Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Phish Reunion: A Study in How NOT To Treat Your Most Passionate Customers (Fans)

Many folks who do not follow the jam band music scene remain peacefully unaware of the frenzy Phish fans are in after this week's rumor on the Rolling Stone website that the band will play the super-mega music festival Bonnaroo. The debate centers on differing opinions on whether the band should headline a music festival packed with other musical talents or whether the band should host their own music festival. This argument--which is intelligently summarized in several blogs including Mr. Miner's Phish Thoughts and The Lefsetz Letter--is especially electric because the band has been on a hiatus that began after their rain-soaked musical debacle of a festival in August of 2004.

Whether or not the band should headline Bannaroo isn't the real issue, in my opinion. But it is representative of a more deeply rooted and growing hostility by long-time, fervently passionate Phish fans toward the band, their new mega-manager Coran Capshaw and their corporate management company Red Light Music. And what's caused this bitterness among the music-loving masses, you ask? I argue that it's the lack of connection and community between the band and its ardent and amorous admirers. And in this new social era where brands (or bands) can more easily connect and communicate directly with their fans (customers), remaining silent like the band has done is about the lamest marketing tactic around.

Since the announcement of Phish's reunion and their reemergence from solo tours and silence, we've heard little from the band on their future plans, their feelings about the last four years, and anything that would help humanize them and connect them to those of us who love them the most and who are essentially responsible for their rise to the ranks of fame they currently enjoy.

All this silence from the band and their brigade, while the negative buzz swarms around them like bitter bumblebees, is both deafening and disappointing. How simple would it be to write a blog post, contribute to a community conversation on Facebook, or reach out on Twitter where the bass player Mike Gordon occassionally tweets? Upon glancing at the band's official website there are very few communications directly from band members that don't appear to have been scrubbed in the PR machine. A few examples include one letter from June 2008 from Page McConnell, Phish's keyboardist, "Mike's Corner" where his last post was from July of 2003 and in "Fishman's Forum" where drummer Jon Fishman's only post was from May of 2000.

Companies large and small are joining their customers in online conversations through communities, forums, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and a variety of other social tools. This helps these companies deepen their relationships with their customers and inspires greater brand affinity because of these connections. Many other musicians get it too. From Dave Matthews
(another Redlight managed musician) to Imogen Heap musicians are using Twitter to connect with their fans.

So what's up with Phish? As the band gets pummelled in what I'd call a PR nightmare, their voices are conspicuously silent. They haven't bothered to write one blog post to thank their "Phans" for their support over the years. Not one band member has commented on other blogs to share their own reasons why they want to headline a music festival like Bonnaroo instead of hosting their own. And noone from Phish, including Mike Gordon, has Twittered to tell their most loyal Phans--many who were shut out of the ticketing process for their reunion show at Hampton Colliseum--how much they are valued and what steps the band plans to take to keep those folks engagaged.

Is this silence one of those tired old marketing tactics where brands refuse to comment in an attempt to minimize the effects of negative criticism? Or is it mere laziness by the band and their management company who appear to be more focused on profits than people? Whatever the reason, this silence could cost the band dearly. Because even the most dedicated phans are questioning not just their plans to see Phish's probable summer tour, but doubting their devotion altogether. And let me tell you, former customers of brand--or fans of bands--rarely stay silent.

32 comments:

JMS said...

Interesting post, but I think you need to remember a couple things...

First, it's been a while since Phish has been around to engage their fans. We expected nothing during the hiatus and given that they're all of 3-4 months into reunion planning, the continued radio silence isn't surprising. Most likely these guys are still trying to get their acts together. The accounts I've been hearing out of New York where they're practicing alternate between "It's going great" and "It's not going so well," the net-net being that they probably have something far bigger than us to focus on -- themselves.

Second, while I'm no fan of Bonnaroo, they may be. This is one stop where they'll be treated as the kings they are. With almost zero logistical effort of their own, they get to play two giant shows, potentially win over a bunch of new fans and, perhaps most importantly, hang with some of the top acts playing today. And they'll _still_ sell out every show they play this Summer. Guaranteed. Frankly, please do play Bonnaroo... Hopefully that will alleviate some of the ticket pressure we're bound to see elsewhere this summer.

