We had a great time in Red River this weekend for the first annual Red River Songwriters’ Summer Camp. We had 17 brave campers (no tents, real beds…for the creative spirit) and 7 teachers (that is a good ratio, right?). I got to nerd out on social media and talk to a bunch of folks about how to not be afraid of the social part of social media. I made a lot of notes:

Workshop - Red River, NM

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Me trying to be teacherly.

We had class in the bar at the Motherlode Saloon – we joked that you can learn all day and forget it that night all in the same room.

Workshop - Red River, NM

We apparently exhausted our campers (in a good way). As one of them put it, my 90 minute session was a “firehose of information.” I think that’s a good thing.

Workshop - Red River, NM

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Brandy, Kelley, and moi learning while Susan talks.

Head over to our Facebook page to get updates on dates for next year!

I am pleased to announce that my eBook “Money & Heart” is available exclusively on Kindle for a limited time promotion…and it’s heavily discounted! That’s how you roll on Amazon and I’m just happy to be in the massive behemoth of a store and available on your iPad or Fire or Galaxy or giant face phone or whatever you have.

Get it here.

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I am also offering a new service on Social Thinkery called “Pick My Brain.” You get my brain for a long chat AND you get some follow up notes from me after out meeting. This is exciting, and if you feel like you’re sitting on a big pile of potential (that’s you) but you’re not sure on your next step…I can help with that. If you just need some clarity on your web presence or social media strategy, I can help with that, too. Stuck on how to book better and more gigs? Guess what? Yeah! Click here to pick it.

Hey folks! I have been working on this project for…um…a while. It’s hard to press “launch” on a thing sometimes. I wrote this book because oftentimes on the road people will ask, “I like what you do for Susan Gibson…how do you do it?” It would take a LOT of explaining, like a whole lot. Like’s a book’s worth. So here we go!

BUY THE EBOOK HERE. (That’s called direct marketing).

“Money & Heart” – named after my folk-rap – covers a lot of topics. The importance of a great online presence for artists, booking, touring, social media, handling it all while STILL being an artist, publicity, and whatever else came out of my head. I intend for it to be a good guide for the beginner and a great check in for people who have been doing the musician thing a while.

Check it out
or send it to your musician friends and loved ones. It’s discounted right now, because I like discounts. Eventually I will like full-priced things, so um…get on it. (Direct marketing again!).

Thanks to Susan Gibson for listening to the drafts in the van for the last year and for helping me launch it, and to Carrie Ann and my mom for proofreading it with their smart eyes.

Day 3 is known among conference attendees (well, me and my friend Chad anyway) as Slump Day. It’s Sunday, but in 5 day conference land, it is Wednesday. The partiers partied the first two nights. Some people are leaving for home already. Sundays here are decidedly chill and a time for your brain to take it easy for a second. That’s kind of how my panels were, except for a mind-blowing keynote. Here we go, dear readers.

The Anatomy of Selfies That Sell was first up, and it was a little more geared toward brand marketing than I wanted it to be. Basically, the big keyword of the panels I have been seeing this year is UGC: User Generated Content. FACT: the human race takes 2.6 BILLION photos…A DAY. There are more smartphone cameras now than the total sum of cameras that have ever existed prior to right now. Of course brands are going to want to utilize this. Also, consumers are way more savvy about how we are being marketed to and we crave (another keyword) authenticity. So a pretty image of a watch taken in a studio with its face glistening in the flourescent light does way less for us than a photo someone took of them wearing their watch in a coffeeshop one day. How to balance these two ends on the spectrum is a challenge.

Then it was the panel that made me cry: Youtube celebrity iJustine (her real name is Justine, imagine that) interviewed Lizzy Velasquez, a remarkable young woman making big strides in addressing cyber-bullying. We watched a couple of trailers for A Brave Heart, the new documentary premiering here at SXSW about Lizzy, and she talked a little about her life. It made me really angry at the subset of humans who regularly troll around online to make people’s lives hell…but then seeing Lizzy’s story of taking something like that and trying to change the world for the better warmed the cockles of my cold, angry heart before I grabbed a pitchfork and went on a rampage. Phew. (Read about iJustine, too…she’s 30 years old and the “grandmother of Youtube” – the first vlogger, really).

