How C2E2 Celebrates the Superfan

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Three years ago, I blogged about the first time I attended the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo, then in its second year. This fan culture event was overwhelming, and it was difficult to know where to begin talking about the experience. On April 26, I experienced C2E2 from a more personal perspective: my 12-year-old daughter Marion was among the throng of attendees who dress up as their favorite fictional characters ranging from Princess Mononoke to Dr. Who. Marion was adorned in a trench coat and black wings to honor Castiel, an angel in the CW Network series Supernatural. As I noted on a LinkedIn blog post, being with Marion helped me appreciate first-hand a superfan loyalty that is rooted in self-expression and spontaneous community.

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C2E2 has quickly become a premier destination for fans and companies to gather and celebrate each other over the course of one weekend. C2E2 attracted 53,000 attendees in 2013, up from 40,000 the year before, and the event has taken up more space in the Chicago McCormick Place convention center to accommodate the growing number of merchants and entertainment properties participating.

If you opt into the C2E2 email newsletter, your experience begins well in advance of the actual event. The pedestrian-looking newsletter and website serve up a steady stream of announcements about the show, such as autograph signings (for a fee) by comic book legends such as Stan Lee, a panel with Game of Thrones cast members, or the unveiling of an interactive booth for online game League of Legends.

But you really don’t begin to understand C2E2 until you walk into McCormick Place on the day of the show and take stock of your surroundings. Even before you enter the formal C2E2 convention area, you encounter the superfans expressing their passions. Continue reading

How AC/DC Turned Loss into Triumph with “Back in Black”

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The rock and roll world recently exploded with rumors that AC/DC was finally calling it quits. Unfortunately, those rumors included speculation that founding member and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young was suffering a debilitating health problem. The band responded with some good news and bad news. The bad news was that Young was taking a break from recording due to an undisclosed health problem. But the band also affirmed its intent to stick together and make music. In fact, AC/DC has endured through hard times before. Thirty-four years ago, one of rock’s loudest, badass bands taught creative minds everywhere how to turn loss into hard-fought gain with the release of Back in Black, one of the greatest rock albums ever.

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In 1980, AC/DC was on the ropes. On the verge of achieving global superstardom, the band suffered a devastating loss when lead singer Bon Scott died after a night of heavy drinking. Losing a lead singer would be a crisis for any band, and especially given the circumstances, AC/DC considered breaking up. Not only was Scott’s loss tragic, but his throat-shredding vocals had helped define the band’s raw, head-banging sound and appeal.  But the band, consisting of brothers Malcolm and Angus Young (who was quickly establishing a reputation as a scorching lead guitarist), drummer Phil Rudd, and bassist Cliff Williams, decided to carry on. And then AC/DC made two decisions that would change its fortunes: finding front man Brian Johnson and deciding to release a tribute album to Scott.

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How Coachella Creates a Digital Community

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is the top music festival in the world, according to Billboard, grossing $67.2 million and attracting 180,000 people in 2013 over the course of two weekends. It’s also an elite experience for the affluent, with an expensive admission fee and amenities that include a furnished “Shikar style tent” with electrical outlets and two queen-sized beds at a cost of $6,500. I’ve been fully immersed in Coachella. I’ve discovered artists such as Haim and ASAP Ferg, re-kindled my love affair with the music of the Cult, and enjoyed the long-awaited OutKast reunion (warts and all).

Oh, and I’ve not even left my home in the Midwest hinterlands.

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My new SlideShare, which contains detailed speaker notes, discusses how Coachella creates a digital community for people like me (especially via a YouTube livestream) without compromising the appeal in-person event. As it turns out, digital creates a powerful network of brand ambassadors for Coachella.

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Coachella offers a lesson on how marketers can make an exclusive brand a bit more accessible without damaging your mystique. Luxury brands wrestle with this issue all the time especially as they court younger audiences who are on the cusp of being affluent.

On the surface, Coachella may look anything but exclusionary, especially when you consider that being there in person involves swimming a sea of dirty, writhing bodies baking in the hot desert sun. But Coachella is a luxury. As Todd Martens and Mikal Wood noted recently in the Los Angeles Times, “Coachella is now more like a spring break weekend at a walled-off resort than an edgy music festival.”

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Like Louis Vuitton, Coachella has aggressively employed digital to make its brand more accessible to wannabes like me who stand on the outside looking in with our noses pressed against the glass. Check out my SlideShare to learn more. And if you attend Coachella, tell me what you think of the event.

