Monday, February 28, 2011

Bluegrass and Social Networking

The following essay is a lightly edited version of a piece I wrote for the Welcome Page of the California Bluegrass Association's web page

The film “The Social Network” has been nominated for eight academy awards and has won forty-nine other awards including three Golden Globes. Estimates of the number of Facebook members range towards the 600 million level, and it's been estimated the 46 percent of Americans belong. In bluegrass we can communicate with each other and become friends on List Servs (Bluegrass-L, Flatpicker-L, and many more I've never heard of) and forums like the Hangout group (banjo, reso, fiddle, mando) as well as many other instrument specific groups exist. Many web sites provide the opportunity for members to blog, post, and become “friends.” The opportunities for social networking are nearly endless. Many readers of this blog are certainly also active in a variety of social networking venues. So, two questions arise? How does social networking affect us as individuals? How can we use social networking to promote bluegrass, the music we love?

A few weeks ago a beloved member of the bluegrass community died after a long battle against cancer. We only met Tina Aridas, a frequent contributor to Bluegrass-L and publicist for her partner's band, James Reams & the Barnstormers, one time, at the Podunk Bluegrass Festival in E. Hartford, CT. Tina was already quite ill, but had pulled herself together to be “Up” for the weekend. We (that is my wife Irene and I) spent a good deal of time chatting with her during the weekend. I had “known” Tina for several years, however, as a highly intelligent, thoughtful, and funny advocate for James' band specifically and for bluegrass more generally. She took consistently liberal positions and argued them forcefully without ever being annoying or overly confrontational. In her public and private interactions, she was thoughtful and generous. When she died, the outpouring of affection for her on the Bluegrass-L showed genuine grief at her loss and compassion for her family. Her obituary was carried on the Bluegrass Blog the day after she died. The speed with which the news traveled and the power of the response say a great deal about the power of the Internet and social networking to spread information and provide support for others.

On the other hand, the world of social networking has the capacity to inflict both pain and damage. Coincidentally, a small furor erupted on the “L” the same day Tina Aridas died. I prefer to deal with this issue more elliptically. Suffice it to say that on one of the List Servs, a fairly frequent contributor raised an issue about a very well-known and popular member of two high profile, influential bands. His comments were strongly enough expressed and thoughtlessly enough presented that the target felt it necessary to respond sarcastically and powerfully. There followed a number of posts, most of which supported the injured (insulted) person. Now this incident is more important because of what happened than who it happened to. The important element I want to emphasize is the power of words. Words have power! They can soothe and they can maim. They can console and hurt. They can be used to frame an argument or to provoke a quarrel. Words need to be used with concern and skill in order to achieve worthy goals. They can be used, as we've seen in so much of our discourse during the past several years, to hurt without benefiting...anyone. The biggest risk in social networking lies in the ability of people to use anonymity, or at least distance, to achieve goals that are at best non-productive, and at worst...dangerous.

Social networks have such potential for misuse because they can achieve so much good. Their greatest asset is their ability to reach thousands, or even millions, of people with relative ease and low cost, an essential for bluegrass, where money is scarce in good times. When a band, an organization, or a person takes the time to make connections between web sites, Facebook pages,Twitter, iTunes, Reverb Nation, and the range of other online outreach sources available today, it's quite amazing to see the impact these combinations can have. At present the Gold Standard is The Bluegrass Legacy, founded and run by Henri Deschamps out of Valle Crucis, NC. Begun only about two years ago, The Bluegrass Legacy has amassed something just under 28,000 “Like”s on its fan page. Henri tells me this number of people who've pressed the Like button yields about 2.3 million appearances on web pages each month. Let's assume that only ten percent of those people seeing The Bluegrass Legacy go past on their own Facebook pages clicks on it. That's about 230,000 actual page views a month, huge for bluegrass.

