Presumptuous Much: A Tale of Uncommon Heroes
Last year, I did a brief speaking engagement at a local university. I had been working for a concert promoter and we were in the midst of producing a free music event series for area students. We weren’t having much success getting the fliers for the show up around campus—due to their surprisingly strict policies about what events can be marketed to students and the restrictions on where advertisements can be hung up—so I suggested that we should try to network with the music industry department under the guise of education. Strange as it may sound, the college in Minnesota does in fact have a program that focuses on the music industry.
My partner and I made contact with the head of the department and he sounded rather thrilled at the idea of two industry professionals, so to speak, giving a talk on event production, permission marketing, and the economics of free.
The day came, we showed up early, and we were greeted by the department head. Since we had arrived about twenty minutes before his next class started, he invited us into his office to chat and go over the plan for the afternoon. Things went smoothly; he seemed pleased with the content that we were going to cover.
Then, in the remainder of the time, I got curious and started to ask him about the subjects that he had been teaching his students this semester. Standard stuff.
But then, I started pressing the issue a little harder. I asked what he had thought of Greg Kot’s latest book Ripped. No reaction. I questioned if he thought it was better than Steve Knopper’s book Appetite for Self-Destruction.
Finally, he admitted that he had not heard of either book, but said he would write them down. Fair enough. Surely, I thought he had heard of the book The Future of Music by David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard—that’s an oldie but goodie.
Again, he confessed; he had not read or heard of the book.
Alright, I figured, maybe he isn’t a big book reader. So I changed it up. I asked him if he had seen the presentation by Mike Masnick at MIDEM, where he presented his case-study on Nine Inch Nails and his observation of how Trent Reznor consistently connected with fans and gave them reasons to by his music.
I asked if he liked Kevin Kelly’s essay on 1,000 True Fans and whether or not he thought it was a plausible idea. Concept after concept I kept striking out.
I challenged if he had subscribed to Seth Godin’s blog. Mitch Joel. Gary Vaynerchuk. Chris Brogan. No, no, no, and no. Fine then. I had to start pleading for my own existence and identity. Do you read Hypebot or Music Think Tank?
To which he replied, “Should I be?”
Alright. Aright. Have you heard of Andrew Dubber, Epicenter, Mark Mulligan, Music Ally, or TorrentFreak? What about Ariel Hyatt, Blackrimglasses, Bob Baker, Bruce Warila, Creative Deconstruction, Gen Y Rockstars, George Howard, MediaFuturist, Mike King, Musician Coaching, Steve Lawson, The New Rockstar Philosophy, or TechDirt? Make that sixteen more times that I was denied. I almost blurted out, “What are you teaching these kids?”
I just couldn’t believe the degree of willful ignorance that I had seen.
I don’t want to sound presumptuous, in trying to insinuate in anyway—that if you teach music industry studies at a college—that you should know who Bruce and I are. But, if students are paying a university thousands and thousands of dollars and they have no idea what any of this is—something is seriously wrong.
I am fearful that he’s not the only one.
I meet marketing students and professionals that have never heard of Seth Godin, Chris Anderson, or even Malcolm Gladwell. Then, there’s journalism students who’ve never heard of MediaShift, Niemen Labs, or Clay Shirky.
I find this disheartening, as many of these people and publications that I’ve mentioned are either my heroes or contain valuable information.
If we expect to make meaningful change and emerge from the many cultural shifts that are underpinning the profitability of these industries than we need students who are engaged in these conversations and who understand why they are important. It’s one thing to have uncommon heroes and be interested in different things. But, it’s quite another to tell students that they are being educated and prepared for the future, when quite obviously, they’re not. If they're unaware of these people, then the future to come will be a pretty big surprise.