Monday, October 19, 2009

Can Music Learn from Comic-Con?

As recorded music becomes a promotional tool to sell other music-related stuff, bands are moving into limited edition and collectibles territory. Generally as fans become collectors, they like to communicate and meet up with other collectors.

Although there are groups for vinyl, poster, and music memorabilia collectors, nothing exists on the scale of Comic-Con.
... the term "Comic-Con" doesn't even begin to describe the diversity of SDCCI's [San Diego's Comic-Con International] wall-to-wall programming. Aside from comic books, the convention's schedule includes events devoted to contemporary comic books (and their creators), vintage comic books (and their creators), original artwork (from both categories), science fiction and fantasy literature, animation (both domestic and foreign), genre television shows, pulp magazines, weaponry (both real and faux), genre theatrical (and direct-to-DVD) films, role-playing games, action figures, vintage toys, old time radio shows, video games, glamour art, costumes -- and, oh, I give up (in much the same way I'm now forced to give up my hopes of navigating the con's entire exhibit hall.) Let's just say that, if a topic is considered to be somewhat dispensable and silly in real life, chances are, it's considered to be of primary importance at SDCCI. "The 'Secret Origin' of San Diego's Comic-Con International," Jim Hill Media, 7/7/05.
The original concept behind Comic-Con was to promote comic book art and the professionals who created it rather than to create a merchandising and marketing event.
“I just felt that the cartoonists who entertained the popular masses were not getting their fair share of recognition,” [creator Shel Dorf] said. A convention would celebrate their many contributions.

Dorf, who was 36 then, also remembered what it was like to be a kid burning with a desire to become an artist, and not really knowing how to get there. A convention, he believed, would be a way to let youngsters meet pros, get some advice.

They held a one-day test fair in March of 1970, then the first three-day convention later that summer, in the basement of the U.S. Grant hotel. About 300 people came. "Comic-Con's Dorf watches sadly from the sidelines as T-shirts trump talent," SignOnSanDiego.com, 7/16/06.
The convention has grown into San Diego's largest [attendance capped at about 125,000]. But it was a tough go in the beginning.
The confab itself was so strapped for cash that each year the artists donated work -- which they dutifully sketched out on easels as a small crowd watched -- that were auctioned to help support the gathering. "The early days of Comic-Con," Variety, 7/11/08.
Comic-Con has always appealed to passionate fans, though who they are has expanded considerably.
"We always knew our audience was limited, but I personally felt it was limited not because only those people were interested," [David Glanzer, the organization's director of marketing and public relations] said. "I always felt that our audience was limited because we didn't inform a wider audience about what it was that we had."

He credits the convention's exponential growth through word of mouth buzz, and noted that most people come to the show more than once in their lives....

A 13-member board of directors, most of whom have been long-time fans of the show and were nominated to join the board, officially runs Comic-Con. The convention's office in La Mesa staffs 16-20 full-time and temporary workers, and about 80 volunteers work on various committees that help organize the show. "Charting Comic-Con's Hulk-like growth," San Diego Source, 4/18/08.
In addition to the San Diego event, there are now others around the country.
Gareb Shamus, CEO and founder of Wizard ... tells Marketing Daily that Comic Con started 40 years ago as small events in San Diego and Chicago. Wizard bought the Chicago show 15 years ago, and has been able to grow that from 5,000 to 70,000 attendees in a four-day event. Now, Wizard runs five of the events that bring in some 250,000 people to Toronto, Philadelphia, Chicago, Anaheim, Calif., and New York.

He says that among 700 vendors, Disney, Lego, Hasbro and Wild Planet will be on hand to show new products. "From the toy perspective, the fourth quarter is especially important," he says. "For companies to display their products to fans -- let them see them in a fun, family, cool environment -- is critical." ...

The fan demographic of Comic Con fans has grown beyond its 18- to-34-year-old core. "Now it's growing because as guys are getting older, they are not giving up enjoying these characters they enjoyed as kids -- whether video games, toys or comics -- and as they age they are getting their kids involved, so we are seeing older guys bringing their kids," he says. "Comic Con Is Coming To N.Y. Next Week," MediaPost, 10/12/2009.
While I am raising the idea that if musicians are now in the "stuff-selling business," they might want to have their own version of Comic-Con, Publishers Weekly has asked the same question about book publishing.
Has the San Diego Comic-Con become a possible model for what a contemporary publishing/media convention should be?

