Usually I’m the one asking questions when it comes to live music culture, but this time Frank from Windy City Rock graciously flipped the script on me and asked some good questions about why I started Live Fix, how we mix social media with live music, and what the future looks like for concert fans. And I was surprised by what I had to say about our ambitiously pioneering live concert community.
I’m always honored when someones wants to hear more about what we’re doing here on Live Fix. And it was a massive pleasure to answer Frank’s questions.
That said, I wanted to share them with you because the way Frank’s questions and the way he asked them allowed me to talk and think about Live Fix in a way that I haven’t before.
Among other things, I explained in detail why I decided to start a blog about live music and concert fans. I also explained why I think what we’re doing here on Live Fix adds value to the music blog community and gives concert fans a great opportunity to more fully realize and celebrate the power, impact and influence that going to concerts has in our lives.
Here’s the interview with Frank.
Frank: I always enjoy reading Live Fix because it takes such a fresh, unique and community-focused approach to music blogging. How and when did you come up with the idea for the site, and what did you initially set out to accomplish with it?
Chris: Thanks for the kind words! I’m glad you’ve enjoyed reading Live Fix. I’ve enjoyed Windy City Rock, too. Especially your post about seeing the pregnant keyboardist at the Wicker Park Fest last year. I’ll always remember how that post sent me on a really fun train of thought.
I came up with the idea for Live Fix about three years ago while I was writing reviews for other music websites. I love writing concert reviews and I love the challenge of using words to describe live concerts. But after awhile I felt led to explore the live music experience beyond the stage and get into more of the reasons why concerts are so amazing besides just the music.
So much goes on during a concert in our hearts and minds for both fans and bands, and I thought it was very important to begin to understand and celebrate some of the psychological, physiological, and sociological reasons why the concert experience is such a life-changing event.
I didn’t see any other blogs or music sites writing in that way about live music regularly, or taking the time to dive into those types of topics, so I decided to start Live Fix and take a stab at doing it myself.
One of the things I love about Live Fix is having the chance to talk with bands and concerts fans of all ages, shapes, sizes and genres and listen to them explain how a certain concert changed their life. I always learn something new about concerts when I talk to fans during an interview. And I love it when a fan describes his or her concert experiences in a way that ends up surprising them and me.
One of the things I’ve learned is that you have to ask the right questions and be patient because most fans aren’t used to talking about their concert experiences. I don’t know why that is exactly. Maybe it’s because of our culture’s obsessions with the “rock star.” Maybe it’s because fans think that if they’re not on stage, then their concert story doesn’t matter or doesn’t have value. Whatever the reason might be, I think fan concert stories need to be told because there are some really beautiful and profound things to discover when fan recalls and reflects on their concert experiences. Same goes for bands when I ask them about their favorite concert experience before and since they’ve become a musician.
Since interviewing concert fans or exploring live music in this way is a relatively new approach to writing about live music, I stick close to the trail blazed by one of my heroes, the late Studs Terkel. He was a master at talking with the common person. And I’ve used many of his books like Working and Division Street as guides on how to listen to concert fans and how to get them to talk about their favorite shows. I also closely study the work of NPR’s Terry Gross on Fresh Air and in her book All I Did Was Ask.
I’ve had lots of fun these last three years and I’m honored that readers, bands and fans, have enjoyed my experimental take on live music. I’m always trying to make sure that the blog is a mix that’s fresh, fun, entertaining and challenging. And I hope that a Live Fix post makes you think differently about why we all live going to concerts.
Tell us more about what live concert “experiments” are. How do they challenge the way people typically think of live music?
The experiments are an extension of the “explore and examine” part of Live Fix. I started doing “experiments” because I saw the live show as a great sort of live and organic Petri dish where I could test and explore the past, present and future of the concert experience.
