Sex, Drugs and Updating Your Blog from the NY Times

May 14, 2007

Yesterday’s New York Times had a nice story from Clive Thompson about musician Jonathan Coulton who in

September 2005, quit his job as a computer programmer and, with his wife’s guarded blessing, became a full-time singer and songwriter. He set a quixotic goal for himself: for the next year, he would write and record a song each week, posting each one to his blog

The piece goes on to say that

More than 3,000 people, on average, were visiting his site every day, and his most popular songs were being downloaded as many as 500,000 times; he was making what he described as “a reasonable middle-class living” — between $3,000 and $5,000 a month — by selling CDs and digital downloads of his work on iTunes and on his own site.


Coulton’s fans are also his promotion department, an army of thousands who proselytize for his work worldwide. More than 50 fans have created music videos using his music and posted them on YouTube; at a recent gig, half of the audience members I spoke to had originally come across his music via one of these fan-made videos.

Increasingly I am being asked by artists how they can make sense of giving their work away free when they can’t make a living from doing what they do anyway. So many of those I speak with are anxious about the implications … This piece (and Mann’s description above) go some way to highlighting the advantages of social media and I was glad to see Thompson outline the work that’s involved in maintaining the relationship with fans .. in Coulton’s case he spends up to 6 hours a day at this activity.
The article goes on to say

This trend isn’t limited to musicians; virtually every genre of artistic endeavor is slowly becoming affected, too. Filmmakers like Kevin Smith (“Clerks”) and Rian Johnson (“Brick”) post dispatches about the movies they’re shooting and politely listen to fans’ suggestions; the comedian Dane Cook cultivated such a huge fan base through his Web site that his 2005 CD “Retaliation” became the first comedy album to reach the Billboard Top 5 since 1978. But musicians are at the vanguard of the change. Their product, the three-minute song, was the first piece of pop culture to be fully revolutionized by the Internet. And their second revenue source — touring — makes them highly motivated to connect with far-flung fans.

While I’m a fan (naturally) of social media I do think there’s a rich conversation to be had about just how much work it takes to be in a relationship (whether that’s online or offline) .. why that should be news is interesting – but I’m not seeing a lot written about the energy and time that’s required to maintain those relationships, generate new content and maintain the personal connection that many people want. Add to that the time it takes to comment on other people’s work and blogs and the time mounts up. For artists, creatives and solopreneurs there are huge advantages to having an online presence and directing their digital footprint but there are costs too – so I’m glad to see Thompson refer to this in the article (and particularly the emotional impact of interacting with a fan base). I don’t think that you can afford not to have an online presence these days and I also think you have to be able to afford to have that presence – another nice paradox for our times.
But the really interesting aspect of all of this is about our relationship with creativity and how increasingly it is not a solitary act.

For many of these ultraconnected artists, it seems the nature of creativity itself is changing. It is no longer a solitary act: their audiences are peering over their shoulders as they work, offering pointed comments and suggestions

It’s in here that I think the most interesting challenges and opportunities will present particularly around commissioning work for these new social spaces and the engagement with audiences..
A final word to Thompson

Will the Internet change the type of person who becomes a musician or writer? It’s possible to see these online trends as Darwinian pressures that will inevitably produce a new breed — call it an Artist 2.0 — and mark the end of the artist as a sensitive, bohemian soul who shuns the spotlight.

5 People reacted on this

  1. Thanks for this piece. Of greatest interest to me was your point about how much time it takes to create and sustain a good blog… it’s a point many corporate people either don’t get or believe can be avoided. My post about this is at our blog at

  2. Thanks for that comment Sterling (and the link on your own blog)..I think it’s important to point out the work in advance because this is one of the reasons (that I’ve come across) that bloggers stop blogging. Business blogging (in particular) requires a different kind of thought than personal or “anonymous” blogs..

  3. Another really good post. I think you do us all a service for making us think about what’s involved in making a blog work. I’d like to hear more from you about the difference between personal blogs and business blogs: you are excellent experience of doing both and I’m sure you have thought long and hard about what writing each involves. I bet you’ve also considered the pros and cons of doing both.
    Mainly I want to say thanks. And while I’m at it, I loved the quotes from musicians…

  4. Hi Omani – I’ll certainly write about personal/professional but I’m not sure I could write about what makes blogs work…I’m sure this blog “works” on some level but it depends on your indicators I guess…interesting one, now I’m thinking again 🙂

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