Lessons From FAWM (via SXSW)

On my last day at South by Southwest Interactive 2010, I was fortunate enough to catch a panel led by the creator of February Album Writing Month (FAWM), Burr Settles. Joining him on the dais was Charlie Cheney, avid FAWMer and creator of the Indie Band Manager software. They were there to talk about lessons learned from FAWM, specifically what they had learned about fostering and managing a creative community online. Burr broke the lessons into 4 guiding principles:

  1. Don't promote. This was counterintuitive to me at first, until I understood the sub-heading: "let the community do their own promoting." This makes sense for a site like FAWM, where the goal is not to amass the biggest number of "friends" or "followers," but rather to attract people who are eager to create something, and who will benefit from (and return) the encouragement of others. Having a friend urge me to do FAWM because it changed his life for the better has much more of an impact than a Facebook ad telling me to sign up.

  2. Embrace constraints. This is really at the heart of the FAWM experience (or similar projects like Script Frenzy or National Novel Writing Month). The idea that constraints breed creativity might sound strange at first - after all, aren't constraints there to constrain you? But in practice, I've found time and again that having a constraint (a deadline, an improv show format, etc.) can really kick-start the creative process. Knowing that you have 28 days to write 14 songs does a lot more to foster creativity than knowing that you have the rest of your life to get around to it.

  3. Keep it ripe. This one was based on a principle of chemistry, but I think the underlying point is to make it easy for users to be encouraging, creative, and constructive, and make it harder for users to be negative, engage in trolling, flamebaiting, and non-stop self-promotion. A key point here is to design the interface of your site/app/tool/whatever to "mirror your ideals." For example, on FAWM, it's clear on the page for any song that the star ratings are for your records only, i.e. not a way to drive up the popularity or rank of someone's song. Similarly, built right into the song comment form is the text "Be honest but respectful with feedback!" That simple imperative is a gentle but constant reminder that we're here to help each other create and get better at it, not tear each other down or engage in ruthless competition.

  4. Favor communication over aggregration. This is an attempt to get around "the last.fm problem" where popular artists and songs get more popular over time. On the FAWM site, the point isn't to collect as many stars, thumbs-ups, or re-tweets as you can; the point is to make music, and share constructive feedback with the community. FAWM has some built-in tools to help fight against the tyrrany of the popular, such as the jukebox (which plays a random shuffling of all songs on the site), and a built-in search to help you find songs that have not yet been commented on; this helps push the least-noticed content to the top of the stack. Again, the point isn't to rack up as many comments as you can, but rather to emphasize that the commenting system can be a useful way to provide encouragement and feedback.
You can download the slides from the panel here [PDF] and hear an audio stream of the second half of the panel here. You should also take a look at my previous posts about SXSW and FAWM for some more context about this topic.

What do you think? What's the best way to foster a creative community online? Tell me in the comments.


SXSW 2010

I'm back at SXSW! Amanda and I led a Core Conversation yesterday called "Improv Lessons For Freelancers," and it was a blast. We had a great audience who played improv games with us and carried on a really interesting discussion about how the fundamentals of improv can help your career as a freelancer. Our friend (and improv impresario) Zach Ward posted a great writeup of the session on his blog, including a video of me leading a deceptively simple (yet surprisingly challenging) improv game.

But you don't want to hear about that, you're here for music! Sadly, I won't be staying for the music portion of the festival this year (any of my readers want to sponsor Wired For Music to cover the festival next year???), but I can offer you a taste of all the incredible music that's going to be featured here in Austin next week.

NPR's All Songs Considered blog has posted "The Austin 100" - their favorite 100 tracks from the 1,000+ MP3s posted on the official SXSW music site. If that's not enough for you, you can download the entire set via bittorrent and listen to it - every year I try to get through every track, and every year I fail, but it's always an interesting challenge. The site that hosts the bittorrent files has links for past years as well.

As we draw nearer to the official starting date, be sure to check NPR's SXSW Music page, as they'll be posting previews, interviews, and streaming live coverage of many of the acts.

Enjoy! Anything you're looking forward to this year? Any favorite tracks from the playlists? Let me know in the comments.


Friday Playlist: Wednesday Edition

I'm headed off to lead a panel at SXSW in a couple days, and the last-minute preparations haven't left me much time to do a writeup for this playlist. The short version is that today's playlist features tracks from new (or pretty recent) albums by Lightspeed Champion, Surfer Blood, The Heavies, Man/Miracle, The Ruby Suns, Clem Snide, and more! This is one of my favorite playlists in a while (and yes, there are 2 tracks by Lightspeed Champion on here, and they both rock; also, there are 2 songs with the word "swim" in their titles - pretty cool, eh?). There's also an instrumental cover of a Wu-Tang song and a return to form for the Magnetic Fields, among other things.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the tunes. [Editor's note: Please insert your own liner notes and witty commentary as you see fit.]

See you all when I return!


Hear Me On The Radio! (Sort Of)

I'm going to be on the radio (well, internet radio, but still) TONIGHT, March 4 at 11:00 PM Eastern! Fellow FAWM participant and rapping bad-ass "G Slade" will be featuring some of my songs and an interview with me on his FAWMSTARS webcast tonight.

Tune in at 11:00 PM Eastern to hear some of my tunes, and even call in an ask me questions! You know you want to!!!

PS If you miss it live, you can also download an MP3 of the webcast later on, but it won't be nearly as fun.

UPDATE: The MP3 is up and you can download (or stream) it here, including extra podcast-only content and a shocking revelation!


Remember The Aughts? The Hood Internet Remembers.

I've written before about awesome mashup artists The Hood Internet, but they are so awesome I just had to write about them again. Try as we might to forget most of the last 10 years, it turns out there was some fun music made during that timespan, and it all sounds pretty good played more or less at the same time. Thus, The Hood Internet's latest creation, Decalogue: The Hood Internet vs. The 2000s. They describe it thusly:

It's a year-by-year journey through the past decade in a little over six minutes. Featuring:

2000 - Dr. Dre vs Radiohead, 2001 - Missy Elliott vs Daft Punk, 2002 - Ludacris vs The New Pornographers, 2003 - Kelis vs The Rapture, 2004 - Twista f/ Kanye West vs Arcade Fire, 2005 - Three 6 Mafia vs Sufjan Stevens, 2006 - T.I. vs Peter Bjorn and John, 2007 - Rich Boy vs LCD Soundsystem, 2008 - Lil Wayne vs Hot Chip, 2009 - Jay Sean vs Phoenix
So sit back, relax, and enjoy a trip down recent-memory lane...

The Hood Internet - Decalogue (The Hood Internet vs The 2000s) by hoodinternet

Nerd note: they're using the SoundCloud player, which I've been seeing more and more of lately. It lets you do cool stuff like add comments tied to a particular point in a song. Anyone used this before? If so, what did you think?