There’s so much that we experience during a show and things happen so fast, that we don’t usually have time to reflect on why a certain concert was amazing or completely sucked. So the experiments are a great way to stop and dig deeper so we can learn, laugh or even make our next concert experience better and more enlightening. I used the word “experiment” loosely only because it implies that we’re going to push boundaries and possibly discover something new. The experiments aren’t always scientific, but each one always aims to challenge the concertgoing status quot in a fun and interesting way.
What’s one experiment or article you’ve done as part of Live Fix that you’re particularly proud of, and why?
I have to pick just one? [laughs]. Since I’ve got several favorites, I’ll go with these six since they come to my mind right away and they’ve been some of the most read posts.
1. Bon Iver and the Power of the Little Things — ongoing series about the impact of the lesser know but important parts of concerts.
2. The Dancing Guy – I had the chance to guess and be wrong. Which led me to actually have a fantastic interview with the Dancing guy himself and learn all about fan self-expression at concerts.
3. The Live Tweeting During Matisyahu – This is concert fans at their creative best and I unexpectedly connected with a fan through a Live Twitter experiment I was doing.
4. Don’t Do This at Your Next Concert - This moment caught me at a Miike Snow show completely off guard. And I still wish I could talk to the fan who poked me in the stomach.
5. Sensual Smack Down With Michigan State Police at Rothbury – Always beware of the cops when you’re at a music festival and don’t count on your Twitter followers to care at all either.
6. Secrets To the Oprah Flash Mob In Chicago: An interview with one of the Flash Mob Dancers about what it was like to train and participate in the dance.
When it comes to live music experiences you’ve had that stand out as particularly memorable or unique, what comes to mind for the following?
I love asking this questions and now I realize how hard it is to answer it [laughs]. Off the top of my head I would say:
- - Most amazing/biggest “wow” moment? Seeing any Saul Williams concert the guy can make a concert transcending like no other. I also love seeing Radiohead for the first time at Lollapalooza 2008. I did a “no eyes” experiment and it made the show completely awesome!
- - Craziest? Seeing Wu-Tang at Rock the Bells 2007. I watched filled with anxiety as Colleen, my wife and photographer, took photos in the pit and standing between the Wu-Tang and the fans while the band flung Hennessey bottles at the crowd and incited the fans in the first row.
- - Strangest? Seeing John Legend at Ravinia amidst the Screaming Lady and other adoring fans. Great show by Legend and his fans made it even better.
- - Biggest surprise? Seeing Phish In 3D in April. I’m not a big Phish fan but I gained a new appreciation for the band and their fans. Also, seeing Keith Urban at Joe’s Pub and Augustana and Jakob Dylan at Morton Arboretum recently.
- - Worst? Tough to say, but I’d go with seeing Colbie Caillat for half a set at Rothbury in 2008. Sometimes you just have to make compromises when you married. Most of the time, Colleen and I are on the same page but other times not so much. She was curious and thankfully we only had to endure a few songs.
Live Fix is all about collaboration and communication among everyone involved in live music scene – the musicians themselves, concert-goers, writers, etc. How collaborative do you think the Chicago music scene currently is? What do you think is great about it and what do you think could improve?
That’s a tough question to answer. But I think there are certain groups of people in the Chicago music community that seem to be more open to collaboration and those people see the benefit in working together and I’m happy to work with them.
I will say that it is a bummer to see the others who for whatever reason don’t want to work together in the music writing scene. I think things would be a lot better if music writers did have a better way to collaborate. I know it’s tough because we all have crazy schedules and the music writing or blogging scene doesn’t always lend itself to opportunities to collaborate. But I wish we all did do a better job and weren’t so segmented or cliquish at times. I always try to stay positive and realistic about working with other music bloggers because the fact is that everyone is not going to get along with everyone else all the time. I’m cool with that, but only if it doesn’t take away from discovering something new about music writing or hurt the creativity of live music blogging.
Social media is a big part of what you’re doing with Live Fix. In your opinion, what are some of the most useful social media tools for the music community? How have you seen people using these tools in particularly innovative ways?
