Photo by Vivienne Gucwa
Today artists are constantly yammering about how new media has created a flux of opportunities to connect with fans, but Twitter and Facebook carry you only so far to engagement, and the opportunity for live connection usually ends with text-based updates. Not so with one ingenious feature of Google+ (the other network), one that this author had not considered significant until witnessing a gathering of believers at The Living Room in New York City, a bunch of strangers attending a show with three musicians they'd never met. But the atmosphere was as if old friends were reconvening to see their favorite band. It's the kind of inspiration that the technological advances we take for granted should be perpetuating in the music industry-- greasing the wheels of collaboration and engagement between artists and fans, not hindering them with pay-walls and barriers.
"Hanging out" is a streamlined version of video chatting that allows multiple people to converse on the online space with their faces and voices. But an alternative purpose of this service is to host a better form of live stream performances-- one where you can hear the audience clapping. Matt Rappaport, a filmmaker/actor, and Tiffany Henry, a student, are a part of a larger circle of Google+ users who swear by the service. To prove the power of the hang-out, the pair organized an event entitled "Hangout In Real Life" or "H.I.R.L." to the initiated, a collection of artists, photographers, creators, and G+ fans from all walks of life, and from all over the world. The group gathered in New York City, took a tour of Google HQ, and came to see a concert by popular Hangout artists Heather Fay
, Ryan Van Sickle
, and Daria Musk
I "Hung Out" with Matt, who enthusiastically relayed to me the various doors a Google+ community can open. Entirely from scratch, he and Tiffany (with some help) organized the entire weekend in New York, attracting a significant amount of friends from the network to travel to H.I.R.L. They had zero funding, and yet, the people came. An international couple who had began their relationship on Google+, met for the first time in the same city. People old and young came together to drink and explore Manhattan like they'd been friends for years. And the best part, many attended a show at The Living Room in the Lower East Side, cheering for Heather, Ryan and Daria like they'd been listening their whole lives, because they had already established a relationship with their personalities.
Music is rooted in memory-- favorite songs are rooted in a lifeline location, and replaying a recording is like time-shifting consciousness to these moments. Global recording artists are constantly crammed down the throat via radio, as if to force these moments into existence. But the Internet is breaking down these old structures with sheer volume. In today's saturated music marketplace, there are very few substitutes for the two strongest artist endorsements-- personal contact, and word-of-mouth. Google+ allows for artists like Ryan Van Sickle to connect with his fans on a personal level, creating memories larger than just a cursory glance at his songs, and subsequently engaging an audience of listeners to support his art (and tell their friends), all without even leaving the house. Ryan creates your moment with his music.
Bruce Garber, a frequent participant (and administrator) of streams with Daria Musk, relayed an anecdote about H.I.R.L.ing with Ryan. The group went on several photo tours of New York City (many being from around the country and some from overseas), including a trip to the 9/11 Memorial in the Financial District. Moved by the memorial, Ryan considered writing a song and Bruce shared an idea of how to present it to the crowd in a way that would feel reflective and comfortable without being too heavy. This conversation is the essence of what making music is about, collaboration, sharing emotion, affecting others, saying something-- and who knows what kind of art will emerge from this moment. It's worth noting that Bruce and Ryan would have probably never met, had it not been for Google+.
As Matt admitted during our chat, the technology isn't quite there yet. Streaming video capabilities haven't become ubiquitous. Heather hosts a series of Open Mic hangouts, Ryan makes guest appearances on Matt's show, Daria has a large life-stream following, but no one has truly harnessed the power of the hangout to start a grassroots following, and subsequently take it all the way. No one's even had the time yet. But that's what makes Google+ and the potential of it's tight-knit communities even more exciting for a music lover. The possibility for access and affection, and the idea that a social network should bear more of the interpersonal interactions that mark society-- voices, faces, and a live-stream performance where you can hear the applause from your digital audience. Now that would be a plus.
Ryan Van Sickle is currently working on doing a house tour of several East Coast cities. Heather Fay recently hosted her first solo hangout concert this past weekend, and Daria Musk is playing the SXSW music festival in Austin this week.