As far as the management goes, believe me, I wish it was still those early, heady days when I could mail order and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'd not only get tickets, but would be in the first 10 rows every time, but that period is long passed. I can't blame them for wanting to outsource some of the overhead that built up around the Phish organization over the years. As Trey said on Charlie Rose, "It's a lot of pressure knowing you have this huge group of people to support." (Paraphrased, obviously.) It's one of the things that brought them down the first (and second) time, so I'm just fine with them eschewing that particular weight. As well, who knows what their relationship with Capshaw might lead to? Is it really possible that this gets them back into Red Rocks, as scuttlebutt currently suggests? If that's the case, I'm going to withhold judgment for a bit.

I'm in wait and see mode. Well, that and panic-for-tickets mode. I have no doubt things will be different this time around, but given where things have gone in the past, maybe this is a good thing.

David Bartz said...

Wow. These are both highly lucid posts. Caveat: I know NOTHING of Phish and am merely a Kelly Feller follower (saw this link on Facebook). What I know about the band is summed up in these two posts (and Kelly saying "omg - the most amazing band in the world" (and I'm paraphrasing.) )

But I would have to say, based on what I read here... that perhaps they jumped the gun on the reunion thing. If they are moving in fits and starts in their coming together again, it's not great for their phan based relationship, as Kelly suggests.

Because the value added of the technology world today, is flesh pressing that is so easy to do between great artists and their phans. They are missing the boat.

But... my understanding is that Phish is kind of a jamming improv band... So... maybe their fans will go along with their business/marketing improving as they work their way back to the stage?

We'll see!

Jesse Liebman said...

Kelly,

While their manager did exactly what Phish needed, more exposure for the event, he did it in completely the wrong manner.

I'd hate to be running their online reputation management campaign.

Ellis Godard said...

Speaking of jumping the gun, doesn't it seem like a mistake to even *consider* anything beyond Hampton, before Hampton has even happened? Especially if the "net-net" from the NYC rehearsals includes some "not going so well" concerns?

They haven't played in more than four years since perhaps their most disastrous show ever. During that time, their experiences include a dramatic arrest, drug rehab, management changes, and musical divergences. And Hampton's anticipated to be a gate-crashing clusterf#ck.

Planning ahead for *possible* follow-ups, from Bonnaroo to Red Rocks and beyond, is prudent just to save the space - but if they've locked anything in, that seems premature. And if they actually announce and sell tickets to anything beyond Hampton, before Hampton even starts - danger, Will Robinson; danger, Will Robinson!

Carri Bugbee said...

Kelly, as someone is actively working to get musicians to embrace social media, my guess is that the guys in Phish probably have no clue why they would need to say anything or participate anywhere online. Most musicians I know are woefully behind on all this stuff. I suspect if Phish were reading this, it would be mostly Greek to them. I might be wrong – I’m not a Phish fan (the whole jam-band thing escapes me). I’m just generalizing based upon my contact with hundreds of musicians online. But I’d wager that’s what’s behind their inaction. They’re not even “listening,” so they have no idea they need to respond. That, and perhaps they’re a bit full of themselves, so they assume they don’t have to. That happens too. ;-)

Carri Bugbee
Social Profiles: https://chi.mp/s/carribugbee.mp

Anonymous said...

I'm a phish fan. I've been seeing them since my first show in 1995 in Gainesville, Fl. I've devoted my life to following them because it was the greatest, most rewarding experience of my life. I've had some of the best times following this band.

When phish announced their "break up" in 2004, my heart was broken. After seeing them over 15 times in 2003 I was ready for the long haul. I was rejuvenated by a smoking run of shows for the new years run in Miami. But when 2004 rolled around the vibe changed. It has literally taken me almost 4 years to put this all behind me. I literally grew up and put phish to bed. Saying goodbye to such a huge part of my life was not easy. I just didn't seem to fit in anywhere else.

What really bothers me is how they have gone about this whole reunion thing. First off, the process of scoring tickets to Hampton was seriously flawed. Gone are the days of mail order phish tickets where everyone had a pretty equal shot at scoring tickets if they got their money orders back to the band in time. This worked for me literally hundreds of times.

