Dot writes: this blog continues to be a rather quiet place. However, I have in fact been doing quite a lot of blogging, of a sort, in the last couple of weeks – just not for Ken and Dot’s Allsorts. The words in these posts aren’t all mine, and neither is all the effort behind them, but I proposed the project and was then responsible for editing and arranging the materials and for writing the summarising/linking passages:
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 1
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 2
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 3
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 4
The Lucky Country EP collective review part 5
In case you can’t face reading all of these, they constitute a track-by-track review of the recent EP by The Basics, based on discussion on Facebook plus a complete review and another set of comments sent in via email. (But you should read them. They’re more entertaining than what I’m about to put you through here…)
A little context: I seem to have become part of an online Gotye/Basics fan community. This is startling in some ways – I was never a band-posters-on-the-wall sort of girl, save briefly when I first went to university and was trying out a new personality for a bit. However, it is a very enjoyable opportunity to discuss music in detail, which is something I like to do (especially when it comes to Gotye), as well as to have a bit of a gossip. And I have encountered some extremely nice and interesting people this way, including one I would now count as a close friend, even though I haven’t actually met her.
This post is an outlet for a few thoughts about the process of producing the collective review, because it taught me a number of things about how online communities can work. Also, while I enjoyed doing the review hugely (especially when I got to have a couple of great live chats as part of two of the Facebook threads) it was at the same time a little frustrating.
So, the main discussion behind the blog posts took place in a closed chat group on Facebook (closed in that you have to apply to join it and the posts go only to members – they don’t filter the membership especially, but it does mean that one’s lengthy thoughts about a rock’n’roll band don’t then turn up in the newsfeed of all one’s professional acquaintances, something I’m rather grateful for). Before it happened there was a certain amount of planning that went on between me and the two admins, with some input from another member. Should we have separate threads for each track? How often should they be posted? How soon after the release of the EP could we expect people to be ready to talk about it? In the end it was done slightly by feel: five separate threads, one per song, starting on the day of release as in fact the whole thing had been previewed on the Rolling Stone website earlier in the week, but then beginning new threads when the previous one seemed to have died away, which worked out at roughly a new thread every two days. I wrote up the posts as we went and they were published a couple of days after each discussion. The threads were posted by one of the admins, not by me: I’m a very recent addition to this group and felt it would be a bit pushy and bumptious of me to be trying to marshal people into activity. I got more confident in this respect as the process went on.
The admins worked very hard at getting people involved. They tweeted about the review from both the Gotyettes and Basicettes Twitter accounts, and also advertised on the corresponding Facebook accounts. One admin sent personal emails to some fans she thought would want to be involved, but who were strangely quiet in the early threads (it turned out quite a lot of them were having a get-together in New Orleans, meaning that, ironically, they hadn’t listened to the EP yet or didn’t yet have time to discuss it). She also posted carefully-judged questions and comments designed to get discussion going. But, although we got excellent comments and I did have plenty of material for the posts, one thing that surprised me was how little most people were contented to say and how many didn’t join in at all. For me, talking and thinking about the music is an important part of my pleasure in it, and it was wanting to find people with whom to do that that led me into the chat group to start with. If a higher proportion of the group had contributed it would have been much more difficult for me to weave everything together, so I’m certainly not complaining; but it was a reminder that not everyone enjoys things in quite the analytical way I like to – or, even if they do, they don’t share my overwhelming urge to have my say about it. (There’s also the fact that not everyone who likes Gotye also likes his other band. They’re pretty different projects.)
I was slightly unsure of my own role and the extent to which these were ‘my’ posts. On the one hand, the collective review was my idea; on the other, it was a group activity being run by the Gotyettes. In the comments, I started by posting things I hoped would prompt others to respond, but I also had views of my own to share. I always had one eye on what the finished product would be like, and for that I had a couple of aims to keep in balance: on the one hand, I wanted it truly be a group review, representing as many people as possible, but on the other I wanted to make sure each post had something of substance to say, and in most cases there were specific points I thought should be made. As a result, I veered between holding back in the threads, not wanting to drown other people out or put them off (I wrote a couple of comments that did start to sound a bit academic, and I went back and edited them into a less formal register), and, conversely, eagerly sharing my own responses. I felt the editorial voice in the posts had to restrict itself to summarising or commenting on the discussion plus offering some general information about the tracks; I couldn’t use it as a vehicle to air my personal opinions. This prompted me, on one occasion, to post a comment largely because I very much wanted to put some of its contents in the review, rather than because it actually contributed to a conversation. (And then I went back and pruned it heavily. It was one of the academic ones and I had got rather carried away.)
I was reminded somewhat of teaching a seminar – trying to strike the balance between ‘delivering content’ and generating engagement – only I wasn’t quite sure who was in the group, or what they would respond to, or whether they even wanted to be there, and of course I wasn’t actually the teacher. The world of online interaction I’m moving into through fan activity is much more international and much more socially and occupationally various than the one I normally move in. In fact there are people in the chat group with whom I do feel I can be very much myself, and with whom I clearly have lots in common; but there are others for whom I worry I might seem pretentious, or too dominant. If only they knew how shy I can be at a party…
In the end, I was pleased with the series of posts and proud of the work I’d done for them, as well as grateful for and somewhat awed by the effort the admins had put in organising everything. I do feel a certain yearning for something more deeply analytical, something more acutely observant and detailed, especially with respect to the musical textures and structures of the material; but insofar as I might be able to provide any of that myself, it would be as a result of the period of thinking and listening that the collective review enabled, and a result of responding to other people’s observations. I feel the process has in itself taught me something – about how hard it can be to judge the impact of one’s own words and actions in the virtual world, but also about how richly satisfying it can be to interact with people you don’t know but who share your interests.