Although focused on comics—a sometimes tenuous connection in a show that could easily be called the San Diego Media-Con—the San Diego Comic-Con has emerged as the perfect example of the convergence of all manner of pop cultural phenomena under one roof. It's a big tent, a four-and-a-half-day carnival of panels, press conferences, business meetings, previews and bare-faced hype that has become so popular that San Diego fire marshals were forced to cap attendance at about 125,000. It's not simply that San Diego Comic-Con is popular—it's wildly popular. "San Diego Media-Con: One Big Size Fits All," Publishers Weekly, 8/3/09.
The idea is also catching on with other industries. While there have been sports collectible conventions for a long time, now more teams are getting into the act.
In Denver, the Broncos held their sixth annual Fan Fair in Invesco Field at Mile High this past June. Tickets for a family of five cost $50 total, or adults could procure a weekend pass for $25. What did fans get for the price? They chatted with coaches, players, cheerleaders and even the team mascot. They got autographs, took photos and purchased memorabilia. "Fan conventions on the rise," msnbc.com, 1/15/09.
Since so many people are suggesting that the future of music business involves selling merchandise and limited edition products, I'll be exploring more on that later. Based on what I have already read about collectors/fans, most of them develop an interest in something first, start collecting objects related to that interest, and THEN seek out groups of collectors. But on the other hand, having a place to buy and trade seems to turn these niche interests into more of a pop culture phenomenon. So it will be worth looking at the value of creating music collectible events to give some significance to the direct-to-fan experiments.

But for now, let me close with a few examples of fan conventions. Reading those articles, I've drawn up a list of common elements that seem to go along with launching fan conventions:

1. Have enough fans (generally willing to spend lot of money in pursuit of their hobby) to justify having a convention.
2. Have fans wanting to seek out others with similar interests.
3. Have fans willing to travel to a convention.
4. Have a person or group of people who will organize a convention and, if necessary, nurture it until it reaches a critical mass to maintain some level of momentum.

The book/movie series, Twilight, has generated a devoted group of fans who now have their own convention.
'Twilight' fans bring 'Trek'-like frenzy to conventions

Here are two music-related conventions.
  • Fans flock to 24th annual Queen convention
  • 5th Annual International Tropical Music Collector’s Fair

  • Two articles about the Barbie convention.
  • Two Words: Barbie. Convention.
  • Collectors Revel at Barbie's 50th Birthday Convention

  • Suzanne Lainson
    @slainson on Twitter

    2 comments:

    1. questions:

      could one be solely a lover of an album's artwork, and not care about the artist?

      for example, are there people out there that are fans of all the Flaming Lips artwork but hates every note of music the band has created?

      point: it seems like the separation of artwork and content could be easier to pull off with a comic/graphic novel than an album. for instance, i could love the Sin City artwork but not even read the words. You probably won't find many people that buy Flaming Lips albums for the artwork alone. I could be wrong.

      in the age of the mp3 this could be a great idea for putting focus back on album artwork.

      and off the top of my head the only album artwork/merchandise artists i can name are Arturo Vega (the Ramones) and Pedro Bell (Pariliament/Funkadelic). I'm sure there are plenty of others who would make a music artwork conference worth attending.
      - @dvdherron

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    2. I want to explore that. If you are depending on merchandise sales, do you design something yourself, or do you hire someone? And if you hire someone, are you selling your music brand, or the artwork of someone else?

      My sense it will evolve into a partnership -- using the artwork to sell the music and the music to sell the artwork. The visual artists will need to decide if they want to sell their art as a work-for-hire, where the band pays a fee and then owns it, or whether they want to participate in the revenue stream.

      People are tossing out ideas about how bands can make money now that more fans are getting recorded music for free or low-cost, but there is still relatively little discussion about the nuts and bolts of doing these other activities.

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