KEYNOTE. Martine Rothblatt. I went because usually the 2 PM keynote hour is low on options and you kind of have to go or just float around. I thought I’d rest my brain…totally wrong. Martine Rothblatt is the highest paid female CEO in the United States. She founded Sirius Radio and now heads up United Therapeutics. I’m just going to copy from Wikipedia for the interesting part: she is a transhumanist, interested in the “prospect of technological immortality via mind uploading and geoethical nanotechnology.” Like…mindclones people. Like…we clone our minds and have beings separate from us who ARE us, because they are made up of all our thoughts, but they are completely sentient and complete beings. Cyberconsciousness will live after our physical bodies die. Companies are already building mindware…software to harvest our thoughts, patterns, likes, hates, predispositions, etc. to build the cyberconsciousness. I am doing a terrible job explaining because it’s so over my head, but check out this article here. Oh yeah, and in the meantime? Her company has come up with a way to use pig cells to grow human organs. They are also coming up with ways that each human being can grow their own replacement organs if needed. She said at any given time 400,000 people need a lung transplant in the U.S. and there are only 2000 lungs available. Imagine if we could grow our own? Seriously – do a little reading on this woman. I bought her book. It’s so out of the way of anything I ever think about it’s fun to ponder.

Then…I slumped a little. I went to a full panel run by the documentarians at Pixar…which is the team that lives at Pixar and documents the people AT Pixar. Kind of cool, kind of not what I was expecting. Some good points about interviewing people and stuff, but overall not life-altering. Sally Field was speaking across the hall and I kind of wished I had hopped in that line (IstillloveyouPixar!).

Lastly a panel with someone from the PBS Digital team and NPR’s Codeswitch program. PBS and NPR are historically and yes, STILL…watched and listened to by older, white males. And surprisingly, most of the staff are still older and white. Weird. Anyway, these two, especially Shereen Marisol Meraji of Codeswitch, are trying to change that. Codeswitch actually has a majority young, non-white audience, which is unheard of for public radio. As a former PBS intern, I can say that when I was there…yes, we were old and white. It’ll be interesting to watch the next 10 years for both organizations to see how they pivot (pivot faster!!!).

I am typing this on Monday after going to bed early and am happy to report I have lived through the Slump and am back at it. Thanks to everyone who reads these!

It was a good, chill day. There are a LOT of people here. They have started marking certain panels as “popular” so you at least know you have to get somewhere really early to get a seat.

I started off with “Simple Ways to Massively Increase Your Content” with a social media manager for Oracle and the social media manager for NBC Sports. While I do not work with anything on the scale of the Super Bowl or the Olympics, there are definitely things to learn from giant corporations. Something that stuck out is the egalitarianism of social media. Yes, NBC has a lot broader reach and the benefit of being a television network, but they use the SAME tools we do. They use Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook. They make “in the moment” videos. They take fan generated content and re-post it. They threw out the stat that in 2008 there were 1 trillion indexed web pages on Google and now, in 2015, there 67 trillion. Massive growth that is not stopping, and everyone from Susan Gibson to NBC Sports needs to figure out how leverage these tools to make a noise and find their community and interact with it.

Next panel was “The Emperor’s New Wearables,” simply because I was interested in it. One panelist was from Intel, which – did you know Intel was making smart watches now? Me neither. The panel was mostly discussing the need to make a watch that looked good first and was a smart watch second, as many people don’t want to wear a clunky looking sci fi watch on their wrist. Fashion over function, I guess? Also the potential for usefulness is growing…imagine wearing a Jawbone on your wrist and it knows when you are waking up so it adjusts the thermostat in your house before you are even awake. Stuff like that is the practical immediate future of wearables.