The Hampton ticket process was drastically different. The internet "lottery" had a two week window and before the lottery was closed and people knew if they scored tickets yet. scalpers were already saying that they had tickets. Not only did they claim to have tickets, but they were going for well over $400 -$1000 a pop for one ticket to one night. How was this possible? When i got the notice that the lottery had ended and i wasn't able to score tickets i still had hope that i could maybe get them through ticketmaster.

How wrong I was. Ticketmaster, (dubbed ticketBASTARD by fans) was a joke that consisted of a faulty security code that required thousands of people to relod the page for a new readable security code. In the one minute it took for my page to reload, the event sold out. In one minute the event sold out. How was this possible? To add insult to injury, as soon as i got the "sold out" notice an ad appeard on the side of the page for ticketbastards sister company Ticketsnow.

Ticketsnow seemed to have gotten all the available tickets and were selling them for $400 - $1000 a pop per ticket per night. So say I wanted to goto all three Hampton shows, It would cost me almost $1200. WTF???

How can you have a reunion show of this magnitude in such a small venue with suck a broken and hacked ticket system? That was the first part of my nightmare. If my heart was broken before, it was not completely obliterated. Since i don't feel like being assraped by scalpers, I choose not to go to Hampton.

Months have gone by and not one official peep as to what went wrong with the hampton tickets and if the band even cared that 80% of their loyal fans got shafted by these scalpers. I refuse to support these ticket pirates, but I know a few high profile people in the phish blog world saw no problem with shelling out the $1200 to see three shows. This just adds to the problem of ticket scalping, which the band claimed there was "a no scalping policy."

Still not a peep from the band. Nothing. NADA. Thencame another shocker. Bonnaroo? Dear god....why?
Why after all those years of glorious top notch festivals would they bend over for Bonnaroo? The same Bonnaroo that used to be very cool its first two years, but now has slid down the path of Metallica and Kanye West. The same Bonnaroo that many of us feel has sold out its "jam roots" and turned into some huge corporate monster with its $10 bags of ice and 2 mile lines for the bathroom.

The idea of phish at bonnaroo might seem appealing to some 17 or 18 year old college freshman, but to older fans who have been there, done that, and swore never to go back its another huge WTF? WTF? WTF?

Who am I to say phish can't play bonnaroo? If they really feel the need to bend over for bonnaroo then fine. I just choose to not be a part of it and rightly so. This is all scary stuff for a band that was so close with its fans. Do they care about the people shut out of their poorly planned "reunion" shows? Do they care about what we feel? After all, we are the ones getting screwed by scalpers and waiting 18 hours in traffic to get into Bonnaroo.

A simple letter would be cool. I remember all the letters when phish was breaking up and announced their "last shows ever".
The least they could do is write one stinking letter now that they are "reuniting" telling us not to worry and they know how impossible getting to Hampton was and they are trying to prevent this from happening again in the future.

ZILCH....nothing....nada.....

LeonJackson said...

Carri: I appreciate your comments, but you are, I think, about as far wide of the mark as it's possible to be. Phish came to prominence in the early 1990s precisely because they were able so cannily to harness grass-roots, informal, fan-based communications. Although they did not initiate or sponsor a listserv, they profoundly supported and encouraged Phish.net, one of the first internet fanbases. And while, it's true, they retreated in more recent years into a more distant stance (thanks to celebrity, fatigue, overwhelmedness, and too many drugs), no one can, in fairness, accuse them of not understanding the importance of communicating with their fans in meaningful ways. I'm inclined to agree with JMS that they are way too focused right now on attending to their own psychic needs, although I agree too with Kelly that the result is something of a PR disaster. I absolutely love Phish, and I cherish my memories of seeing them in little theatres in the early 1990s. My guess is that they now suffer, and probably always will in the future, from too much success. What made Phish work, other than their youth, talent, and energy, was the intimacy of the scene through the very early 1990s. At the scale their popularity operates on these days -- and the competing generations to whom they have to appeal -- Phish will always now be an exercise in great intentions and less than great delivery.

Cason said...

