dylan_pic_212Musicians are very busy people. Busy because they are creative and it takes a lot of hard work to compose and publish music that their fans listen to. Add to that the endless discussions on patents with lawyers, the award functions to attend to, the distribution and endorsement deals to be signed and the advances to be secured; there is really very little time to listen to what their fans are telling them let alone involve them in co-creating new experiences. That kind of flies in the face of what a musician is supposed to epitomize – connecting with, listening to and drawing inspiration from their paying public.

There is symmetrical irony in the fact that the legacy mindset of the music industry of ownership and control has in fact laid the foundations of “peer-to-peer” music which now threatens the very existence of CD sales. Add to that the fact that except for some discontinuous campaigns against piracy, precious little has been done to involve mainstream listeners in experiences beyond the gigs and ringtone downloads. The “paying” listeners are expected to pay for the gigs and the tracks and that money (or large parts of it) are likely to be used by musicians to be on the top TV Channels – a dichotomy that does not hold up in the halls of reason.

Musicians identify well with record sales and airtime on radio channels. They are yet to learn about rallying the support of communities of music fans who connect with each other based “their” genre of music or “their” favourites, “their” gigs and “their” personalities. These communities create buzz by sharing their own experiences, vote and rate gigs and tracks, create playlists of their favourites and in fact help co-create the brand that musicians seem to find difficult to do, by running after yesterday’s mechanisms.

The fact is that it is the listener who now directs the playlist of her own station. History bears testimony to the fact that no regime that denied participation of customers in any industry has ever lasted, and players who do not view this as “clear and present danger” will sooner or later land up making way for new paradigms that they didn’t see coming (e.g. the demise of proprietary software architectures). There ought to be a smarter way of doing things. Something, that is more “inclusive of” and “rewarding for” the “listeners”.

There could not be a better time than now to for musicians to invest in a proper strategy. A strategy that enables them to find, connect and lead groups of followers by providing a platform for their collaborative experiences. This is obviously not a “knee jerk, back-of-the envelope, let’s do Facebook” plan that happens and then just fizzles out. In fact it was painful to see a leading Indian Band have 286 followers in FB with little or no growth, let alone meaningful conversations, in the last 3 months. It is about defining objectives, articulating viral initiatives and investing in them till results are realized. It is about realigning their initiatives to include others that are more responsive to the current moments of truth. There is huge opportunity in leading the way music is heard, experienced and promoted – by co-opting the experiences of communities.

Now back to the title of this post. I am an ardent listener (read follower) of Bob Dylan. Apart from being one of the most prolific artists of all times, what impresses me most about this forever young poet, singer and musician is the way he uses social media to his and his community’s advantage. Bobdylan.com engrosses you in its magically crafted content (simple yet intriguing), entangles you by rewarding you with a track from his latest album when you sign-up, and finally enmeshes you by allowing you to post your profile, create your playlists and publish your own blogs and create buzz with other Dylan aficionados. Although separated by several thousand miles from where Bob is, I feel a sense of connectedness and involvement. In way I think Bob has answered his own question “How many miles must a man walk down?” .. “The answer is blowin'” … in the Web.

And the Indian Music Industry would do well to listen up, before the Hard Rain starts-a- fallin’.

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