Monday, March 17, 2008

The Social Science of Trent Reznor

Trent Reznor gets it. Not just creating a music distribution model that works fairly for fans and for artists, which is profitable and respectful of intellectual property while at the same time being extremely open, and is scalable from megastars to independent bedroom producers... he gets the big picture of web 2.0 style social interaction and communication, applied well beyond the limits of computer screens.

Last week NIN and Google launched the Ghosts Film Festival, in which Reznor invites fans to make short films based on songs from the new Ghosts I-IV album. The project isn't just about user generated content. That's been done a million times. He's sytematically removing barriers between not just artists and fans, but between people and ideas. If you step back and look at the projects he's done over the past year or so [the J.J. Abrams style viral campaign/expanded universe for Year Zero in particular,] what he's doing has more to do with sociology than anything else. People interact and exchange ideas much differently now than they did a few years ago. Reznor and his team not only understand this and can tap into it, but are facilitating and accelerating the change.

Ideas and products are no longer part of a linear provider/consumer relationship. What we're quickly heading toward is a model of opt-in participatory exchange. You don't just chose to consume something or not. You chose be part of something, and with that, you chose to be part of a group, and the dynamic each individual brings to the group changes it and changes the original idea. By encouraging people to remix and make films for his music, not only are the original ideas transformed, but there is a social chemistry created that spawns new ideas that in turn generates more nodes of information exchange.

This structure has existed since the first social networking sites, but there is generally a lack of substantial content. [I don't understand the point to 90% of Facebook's applications, beside wasting time and cluttering up the screen.] The Ghosts Film Festival is the next step in facilitating real social networks based around exchanging creative ideas, and I think just the tip of the iceberg.

View the intro for the Ghosts Film Festival here and the submissions here.

addendum: It should be noted that Reznor maintains a quiet but ultimate executive control. This is critical. The initial creator should singularly maintain quality control, but that shouldn't discourage participants or hinder their creativity. Sometimes the best ideas come from the most unexpected places. At the same time, true democracy usually results in disappointing compromise, or worse: pandering to the lowest common denominator. There is a careful balance to be had in such projects, which is part of what makes them such fascinating experiments.

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