Trent Reznor is known in the music industry for being a risk-taker, musically and technologically. Though a critically acclaimed artist, Reznor has led an enigmatic existence, and his dark, electronic musical style conjures images of drilling down into and exploring outlying areas of a mysterious abyss. It's a natural fit, then, for him to feel at ease connecting with his fans in the virtual world.
Reznor’s past pursuits were anything but traditional. He sent fans on a virtual/reality scavenger hunt in 2007 to gather together the pieces of the album, Year Zero. In 2008, he gave away the album Ghosts I-IV as an entirely free download. And in the same year he connected fans off and on-line by hiding tickets for a Los Angeles concert all over the city.
This year, in advance of Nine Inch Nails’ national (and, possibly, farewell) tour with Jane’s Addiction, Reznor is launching a Nine Inch Nails iPhone application that allows fans to take the experience of the Nine Inch Nails Web site with them everywhere they go. The free app will be available some time this month and will deepen the connection between Reznor and his fans while allowing fans to engage with one another - across the globe and across the street - through photos, forums, fan remixes, and downloads. Reznor collaborator Rob Sheridan describes one feature as "Twitter within the Nine Inch Nails network. You can post a message or a photo by location, and if you're at a show you can see conversations between other people who are right there." Sheridan demos the app here:
Though his efforts certainly are at the forefront of innovation, Reznor is not alone in his desire to connect with fans on a deeper level. Twitter gives fans a glimpse at the minutiae of artists’ daily lives. It’s cool to know when Lilly Allen goes for a run in London or out for a steak dinner in Seattle. Or that Sonic Youth greatly enjoyed their first visit to Santiago, Chile. Blogging is old hat for several bands now as they prefer - and fans expect - micro blogging.
Still, I hope that after seeing what is possible in terms of virtually connecting with fans, more artists and record labels will take a few risks to build their fan communities. Certainly each artist or label must connect in a way that fits them - the NIN iPhone app may not necessarily work for a band that doesn’t have as wide a fan base or successful a Web site. But I see an opportunity here for record labels, especially mid-sized, independent labels like Sub Pop, Merge, or Kranky, that already have a grassroots following of people who enjoy being on the outskirts of the mainstream and likely have iPhones. They could make their web sites mobile and include information and updates about each artist. They could launch fan forums, share artists’ tweets, and provide a place for fans to watch videos and listen to their favorite songs.
In an interesting turn of events, these new approaches could, in a technologically advanced way, bring back the feeling of community that existed in and around independent music before social networking reigned.
How great would it be to see what my favorite bands are doing, where they're touring, maybe hear a few new songs and see what other fans are saying and recommending, all thanks to the beauty of an iPhone app? Pretty great, I think. Pretty darn great.