“Tweet Me!” Jazz in the Digital Age

Swiss Vibes 2013_01_Mix 4As far as I see it, social media is a form of Internet dating, just without the romance (though not always). It’s relationships, connecting, communicating, dare I say, flirting, and showing off your best photos. There’s also a lot of hype about what it can do for a career.

Example: kid playing guitar uploads to YouTube, sets up Facebook page to consolidate following, finds a manager via Twitter, releases EP, tweets to major UK shop about singing on their next Christmas advert – gets job, the track goes to no.1 in UK charts, she gets lots of press. This is the true story of Gabrielle Aplin who literally created her own career in a few years using digital media and it shouts at us, “Digital and social media matter!”

“It’s the most neglected field in jazz music”  Stefan Rusconi

Rusconi_2But what are the implications of this explosion of media for the new generations of jazz musicians? Out of the eight musicians I spoke to they had all breathed the same air, tainted by these hyped success stories of social media, but only three were already forcing themselves to fully utilize the Internet. Stefan Rusconi observed, “I understand our music is about being a master of playing for real, you invest a lot of time in your instrument, you’re a craftsman and it’s sometimes hard to accept the digital side, but I think it’s the most neglected field in jazz music.”

“it’s not up to me to decide if it’s important or not, it’s just a fact that it’s important” Andreas Schaerrer

Andreas SchaererCertainly they don’t share the same audience as Justin Bieber (over 42 million Twitter followers) but Herbie Hancock has doubled his followers in the last year to 54,000 and it’s doubtful the trend will reverse. Andreas Schaerer reflected the thoughts of others when he said, “I personally don’t enjoy Facebook…This concept of communication is a fake one to me, but I realize I’m living in a time when it’s not up to me to decide if it’s important or not, it’s just a fact that it’s important.” However, the issues around digital media aren’t only about personal taste, a key problem mentioned by all the musicians was, time.

“To create, you really have to shut down your Internet and phone”   Elina Duni

Elina Duni_PF1Creating and updating websites, Facebook pages, blogs and tweets take an enormous amount of time and more notably, headspace, because it’s ongoing, always on the ‘to do’ list. Smartphones have supported social media by making it easier to update ‘on the go’ but as Elina Duni noted, “It’s not just posting things, you have to be active, to answer, people have to feel you’re near to them.” It’s this consistency that can be at odds with a creative process such as composing that demands focused, uninterrupted time. Duni explained, “To create you really have to shut down your Internet and phone…but today you always have to be reachable…It’s not easy and sometimes it depresses me, but I try to find a way…I try to improve.”

Building a database of loyal fans…

Marc Perrenoud Trio_LD1There are other issues such as keeping your website alive and relevant and the cost of that. The pianist Marc Perrenoud realized, “I just made my new website last year, but I want to change it already.” These Swiss musicians accepted that their websites needed good translations into English for the international market (which they need to survive), but this point leads us on to one of the big positives of digital media: it makes musicians completely accessible. When researching these artists I watched all of them live, got their discography, biography and the geography of their forthcoming gigs without leaving my South London apartment.

The Internet has also helped them connect with other musicians and collaborators, and most importantly, in the case of Rusconi, their audience. This group took time to research these new forms of promotion and communication, watching e-marketing videos by Seth Godin amongst others. They decided to adopt the ‘download and donate what you want’ approach to their recent album, Revolution, as opposed to giving it a price tag. Not only did it help the band connect to a broad-based audience beyond the jazz market, “people that are interested in different fields of culture…people who are active, who want to be a part of society, who are aware of others and a vibrant thing…” but also it helped them win the Echo Jazz Award for Best Live Act (up against Wayne Shorter, no less). That’s a big win that would not have been possible without having built a database of loyal fans.

“it can be serious stuff that you post on your Facebook page which people would enjoy”  Florian Arbenz

FlorianSI’m going to skirt around the subject of digital downloads and e-commerce here as it’s a big and complicated field. However, as a marketing tool, digital media is up there as a new force. In some ways Rusconi are lucky in that their explorations of the digital world and the videos and imagery that need to accompany that fit naturally with their own tastes and interests. Drummer Florian Arbenz of Vein was one of the artists who openly admitted that he hated social media, but realized he’d been looking at it in the wrong way. “We didn’t want to write stupid stuff like, ‘I’m waking up in Paris, yeah guys,’ so we rarely wrote anything. But if you think business-wise, you can connect with your audience.” He was going to look again at digital media from a new persepective, “The music is still the priority but we could build some concept around that, it could be art, a series of films – it can be serious stuff that you post on your Facebook page which people would enjoy – and reflects us.”

Digital media can also consolidate an artist’s musical expression, make them appear stronger and bigger, as well as provide more aspects to their personality when they use other art forms. Imagery and Swiss jazz is something I’ll write about next time but for now, it’s worth considering that whatever your opinion of social media, understand that you can interact with it in whatever way you want. And in doing so, connect to like-minded people. In terms of time, money and energy, digital media can suck you dry, but what musician wants to risk missing out on its benefits? It’s not just about crossing borders and continents to make sure people turn up at your gigs, it’s also about developing your ‘voice’ and at what volume it’s heard.


  1. These are really fantastic ideas in about blogging.
    You havfe touched some good ffactors here. Any way keep up wrinting.

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