Hey Unemployed Media Professionals! Read This Post Before You Apply For An Online Media Job!

I’m a journalist by training and communications professional by trade. It’s a sucky time to be doing either of those things right now. A lot of mid-career professionals are getting laid off from traditional media outlets on a daily basis and looking to online media for a new start, and that’s awesome.

However, there’s something I’ve gotta say. There’s a lot of misconception about what jobs are available in online media, and I just want to tell by un-and-underemployed brothers and sisters in communications the real deal. The future of your online media career will not lie in starting a MySpace page.

1.) Don’t Expect Your Blog To Be Your Next Full-Time Job

Blogging doesn’t pay. No, not even the Huffington Post. No, really, they don’t. And if you expect to be the next Heather Armstrong or Markos Moulitsas or the Go Fug Yourself girls, let that dream go, too. They are the exception to the rule, and for the most part the ship instant online stardom has sailed. And if you don’t know who any of those people are, you have a bigger problem if you want to make blogging your career. Blog because you love to write, blog because you have expertise in a particular field or a hobby that you want to share, or even to market yourself as a brand, Julia Allison style and generate clips. But please don’t set up a blog on Blogger or whatever to make money. You simply won’t.

If you do want to make a living (or beer money) from blogging, then you may want to check out problogger.net for information on how to start a blog that may (I said may!) get accepted by an ad network or score you a gig as a (paid) guest blogger/writer, or to find one of those elusive, holy grail FT jobs at a place like Gawker Media, or a Gawker Media-esque start-up. And if you do get one of those elusive jobs, please don’t roll up with a lot of talk about your awesome j-school degree and your storied career in print journalism, as no one will care. It sucks, but it’s true. Continue reading

Book Review: Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want

While applying marketing techniques in concert with authenticity isn’t something I will be using to help make my non-existent business reach a new level of confidence and power, there’s plenty of interesting stuff in James Gilmore & Joseph Pine’s Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. Much of the interesting information came in the form of theory and charts. Lots of charts.

However, one aspect of this book that can be applied to understanding of fan culture, what the authors deem the five types of authenticity (the fifth is natural authenticity):

Original authenticity: People tend to perceive as authentic that which possesses originality in design, being the first of its kind, never before seen by human eyes; not a copy or imitation. Items on this polarity range from imitation to original.

Exceptional authenticity: People tend to perceive as authentic that which is done exceptionally well, executed individually and extraordinarily by someone demonstrating human care; not unfeelingly or disingenuously performed. Items on this polarity range from disingenuous to genuine.

Referential authenticity: People tend to perceive as authentic that which refers to some other context, drawing inspiration from human history, and tapping into our shared memories and longings; not derivative or trivial. Items on this polarity range from fake to real.

Influential authenticity: People tend to perceive as authentic that which exerts influence on other entities, calling human beings to a higher goal and providing a foretaste of a better way; not inconsequential or without meaning. Items on this polarity range from insincere to sincere.

Fandom and fan culture often works within these four types of authenticity, but often with the additional factor of changes over time. Oh, and did I mention that there wasn’t discussion of basics of communication theory (how speech is perceived varies based on both the speaker and the listener) and how that would influence perceptions of authenticity.

So let’s run through several examples of shifting views of authenticity of music performers using Gilmore & Pine’s framework:

First, an example of being “authentic” using the work of another: Madonna’s guitar solo cover of a Pantera song in concert. Madonna fans, used to her usage of cultural and musical elements from a variety of sources, accept this musical addition. They view her actions as a positive type of referential and influential authenticity. However, Pantera fans view Madonna as an insincere, disingenuous, and fake imitator; strumming a few bars doesn’t make one authentic; however living the hardcore lifestyle does. (Bonus round: Does Madonna playing Pantera break copyright law? Not if she paid for it, under mandatory licensing — and Phil Anselmo can’t (legally) stop her, either.)

Second, an example of trying to be “authentic” to two/three personas simultaneously: Mylie Cyrus/ Hannah Montana. Hannah Montana is a Disney television show/ concert series for tweens based around Mylie Stewart who attempts to hide her superstar alterego persona, Hannah Montana, from being discovered, thereby somehow achieving the “best of both worlds,” having a normal life and a superstar life simultaneously. An additional complication is that Miley/Hannah is played by Miley Cyrus, who performs as both herself and her alter-ego. And MileyHannah’s father is played by Miley’s real father.

