Joe Taylor over at Spinme.com posted this great cartoon that resonated with me this morning. At around this time of the year, my anticipation for the fall Phish tour would be working its way to a frenzy. It was more than just anticipation of a concert….the fall Phish tour was a time when I would see friends that I hadn’t seen all year. Events of the prior year would be celebrated, the performances from the spring and summer tours would be discussed, argued about, and disected in the loving way that only true fan-boys (and girls) can do. These gatherings that preceeded Phish concerts were a blast–it saddens me that they won’t be happening ever again.
The Phish community was amphibious…spending half its life on tour and the other half online. It was one of the first online music communities to have a Usenet group (along with the Grateful Dead, The Beatles and Bob Dylan), and the first band to release live shows into that community through "tape trees", a physical and linear manifestation of the P2P model which has since been displaced by digital trading through Etree using Bit Torrent and FTP, with official live releases from the band coming through the groundbreaking LivePhish service. The fan initiatives in setting up FAQs, tape trees and mailing lists facinated me, and were significant in laying the foundation for a lot of the online marketing work I would do in the years to come. Some of these initiatives were striking….the "adopt a newbie" campaign got beginning Phish fans up the learning curve and put quality live recordings in their hands at no cost (except for the cost of a blank tape and a stamp). The "People for a Louder Mike" was a grassroots movement of fans who wanted the volume of Phish bassist Mike Gordon turned louder at concerts. Their concerns were heard, acknowleged and acted upon by the band. And the Mockingbird Foundation was perhaps the ultimate example of fans taking it to the next level….a group of fanatics put together two volumes of a reference book about Phish, as well as a Phish tribute CD with all proceeds going to benefit music education for children.
These are just a few of the reasons that made Phish so special and created such loyalty. You don’t need to be a jamband (or marketing a jamband) to take some cues from their methodology, and from enabling true participation from fans in the experience. The facets of online community for which Phish layed the groundwork are equally impressive as their musical legacy….