I am also a marketing professional and i understand brand management. I know people are upset about getting shut out of Hampton as they feel they are entitled to get in based on their "headier than thou" attitude. ironically those same fans who feel entitled to Hampton tickets are the exact people bitching about phish at b'roo.

first in regards to phish's "brand" i was in MSG for phish's last comeback and then the subsequent Hampton run. by the second night of Hampton it was apparent that they had not practiced nearly enough and the music suffered. don't believe me? give that 01.03.03 Hampton show another listen. they even F----- up the tweezer opener. i would rather have the boys remain completely silent until 03.06.09 and then blow the roof off the mothership. forget the PR spin machine bullshit. the only thing i care about is the music. listen up Trey, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE and the rest will take care of itself.

as far as getting tickets goes, this same paranoia swirled around last time phish "cameback." everyone freaked out as if they would never get to see the band again but by summer tour you could find extras in the lot for half face value. i'm glad they are back and i look forward to catching some more shows.

Kelly Feller said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I wonder if this issue begs the question whether bands "should" engage with their fans at the same level that corporations are being expected to do with their customers. I'm thinking perhaps there is an even greater reason musicians would want to engage with their fans, since their "product" is so personal. Does anyone have examples of musicians who are doing this well today?

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling that phish will put a lot of thought into their musical preparation and also the presentation. Although its a shame that we can't all be in the room at Hampton. The show will be great for those that are in the room. Although many are not thrilled with the idea of Bonnaroo because of past experience, just because it wasn't what you wanted one time doesn't mean that it couldn't be this year. I've never seen Phish play at a festival with a bunch of other bands. I'd love to get that experience. There are obviously really great ways and really mediocre ways for it to turn out. Let's hope for the best, and trust that phish who brought us such great times will be capable of rising above once again.

Anonymous said...

no sense of entitlement or "headier than thou syndrome" here. I do however know when i'm blatantly getting ripped off by scalpers. To show how "entitled" i feel to being at hampton i choose not to go. Now that's "heady". Just because you can spend $500 on a ticket dosen't mean its right.

Anonymous said...

Wow, the bottom line is the music folks....and they haven't made any decent new music since 'story of the ghost' IMHO. They could learn alot from the Flaming Lips, who have also been around since the 1980's

Jimmy said...

I understand that Kelly wrote this blog from a marketing perspective but this is still laughable and completely out of touch. Phish is a band who somehow even into the late 90's managed to sell out multiple nights at the country's largest arena's and ampitheatre's by word of mouth. Yes, their official website listed the dates and you could order tickets by mail in a last ditch effort to not be raped by ticketmaster (and get really cool unique tix) but there was no media blitz. It should also be noted that these mail order tickets where offered so people could recieve all of their tickets at once before hiting the road, not as valuable collectables. Sorry, sometimes I forget who I'm talking to here. I think others would agree that the element of mystery is much more powerful than any PR campaign. Bring on the hate mail but in my opinion Phish is the most mysterious band since Led Zepplin. There were no rumors of black magic (than i heard) but did Trey really get kicked out of college for stealing a human hand and heart from the biology department and sending them to a friend in the mail as a prank saying "I've got to hand it to you, you've got a lot of heart"? Whats up with that drummer? What are they saying in YEM? Did the gamehenge songs really come from Trey's senior thesus at Goddard? These are just a few of the 1st questions every "newbie" had when they first discovered Phish. You could dig and find answers or maybe you knew someone who actually knew what they were talking about but you could find nothing official. The band told nothing of themselves. Why would they? Why would it matter? At my first Phish show I had this feeling of being let in on some big secret. "How am I just now discovering this?" "How long has this been going on?" There's 30,000 people here, why wasn't it on the radio? How can live music possibly sound that tight? And the lyrics? I don't know what the hell they mean but I can't get them out of my head." Back to Kelly stating, "Remainig silent like the band has done is about the lamest marketing tactic around." Kell, you and your peeps are not needed. Future tour dates will be anounced via phish.com. We will buy them. If there is a end of tour Phish festival this summer Trey will tell us about it between tunes at a show somewhere in the midwest. Everyone at that show will tell all their friends who got shut out. Kelly also wrote that there is a lack of communication and community between the band at its fans. Where to start? The band kept a friggin on-going chess match with the audience from to show to show in the mid 90's. If you didn't witness it, look it up. The biggest musical festivals containing only 1 band in music history went virtually unnoticed. Local media in upstate NY and Limestone, Maine raved about how an unimaginable amount of people decended on their town but were completely appropriate. Friendly and respectful. National media did pick up on a few of these festivals but of course tried to recreate a hippie dream show story. The truth is we totally fucked up traffic and left a lot more trash than we want to admit but it was in my opinon the only crowd that size that could attend such an event and it not result in total chaos. I remember being at a show at Deer Creek in I think 97, maybe 98 when Trey informed us of the horrible events taking place in NY at "woodstock II or 3 or whatever they called it when Fred Biscuit stepped on his fans via porta potty door then offered them water at $8.00 a bottle. Then someone burned the place down." You guys were all over that one Kell. That show was supposed to be the biggest thing since chocolate milk. What a disaster. Sorry. Anyhow, I remember Trey thanking us for treating each other better than that allowing them to continue doing what they do. The band would always make sure we had enough water. I'm serious. They would ask. Kelly also wrote, "They haven't bothered to write one blog post to thank their fans for their support over the years." Nobody wants a blog post lady. We just can't wait to see what they play and what it sounds like. I will admit that I wanted to know more about Trey's addiction and what kind of progress he was making. I/we were worried. Glad to see it looks like he is well. We'll be able to tell by the performances. We don't need to invade his privacy and demand play by play blog posts. Pretty sure no ad time was sold for a spot on the tower jam ballerina cape's. What a piece of art? How did they keep that a secret? It was magic. I know Kelly, you have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about and neither do your buddies. Perfect.