The two bands which have shown the greatest media penetration, and, by the way, success, in the past couple of years have been Daily & Vincent and The Grascals, I'd like to bypass them for a second, because in each case they've been able to put together impressive media teams to support them. (People who attended the case study session Daily & Vincent held at IBMA in September will know that the saving, planning, and risk taken on by the two principles to put their team together was huge, but, for now, I want to focus on another band.) The Wilson Family Band, located in Folkston, GA has widened its outreach and begun accumulating a national audience through the hard work of twenty year old Clint Wilson and his mother working to marshall their web presence in all the venues mentioned above. Put that together with a lovely family sound as a band, and the very fine song writing of young Clint, and you have a band making an impact which will be seen to grow over the next few months and years. Clint's song, “Second Best,” on the new Blue Moon Rising CD is getting significant air play on XM/Sirius.

A little over four years ago, I decided I had something to write about, and blogging represented a way to say it. I was pretty unformed about what the limits would be, but I started a blog. After about two years, my blog, as it focused more on bluegrass music was being read by, perhaps, fifteen hundred people a month. At present, I've posted 590 times and been viewed roughly 350,000 times. People I meet face-to-face or on line say they like what I do. As a direct result of writing my blog, we've been welcomed (and sought after) at increasing numbers of festivals (most of which we pay to attend), my articles are being published by Bluegrass Unlimited, CBA has honored me with a monthly column, and I'm sometimes asked to write for other outlets. A year or so ago I started a Facebook page, and last Fall, Henri Deschamps walked me through starting a Facebook Fan Page. At present the fan page has 2100 odd fans and is, according to Facebook Insights, seen on about 73,000 screens a month. That's pretty widespread impact for a bluegrass fan who takes pictures and writes. One of the strengths of the approach that's been developing has been that the blog, my Facebook page, and Ted and Irene's Most Excellent Bluegrass Adventure Facebook Fan Page are pretty highly integrated, each feeding the other. And it's fun!

Social Networks have enormous power to help people in bluegrass to increase our outreach, to find and develop people who want to listen and, perhaps, even pick. This power can help us, particularly if we see the music as being inclusive and look at it from a longer perspective. I've never been to a festival where every band appealed to me. Some we hear are not very good. Others are good at what they do, but don't raise a level of enthusiasm within us. Still others grab us by the throat, draw us to their merch table, and demand further hearing. Who knows which ones we listen to today will be heard by anyone in forty or fifty years. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, social media have expanded the bluegrass universe and will continue to delight, disappoint, challenge, and encourage us to find new limits and ways to express our love of music. Social media can only help in this effort.


  1. Hi!
    Interesting subject. The first thing that occurred to me that I was looking for in your blog was how social networking might affect behavior at festivals. I predict that over the next year, Twitter will have a big impact on jams. The good jams will become bigger, faster as people learn to tweet about them. It will also change the way people talk about locations at festivals, because it will become more important to be able to describe the location of a jam quickly and clearly. What do you think about that?

    And oh, btw, if that elliptical exchange you wrote vaguely about was the one where said famous person reacted to something I thoughtlessly wrote, you may also recall that I apologized to him, on the list, and he then wrote back to me directly (not on the list) and we patched things up. As a result, I now have a personal connection with someone I didn't even know before!

    Bob in AZ

  2. Ted,

    Two years ago , I thought that Facebook would be a good way to keep track of the guest list (over 700) for our party, the Big Squeeze. In some respects it worked, but there are some inherent problems. first, there is no way one can follow that many threads, so one misses a lot. Also, FB uses many different devices to increase membership. If I were to add all the friends of friends suggested, the party would become anything but private.

    Years ago, if one wanted to make an impression, one would type a letter. With the advent of word processing, a handwritten lettter impressed. In the day of email, any snail mail epistal became quite personal. Today, with FB, Twitter & texting, a personal email makes an impression & is most likely to get a response. I have reverted to clumsey old email for the Big Squeeze & find the response quite gratifying.