Do Wearables Have a Fashionable Future?

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Roger Wood wants to turn wearable technology into a fashion statement. Wood is the founder of (ART+DATA) Design, and he recently joined OnBeep, a stealthy, secretive startup developing a new wearable device that will combine serious technology with fashion sensibility. Wood recently shared with me on LinkedIn how he and OnBeep plan to transform  notoriously ugly wearable technologies into something as aesthetically pleasing as a Rolex. The device, under wraps at OnBeep, promises to change the way people collaborate in groups. According to Wood, the spirit of the founders moved him to join the team: “Jesse Robbins and Greg Albrecht are passionate about software, and how it can transform the way we think about collaboration. Ideas are plentiful in Silicon Valley, but I knew within a short time that I’d want to work closely with them on something transformative and groundbreaking.”

The San Francisco resident has his work cut out for him: Forbes  recently declared that even the most appealing of wearables are too geeky and lacking in style.  There’s hope Roger might bring a fresh perspective to the process. He is the first senior executive to move from mobile to fashion, and back to mobile. He led design and brand ID work on the fifth-best-selling phone in history (Motorola iDEN), the successful luxury activewear collection (the Ralph Lauren RLX), then back to mobile with Hearst Corporation, where he worked on iPad and iPhone platforms in an aesthetically demanding digital media environment.

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An Immediate Impact

Roger is a user experience designer, trained in computer science, and possessing a strategic mind sharpened at Harvard Business School by famed Israeli game theory professor Elon Kohlberg.

In 1993, Wood jumped into the mobile industry with a splash at Motorola’s startup hit Nextel, where he led the design of the iDEN phone as product manager. The masculine design of the iDEN phones set a new standard, and the product became a global icon from Tokyo to Tel Aviv. The phones was a fixture in the country music and hip-hop scenes, and some of the biggest names in music used iDEN phones to stay in touch as they moved from one city to another. The iDEN phones appeared in more than 100 music videos and motion pictures, and became a cult product with 12-24 years olds.

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How Kiss Created a Great Brand with Rock Theater

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After selling 100 million albums, reinventing the rock concert as theater, launching their own comic book series, and scaring the bejesus out of parents everywhere, Kiss was finally admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. But the band really belongs in a hall of fame of its own. More than 40 years ago, Kiss created a modern template for rock branding. As I discuss in my new SlideShare presentation, the band’s ability to create compelling rock theater was one essential element of the band’s blueprint for success.

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Kiss made memorable music in its heyday, but it built a true following by creating visual personas that inspired intrigue, derision, and fright — in other words, a reaction, which means attention. The four original members of the band — Peter Criss, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, and Paul Stanley — were more than a drummer, lead guitarist, bass guitarist, and rhythm guitarist. In public, they were known by the alter egos they created, each of which was expressed through elaborate costumes and face paint. If you grew up listening to rock and roll in the 1970s, you didn’t even have to like Kiss to know about the Catman (Peter Criss), Space Ace (Frehley), Demon (Simmons), and Starchild (Stanley).

No one had seen anything quite like Kiss. They created intrigue and curiosity, even fear that they were somehow linked with devil worship — all of which, of course, made them more appealing to record-buying teens. Onstage, the band’s four personas thrived like they could nowhere else. Demon, Catman, Space Ace, and Starchild were like three-dimensional performers, spewing blood, spitting fire, levitating from drum kits, and literally creating smoke from their guitars as they sang in their elaborate costumes (including exaggerated high heels). Although they were actually decent musicians, fans came for the experience.

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Their stagecraft earned them the scorn of critics, who viewed the pyrotechnics as a slap in the face of real rock and roll. But in reality, Kiss were adopting ideas that other bands were using, too, most notably David Bowie, Alice Cooper, the masters of shock rock, and Genesis. But Kiss made rock theater more accessible and fun — pushing the boundaries of taste without crossing over them as Alice Cooper did, and playing tighter songs than did Genesis.

Concerts made Kiss. The band actually struggled to sell albums until fans began to learn about them on tour. It was, in fact, a concert album, Alive!, that triggered a run of multi-million album sales that continues to this day.

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For modern rock bands, albums don’t sell: concerts do. The more established artists with bigger budgets have created fully realized theater. For instance, Roger Waters recently achieved massive financial success through the visually stunning Wall Tour. And U2’s 360º tour — the highest grossing of any rock band — was a theatrical tour de force that featured a massive “claw” structure that resembled a space ship.