"It's just us again, the 20 million people are back in their living rooms." Trey Anastasio 1/1/00

Anonymous said...

I strongly agree with everything Jimmy said and wanted to add a few thoughts:
I agree the ticketing situation with Hampton was far less than satisfying, but how much of it can you directly attribute to the band? It sucks to hear phans blame the band for its managements' decisions. It would be nice to hear something from the band, but who is to say that we won't or that it IS even necessary. I agree, PRACTICE PRACTICE, blow my socks off and I wouldnt care about any prior confusions. Also, it would be cool for the thought of the simulcast of the reunion shows to manifest. I think that would not only alleviate phans of the "missing out" paranoia, but also the town of Hampton from the frenzy that seems inevitable.
As far as the Bonnaroo situation, I have been to several, and even though the first few were the best due to the more jam-centered lineups, I still had an amazing time each time I went including 2008. I took a nap during Pearl Jam and smoked with some new yorkers in the back 40 during metalica... which led me to the comedy tent to essentially avoid metallica. But Yonder was amazing, MMJ killed from midnight to 4am, Robert and Alison oozed sexuality over the crowd, tiesto threw it down, I laughed at Chris Rock,grooved during Phil Lesh and Panic . . . I guess what I am getting at is that if Phish fans dont like bonnaroo then don't go, but if Phish Phans dominate the populus of Bonnaroo then think about how cool that could be! Part of the reason of them splitting up was the massive organization they had to support. Putting on your own festivals is the biggest example of that. So what if they want to reach that festival energy and mentality at the expense of playing with other (jam or not so jam) bands? But I have a feeling that if Phish plays Bonnaroo that the lineup won't stray too far from some of the earlier years (despite the Bruce Springsteen rumors). Plus the band is most likely bound to artist agreements with Bonnaroo which prevents them from making any comment or communication until the lineup has been officially released by bonaroo. IF they are playing.

Mathew said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alex said...

I am not here to throw mud, but as a longtime fan I must say this. Hopefully they aren't saying diddly squat because they are too busy PRACTICING. I don't want Phish to coddle me, hold my hand. I have no interest in reading a blog post about what they were doing the last four years, or what their future plans are. In my opinion, no news is good news! The past is in the past, and thank the Lord's sweet sake for that, because we have Phish again. Lets focus on the FUTURE, and not on what Fishman was up to in 2006. Let them talk about it in a couple years after they tear up the touring circuit and wow us with a decent record. In my heart, I hope their silence is indicative of the amount of work they are putting into this rebirth. You heard it straight from the horses mouth, any Phish news we will hear directly from them, on their web page. All these teasers and news updates should be tossed in the trash and forgotten. Phish controls their destiny, not Rolling Stone, not their new super manager. Keep up the good work, boys, and don't feel the need to say a thing to your fans unless you are ready too! Just keep working on getting ready to send us into orbit with your live brilliance. Much love.

