Behind the Scenes: Checking Out New Social Media Venture Folk-Book
As any musician knows, Facebook is a nightmare these days. With a new algorithm that effectively blocks your posts from being viewed by your fans, and the constant demand to “sponsor” your content by tossing money into Zuckerberg’s greedy hands, it’s getting to be less and less fun each day. Used to be that Facebook was an amazing way to connect with your fans and advertise your work, but those days are over. So in looking for some kind of alternative (Twitter’s not fun enough, Tumblr’s too isolated, Instagram’s too hipster-ish, and Google+ is a ghost town), we were happy to find out about Folk-Book. This new venture, sponsored by the folks at Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour, uses the Ning platform (the same platform that No Depression uses) to create a social network of people whose common ground is acoustic roots music. It’s not totally free, but for $5.95 you get a lifetime subscription w/o ads, which is a pretty good deal. We thought we’d ask the folks behind Folk-Book to let us know more about this project:
Hearth Music Interview with Michael Johnathon of Woodsongs and Folk-Book
Who had the idea to start Folk-Book? What was the inspiration? Do you see it as a reaction to the continual problems musicians have with Facebook, or more of its own thing?
Michael Johnathon: Folk-Book is a social media site dedicated to the arts and music. All art, all music. Cello players, poets, banjo pickers, songwriters, Aunt Mable who loves country singers, Chris Thile fans, authors and more. I came up with the idea of Folk-Book after reading about the importance of social media, watching the landscape of radio and newspapers change, seeing record stores and venue drift away. After MySpace imploded from too many ding-dang ads and then Facebook’s stock issue took a nose dive after they ram-rodded this horrid Timeline mess on users. Now they changed their formatting and only 15% of your “friends” actually see your posts anymore. The original concept of Facebook is gone, surrendered to the needs of marketing and the stick issue. I wondered the same thing when I considered the idea of starting a radio show like WoodSongs. How hard can it be? I thought the same after seeing my first opera and wrote the Woody Guthrie Opera. How hard can it be? So it was with a social media site dedicated to arts and music, family and friends with no ads, no ad links and no rubbish.
How hard can it be?
What is the ultimate vision for Folk-Book? How do you see the website working for the national and international folk music communities in a year? In five? Do you see Folk-Book as being a money-making venture?
MJ: I want Folk-Book to be a worldwide gateway to an audience that loves art, loves music, loves family and friends. It is a non-adverting, non-political, non-religious community of supportive fans, family and friends. In the 50’s and 60’s musicians would gather at pubs and coffeehouses to swap stories, songs and inspiration. Now a songwriter in Vermont can do it online with a new friend in Australia. There is no reason in five years that Folk-Book can’t have millions of subscribers sharing positive passions with each other. The business model behind it is wise. For $5.95 anyone can get a lifetime membership. One subscription lasts forever with no ad-on charges or upgrade fees. No ads. No ad links. No garbage.
How did you personally get into folk music? What’s your background?
MJ: Pete Seeger was my neighbor in New York. I didn’t know who he was until I moved to Laredo Texas and played an old record by The Byrds called “Turn, Turn, Turn.” When I looked at the song information and realized the writer was my neighbor, I thought, “Ohhh. That’s who Pete Seeger is.” So I up and moved to Appalachia, a little hamlet called Mousie, Kentucky, and went up and down the hollers with my guitar and banjo learning old songs.
How do you see Folk-Book filling a void in the social media world? There are so many options for social media today, what is Folk-Book offering?
MJ: Folk-Book is an community driven escape from commercialism and advertising. I think there is a HUGE audience that is sick and tired of being “sold” stuff and, as odd as this sounds as first, they are willing to pay for their freedom. That is the business model of Folk-Book. Pay a tiny subscription just once, you are in for life and are welcomed by a growing community of artists from around the world, plus fans and families. Members even have access to the “Front-Porch” which is our Sunday evening video channel. They can sign up for free, sit in front of the camera on their computer and present a 15 minute concert, read from their new book, talk about a new coffeehouse they are starting, give a violin lesson. Whatever they want so long as it is not political or religious in nature.
How long has the site been live? How has it been developing so far?
MJ: We’ve been up for six weeks as of this interview and already have a thriving community of 1000+ members from Vietnam to Germany and all points in between.
Subscribing is easy and can be done from anywhere in the world. Go to www.Folk-Book.com, enter your email address, click the PayPal button and you’re done. If you don’t have a PayPal account you can use a credit card. Folk-Book will NEVER sell or share your email address or ask you for an upgrade charge. Once you are a member, you are part of the community for life. It’s a pretty ding-dang good deal. You can also become a member of Folk-Book for FREE by becoming a WoodSongs Radio Partner.
Is there a worry that Folk-Book might turn into a self-promotion site for singer-songwriters and folk artists? Social media sites can get swamped with self-promotion, like MySpace for example, so how are you planning to work with this? Maybe curate the content somewhat?
MJ: Nope. Look, as we all know the arts, by nature, is self-promoting. lol.
MJ : Well, WoodSongs is me. Our webmaster is Ian Hart, who is brilliant, and he has been taking caring of the WoodSongs website for years. The proceeds from Folk-Book go to support the WoodSongs all-volunteer run broadcast, which in turn continues to help artists everywhere. So in effect, by joining Folk-Book you are also helping to support the WoodSongs Old-time Radio Hour.
Do you think that folk music is better suited than other music to social networks? It seems like it
should be, since it’s such community-focused music.
MJ: The arts, all of it, is a caring, passionate, proactive fellowship. That isn’t just the artists, it includes the audience and fans. Folk music is by its nature a reflection of all art … folk, blues, bluegrass, country, celtic, old-time, songwriters, classical. Even opera and rock’n’roll. Folk-Book is a gateway to that huge grassroots audience worldwide.
With so many magazines and online outlets struggling, and musicians struggling as well, do you think that the folk music scene in the US is in trouble? It seems like there are more artists than ever, but fewer outlets than ever, which seems to be a bad combination!
MJ: The YouTube generation is the first generation in human history to recieve most of its art and music in a two-dimensional format. It’s all MP3s, iPads, flat screens speakers. I hope that Folk-Book, like WoodSongs, will use the two-dimensional format to encourage people to get off their ding-dang butt and start playing, singing, sharing, doing, loving, writing and exploring. Life is short, there is only so much “young” in the bank. It gets spent with or without our participation. Sometimes we need the tools, the supprt, the encouragement to get out there. I hope Folk-Book will help millions of artists and fans do that.
Come hang out with Hearth Music on Folk-Book –
I should also mention another folk music social media venture started recently: Acoustic Music Pinboard. It’s kind of like Pinterest, but more DIY and folk oriented. Check it out here:
This is part of our “Behind the Scenes” blog series. We love interviewing and profiling musicians, but we’ve also learned a lot from the wildly creative and deeply passionate people that put on festivals, run record labels, book venues, book bands, design posters, and any of the other more interesting jobs out there.