After that was Paola Antonelli, a Senior Curator at The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) gave the keynote. Sometimes it’s good to just sit and have someone blow your mind about things you don’t know anything about, and that is what she did. She talked about Quantum Design…like quantum physics…but design. Multiple realities and experiences happening at the same time. Ambivalence and ambiguity in design that actually sharpen our interactions as humans. Biology making art. Check out this video she showed us about artists that spent time researching the algorithms of silkworms…how they build. Then the artist designed a framework for the silkworms and set them loose, and they built something. Amazing. Key point…some artists are great artists. Some artists are not great artists but they are great connectors…that lead us to the truly great artists. A place for everyone.

Next up was Storytelling Superheroes with Maria Hinojosa from NPR’s Latino USA and PBS’s America By the Numbers…joined by Alison Bechdel (artist, author) and Joshua Oppenheimer (filmmaker). Sometimes these discussion panels take a rather loose format and that’s what this was…some discussion about how stories come out in different formats and the merits of each. Alison is the creator of The Bechdel Test which is an interesting thing to think about when you consume media. More info here, but basically a film/show/book/etc. passes The Bechdel Test if there are two women characters who have a conversation and that conversation is not about a man. You would be surprised how few movies pass that test.

Last up was “The Art of Social Media” with Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick. Guy is one of those social media phenoms and I hadn’t seen him speak before. He was very engaging and so was Peg, though I didn’t really learn anything new here. Don’t be fake, don’t have someone else do your social media, don’t buy followers, yadda yadda. Stuff I have been preaching for years and enact via Social Thinkery. Still cool to hear them talk, though.

A successful first day! More on the horizon.

Wheeeeeeeeeeew! Long time no see, beloved blog. It’s almost time for SXSW so the blogging is about to get real. Some of my favorite posts are the recaps of all the random stuff I get to see and do at this giant conference. So glad to be here for these events…it’s a unique opportunity when the world comes to your town once a year.

So yes – things that are happening. I thought I’d line out some exciting projects just to put them out into the world because I am trying to be better about that. Collaboration and opportunity does not happen if you do not announce your plans.


This time last year it was Mindy Kaling talking about everything at SXSW.

SXSW: That starts Friday with Interactive which is (ssshhhh don’t tell the Music) my favorite part. So many ideas and concepts and futuristic things are flying around it’s hard not to get excited and inspired. I’ve been picking out my schedule, but as my friend and fellow SXSW attendee Chad told me a couple of years ago, flexibility and spontaneity are key. Who knows what I’ll wander in on at the Convention Center. I think I’m focusing on a lot of film/TV stuff this year because face it: TV is KILLING IT in terms of fan acquisition and retention thanks to social media. Lessons to be learned.

Los Angeles: If you saw my Oprah Interview below, you know a little. I am heading to L.A. next month for my first time to meet, greet, network, play, and get a feel for the industry that exists there and dominates. Songwriting is fun. Getting those songs into the hands of people who can do great things with them…sounds super fun. I feel like a freshman on the first day of high school, but I’ll get the hang of it. My friend Toni Koch and her organization The Talent Tree are being a huge help in introducing me to all things Los Angeles. We’re gonna have us a time! (Anyone know anybody I should meet out there? I would like to meet them!)

SusanG: my hardcore love grows. Aside from gigging like a badass, Susan is doing a BUNCH of kids workshops this summer for the Real Life Real Music Camps, and she is also doing a songwriting workshop for adults in New Braunfels on April 17-18. This will be amazingly fun and a chance to stew in creativity for 2 days. Do it.

Social Thinkery: is humming along. I am thrilled to announce that the newest Thinkery client is Dana Cooper, who will be launching a crowd-funding campaign shortly for his new album (the awesomely titled Building a Human Being). There are a few new partnerships in the pipeline as well, and Howlin’ Dog Records is about to release 2-Bit Palmino’s stunning new CD and I am excited to work on that.

Cheers to a busy Spring…hope to see in one or more of these corners of the earth soon!

You will not be surprised to know that 1989, Taylor Swift‘s new album, is my jam this month. I am a little surprised at how invested I am in her career lately, though. Her music has definitely grown on me over the years and I got really interested when she announced a full on split with country music for this record. Studying The Swift is like a study in everything a musician can do right on a grassroots level. The weird part? She’s arguably the biggest pop star in the world at the moment, and she just sold 1.2 million albums this week…in a year when (for the first time in decades) NO ONE ELSE has gone platinum. In fact, her first week sales numbers have consistently gone UP when it’s trending downward for everyone else. It’s not a coincidence. Let’s examine this, shall we?