I love using social media to explore live music and today it’s nearly impossible not to use when covering live music. That said, there’s still a lot not being said about how we can use social media to explore live music even more. That’s why I try to drill down and examine each way concert fans use the different social platforms, and depending on whether it’s blogging, Twitter or YouTube, there’s always a great opportunity to study how fans use those tools. And I also get to use those tools to study fan behavior and fan emotions themselves.
I’m constantly fascinated by human behavior so I’ve used Twitter to study how concert fans respond before, during and after concerts with various real-time concert experiments. I think we’re just beginning to discover how to use blogs, Twitter, forums, and YouTube to connect fans and explore live music. And with Live Fix, I like to push the boundaries and see how we can use social media to celebrate, explore and examine live concert culture.
Besides Twitter, I’ve used YouTube to connect with concert fans and study their behavior. And I’ve had many great discoveries as I study artist live performance and get feedback from other fans.
Recently, I’ve been reporting on how virtual concerts communities are starting to pop up more and more, and with each new development those communities are evolving what a “concert” really is.
What have you found to be some of the most effective ways to engage readers?
Be real, honest and yourself. And be helpful. Some of my most popular posts, like the Experiencing Joy, Grief and Community in Live Music , are the ones where I’ve shown vulnerability or shared something that’s helpful emotionally or informatively. Besides, just live music I also try to help other bloggers who are where I was three years ago. One of the most important things about social media is to share your knowledge and let other learn and get better from your own experiences, so with the like How to Start Your Own Live Music Blog series, I try to give back as best I can.
I love reading honest reviews and I always try to work that in to a post. I also think that it takes time to truly know what a certain group of fans like. It’s also important to understand how readers behave online and offline at concert.
I know that not all live music fans are going to enjoy Live Fix. But I don’t care abot that and I don’t spend too much time thinking about the non-readers. I’m writing for those fans that want to explore live music in a way that’s honest and not like other music blogs. So if those fans want to gather round and learn with me than that’s great and I hope more readers join us. Most importantly, I always ask for fan feedback on almost every post. Sometimes fans respond and sometimes they don’t. But either way I always want them to know that they are valued and I want to know what they think.
What are some of your favorite bands/musicians at the moment, both Chicago-based and beyond?
Tim Fite, Saul Williams, Yeasayer, Wilco, LCD Soundsystem, Radius, Streets on Fire, St. Bagu, Eminem, Deanna Devore, Phoenix, Brother Ali, School of Seven Bells, Atmosphere, Soul-Junk, The Dead Weather, Polysics, Jakob Dylan, JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound, Sage Francis, Common, to name a few.
If you could see one band/musician live who you either probably or definitely will never get the chance to see, who would it be and why?
I would like to voyage back to the first days when Afrika Bambaataa was spinning records in the Bronx. Hip hop is one of my favorite genres and I would love to experience what those first days were like. I would like to also see the Grateful Dead at their peak. I’ve grown to really appreciate the communal power of jam-bands live and they’re the ultimate jam-band, so I would like to go back to either Woodstock or their best live show to experience it.
Jimi Hendrix, Neil Diamond (during the Hot August Night tour), Janis Joplin, Black Flag, Joy Division, Frankie Knuckles first shows at the Music Box and Warehouse, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Bruce Springsteen and Prince are all also on The List for various reasons.
What’s in store for Live Fix’s future? Any new experiments or ideas you have in mind that you’re looking to try out going forward?
We have a lot coming up! We’re going to be introducing a very special guest and regular contributor who has expert experience in psychology and addictions. This new contributor will be able give readers a deeper understanding about the psychological reasons for our “live concert addictions.”
We’ll also be exploring more about concert genealogy, having more contests, adding a podcast with fan and artist interviews later this year and collaborating with you and Windy City Rock. We’re really excited about the future of Live Fix and we’re looking forward to connecting with concert fans online and at the show.
Thanks so much Frank for letting me share Live Fix’s story! Your questions were lots of fun to answer.
Go check out what other things Frank and the Windy City Rock crew are up to. You’ll be glad you did.