Geeks, Fans, and the Changing Face of Music

Clive Thompson writes a longish article for the New York Times Magazine about artists connecting with fans through the internet. He devotes a lot of space to describing Jonathan Coulton, a “geek troubador” (in the words of the Boing Boing link that alerted me to this).

Having been to his web site (via a link from Penny Arcade, downloaded some songs, and seen him live with John Hodgman, I knew Jonathan Coulton was all about the geeky music: not only does he give away dozens of songs for free on his blog, a good number of them are about things like shy programmers and zombies. The above-linked article really drives home just how linked in he is to fan cultures, though:

His fans need him; he needs them. Which is why, every day, Coulton wakes up, gets coffee, cracks open his PowerBook and hunkers down for up to six hours of nonstop and frequently exhausting communion with his virtual crowd. The day I met him, he was examining a music video that a woman who identified herself as a “blithering fan” had made for his song “Someone Is Crazy.” It was a collection of scenes from anime cartoons, expertly spliced together and offered on YouTube.

“She spent hours working on this,” Coulton marveled. “And now her friends are watching that video, and fans of that anime cartoon are watching this video. And that’s how people are finding me. It’s a crucial part of the picture. And so I have to watch this video; I have to respond to her.” He bashed out a hasty thank-you note and then forwarded the link to another supporter — this one in Britain — who runs “The Jonathan Coulton Project,” a Web site that exists specifically to archive his fan-made music videos.

Clive Thompson casts this as the changing face of music and film, but I wonder how much the geek image has to do with this. Sure, the Hold Steady has an “appointed geek” to handle fan relations online, but does he spend as much time on that as the fellow who’s writing songs about the Mandlebrot Set?

One thought on “Geeks, Fans, and the Changing Face of Music

  1. Interesting in that this is the same thing that Dana Cook did to build his audience (via Myspace) Lotsa emailing and personal contact between performer and audience. I’d say there is a framework there (that generally taking the time to connect with fans personally leads to a greater following). Where the Geek bit comes in that a fan has repurposed content (the anime) to remix something. It’s a coming together of two “geek” topics and so its natural for a certain amount of cross pollination to occur (goes both ways too, I’d assume). I’m not quite sure how “geek” is defined, but I imagine a willingess to try something new would be part of it.

    Of course, that might be just a specific class of geeks. For example, would someone very into opera in the same way that someone is into Coluton be into a music video remixing opera w/ some anime? Would that opera geek then check out the anime? I dunno. Or would the anime fans seek out opera after a remixed of opera/anime. I guess that’s the rub. So there is a “geek” thing.

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