Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Can Poets Learn from the Dave Matthews Band?

Yesterday, my contact lenses irritated me so much that I took them out early. I said, "If these lenses still feel this bad tomorrow, I'm throwing them away a week early." I took a minute to think about what I've said. A pair of contact lenses costs less than most of the bottles of wine that I buy. Why am I so reluctant to throw them away?

It goes back to how much they used to cost. They used to be hundreds of dollars a pair, so expensive that you might insure them. Now, we just toss them away. But my brain hasn't caught up.

Likewise with concert tickets. When I went to the first concert that I paid for (Journey, with Loverboy opening), I paid $9. So, forever in my head, a rock concert ticket should cost around $10.

Well, those days are over. An article in today's The Washington Post notes that the Dave Matthews Band keeps its tickets cheap, just under $60 a ticket, while an Aerosmith concert ticket will set you back over $90. Yikes.

However, the article had other interesting implications, aside from showing me how far behind the times I am. It explored the Dave Matthews Band and how it tours a lot, keeps costs low, and offers fans lots of value for their dollar, even aside from the cheap tickets. There's a fan club and merchandise and lots of cheap to make videos of concerts. They offer members of the fan club all sorts of special deals, which makes the fan club membership fee attractive. A Dave Matthews Band concert is different each time, because although the song set stays the same, the jam sessions change.

The article shows how the Dave Matthews Band and the Grateful Dead are similar, mostly in this important point, that they "courted their fans, treating the concert like a service rather than a commodity and their fans like members of a community rather buyers of a product."

Throughout the article, I thought that poets who aren't already doing similar things should be taking notes. If we're not using the Internet, it's time to start thinking about dipping our toes in Internet waters. If we have an Internet presence, we should make sure we're using it to its full capacity. Here's my guilty confession: although I blog almost daily, I don't always keep my web site as up to date as it should be. It's never horribly out of date, unlike those sites where you go and you can tell that no one has updated it since 2008. But I should make a weekly appointment to update it.

I'm probably not the only poet who has trouble thinking of myself as having fans. Why is it hard for me to let people know I've got a book coming out? Why is it hard to ask people to buy the book? We should act more like people who are helping to shape a community, not like solitary poets locked up in our isolated rooms.

How would our behavior change if we thought of ourselves as community builders, in addition to being poets? How can we make it worthwhile for readers to also be our fans? What would it take to create such loyal fans that readers might follow us around the country?


Jim Murdoch said...

I can cope more with the expression 'loyal reader' than fan. I do have a number of people who faithfully read every blog I write and a handful who own every book I've written but because of the nature of the blogosphere these are people I have come to know on a one-to-one basis. When I think of fans I envisage people I don't know (and maybe don't want to know even) who've taken a shine to my writing.

I'm also not very pushy when it comes to promoting myself. I don't think the hard sell works and most sites where all they talk about it their current book bore the pants off me.

The Internet is an important resource but it's important to remember that there are a lot of other people out there flogging their wares and no one has unlimited funds so it's best to be realistic in one's expectations. Sales should be a sideline. The main event needs to be a service that will keep people coming back over and over again. Basically you need to sell yourself and hope that that piques interest in any product that goes along with you.

The Internet can also work against you because if you have too much material available online then why does anyone need to fork out hard cash for more of the same?

Dave said...

Fugazi were famous for $5 concerts (though sometimes they had to go over $10), a practice they maintained through 2003.

Anonymous said...

Actually, their set lists are different each night AND the jams are different as well. It's great.