Activity, Not Passivity: Raising Cultural Awareness

image from sisyph.us Lately, I've had the pleasure of getting into in-depth discussions with the thinkers behind Songkick, We7, and Slacker. It's been a great experience. One of the things that I've been bringing up in each of these talks is the nature of the mechanisms through which we consume music and the set of behaviors they promote. My fear has always been that as fans become overwhelmed music choices they'll become ever more passive participants in their cultural lives. This concern dates back to the essay I wrote awhile ago, which is called Paradox or Paradise: Music Choice in the Digital Age.

When the news came through about We7 shifting the emphasis of their company, in part, due to fan preference, it renewed my interest in choice overload. Most famously, We7 CEO Steve Purdham stated that he thought the ultimate music service "was one where you get to choose,” but his users asserted that they can't be bothered, they just want to be entertained. To which I recanted, "Do we really want users to take the stance of "entertain me" towards their music listening experiences?" It's an important question to consider.

Perhaps though, as many have suggested, things have always been that way. Casual fans assume that disposition towards their music regardless of the medium through which they consume it. The more important argument that I made in that essay pertains to the notion that these music services also have the potential to make active fans more passive. Once push-button interfaces become the norm and the plethora of music online grows, the response from active fans likely won't be increased engagement and participation. While it could be argued that more advanced fans aren't bothered by rising choice because they possess the mental faculties to navigate it better than more casual fans. It's not hard to imagine that they too are susceptible to becoming more reliant on filters rather than on themselves, picking the same old thing over unlimited options, and taking a passive orientation towards their music experiences. Thus, it's not solely the behavior of passive fans that's worrisome. It's the notion that active fans, those of escalating importance to musicians, could grow passive too. The countertrend of significance here is that it's also becoming easier for passive fans to be active.

Across the board, companies are recognizing that lowering the barriers to fan participation, while still letting them consume as they wish, is of utmost value. The hope is that the easier that is becomes for fans to actively involve themselves in the careers of artists, at a level they're comfortable with, the more passive fans will take interest in doing so. Part of the way to accomplish this feat is through the integration of music services with artists and the recontextualization of marketing messages. It could be as simple as receiving concert updates through Pandora and other services, which is happening, as well as, providing fans with opportunities to follow artists on Twitter or sign-up to their mailing list. Overtime, our music experiences will be integrated. Consumption married with promotion.

The great dream is that the music industry is moving towards a future where artists focus less on seeking out their fans. Instead, music services will help find fans for them, increasing the efficiency of raising cultural awareness. The challenge is to increase the simplicity of discovering and consuming music, while still making it easier for fans to participate and be actively involved. If we focus on one without giving credence to the other than the future will be different from the one we imagined. Not all fans may be interested in becoming more active participants in their cultural lives. But if we don't provide them with the opportunities to do so then we'll never know how attending that show could've impacted their orientation towards music. Connecting the dots from consumption to promotion, while pursuing opportunities to raise cultural awareness and empowering fans with great music experiences, is the next frontier to explore.


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