If Fan Hatred Is Affecting Your Career, Please Read This…

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Last week, Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches sparked a massive debate on fan hatred, and more specifically, internet trolling and the dark sides of anonymity.  But fan hatred rarely exists without a counterbalance of fan love, most of which is never fully expressed or appreciated. As publisher of Digital Music News, I feel very qualified to discuss online hatred, oftentimes from anonymous sources.  But I typically find value in the hate and never delete negative comments.  And part of the reason is that for every vitriolic hater, there’s an equally-passionate lover who thanks DMN for helping to inform and shape their business and even artistic decisions.

I’m not even sure one can exist without the other.

Which leads to a more important question: as an artist, are you disproportionally swayed and controlled by all the hate?  In a surprising study released this week on social networking for musicians, a major takeaway was that the most powerful aspects of connectivity cannot be quantified at all.  And the benefits of positive feedback can be enormous. The report, by Microsoft researcher and MIT visiting professor Nancy K. Baym, explores all the aspects of online data measurement, analysis, and economic importance.  And it found that one positive email, post, or tweet can make all the difference in an artist’s life and creative trajectory.

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The data that matters most for assessing social value may not be measurable at all. In talking with musicians, it is clear that the most significant assessments of their worth — even those that come through social media — will never lend themselves to counting.  They are the stories that come in posts, e–mail messages, and private messages which, from a metadata perspective, look interchangeable with all the other messages in the pool.  It is the communication that matters in these cases, not the metacommunication. [Mike] Timmins [of Cowboy Junkies] explains that most musicians get into music “because as fans they’d been deeply touched by music in some way or another, and usually by a handful of bands or musicians, and they have their own stories as fans.”

When someone tells you their story and how your music and what you’ve written or sung or played has deeply affected — it’s often extremely private and personal sections of their lives. It’s really amazing. It does validate the whole thing for you. You know, you go through periods where you think “What the hell am I doing this for, and who’s listening?” and then you only need one or two of those, and you go “Okay, well, right there that makes it — that’s worth it right there.”

I asked if some stories were more affirming than others.

Yeah. I mean, you know, there are those who — “This song was our first song at our wedding,” which is very fantastic and beautiful, and then there are those who, you know, “This is the album I listened to with my sister at her death bed,” that sort of thing.

The American rock musician David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, who tends to provoke political arguments with his Facebook fans, told me this story:

I just remember this one guy who used to always argue and then I just noticed he sends me a message directly and it’s about his mom is actually basically dying and her final request is this one Camper Van Beethoven song, Take Me Down to the Infirmary. […] I was kind of stunned and flattered that somebody would — basically the song that she wanted to hear on her deathbed and it was just wow, I — it never really occurred to me that our music could penetrate that far into someone’s emotional life or something like that.

These outstanding moments have deep social value but are invisible from a big data or metric perspective. These musicians build information systems that take them into account by treating some kinds of data as more important than other kinds of data.

A million followers may in some ways be less valuable than a single post.

These forms of value are not accounted for in economically motivated data analyses, and efforts to encapsulate them within the language of economics misses much of what reaching an audience means to a creator. In some ways it is trite to point out that metrics cannot capture the emotional value of art, or that the emotions art invokes are beyond commodification. Yet at the same time, it is art’s power to give voice to such affect that motivates creators to create and audiences to spend money on those creations. The economics of art cannot be understood without grappling with affect. Grappling with affect entails learning how to weigh some moments — moments that may not be visible from big data or metric perspectives — more heavily than the stream as a whole.

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  Image by epSOS.de.  The image and research used under Creative Commons licenses.  Written while listening to HAIM.

15 Responses

  1. joncwriter

    Well put. It’s not just numbers and data that should be looked at in this respect. Sure, it might sound touchy-feely (or trite, as you said) to point out that there’s a lot of emotional response both good and bad, not just to the music itself but also the output of the artists, but it’s just as equally valid.

    I’ve been using Shakespeare a lot lately–you know, “A tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”–in response to a lot of the noise one hears in social media. Everyone Must Have An Opinion. Everyone Must Have Feels About Something. And You’re a Fucking Moron If You Disagree With Me. And all that other ridiculousness. The downside of Twitter, Facebook, and Comments Sections is that we’ve all been given a soapbox in which to vomit out our immediate emotions about something. And that’s the issue right there–immediate, reactive emotions. Something will rile us up, and next thing you know, everyone is calling everyone else Stupid Poopyheads. And with that come the lower strata, the trolls who are just there to make fun of your looks and pants you in front of everyone [and those who just don’t know/care about boundaries and go too far].

    I have to give Lauren Mayberry mad props for coming out and saying what she did. She didn’t come out and say “C’mon guys, let’s stop being mean to each other, mmkay?”–that is, she didn’t respond reactively. It was an intelligent, thoughtful response that more people should take: stop the trolls in their tracks–derail them if possible, and keep the upper hand.