The multiple layers of what is real and not, what is authentic and not have caused problems for Miley Cyrus, who has been criticized for behaving like an actual teenager (rather than a Disneyfied teen) and for participating in a bedhead Vanity Fair Leibowitz photo shoot. But to additionally think about HannahMiley/Miley like Foucault, what is the possibility of truth or authenticity when the identity is purposely mutable? In one memorable episode, My Boyfriend’s Jackson and There’s Gonna Be Trouble, Hannah (the character) pretends to date Jackson (the character’s brother), and over the course of the episode, Miley’s real/fake father comments about how strange it is to have his kids dating each other, yet compels them to continue to fake date. The “couple” is chased by paparazzi and interviewed about their romance on Oprah-lite, complete with couch-jumping declarations of love.

Real life disproves what the show is intending to accomplish — Miley the person does not have the ability to have a “real” life and a superstar life separately. But to fans, questions about who is the “original”, genuineness, derivativeness, and even authenticity are completely irrelevant! Even though there is no obvious authenticity because there is no good way to distinguish between what is intended to be authentic and what is intended to be an act, the consumers of Miley”Miley”Hannah will still consume and love their idol.

Third, an example of being “authentic” through an external filter: Rush playing their own song, Tom Sawyer, backstage on the Colbert Report on the videogame, Rock Band, scoring an accuracy rating of 31%. Assuming one was looking for authenticity at being Rush, the band presently calling itself Rush would fit all four types of authenticity. But what about Rock Band? It does serve as referential authenticity, asking players to be Rush, and falls somewhat in the middle range for exceptional authenticity — after all, the point of Rock Star is to experience an accurate rock star experience — at least as much as you can in your living room. But where Rock Star fails is in effectively repeating and “calling up” the authentic, if those that embody the experience of playing Tom Sawyer “the right way” can’t reproduce it effectively.

As a last minute treat, as thought experiment, the authors define recent bands as combinations of previous bands.

Led Zeppelin + Iggy Pop = Red Hot Chili Peppers
Jimi Hendrix + Tom Jones = Prince
The Doors + Paul McCarthy = Nirvana

As much as you may disagree with these, this one is …

The Clash + Bootsy Collins = Kid Rock

Just no. That is not authentic music math on any level.

This book is found in many libraries and if you want to buy it, the ISBNs are 9781591391456 1591391458

Banking on the 1,000

One of my favorite metal bands, The Dillinger Escape Plan, recently left their record label, Relapse, after their contract expired. According to the following interview with lead singer Greg Puciato, the band has tentative plans to go independent with their next full-length release, inspired by the Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails model:

It seems so unnecessary now to sign a contract that’s based on an industry model that doesn’t exist anymore. Relapse did everything they could for us and everything is cool with them, but after being on the same label for ten years it feels unbelievable to know that we could literally self-fund a CD and just put it out the way Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead did. We can do whatever we want, y’know? The fact that we managed to not get big, but big enough, means that we have enough of a cult following that people might buy just as many records from us as they would from a store. There’s no point of having a record label behind you unless you have a chance of becoming a Walmart band like Nickelback or some huge entity. We don’t really foresee that in our future. I think we’re starting to get to the point where we view bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead as our peers, and even bands like Aphex Twin. Those are forward-thinking bands. We see ourselves regardless of any genre of music, and we don’t see ourselves aligned just with heavy bands. Like I said before, we have a cult following and we’re not little but we’re not big. I’m happy with where we are, and if we can just maintain the same quality control over our stuff as Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead do, I’ll be happy.

Why is this news, you ask? Because I think if they do go this route, their success would bea perfect example of Wired founder/important dude Kevin Kelly’s theory of “1000 True Fans.”

