Let me start by saying this post may make me sound incredibly vain. It could have the effect that I’m putting myself above other folks, but that’s not my intent. In fact, my drive to not do that is what has lead me to the point of view that I’ll share with you. At least, this post will be more on the side of the “label owner diary” style post then another post on the great illegal downloading debate that even I’m a bit tired of discussing.
This is about Twitter and how it is used, what it does to people, how it effects your “fanbase”, etc. Let me start with what I call the 3 levels of Twitter usage. When you first sign up for Twitter, you are at level 1, utter confusion. You’re probably not sure what you’re supposed to do, why you are there, how many things even work. This will go on for a certain amount of time depending on how quick a learner you are. This opens up to Level 2, the best level. You’ve got it figured out, you’re following cool folks, commenting, getting followers, etc. You’re undoubtedly starting to “meet” some cool people with similar interests and having some fun with it. Then Level 3 happens. You reach capacity. Either your timeline keeps growing where you follow 1,000 people or more or you start to go through the tedious work of deciding who to unfollow and who to follow and end up following too many people anyway.
I purposely laid out those 3 levels without any slant on how and why I personally used Twitter as a label owner an business person, because I think that 3 Level journey is true for anyone that uses the service for any reason.
I’ve always told people in terms of twitter, comment often, follow people that interest you and you will gain followers, and for the most part that’s true. For musicians, I’ve always suggested they search similar artists names and follow the people talking about them. Better yet, find the account of those artists and follow their followers. You’d be surprised how many people you can get to follow you that way. As a label owner that lives and dies with his product the way I do, this can become addictive. Real time results of watching people become fans before your eyes for no other reason then the fact that you happened to follow them.
I guess in a way it’s a power trip, but in this day and age of so many people simply stealing your music and of massive over saturation where it’s hard to be heard I think it comes from more of a desperation. A desire to actually interact with people that you know really support what you do. What you forget is that you are human and this is totally un-natural as an artist, label owner, etc.
I’ve met some GREAT people on Twitter. People I knew outside of Twitter became closer friends, fans became part of the team, fellow artists became friends and constant collaborators, even made some great twitter only level friendships. These people all know who they are. But at a certain point the mind can only process so many folks. The dangerous part about social media today is that you can actually “know” on some level so many different people at the same time that eventually the mind reels from it. When you add in the fact that you are only really reading text from all these various sources, it makes it more confusing. We read text in our own voice, that’s what we do as creatures. What gets lost is that not every person is the same on the other end of that text. You never know what you may say or they may say to become fans or stop being fans.
I’ve experienced this with a number of people on Twitter. Being on Twitter since late 2008, I can pretty much claim veteranship. When I first got on Twitter the only rappers on there that I can remember being there were Jean Grae, J-Live, Talib Kweli and QuestLove. They were among the early adopters that actually beat me to the punch. With that said, having been there for about 3 and a half years, I’ve seen it many a time. I’ve had people tell me directly they couldn’t support us because of something I said. From dissing George W. Bush to dissing Kanye West, I’ve seen all sorts of reason why people that generally liked our shit backed away. All of the sudden you are unfollowed, even if it’s quietly. People that have supported for several years, write you off and you find yourself giving way too many fucks.
This cycle of grabbing up fans by their collars and pushing their face into our music has to stop for us as a label and myself as an owner of the label. It’s untenable. In order to take that “next step” as a movement, it can’t be a direct line to me to fans, it has to be me distributing information and fans passing it to each other. That’s how it grows. A fan telling another fan about something is billions of times more powerful then me sneaking up on someone in their new follows. This is a hard lesson, and maybe was necessary in order for us to get to the level of followers we have, but eventually you have to let the bird fly on it’s own.
I always prided myself on being the rapper that followed typical fans of music. Figuring out what else they listened to and trying to collect this sort of data in a way so that I could identify with them. I prided myself on bigging up fans, making them feel appreciated and being the nice guy that I saw a lot of my fellow rappers, producers and labels NOT being. The hard truth is, there is a reason a lot of these other folks don’t do that and why in a lot of ways it’s foolish to do in most instances.
The first being, a lot of people just can’t handle it. Some people’s heads swell up when you give them props or converse with them, they get too close to the flame as it were. Boundaries are lost and as a public figure you end up in extremely fucked positions. I’m uncomfortable with the level of notariety that I myself have achieved in this light, so I can only imagine what it’s like for those far more well known then me. The larger we get the more I see random people shouting how bad we “suck” and lashing out at myself and our artists. I guess it’s the nature of success. When you’re worth hating, people will find a way to hate you.
Another reason it’s not wise to over-engage with folks is because often it results in them ceasing to engage with you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve noticed someone RTing a lot of our tweets. Once, twice, three times in a week. So finally, I think, that’s a cool head, let me follow back and see what’s up with this dude. Then suddenly, the RTs and enthusiasm stops dead. Is it a plot to get me to follow them? Probably not, but I guess it’s human nature, the seeking of acceptance, once gotten, it no longer needs to be sought.
With that in mind, I’ve had to pull back on Twitter a bit. In recent weeks I’ve had to unfollow close to 200 people and I will probably unfollow more. I’ve done this not to offend anybody or to say that I’m more important then anyone, but just because I’ve had to change my approach for my own sanity. I need to spend less time on Twitter and more time working on my company and my music. Following less people means my time line updates less, which makes me want to check it less. Easy solution. I also need to be less of a two way street, I need our label to become a destination that people want to be involved in, not something I’m trying to involve people in. Ultimately, I’ll probably continue to follow less and less people and if people unfollow our label back, then what were they worth? I’m not really interested in being a twitter-celebrity known for brash comments. I want people to follow us because of the music, not because of what I can cleverly fit into 140 characters.
With that said, I’ll continue to post my opinions, keeping them mostly to our music, the music business, rap music as a whole and benign things like sports and jokes. I think becoming a robot account doesn’t help either, people want to connect, but simply put, people need to connect on my terms, not theirs since I am part of the creation of the product.
Twitter is a new experience for all of us, there has never been anything like it, I think a lot of us on the music side are going through the same phases with it, so hopefully this post helps some other folks in my position out and sheds some light onto some things not often thought about by fans of various musicians in terms of code of conduct, etc.
In 2012, my time is more valuable then ever. While Twitter is never a total waste of time, it can be a time vampire and a source of procrastination. It’s important that as a business person that I use it as a tool (albeit at times a fun one) and not let it be a crutch.