[Editor's Note: Because of how much attention is being paid to things like marketing yourself, mobile music, and apps, we decided that it would be offer an example of what it's like to use one. So we got Amy Klein, who plays guitar in Titus Andronicus, Hillii, and her solo project, Solanin, to try MobBase for a few months, and we'll be publishing her thoughts on the experience in three parts.]
Listen to me when I say that online music promotion is a necessity. Despite what Prince thinks, the internet is not going to go away, and the digital revolution has redefined the nature of the underground to the extent that the new home of the independent artist is online. Lucky for those of who are never quite sure whether to swim against the currents of the information age, or to let them sweep us forward, into the great unknown, a new platform makes it easier to relax and settle in for the long ride.
The concept is simple: Pay a small fee for an account on a website called MobBase, and the site guides you step by step through the process of building your own iPhone app. Your app distributes your music, photos, videos, blog posts, tweets, and concert dates to fans in real time. So the very minute that Insane Clown Posse starts piecing together the theory of magnetism, every smart-phone toting Juggalo gets up-to-the-minute updates on the progress of the investigation.
How does it work? The good news is you don’t even need to know. I couldn’t tell the difference between an app and an apple turnover when I started using MobBase. But right after I signed up, a set of clear instructions sprang up, guiding me through a process I never thought I could do. By far the most groundbreaking aspect of Mobbase is its simplicity and usability.
Because it automates all of the steps of the app-making process that actually involve coding, so what’s left is the part we musicians tend to enjoy most—the part where we get to be creative and make decisions, and see the results of these decisions appear.
Although I’m no graphic designer, I find that I spend most of my time deciding how the app will look; since this is the zone where I get to flex my artistic muscles, it’s the aspect of app creation I find the most challenging, and the most fun.
Whether we realize it or not, social networking sites have taught members of our generation all we need to know to build our own brands. That’s why I find it so easy to decide how to present my best self on Mobbase: The skills of self-production, self-enhancement, and self-display that are essential to advertising myself as an artist turn out to be the very same skills I’ve been practicing on social networking sites every day for the past seven years. The developers behind MobBase are obviously very much aware of this; their product capitalizes on the way in which social networking sites have bred an entirely new race of artist-entrepreneurs. We’re musicians and art-directors and inventors and publicists, but above all, we’re social creatures: All of us are eager to share, and to share more than we have ever shared before. We’ll even pay for the privilege of sharing.
So the Mobbase site is built to mirror an “edit profile” tab, such as one we might find on Facebook and MySpace. There’s a section for a personal logo and a section for a personal biography. All I have to do is upload a flattering profile picture and craft an “about me” section that emphasizes my most positive qualities. I decide on a profile picture that features my face prominently, filling the shot, and I write a short personal statement with the goal of intriguing my listeners and drawing them into my social network. Next, for a background image, I choose a digital photo that’s colorful and evokes certain lyrical traits inherent in my songwriting. I elect to include buttons that link to the sites I use most often, and use best.
After I’ve completed the layout and design processes to my satisfaction, the time I spend uploading content to my app is significantly less; that’s because MobBase plays host to only a tiny amount of my personal information. Instead, MobBase works by linking to all the sites I already have. So when my first fan downloads my app and clicks on “Photos,” she’s taken to my Flickr photo stream; when she clicks on “Videos,” she’s taken to my YouTube channel.
From the creator’s perspective, all of this linking seems a bit redundant; why bother creating a whole new app that will only link back to the sites I already have? But consider the fan’s perspective: the average fan doesn’t want to travel to Flickr and YouTube, she wants Flickr and YouTube to travel to her. Neither does she care to cycle between these two sites; she wants both of them at the same time. Consumers want centralized systems of information with pipelines flowing straight out into their personal devices. Mobbase constructs, from the multiple facets of your band’s online presence, a single, coherent avatar, and then passes that compact figure directly into the consumer’s hands.
Given the proliferation of social networking sites and the pressure to open an account on all of them, the average musician is stranded at an odd place on the highway, somewhere in between “Too Much Information” and “Not Enough.” With an app like MobBase, I can rest assured that fans have instant access to all of my social networking sites at the touch of a button, and that the app organizes all of the information into clear categories, so I don’t need to post and repost my tour dates on different sites ad nauseum. Meanwhile, app users have the comfort of knowing they’ll never again miss one of their favorite band’s shows for lack of information.
MobBase isn’t perfect; I can find plenty of flaws. For one, not everyone has an iPhone. Hopefully the app will soon be available for other types of mobile devices. Otherwise, a fair amount of any band’s fanbase will automatically be excluded. Second, I’m curious as to the relevance of an app like MobBase at a time like this one, when there are so many independent artists distributing their own music, and they rise and fall so quickly from the public eye, that the lasting power of any one artist is significantly diminished. When Pitchfork hypes up a band for a few months, does anyone really care enough to download that band’s iPhone application? In the minds of fans quick to tune in to the blogosphere for news of the next big thing, a breakout band is more likely to become a trend piece than a personal style.
Like it or not, the internet and digital culture have democratized the process of making and sharing music. DIY is alive and well, but the rock star as rarefied icon is pretty much dead. Does anyone except teenage super fans (I remember being eighteen and plastering my school notebooks with Radiohead song lyrics, which I meticulously typed, printed, and cut out line by line) really care to receive constant updates from any band? Wouldn’t indie kids rather download an app that streams their top twenty bands’ tour dates? Maybe, in the case of Lady Gaga, the little monsters are still kicking; but Lady Gaga already has an iPhone app (Haus of Gaga 2.0.) She doesn’t need a MobBase account.
Although the future of MobBase is uncertain, it’s an admirable idea: Why not give DIY musicians, whether technophiles or technophobes, all the tools they need to promote themselves? Why not make promoting music less frustrating, less confusing, and more fun? Surprisingly, since I’m not a techie, I lose myself in the process of designing my own app the way I lose myself in the process of writing a song. I have no idea how much time is passing, and, what seems like only a few minutes later, look up to find the window of the coffee shop dark already; I’ve been absorbed in making my app for hours. It felt simply as if I were expressing myself, and not one bit as if I were toiling away on a personal marketing strategy.
It felt as if I were relying on gut instinct, on some deeply ingrained sense of who I am and who I have always been. Yet, only a few years ago, I couldn’t have used MobBase at all—not simply because MobBase didn’t exist, and indeed, couldn’t have existed then, but rather because everything I know about PR, I’ve learned by reading the internet since 2004. That the process of reinventing myself as a marketable commodity now feels wholly natural to me is nothing if not an indicator of the way in which social media has eliminated the distinction the public image and the private self. Technology has remade the very mirror through which we see ourselves. Already, looking in this mirror has changed us, and it will go on changing us—faster now, and in ways that we’d never expect.