-Claydon

Harry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Matthew, I think your comment about phish's marketing is flawed. Marketing had nothing to do about the demand for hampton tix. They could have announced the shows on the back of a box of corn flakes and they still would have sold out instantly!

Anonymous said...

Matthew, I think your comment about phish's marketing is flawed. Marketing had nothing to do about the demand for hampton tix. They could have announced the shows on the back of a box of corn flakes and they still would have sold out instantly!

Anonymous said...

Nice article Kelly-

As a phish fan with 28 show under my belt, I just wanted to chime in with my 2 cents...

Phish at bonnaroo would be a disaster IMHO. The reality of a phish show is that you will undoubtedly see TONS of ticket people showing up, which would piss off the good folks of Manchester TN even more than having a huge festival take over there town for 5 days out of the year (the 3 days, plus a day gettin em in and out). I think it would also upset some of the other artists since the buzz of phish would probably steal the spotlight from up-and-coming bands who, quite honestly, deserve the attention more than an established band like phish. It would be better for all if phish would just do it's own thing this summer. Obviously, it will be a very successful sellout event in every town it hits.

I also really think that ticketing issue needs to be addressed by the band. Like nearly everyone else, I got shut out for Hampton. This is fine, since it is at a small venue and a special reunion event. But, come summer, I think the band needs to put a priority on spreading the ticket love around to the people (like me) who have been using phish tickets by mail since it began in 1995. I would hope they have some records which indicate the names and addresses of the people who did mail order and helped to make the band as big and successful as they are today. If this stupid online lottery keeps up and I can't even score a lawn ticket for Alpine I will not only be pissed, but pissed off for good reason.

Finally, and have others have said, I really hope the band doesn't half-ass it and actually PRACTICE prior to not only the Hampton shows but any future tours. This remark might be controversial, but I will say it anyway...post hiatus phish was for the most part garbage. As excited as I was to see them again in 2002, this excitement was deafened when I saw how different they were from the heights of 1998 (the best and most energetic year from the band in my opinion). I will feel for the unfortunate phans who dropped $500/night in Hampton if it turns out to be a night of sloppiness for the boys. Let's just hope that doesn't happen

Anonymous said...

This article is pretty far off point. It points out some valid criticism, but it still weak. They're problem before was too much to focus on besides the music. Bonnaroo and new managers eliminates all the logistics bullshit that tied them up and distracted them before. As for the not caring about their fans....who does this clown think he is. What's wrong with silence....they don't want to jinx everything while it's still in planning. Your argument is that they haven't take the time to blog once????? HAHHAHAHA some people don't blog. They are busy practicing so they can blow our fucking minds once again and that is the true sign they care because they want to play good for us and not have anymore sloppy performances. Their mind is actually in the right place and we will all know how much they care when we go see them and walk out with our jaws dropped.
DEER CREEK MAY 09!!!!!!!

Kelly Feller said...

Hi folks...
Welcome Phantasy Tour folks to the blog. I'm glad you're here and reading and commenting.

You all might want to consider that I have been a Phish fan for many years. It might even be true that I perhaps know the band personally. So it's possible I do have some insight here. That doesn't mean my argument should go unchallenged. It merely means that I'm not a total newb.

I'm glad there is lots of discussion going on about the band, their possible tour, and Hampton and Bonaroo. Let me remind you, however, that this discussion is about a new era of consumer power, where customers expect to cultivate a greater connection to their brands of choice. That could mean a band, a bicycle, or a beach resort.

So my question remains: is there a greater expectation for bands or musicians to exhibit more transparency to their fan base. From what I read, you zealots would prefer to keep Phish specifically at arms length. That's cool. And it sort of answers my question.

I argue that musicians like John Mayer, who write insightful and eloquent blogs, are the wave of the future and are connecting more deeply with their fans than their predecessors.