Swift Factor No. 1:
Be a social media phenom (and go where your fans are)

Taylor has openly admitted to stalking her fans online, and they know she’s lurking. Her Tumblr (the blogging service for people under 30, really) is hilarious and a peek into her sense of humor, which I love. She reblogs fan posts, artwork people have made, and posts the occasional embarrassing middle school photo (because we all have them). She’s just like us, trolling the internet late at night when we can’t sleep.

On Twitter, she’s been re-blogging photos of her fans with their 1989 albums in hand and selfies she’s taken with them. Most pop stars try to seem a little bit untouchable, which is a tactic that actually works sometimes (hey, Rihanna). Taylor’s approach of accessibility has made for a very loyal crowd in her demographic, though. The selfie is the new autograph and the re-tweet is the new high five.

Swift Factor No. 2
Connect with fans on a personal level

Her PR game started way before release week, obviously. One ingenious idea was to host “Secret Sessions” where fans got to listen to the album before it came out. This has been done before because fan clubs have existed for a long time. What made this interesting is that the fans were selected through social media (hence the lurking) by Taylor and her team, and they were invited to Taylor’s own house where they listened to 1989, took photos (Polaroids, which jive with the album artwork!), and ate cookies…baked by Taylor. Again, back to that point…the biggest pop star in the world right now is baking cookies for her fans. I’m sure it made the life highlight list for all the participants, but the ensuing news stories also made casual fans wish they had the opportunity to go, and non-fans admit that hey…that’s pretty cool.

Swift Factor No. 3
Make a physical product people want

People stream and people download. CDs are dinosaurs, especially to anyone under the age of 35…which is Taylor’s main demographic. How the heck did she sell 1.2 million albums to people who don’t buy albums? I saw a couple of factors at play. First, if you bought the physical CD, you got the added bonus of lyric Polaroids. There are 5 sets of of them, and each CD comes with 13 photos. Kind of a throwback to collecting trading cards, but it’s fun to get a bonus for buying the real CD. I’m not sure on what her numbers are from each store, but she partnered with Target to sell the Deluxe version which included (some really great) bonus tracks and voice memos of rough demos. Extra content only available on one format = more sales. There was also the Swiftstakes, where entering a code from the CD puts you in the running to meet Taylor on tour next year. It’s like a lottery ticket with a bonus CD, so you win anyway.


Swift Factor No. 4
Take chances and be vulnerable

Those voice memos on the Target edition struck me as brave (because yeah, I got the Deluxe release). They’re raw beginnings of songs that are super produced and polished on the album. They are hesitant and unsure and sometimes pitchy. That’s how songs get written, and if there was a thought that Taylor wasn’t writing her own stuff, this helps combat it. The other thing I admire about this record is that the last track is a co-write with Imogen Heap, who is a hero of mine as a songwriter and a producer. Apparently, Taylor admires her too, and fortunately when you are Taylor Swift, you get to write with cool people. Imogen blogs about the process here, and they turned out “Clean”, my favorite track on the album. While there are plenty of Max Martin produced songs here, having Imogen end-cap it is a really classy thing to do. It makes me excited for the artistic growth that’s bound to happen if Taylor continues to do her thing.

Swift Factor No. 5
Respect your own work

The other big hullabaloo this week aside from baking cookies with fans and selling a bunch of albums was that 1989 was not on Spotify and in fact, her entire back catalog was removed from the service. I thought it a given that a brand new release would not be on a streaming service immediately, especially since there was such a mad rush to sell physical product, but the removal of older albums was interesting. Granted, rumor has it that her label is up for sale and this was a bargaining chip (remember kids, follow the money), but all the indie artists I know have been aflutter with Swift commentary this week because it’s a big deal when the Big Folk stand up for the Littler Folk (even by proxy of actions with other intentions). Taylor and her label have bargaining power in this art-meets-tech world we live in, and she just pulled out of the game entirely. Whether it’s permanent or temporary (I suspect temporary…streaming is not going anywhere), it is at least causing us to discuss the value of music as a service. We pay $100 for cable TV access every month, and we lay down $8 for Netflix easily. What will make the majority of music listeners pay for access? And in the meantime, how is music even valued these days? Fans aren’t paying $13.99 for the Deluxe Target version of 1989 for the songs. They’re paying for the right to be a fan…to call themselves members of the Taylor Nation and to have a communal experience. And hopefully, whatever comes of this Spotify streaming conversation, artists will be able to stand up for the work they create. As Taylor said, “Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.” Boom.

