by: Nancy Baym
Along with Radiohead (though in fact far beyond them), Trent Reznor is often held up as one of the heroes of new media music promotion. This raises the usual litany of questions: Could this work for a new band without a huge following? Is this unique to him? Is this THE FUTURE? Blah blah blah?
Would what he does work for others? Well, no, not exactly. But what he does has got some lessons in it that would if you forget the specifics and focus on the concepts. Here are three things he’s got down:
(1) He intertwines the online and the offline instead of focusing on one or the other. Past promotions have included USB sticks left in restrooms with songs he knew would be uploaded and peer-distributed and t-shirts with hidden URLs where devotees could find clues to forthcoming releases. His current schtick incorporates Google Earth to lead inquisitive fans to tickets hidden in places like drainpipes.
(2) He knows that fans experience music together and all of these strategies are designed to make fans talk to each other and do things together. Emotion is contagious and sharing these experiences makes them more exciting than they are alone. Just think about how much more you laugh aloud when you watch something funny with others.
(3) He intertwines the feelings evoked by his music with those evoked by these strategies. In the blog linked above, Mark Milian summarizes the feelings he and his friends had when they found the tickets:
As we jumped up and down, celebrating our victory, it was obvious that Reznor had accomplished his goal. Those feelings of excitement and anxiety are the same emotions he aims to put across in his music. And that could explain why fans have been so overwhelmingly receptive to such a bizarre spin on one of the oldest forms of music promotion — a ticket giveaway.
The next band to hide USB sticks in bathrooms, put codes on t-shirts, or use Google Earth to point the way to hidden tickets will be rightly seen as copycats. But the next band to figure out how to take the experience evoked by their sound and find its counterpart in a social collaboration that fans can engage online and off will be rightly hailed as brilliant.