Joel Burleson is no stranger to the world of social media and how to use it. The local recording artist and producer behind Ki:Theory, Burleson makes a living creating original music for television, film and video games, and his remixes have been used by bigger national acts such as Queens of the Stone Age, Kings of Leon and Brazilian Girls. He spends about an hour a day on average connecting with fans via popular social media tools such as Twitter — sometimes more when he's not recording.
“It's the wave of the future,” Burleson says. “Bands and artists that don't get on board are going to be left behind.”
Burleson recently shared his experiences as a panel member for the Social Media Club of Richmond's monthly confab — held at the Firehouse Theatre on Dec. 10 — this time involving social media in music and film. Other panel members included local talent buyer Jessica Gordon (owner of the Trigger System) and Amy Greenlaw, founder of Film Pop!, which promotes independent films using digital media.
These are indeed social-networking events, first and foremost, attended by those who use social media in their work and daily lives — social media content providers, teachers, publishers and others looking for handy tips or contacts. Attending a meeting without a Twitter ID on your name tag can make you feel like that crazy old shark hunter Quint from “Jaws” — an oddball throwback. Yet even fingernails on chalkboard wouldn't draw many stares, as the room is filled with people whose attention typically doesn't stray long from their personal gadgets or laptops.
An hour before the small panel convenes, ticket holders cluster into small groups around the bar and buffet while a steady stream of personal Tweets, many simply announcing someone's presence or giving props to the Firehouse, is projected on a nearby wall. It's a little strange knowing that the people chatting right in front of you are also busy communicating to unseen followers, but welcome to the brave new media world, where everyone is his or her own advertising company and the only sin is having nothing to report.
“You can't buy this kind of promotion,” says the co-founder of the theater, Harry Kollatz, with delight. “I sure hope we have more of these events here. Board member Kira Siddall, who works in advertising, says that the monthly events sell out quickly and are funded with the money they raise. The organization's parent group started in San Francisco and the Richmond chapter has been meeting since May, covering a variety of topics.
“[The club] has really bottled lightning — chapters are popping up all over the country,” Siddall says. “The people here all love Twitter and blogs, and the networking goes well. … I've heard of a number of people getting jobs.”
Keith West, chief executive of Digiforce startup in Church Hill, which provides staffing for social media and search-engine optimization, is here to learn more about the usefulness of Twitter in particular. “You get to know people reading their Tweets and then come here and see them in the flesh,” he says, “and sometimes it fits and other times it doesn't.”
Graphic designer Derek Chamberlin recently got a job with Rocket Pop media and also came to the event to network and learn. “It's really competitive out there for graphic designers,” he says. “You have to do what you can.”
Strangely enough, the night proceeds like any old-school moderated seminar from the bygone days of say, 2005. Most of the questions are preplanned — the moderator is Ian Graham of RVA Magazine — though a few come from live Twitter comments within the crowd or elsewhere.
The big consensus among tonight's experts? MySpace sucks.
Yes, it's still crucial for bands to use, but it needs help. An audience member points out that the company recently hired a former Yahoo bigwig to make the site more user-friendly. Other topics often involve the widespread use of Facebook and YouTube for promotion. Gordon, a longtime local promoter, says that roughly 60 percent of her promotion is now done solely through social media.
But the most telling details come from Burleson, who's found a way to use social media both promotionally and creatively. He recently sent out a zip file of one of his original songs (“Here to Stay”) via social media platforms and asked people to record their own vocals over a section. Responses came from all over the world. The finished song can be found on his current, work-in-progress EP, “Arms and Legs,” offered via free download at www.kitheory.com.
Burleson also touts other online media businesses such as Topspin, an artist-driven, one-stop shop that consolidates all his social media and applies analytics, allowing him to customize touring schedules to his real-time fan base.
Burleson does actually still sell music through his Web site, which involves escalating package deals and price points; one level will get you a personally hand-painted music CD package on old-school floppy discs, another adds a T-shirt or hoodie. “You sell less music now but the artist keeps more of the income,” he says.
Looking ahead, he thinks most music in the future will be streamed through online companies such as La La Media Inc., which Apple just bought for $85 million — a model that sells songs but also charges a small fee for people who simply want to stream a song. “Right now we're pretty much giving our music away and trying to get people to support us by becoming fans,” he says.
The lesson from the event seems loud and clear: It takes a lot more creative outreach for today's artists to stand out in the din of competing voices — and it doesn't hurt to have a Twitter address on your chest.
To find out about local Social Media Club events, check out the Twitter handle @SMCRVA.