Swift Factor No. 6
Make your loyal fans have your back

Another interesting point in this whole thing is that no tracks leaked early from those aforementioned “Secret Sessions”. The fans were asked not to record anything and no one did. When the album did leak online a few days early (who does that? Some intern from the label I suppose) and tracks were being posted around Tumblr, fans were refusing to listen to them or share them. They assumed it would hurt Taylor and her sales, and at this point the diehard fans were like a rabid guerrilla marketing team…they had a vested interest in their girl doing well on opening day. This is direct opposition to most album leaks…people generally scoop them up with little thought. Taylor had connected so much with her base that they weren’t about to mess up the album release or spoil the experience of Release Day excitement (which they knew Taylor would be tweeting and blogging about right along with them).

Phew. That’s a lot of dissection for a 24-year-old pop star. I just think that Taylor encapsulated everything I try to preach about over at Social Thinkery when I meet with clients…connect with your fan base far beyond that of a “I am an artist buy this music because I made it” mentality. It’s old and uninspiring. Create your army that will go to bat for you, spread the word for you, share in your victories with you…that is a fan base that will keep returning as long as you stay true to your art. Follow the Swift.

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I’ve been working on this project for a while now. No, wait. I’ve been THREATENING to work on this for a long time…and recently kicked it into gear. I’ve been pecking away at some sort of tome for almost a year. A book, a blog compendium, a social media guide…what is it? FINALLY I’ve narrowed my focus into…all of those things in eBook form. There’s a lot of social media theory, because while there are tons of tutorials online to show you how to use every tool ever invented in social media land, there has to be a theory and a strategy and a set of values behind it all or none of the tools work. This is what my eBook will mostly address. That and how to get going with booking and touring. Plus a few stories about how ridiculous I am, because…truth.

If (no, WHEN) this thing ever gets finished I will breathe a big sigh of relief because writing a book is HARD and I could be watching several seasons of Storage Wars, people. That will happen when the finished product is…finished.

And when I pick a better title than “Social Media and Stuff.” That’s just a working title. It’s not even that, it’s the “Mom and Dad I’m just going to live here while I find a job that suits my Communications degree can I just have the basement for 6 months while I’m not working” title.

Here we go! A million thank yous to Cari for this badge. I will try to live up to its Platinum status. Current favorite perk: when you can get into all 3 conferences, they give you a tote bag for each one. Tote bag nerd? Yes I am.

SXSW

Owl
Because I want an owl timer here, that’s why.

I’ve been blogging less due to the fortunate circumstance of getting some ducks in a row regarding some new ventures 2013 has brought my way.

The first is my new consulting service called Social Thinkery. (The Facebook Page is here!) You can read the website but basically, I like talking about social media, touring, and booking for independent musicians. I could just talk to myself about it, but that gets old. I decided to make it official and talk to others about it. Sometimes it’s just good to bounce ideas off someone, or have a plan and a person to be accountable to for the work that needs to be done. This is what folks can find at the Thinkery, which I think sounds British, which therefore makes it fancy.

Bugle Boy

I’ve also signed on to book for the Bugle Boy in La Grange, TX, a little over an hour from Austin and one of the best listening rooms in the country. Some fine folks run that place and I am honored that I was asked to help out. Booking a venue is a whole other beast from booking an artist and routing a tour. For one thing, there is no routing because buildings don’t move. I like that. It’s been a joy to research artists and go through lists of past performers there. It’s the perfect job for a folk music junkie!

There’s more good stuff on the horizon which I will talk about later…like in an hour…when the owl hoots.