STORY: Brett Callwood
Earlier this month, all of Facebook’s 350 million (and growing) subscribers who logged into their account began seeing changes to the site’s privacy settings. With more of our personal information more easily available to anyone, it would seem that the social networking site is keen to putting our personal details and photos and the disposal of more people, rather than opening them up only to a select handful of friends and family. Suddenly, everyone is posed the same question that has faced musicians since the advent of social networking sites: How much personal should be public?
The music world was quick to cotton onto the potential of sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. A band MySpace page is nearly obligatory from the genesis of any group, and more and more Twitter accounts from musicians spring up seemingly every minute. But what is the balance that musicians have to achieve between self-promotion and self-exploitation? And does making yourself an open book ruin the aura of rock music?
Cobra Starship bassist Alex Suarez is a keen tweeter and says that fits the public perception of the band. "Cobra Starship are notorious for being very open with our fans," he says. "When I was growing up, I used to think that I had no way to get in touch with my favorite bands. I never really tried, but if I wanted to, I probably would have had to send a letter through the mail." Minutemen bassist Mike Watt, who will be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in March, says the social networking phenomenon is simply a new twist on an old idea. "In the old days, when we first found punk, me and [Minutemen frontman] D. Boon divided the world into two categories: gigs and flyers," he says. "Anything not a gig was a flyer for a gig. So these social networking sites--I see them as flyers. I use them, and I try to let folks know what I’m doing." Alex Kane, frontman of Los Angeles shock-rock outfit, AntiProduct, thinks that bands should use the sites to break down walls that used to exist between musicians and their fans. "I think killing some of the illusory and unnecessary distinctions between fans and bands is awesome," he says. "For too long, musicians have led a life of self-important pomposity. Deflating the ego and putting in perspective who is actually important in that particular exchange is essential in respecting who is putting bread on your table and paying your bills." However, while fans can follow their favorite bands' profiles, which typically gives pertinent news and updates about the group in a classic "fan club" relationship, now instead of just keeping up with Forever The Sickest Kids, you can find out what their guitarist, Marc Stewart, is up to at all times. That doesn't bother Stewart at all. "[I'll post] pretty much anything," he says. "I don't really have anything to hide."
But should he? We The Kings guitarist Hunter Thomson thinks there's a fine line between being open and opening yourself up for trouble. "I like sharing news and updating our fans," he says. "But I think if the information gets too personal, then it gets creepy." Just telling fans what you're having for lunch is only one aspect of social networking--those who use the sites to their fullest potential use them as a venue for building relationships with fans who would have otherwise not had such access. "With MySpace and the rest, if you reply to [a message] once, that person sometimes thinks that you're best friends for life," says Novada frontman Hayze. "There's one girl who has been following me for a decade. She bought a bunch of gear that my old band used and she has mannequins dressed like we used to dress, holding the gear and surrounded by candles. Then, out of nowhere, she'll send pages of hate mail. It can be scary." Since Hayze also has his phone number posted in plain site for booking reasons, one female follower used it to unintentional destroy a part of Hayze's personal life. "She started sending nude pictures to my phone," he says. "As a direct result, my girlfriend of three years and I broke up."
Von Bondies frontman Jason Stollsteimer agrees that social networking sites are a godsend for dangerously obsessed fans--some with sinister motives. "It's happened twice now where if we don't e-mail a fan back straight away, they hack into our site and delete e-mails. People can get so obsessed. I don't think it's the fault of Facebook or MySpace, but there should be better security for bands. We're not technical geniuses. We just play instruments."
Stollsteimer brings up an interesting point. After all, musicians are just regular people who excel at performing. Do the humanizing aspects and offered accessibility of social networking sites do something to diminish the "rock mystique" of the past? Scott Hamilton, owner of Detroit's Small Stone Recordings thinks that's a distinct possibility. "When I was younger, we really only had the radio, record stores, fanzines and gigs," he says. "What you learned about your favorite act was strictly on your own. I think the digital age has killed most of the mystique. Everything happens so fast now. A new act or album barely has time to grow and mature before being replaced by something else."