BY FAR, this has been my favorite concert-going experience of 2011. It’ll be very difficult to top it. If you’re a fan or a reader of the Lefsetz Letters, Bob wrote a nice piece that mentioned this gig a while back. But I was there, he wasn’t, so what now, Bob? Back on July 6, fans of Jackson Browne and SoCal-based band Dawes (who has gained a lot of national recognition in the past 2 years) descended upon the hipster harbor of Silver Lake here in California for a rollicking night of roots rock. If you’ve never heard of Dawes, I definitely recommend educating yourself. And if you’ve never heard of Jackson Browne, then I’m sorry, I simply cannot help you.
What’s the big deal? People go to shows all the time, no? What made this one any different from all the others?
Going into this show, I felt like I was going to experience something special. Coming out of the show, I knew I had experienced something special. What made this particular show so amazing? 8 simple ingredients, which I also happen to feel are applicable to your radio brand’s social media efforts.
1. Context is key. One of the popular buzz phrases you’ll hear about social media is “Content is king.” But what’s content without context? I’ll tell you what it is: Just another concert. On the surface, a Jackson Browne / Dawes bill isn’t a mind-blowing concept. Here’s what I didn’t tell you about that night. The show was hosted at The Satellite, a tiny 300-person venue tucked away in the cozy LA neighborhood of Silver Lake. Jackson Browne, a legend in his own right, playing for just 300 people! He easily could have packed one of the larger venues in town, but the scale of The Satellite created an intimate experience for the show. 300 people squeezed in tight, all within yards of a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer. The bands clearly respected this and geared their sound accordingly to fit the context of the space. Very smart. We ought to approach social media in the same way. Understanding audience expectations is crucial. The one-way approach that you’re accustomed to using on the air doesn’t translate in the conversational context of social media. And by understanding the differences among the various social media “venues,” we can leverage each to share the appropriate type of content accordingly.
2. Spontaneity. Another little nugget of detail that I left out about this show: It was announced only 2 days in advance. Talk about a sense of urgency. When I saw Dawes tweet the announcement of this show (Surprise! I found out about it via social media!), I knew I had to act quickly. Jackson Browne, with his national acclaim. Dawes, a band just below the radar (for now), and already equipped with a huge following in their native Southern California. In a 300-person venue! There was no waiting around to decide if I wanted to buy tickets or not. In general, I feel like radio has completely lost sight of this sense of urgency. Listen all week to win. New music from So-and-S0 coming up next hour. What happened to instant gratification? Social media, by nature, is in the here-and-now. It’s real-time. Use those tools to spread content, break news, give away tickets, and generate conversation NOW. Not tomorrow. Not after breakfast. NOW.
3. Old vs. New. Let’s do some role playing. Imagine, for a moment, that Jackson Browne refuses to do a show with Dawes because they’re “new music” and “won’t last.” Meanwhile Dawes, influenced in part by the same style of music that Jackson Browne creates, are succeeding in a new era of music distribution and artist-fan relationships. Browne sees such a collaboration as “dangerous,” even though it could bring in a new wave, and even a new generation, of fans for him. Sound familiar?! It’s the Old Media vs. New Media dichotomy, a false one at that. Jackson Browne and Dawes share a deep respect for music and understand the mutual benefits of collaborating. Jackson Browne fans have the opportunity to be turned on to this young group of guys from Southern California, and fans of Dawes could gain an even greater appreciation and understanding for this legend in rock music. They know that fusing “old music” and “new music” isn’t a logical or physical impossibility. In fact, Dawes actually served as Browne’s backing band throughout the night. It’s not a question of old media or new media; it’s a question of old media AND new media and how they can fit hand-in-hand. How can you leverage your current on-air signal to develop your social media efforts? And vice versa?
