deign swallow Utica Club. But Starbucks isn’t looking at serving a niche; it’s trying to overpower an existing one. It’s not trying to save the neighborhood coffeehouse as much as eliminate existing neighborhood coffeehouses.

If you work in higher education, imagine a scenario where Harvard sent representatives to observe your campus for a year, then built a college right next door and used its deep pockets and superior marketing budget to poach your best students. 15th Avenue and its brethren look like wolves in sheeps’ clothing meant to thin the herd, not add new customer experiences. The next time I’m in Seattle, I plan to make a beeline to Victrola Coffee Roasters to show my support. Assuming it survives that long.

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Facebook: clutter vs. conversation.

While I still support Facebook’s right to continuously seek product improvement, I’m worn down with how the new setup clutters the feed with trifles. The noise-to-signal ratio has increased tremendously. Thus I status-lined the following pledge:

Tim Nekritz will not add any new applications (I have too many already), take any quizzes or answer any note tags. I feel like spam is crowding out actual conversations.

Eight people commented affirmation and, while it was short of the dozen people who enjoyed my posting the “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks link, I think junk on the feed is frustrating a lot of people. Sure, I enjoy throwing the occasional sheep (or other item), appreciate the droll humor in sending a can of Utica Club in Upstate New York Gifts (or Utica Gifts) and understand wanting to save the environment through Lil Green Gifts. But every new app just brings more spam, more notifications, more clutter on the feed, multiplying like kudzu until I can’t see the interactions that matter more to me.

One of my real-life interests is something I call neighborhood sociology, or studying what makes for a good or bad neighborhood. This often involves mowing your lawn, picking up litter, shoveling your walk and the like — personal responsibility. I’m fortunate that my physical neighborhood even supports one another, whether by clearing a neighbor’s snowy driveway or by banding together to get a drug dealer kicked out of the neighborhood.

At the very least, we should hope people can avoid overly littering their friends’ feeds, but there also comes a time to take back the neighborhood. You can complain about the new look, but if I have to see you took the Which Secretary of State Do You Most Resemble? quiz, which came up William Seward, and you choose to publish this to your news feed and tag me to do it, you’re part of the problem, not the solution.

Yet before the last two “improvements” (scare quotes intended), Facebook allowed greater customized control over the feed; you could filter (+/-) what kinds of information you receive. I mainly want to see status lines, conversations, photos, links, interesting media shared. I could care less about quizzes, who threw what at whom and who brought whom a virtual drink. Why can’t I still customize my feed to either eliminate or reduce the flow of unwanted items? This isn’t a hard function.

But while we wait to see whether the user polls running 94 percent against the new Facebook look have any impact, there is something we can do. We can keep our own little corner of Facebook from constantly littering the rest of the community. Let’s be good virtual neighbors.

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