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Today Miley Cyrus and Kanye West best exemplify the Kiss legacy of music as theater. Cyrus has been making headlines with her controversial Bangerz tour, which launched in February. She collaborated with several designers on costumes, including Roberto Cavalli, Jeremy Scott, the Blonds, and Marc Jacobs. Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi has created visual props, including “imaginative animals he’s made on his own.” Her tour has featured Cyrus emerging from a giant image of her face and sliding down a facsimile of her tongue; riding a giant hot dog; and wearing provocative sexually provocative costumes.

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Meantime, Kanye West has created his own brand of music theater with his on-again-off-again Yeezus tour, which features West performing (at times) in a bejeweled mask, massive, surreal stage sets, and elaborate choreographing. At one point, the show features the appearance of not one but two mountains, one of which splits in half and becomes a volcano.

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Jonathan Ringen of Rolling Stone describes the Yeezus show this way: “crazily entertaining, hugely ambitious, emotionally affecting (really!) and, most importantly, totally bonkers.” As for the bejeweled mask, Ringen writes, “OK, so yeah, he does wear bejeweled, full-face Martin Margiela masks for most of the show. And while on one level they suggest a supreme ‘look not upon the face of Yeezus, mere mortals; arrogance (which is so off the rails it’s kind of awesome), the masks also have real theatrical usefulness. Given that most of the audience is way too far away to see his face, they provide a vivid, readable visual.”

A “vivid, readable visual” — that’s how you turn an impersonal arena into your own stage. And Kiss created the model 40 years ago.

Emerging Artist Spotlight: Beatrice Brigitte

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Beatrice Brigitte doesn’t like to follow formulas. The 25-year-old singer rejects the lush production and auto-tuned, anthemic vocals that rule the pop charts in the American Idol era, in favor of a simpler, more organic sound. On many of the songs she writes (such as “The Day”), her voice floats like a ghost through spare, quiet string arrangements.

Brigitte paints textured landscapes that combine a dreamy, otherworldly sound (think Mazzy Star) with lyrics exploring dark themes such as fear, personal betrayal, and suicide.  In these themes the listener can detect the imprint of one of her influences, Jim Morrison (“Ode to End,” which contemplates suicide, thematically evokes the death wish of “Yes the River Knows” by the Doors).

I discovered her music on Global 14, Jermaine Dupri’s social community where members share interests ranging from music to sports (and it’s an excellent platform for emerging artists). In the following Q&A, Brigitte shares her story and provides a glimpse into life as an emerging artist. Make sure you experience her music on Soundcloud and get to know her on Global 14 and Facebook.

Let’s talk about your background — who you are and how you got into music.

Who am I? Well . . . I’m me. An entrepreneur, an artist, spiritual-being, a wife, an old soul; I have many roles.

To me, music is more of an art form than a way to be famous. I come from two artists who were both painters, and I love painting. I was born in Berlin. My father passed away a month before my seventh birthday, and my mom moved me to San Diego, where she remarried. I grew up in sunny San Diego for most of my life, but my parents moved to Phoenix while I was in high school. At age 17, unlike your conventional rebellion as a teen, mine was discovering music and using it as therapy. I never partied, drank, or did drugs growing up. I was that kid who would be at each concert and festival, standing there in awe.

I have been writing forever, but I did not always want to pursue music. The turning point was watching the band Brand New live in Phoenix. The performance by their lead singer, Jesse Lacey, blew me away. His music was honest, with no bullshit, and very bold. The band’s guitar riffs were very emotional. The experience changed my entire perspective on music.

At age 19 I moved to Los Angeles to work for a tech start-up, which I was working nonstop. I was making a lot of money but not doing what I really wanted to do, which was making music, finding my true self. My first day off occurred when I was 21. I asked, “What the hell am I doing?” I realized how blinded I was by social constraints, and that I can’t be a follower.

I began my journey as a musician by experimenting with being in bands and creating an alter ego, and then concluding that I just have to be a solo artist . . . just to be me, not to hide behind a band or an alter ego. It’s been a great journey and growth process.

Who are your musical influences?

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A long time ago, I was really into Jim Morrison. I went into a whole Doors phase. He was into writing poems and turning them into songs, not writing lyrics in the conventional sense. And he has hidden meanings and analogies in his songs, which is how I write. I also enjoyed the melodies and organic pop style of the Spice Girls growing up. And Winston Churchill is a huge influence on everything I do. Yes, Winston Churchill. He was not only a leader — he was an artist, too. Did you know he was a painter?

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