    If you wish to see the Big Squeeze website, go to:

    David Wright

  3. Nice essay, Ted. Why do listserv's house so much more ill behavior than any of the other media? Do the terms "friend" and "like" in Facebook actually shape behavior there?

  4. Hi Ted, thanks for this post! Don't forget that social media newer than Facebook such as Twitter are increasingly important as well. And social media are likely to be constantly changing, so Twitter's just the next step. I raised a minor hubbub on resoguit-l a while back when I posted why I thought more dobro players should get active on Twitter--basically as a means to reach younger musicians and fans. But also because it's quicker to write a Twitter post than to write a blog post or update your band's web page. Furthermore, Twitter is a good way to keep in touch with others on the go, like at festivals, concerts, and conferences. A few of my fellow resoguit enthusiasts signed up, and I hope to see more bluegrass folks in general on Twitter. Find me at . Cheers.

  5. Two comments about the "small furor erupted on the “L” the same day Tina Aridas died." There have been two or three other similar incidents on that listserve that could and should have been handled differently.

    1. Listserves are very old technology, akin to 1950-era party telephone lines. They have outlived their effectiveness, there are newer forum formats that are much more effective. Anyone still using listserves owes their members technology from the 21st century.

    2. Any listserve or forum or discussion group needs to have a published set of guidelines and some kind of moderation, the one mentioned in the article neither did not at that time nor still today.

    3. When offensive or off-topic posts are made to any kind of social forum, the moderators, in accordance with the published guidelines, should take immediate action.

  6. There's a lot of meat in these responses, so I'll deal with them one at a time.

    Bob - You may be right about Twitter. It doesn't appeal to me, because we don't have smart phones and don't text. Also, I don't think I could keep my Tweets within the 144 character limit.

    I'm glad to hear you've developed a relationship with the "famous person," although I don't think it was your comment that set of the fuss. Thanks for your comments.

  7. David - One thing you can to use FB for a narrow audience is to raise the bar for allowing people to see it by accident. Henri Deschamps of the Bluegrass Legacy can explain to you how to do this. There are a number of ways to hide FB pages from too broad an audience, as well as developing forums and web sites requiring membership before getting beyond the first page. E-mail blasts to a mailing list work, too, but many people don't read e-mail any more. I still prefer it, because it's easier to save in folders. I use e-mail to conduct interviews and such.

    I have visited your site and hope to get to the Squeeze one of these years. Thanks for the comment.

  8. I'm not sure that ListServs are any more nasty than forums or e-mail lists. I was the moderator of an e-mail list once and had to step in often. For good or ill, the "L" is very lightly moderated, and most people on it behave themselves. There are several bluegrass forums where it gets pretty rough sometimes. I had to start moderating my blog when some of the comments became unacceptable to me. I don't mind it when people disagree with me, but there are ways to do it and it's my blog, so I insist on civility. Seems to work. Please continue to chime in when you're moved to do so.

  9. George - I think your use of Twitter, as Bob also suggested, may work to help people at festivals be in touch. It could, also, make jams more exclusive...not a good thing. We don't Tweet because we don't have smart forms or use texting, the formats best suited to Twitter. Thanks.

  10. Jeff - I still enjoy ListServs, but, as you know, I also contribute to several forums and we (between the two of us) have three FB pages. I agree with you about the need for moderation. Good communication services have moderators who keep their eye on inappropriate posts. The political blogs are disgraceful, on every side of the political spectrum, for the language and rage they permit. I'm a great advocate of civil discussion. Keep in touch.

  11. There's a conversation going on about your post over here: - really interesting topic.

  12. For a very interesting discussion of yesterday's blog on Bluegrass and Social Media go to the following blog:

  13. Nice post man.I like the content.Thank you

  14. Thank you very much for this great post. smm panel

  15. Great topic! Thanks for publishing the valuable content, find out the social media marketing secret from Trust SMM Panel