4. Respect for values of the past, with an eye toward the future. During their second set, the musicians showed their humility and paid tribute to Warren Zevon — a contemporary of Browne’s, and certainly an influencer of Dawes — with a trio of covers. They understand that they’re carrying the baton of rock music from those who have paved the way before them, bridging the generation gap. But with that baton comes a great deal of responsibility. The responsibility never to become complacent, the responsibility to innovate, the responsibility to move rock music forward instead of letting it become stagnant (Nickelback isn’t helping that cause). While Dawes respects the honesty, vulnerability, and introspection of Jackson Browne’s brand of rock, they also understand the importance of expanding, not duplicating, those themes with their own authentic touch. While some of the core values of broadcast media have been lost in an age of historic consolidation and commercialization, social media has helped us to regain focus on those values and evolve them to fit the 21st century. What are some of the values that your radio brand embraces? How can you advance those values via social media?
5. Don’t forget where you’ve come from. Like I said, Jackson Browne alone could have easily sold out any one of the larger theaters in Los Angeles. Yes, he’s certainly had his fair share of success and fame. But he hasn’t forgotten where he came from — the small, intimate venues where he performed early on and honed his craft. Dawes even named their 2009 debut album “North Hills” as a reminder of their place of origin. No matter how popular these musicians have become, they remain grounded in their humble beginnings where they developed their sense of identity and purpose. As a radio brand, it’s important to understand the foundation of your brand. You didn’t build a community of 100,000 people overnight. Likewise, you won’t rope in a million Facebook fans and Twitter followers in your first 24 hours, either. Use your early days, weeks, and months in social media to better understand the sense of identity and purpose your brand conveys. And no matter how many fans your community grows to, always remain focused on where you’re grounded. Use the tools to continue to find yourself, not to lose yourself.
6. What’s your story? Between who you once were and who you are now, there’s a story. The story of Jackson Browne’s career covers five decades, over a dozen albums, countless tours, and millions of fans. He has woven himself in and out of the mainstream, but has always remained focused on his own brand of music that resonates at a personal level. Dawes endured the departure of guitarist Blake Mills and geared their sound more toward the “Laurel Canyon” vibe. And they’re still just getting started. Every artist and band has a story. Your radio brand also has a story. Have you ever delved into its archives and learned about its successes and tribulations? It’s much easier to know where you’re going if you know where you’ve already been. The future isn’t written. You can always change course any time you need. In using social media, you have the power to shape the story of your brand and to help sculpt the story of your community. With the inevitability of the Facebook Timeline layout spreading to business pages, you have an even greater opportunity to show where your brand has been and where it’s headed.
7. Promote one another. Jackson Browne and Dawes could easily view each other as “The Competition,” contending for such things as record sales, fans, relevance. They could have just as easily performed a standard set: Dawes opens, Jackson Browne headlines, with no interaction between the two acts. Instead, the two collaborated and promoted each other throughout the night, taking turns playing on each other’s songs. They understand that the music community is larger than just one band. Browne went so far as to refer to the members of Dawes as some of his favorite songwriters. And you could tell it wasn’t just lip service. By promoting each other – authentically – they helped bridge the gap between two generations of musicians and music fans. They used the concept of strength in numbers to fortify the music community at large, not just themselves. Fans of Jackson Browne have earned his trust through the quality and authenticity of his music over the years. When he calls a group of musicians some of his favorite songwriters, you know they’re legit. And by promoting Jackson Browne to a younger generation of fans, Dawes earns some credibility as well. No musician is an island, and the same holds true for your radio brand. Establish your credibility by promoting and sharing other sources of content via social media. Partner with…dare I say it…other radio stations…to rally around a cause that’s important to your communities. Now more than ever, you have the tools to connect with new and diverse partners. Remember, what’s good for the radio industry is also good for your brand.
8. Respect for fans. For an evening of music with Jackson Browne and Dawes, I would have expected to pay at least $50, plus service fees, convenience charges, service charges, convenience fees, shipping & handling….so closer to $75. Nope. Tickets were $30. Total. What a show of respect to the fans to keep a limited-capacity event featuring two amazing acts at such a low cost. This gesture demonstrated that these guys know whom they’re playing for every night. They could have made a lot more money off of this gig, but at what cost? Instead, they put their community before their wallets. They understand the importance of accessibility in the artist-fan relationship and lowered the barriers between them. Social media is an extremely effective way to lower the barriers between you and your community. And what could be more respectful than actively taking part in your community, engaging its members, and putting them ahead of your monetization efforts?