Beating a Dead Horse: Bluegrass and Social Media
I was reading my backed up email on the IBMA Listserv and I saw a recent post from Ted Lehmann who writes a (mostly) Bluegrass related blog called (creatively) “Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms”. Today’s post, Bluegrass and Social Networking, had a provocative enough title to get me to click through.
It’s thesis was essentially that social media is positive for bluegrass.
From Ted’s blog:
“Social Networks have enormous power to help people in bluegrass to increase our outreach, to find and develop people who want to listen and, perhaps, even pick. This power can help us, particularly if we see the music as being inclusive and look at it from a longer perspective. I’ve never been to a festival where every band appealed to me. Some we hear are not very good. Others are good at what they do, but don’t raise a level of enthusiasm within us. Still others grab us by the throat, draw us to their merch table, and demand further hearing. Who knows which ones we listen to today will be heard by anyone in forty or fifty years. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, social media have expanded the bluegrass universe and will continue to delight, disappoint, challenge, and encourage us to find new limits and ways to express our love of music. Social media can only help in this effort.”
While I love much of Ted’s work and think he is an extremely knowledgable member of the bluegrass world (and we’re lucky to have him), the piece didn’t go far enough to take on deeper, more meaningful questions facing bluegrass music (and the industry at large).
Obviously, I totally believe in the power of social media. However, this is an old story. The more troubling question to me is: why is the extremely passionate bluegrass community not online? Where is everyone?
I am regularly frustrated by the sheer lack of content on these platforms for bluegrass and americana (when compared to more mainstream genres). Is there something about the bluegrass community itself? Are many of us still not connected to the Internet?
Maybe Ted’s right: perhaps we first have to spread the word to bluegrassers that social media is worth the time and effort?
One thing is clear: the use of social media among musicians (and their teams) is increasingly becoming a matter of survival rather than merely a supplement to traditional brand exposure. The same goes for fans: we are partially responsible for spreading the music we love. Authentically, engagingly, online.
Ted sites The Bluegrass Legacy’s Facebook Page as the “Gold Standard” for using social media (in bluegrass anyway). They have about 28,000 likes (for some perspective, Sam Bush has about 10,000. Eminem, the most liked artist on Facebook, has upwards of 29 million). According to Fangager, The Bluegrass Legacy’s engagement level (as measured as a proportion of active fans to total fans) is 5.1%, a decently strong showing. By contrast, Eminem, due in part to his large number of total fans, has an engagement of 0.1%. It’s not as if there aren’t passionate bluegrass fans on these platforms, perhaps we just don’t have enough content on them.
Prime example: ask your friends what their favorite Bluegrass Blogs are. They boil down to 4-5. Why aren’t there more?
The digital generation has already shifted the conversation past metrics such as follower counts and “likes” to find meaningful ROI in our social media efforts. How engaged is your community? How are you helping them participate in the conversation about you?
Likes do not necessarily equal engagement.
One thing that Gary Vaynerchuk said at a Web 2.0 conference [paraphrased, expletives removed]: I don’t care how many followers you have, how many DMs (direct messages) do you send?
The point: the relationships are as real as the ones in real life. Access to fans may have gone up and gatekeepers have been brought down, but obscurity is far more common than notoriety. The challenge is to both create great art and connect those that are willing to listen online. This, however, is simply part of the new cultural reality we live in. Bluegrass should be killing it, not just getting to the party. We have a long way to go, it’s time to take the next step forward.