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

Clearly far from a household name, the band has, nonetheless, developed an extremely passionate and loyal fanbase, due in part to their ridiculous chaotic energetic live performances, as best exemplified here:

IMO, a household name artist with a past track record of mainstream success would never be an ideal test for this theory, but DEP is. They’ve been demonstrating it for awhile now. Take for example their recent promotion, where the band has sold limited edition t-shirts inspired by the titles of songs from their latest album. Sold only from the band’s MySpace page, the t-shirts have been repeatedly selling out. No middle man, no label, just selling directly to their passionate fans, and said fanbase (myself included) is lapping it up.

And for bands with niche audiences like DEP, maybe this model is more appropriate. Their brand of discordant, multi-tempo, aggressive metal doesn’t really have much chance of hitting it big on mainstream radio, and the record industry, still focused on hit-making. would brand these guys failures, despite a loyal fanbase that would continue to support the band, album after album and for every tour.

The real test of this model, at least when it comes to the music industry, is touring and promotion. 1000 True Fans don’t mean squat to a venue owner of a 2,000 seat theater who plans to book you for a night. That’s where casual fans do make a difference.

Having the PR muscle of a label (even a smaller label, like Relapse) behind you is crucial when you’re out on the road, and DIY promotion can only do so much, when you’re trying to get the word out in the areas where your True (and casual) fans can best be reached. Of course, this is where social media – MySpace, Facebook, etc. is a boon, but can it match what a label can do?

Time will tell.

In the meantime, I’ll be eagerly waiting to purchase DEP’s next limited edition shirt from their MySpace page.

Fans Vs. Freaks: Media Coverage of Fandom

It’s always amusing (and mildly annoying) when mainstream media outlets cover fandom and pop culture. The underlying smugness of their commentary often seems to rear its head, even when it’s hardly warranted.

Take for example, Yahoo Buzz Log’s recent coverage of the Warner Bros. decision to push the release date of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince to Summer 2009.

Upon hearing that Warner Bros. would delay the release of the sixth film from November to June, fans turned to the Web to voice their displeasure in ALL CAPS. Warner Bros., eager to keep the herd of angry nerds from storming its gates, quickly responded.

While this is not too far removed from reality (apparently many fans did flood the Warner Bros. offices with angry e-mails), much media coverage of non-sports fandom (and I’m talking blogs as well as mainstream media) still falls into the usual stereotype of the obsessive anti-social nerd, dressed in a costume and taking their fixation WAY too seriously, or the child/adolescent who hasn’t yet discovered “grown-up” pasttimes.

This, despite the fact that Harry Potter arguably is one of the more mainstream worldwide pop culture phenomena – J.K. Rowling certainly didn’t become the wealthiest woman in the U.K. solely because of the support of nerds and children.

As we’ve mentioned in previous posts and Henry Jenkins has certainly posited numerous times, pop culture fandom (particularly fandom that revolves around science fiction and/or fantasy) is still popularly covered by media outlets as the subversive activity of a maladjusted minority, despite the fact that fan culture more mainstream than ever, perhaps one of the few common global languages we share.

It’s also a driving force in the international economy; the Harry Potter franchise create significant economic impact, that’s part of the reason why the Half-Blood Prince delay made news in the first place. Some reporters recognize this, check out the L.A. Times coverage of the story – and the fans:

To some degree, that success motivated Warner to shift “Half-Blood Prince,” Horn said. The film will now hit theaters the same midsummer weekend that “Dark Knight” was released this year. Horn said the young, core Potter audience would be out of school and give the film a longer theatrical life. It will now open opposite Universal’s special-effects comedy “Land of the Lost,” which stars Will Ferrell. But Horn said there was nothing next year compared to this summer’s especially dense slate of big-budget releases.

The shift in schedule is already roiling Potter fans, who are among the most intense devotees in contemporary pop culture. Petitions were circulating, rumors were flying and angry screeds were being posted on Internet sites within minutes of the Thursday announcement … Horn acknowledged that the studio would have to pacify fans in the months to come.

So we are certainly seeing the lines blur between fan culture, mass culture and mass media, and certainly more journalists are seeing the value of covering fan culture as a legitimate beat with an economic/cultural relevance rather than a freakish curiosity (though entertainment journalists have been doing that for ages.) but the stereotypes still remain.