Kelly Feller said...

@Mathew,
I have removed your comments because they lacked substance and included personal attacks. I'm happy to engage in heated debate on this and any other issue. But I will not tolerate disrespectful mud slinging.

Troy Bingham said...

I think that alot of those marketing ideas are lost to a large group of marketers. Either they have never heard of them, or don't quite understand how to utilize them. I wouldn't blame the band though.

Anonymous said...

I think Phish will do well. I mean the music that is. I would love to be at Hampton too but at the same time the music will only get better as the shows pile up. All this criticism reminds me of one thing I hate about the scene. People trying to be experts in things they aren't. Trying to act like they know the big picture (including what's going on inside the band, which we can only get rumors of). It hurts sometimes I know when you care so much but jeez, deep breath. Hopefully Phish can keep on kicking ass even though they have to deal with the huge huge huge amount of pressure which comes with being so famous and watched. Everybody's got an opinion. Let's just wish them the best and if things go well, if we really believe in them, we should know that 2009 will be the tip of the iceberg and they will have many more years of great, real music. GO PHISH!!!! Oh yeah, and why does everybody think that if they play Bonaroo that means they're not gonna do their own festival(s) in the future?
OK... Peace.......

Anonymous said...

Having not even attempted to get tickets to Hampton, I can't speak to the clusterfuckiness of the situation, but I'll take people's word for it. This was always going to be the problem with Phish coming back - the hype, the expectation, had been effectively doubled-down by their last hiatus (which only made people more rabidly interested in the band).

I also have faith that things will return to some degree of normalcy as the band gets going this summer. I'd rather see them in less massively-anticipated circumstances, and on there own terms, which is why I also hope they don't play Bonnaroo.

But whatever the problems that Phish creates and contends with, I have to agree with other commentators that the concept of 'marketing'(as it seems to be understood here) has little to no relevance in the discussion. One of the reasons I love Phish is that they never 'marketed' themselves. Phish became a phenomenally successful band by doing it their own way: practicing and playing obsessively, respecting their fan base, and feeling free to be as weird and goofy and adventurous as their hearts' desired. They were fearless and inspired, but they never forgot the crucial role that their fans played in the process.

The phenomenon of modern marketing really interests me, but I'm also extremely wary of it. Maybe it's retrograde and neurotic of me, but I get a kind of psychic dry-heave every time I hear of someone speaking of themselves or someone else as a 'brand.' I mean, I know there are multiple and intricate schools of thought devoted to this concept, that billions of dollars are spent by people and corporations that take this notion very seriously, but I can't quite get around how horribly inhuman and cold it all sounds. I know this is a really big can or worms to be opening here, but the discussion of Phish seems to be a good place to at least touch on that reality.

So I'll wrap up with a few unsubstantiated assertions, just because I have to get this off my chest:

There's a certain amount of respect engendered by the 'radio silence' that Phish is currently maintaining. This gets complicated, but it basically means that they respect their fans enough not to have to hold their hands through the anticipatory stage we're currently in. That they don't feel the need to hype themselves any more, or assuage the worries of their massive fan base, is mature and perfectly reasonable.

One of the problems with the kind of 'brand intimacy' that's referred to in this discussion (John Mayer's blog, etc.) is that it so often comes across as being lame and phony. It creates the false sense that you are closer to the person/band than you actually are; most people feel this on some level, even if they don't admit it. Every hardcore fan of anything knows the sensation of wanting to know the object of the fandom better or more intimately, and everyone also knows (on some level) that this is, 99% of the time, an impossibility. The vast majority of Phish fans will never get to hang out with or jam with Trey and they gang, as much as we think we'd like to. We have to settle for the music.

The point is that this is all perfectly appropriate. The illusion of intimacy is a valuable commodity sold by tabloid rags, gossip websites, and entertainment news. Giant media conglomerates make obscene amounts of money with this stuff, and it's all fake. The real intimacy, the really valuable and satisfying experience, is the concert itself, or the record listening party. We don't need anything more than that, even if we think we do.

