I’m writing you today to apologize that my phone usage during last night’s Austin City Limits taping for Kat Edmonson disrupted your experience at the show. I attend quite a few of these tapings, as I know you and your husband, John Kunz, do as well. I definitely wouldn’t want to hinder a fellow live music lover’s enjoyment of such a delightful artist as Austin’s own Kat Edmonson.
However, I also wanted to take the time to point out a few things that may shed some light on exactly why I was on my phone last night. For starters, I wasn’t texting anyone; I was Tweeting. Secondly, I intentionally sat on the upper level to ensure my phone usage did not show up on the taping or impact the artists. Typically I’m in the standing only section during these shows because I prefer to be closer to the artist. But knowing Kat Edmonson’s music fairly well – I saw her several times at the Elephant Room after moving back to Austin in 2009 – I figured this would be a better show if seated.
The main reason I attended this show was because I continue to work on my second book, Indisputable: A Fan’s Guide to the Live Music Capital, and had yet to include a major mention of Kat Edmonson in the book. I wanted to fix that, and the best way for me to do so was by seeing her at arguably the biggest show of her career.
So you may wondering why I was Tweeting at all during such an amazing, heartfelt show in support of one of Austin’s favorite young songstresses. Well, it’s rather simple: I was trying to do two things: 1) further promote Austin’s live music scene (being the vice chair of the Austin Music Commission only does so much) and 2) help artists like Kat Edmonson to make a living off the music she makes (ultimately, she’ll depend on fans like me [I have spent more than $2,000 in Waterloo Records since 2009] to buy her record).
You see, whether you like it or not, this “social media thing” isn’t going away. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that it’s quite revolutionary to the way people consume and gather information. Major news stories break on Twitter. Every major magazine/TV show/musician/news anchor/presidential candidate/brand/business has a Twitter presence because of it’s significance in raising awareness, expanding the brand connection with consumers, fans and “followers”, and bringing the world closer together. I could send you a ton of articles about this kind of thing because I’ve been working in the social media space for several years, but I think you get the point.
Interestingly, I realized that the very Tweet I was sending when you came up to chastise me was the following:
“Kat Edmonson's voice may seem soft, but it's a reminder how powerful jazz music feels. I'm being swooned. @acltv #Austin #livemusic #jazz”
You may not think that has any value to the show or Kat Edmonson’s career or to Austin City Limits, but sure enough that tweet was the only thing @ACLTV – their official Twitter handle – retweeted during the whole show.
It turns out that something I wrote and sent out to my 1,619 followers – approximately the number of people who were able to attend the show itself – registered with the folks running ACL TV’s Twitter and they decided to share it with their 27,133 followers. Talk about spreading the word. And considering that artists whom perform for ACL tapings are paid something paltry like $500 (imagine Radiohead getting paid $500 for a gig same as Kat Edmonson) and it’s pretty easy to see that the main reason bands are attracted to this show are for two reasons: 1) they love playing in Austin’s best venue and 2) they love the publicity generated from the show.
Simply put, Twitter has become one of the best and biggest publicity mediums a musical artist or business can have. This is probably one of the reasons why Kat Edmonson has a Twitter as well (1,073 followers), and why your husband’s business – Waterloo Records – does too. Last I checked, Waterloo had 15,042 followers on Twitter, not to mention another 19,320 fans on Facebook. You may not think it has value, but when tourist come to town for South by Southwest or any other time of year and spend their money buying CDs and vinyls, they’ll go home and click “like” or “follow” and that will be the way they stay connected to that legendary place called Waterloo Records.
I hope you know I'm not just guessing that this is the case. I actually know a thing or two about publicity because I’ve worked in the industry for a decade. I was a public relations graduate from the University of Texas several years back. Over the years, I've acted in a publicity-related role for the Texas Longhorns, Southwest Airlines, Volkswagen, the Beijing Olympics, the Pac-12 Conference, South by Southwest Festival, the bars on Rainey Street, and aided nonprofits such as the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, the March of Dimes, AIDS Services of Austin. Also worth noting, I've written a book called Real Role Models, an inspirational book for young African-American students, which was published by the University of Texas Press; I write blogs for The Huffington Post and have been published both in print and online for newspapers and magazines ranging from The New York Times to Austin-based Tribeza. I was the chief speechwriter for a government agency in 2005 and 2006.
My point is that I understand the value of both publicity and words, along with relevance. It’s also worth noting that I work for a tech company in town called Bazaarvoice, which specializes in helping some of the world’s leading companies leverage word of mouth behavior. That being said, a Tweet about that show was more valuable to ACL and Kat Edmonson last night because it drives a trending topic. In essence, it makes it more likely that a lot of Twitter users will find out about what was happening than if I had waited until after the show.
To be chastised for trying to raise awareness for Austin’s live music scene (thus reinforcing its status as the “Live Music Capital of the World”) in a real-time setting such as a live performance on Austin City Limits for an emerging artist like Kat Edmonson whose album is being sold at Waterloo Records, one of the last and best locally-owned record shops in the world is upsetting.
That it came from someone who loves Austin’s live music scene every bit as much as me is even more disheartening. I, too, would have been upset if someone was texting throughout the show. The problem is, that wasn’t happening.
The day and age we live in isn’t passive. We don’t just stand and watch. We don’t just sit and listen. We get on Facebook, we Tweet, we YouTube, we Instagram, we share. We build fan bases for our favorite musicians, TV shows and locally- and independently-owned businesses through word of mouth, online. I get it. @ACLTV gets it. @WaterlooRecords gets it. I hope you do too, someday.
With the utmost respect,
P.S. When I'm in Austin (I travel very often), I go to Waterloo Records just about every Tuesday to check out the newly-released albums and buy a few. My friends could tell you how serious I am about purchasing rather than stealing/pirating new music. Let me know if you'd ever like to meet up and chat more about the importance of social media and why I love Twitter. I've trained dozens of corporate executives, marketing reps and brand managers on how to leverage social media tools, and I'd be more than willing to give you a free tutorial if you're interested.