    As for the plus side…I always @ a band or singer on Twitter when possible, especially when I have a strong response to their releases, because I understand that it really does count. Even if it’s just a “wow, the new @CHVRCHES is pretty damned awesome!”, I do it anyway just to let them know they’re being heard. It has nothing to do with soothing a creator’s ego–it’s really about the end result of the creator’s work, letting them know that we embraced their hard work and were moved by it. [I say this as an author and lifelong music lover–I get that once your baby is out there, you really have no idea what its reaction is until someone tells you.]

    • Bobby

      Cannot wait to inject that Shakespeare quote into my regular social media responses.

      • joncwriter

        You’d be surprised the number of Shakespeare lines you can use as great disses. 😉

  2. Jughead

    I believe anonymous speech is critical in supporting the freedom to dissent. The problem is that America (and pretty much all of pop culture) has no problem with classless, depraved, and egocentric behavior that lacks any sign of grace.

    Sad. Mark Mothersbaugh was right.

  3. GGG

    I’ve got a couple friends who are up-and-coming comedians, but still very successful for where they are (videos range from 400K to almost 11M views and the one thing they’ve always said to me is you read through 100 comments, and the first 99 are how much each person loves you, that one negative one at the end will still outweigh the first 99 a lot of the time. They’ve gotten much better at not caring, but depending on your mood, what the person says, etc, they can still cut through you like no small amount of “I love you!” posts can.

    • Paul Resnikoff

      I’ve heard that comedy often attracts depressive personalities, so that could explain part of that imbalance. A good friend of mine managed a comedy club for many years, and said as much.

      • GGG

        Yea, probably haha. I’m sure in general though, in the beginning when you’re still just being brave by throwing your creations out to the world, it’s still gotta sting. Even when you 100% know not everyone will like you, you still have this absurd reality in the back of your mind where everyone does.

        But yea, I agree with the article. It’s 2013, we’ve all been assholes on the internet by now, if you let it blindside you and take control of what you do, you’re just not cut out for the realities of the gig.

        • Paul Resnikoff

          Even more interesting is that some performers (very, very talented ones) have managed sort of skip over that. There’s an interesting documentary (or more accurately, TV biography) of Eddie Murphy in which he says he never had to slog it out, brave through the hate, or gird through this tough period of tough obscurity. He hit it big very early in his career.

          Then again, Murphy’s career would be entirely different if it started in 2013.

  4. Kelsey

    This article misses the point. Mayberry isn’t talking about “fan hatred,” she’s talking about RAPE THREATS. Threats to her life, online, from people who think it’s funny. Please don’t be the asshole that excuses this behavior because “oh gosh, plenty of people love her music, so it’s all gravy!”

  5. lifer

    1) Big difference between legitimate criticism, hatred, and threats. These are not interchangeable.
    2) Pimps, pushers and politicians may have a few satisfied clients/constituents but that does not mean their product is quality or ethical.
    3) Big difference between journalism and infomercial. Any war correspondent, beat reporter, or waitress prolly LTAO @ a publisher who whines about the dangerous “streets of Harlem.” Faced more danger outside the Mudd Club, Pyramid or CBGBs on any Saturday on the “mean streets of downtown Manhattan.”

  6. Anonymous

    Paul, just wanted to let you know that I’ve never posted a comment before, but I thoroughly enjoy reading DMN ever day.

  7. Anonymous

    Being an anonymous fan versus a musician whose putting their voice and words out there for the world to judge. I think what is most astonishing to me is that a musician would be affected that much by what a fan says that is positive over negative. As an admitted introvert someone who is literal in some cases screaming their thoughts and feelings out to the world seems like an incredibly self-confident person. It never occurred to me that an artist would care about a stupid fan story and how much a song or album affected them at a certain point in their life. Maybe I’m a cynic but I figured a musician who could make the music they wanted and make money doing it cared little beyond that much less about the individuals listening to it and their lives. As long as there was a minimum of criticism their music was an abstraction versus the soundtrack playing as the tears of a breakup, the loss of a lover or the sorrow of some personal tragedy is lived out…if their words had become the motivation to triumphs hard fought, would the Musician who created it want to be bothered to know? I had always assumed no- as an avid music listener l always felt as long as I wasn’t a hater I was a lover. There will always be haters and you want the artist who inspires you to have a minimum of rejection but this article made me consider the power of inspiring back.

    • GGG

      They are still human beings, and any group of musicians will have or lack the same amount of sympathy, apathy, empathy, as any other random group of human beings. Plenty care or would be moved by those stories, others wouldn’t give a shit. Just like some random barback can have a heart of gold and some police officer could be the biggest scumbag.

      I don’t really hang out with celebrities or anything, but I meet enough famous people through work and you really just have to remember, for better or worse, they are just people. Paul McCartney may have changed the world and I respect/envy/etc him greatly, but at the end of the day he’s just some dude who wakes up and takes a shit like the rest of us.

  8. Matt G

    I actually opened this article in my ascap e-mail because I received a negative comment on one of my songs on my Youtube channel this morning. Wasn’t overly negative, but hasn’t help my attitude this afternoon. I have very huge problem with some of the distasteful comments I read on other channels that aren’t even my own… i think its time we cleansed online commenting to at least show how classless it is… Though I know there will ALWAYS be haters!