(Of course, the really sad thing is that Phish has become so big and topheavy that a large degree of that intimacy has been lost. This is a major bummer, but it's the facts. They had their era of Greatness, and while there may be more good times to come, the salad days are surely over. There's no way back to the glory days of The Scene, but there is still The Music, and if they really work hard they can manage not to prematurely go sour.)

Anonymous said...

yes, fuck marketing and marketing specialists. Phish is about music. I hope they do a fucking hip-hop record

Anonymous said...

This idea that Phish owes people because the grassroots movement made them huge is absurd. It's just a band. They play shows; they sell tickets. Why on earth should they care that some superfan from 1991 has more "rights" to tickets than anyone else? Or that some marketing expert thinks they aren't properly managing the brand. If you're upset and feeling unappreciated, that's your problem, not Phish's. You're probably also upset that you contributed early to Obama and didn't get that personalized invite to stay in the Lincoln bedroom this weekend.

For what it's worth, I saw a bunch of great shows 96-99, thought they were God-awful since then, and will wait and see what the verdict is on 2009. I've also grown up and have a much lower noodle tolerance than I did as a stoned college student. I wish them the best, but don't really care whether I can get tickets or whether they're any good anymore.

Henry Holland said...

Anonymous ^^ nailed it with this:

One of the problems with the kind of 'brand intimacy' that's referred to in this discussion (John Mayer's blog, etc.) is that it so often comes across as being lame and phony

That can't be repeated enough. I cringe at the online efforts of so many bands, bands who are expected to "connect" and "interact" with their fans. It may work with emo kids, but Mein Gott, give me Led Zeppelin and their total media blackouts when they weren't on tour any day. I WANT my favorite rock musicians to be remote and inaccessible and Rock God-ish.

I know The Kids Today expect stuff like webcams on the tour bus and blog posts and all that nonsense, but Phish has *never* been about that. Just look at the whole "rehearsals are going great/rehearsals are going badly" thing: if they blogged and said "Hey it's going great", it would (rightly) be derided as spin and they'd be insnane to say "Trey and Page had a fistfight over the tempo of the Hood jam". We're grownups, we don't need to be lead by the hand.

The less Phish has to do with marketing experts and spin consultants, the better. They'll talk when they need to --like, announcing West Coast dates. :-)

Yes, it would be nice to have the old days of get the Schive and doing up envelopes with the dates you wanted in the lower left corner, but almost all the venues on the circuit Phish plays are controlled by LiveNation or Ticketbastard, so that's not really a workable model any more.

Anonymous said...

I think it's ridiculous that anyone would be upset, offended, or otherwise unhappy about any band's lack of blogging or any other form of online communication. Who are you to tell Phish that they have to post to blogs about every decision they make and Twitter their every thought? Do you really think this is bad "treatment" from the band? Grow up. I'm a long time phan, I've been to dozens of shows in at least a dozen cities and given the band plenty of my money. I got what I paid for every time and they don't owe me anything, and they don't owe you anything. If you don't like the decisions they've made, that's too bad. Don't think that they owe you an explanation every time they make a decision you don't agree with. Don't expect them to communicate directly with you either. If Phish loses phans like you over something like this, then good riddance. The band will sell out every show they decide to play in 2009. Maybe without the whiners, the rest of us will have a better chance of getting tickets.

Kelly Feller said...

I must say I'm a bit shocked at all the venom many of you phans are throwing at me, simply because my business is marketing and I'm asking a legitimate question about whether fans expect their favorite musicians to use social tools to connect with them. Telling me you'd be better off without me as a fan is simply mean spirited and unnecessary.

I appreciate spirited debate and conflicting opinions. And many of you have raised those. Thanks to those of you who have done so in a polite and respectful way. That's the love vibe I know and love from the Phish scene (like my wonderful Phamily...shouts out to the Bay Area and cowbell crews!)

By the way, I have tickets to all three nights at Hampton and I'm thrilled to be going. And I'll be a passionate Phish fan till the day I die. That doesn't mean I can't question their level of silence. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions.

If any of you is curious about artists who are successfully using social tools like Twitter, blogs, & community-created projects, check out what MC Hammer is doing. (www.MCHammer.com) Whether you like his music or not is irrelevant. He's reinventing himself and is blazing a new path using these social tools.

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