October 27th, 2010
140 Characters Is Not a Limit, It’s a Shape: Interview with @Discographies
There aren’t many music critics reviewing albums on Twitter. If reviewing music seems like an arduous process, then condensing an album review into a single tweet seems maddening. And then there is @discographies. Managed by an anonymous music critic, Twitter’s @discographies condenses a band’s entire catalog into 140 characters or less. As Eye Weekly puts it, @discographies is “a sterling example of Twitter fulfilling its promise.”
We had the great pleasure of talking with @discographies about the strengths and weaknesses of Twitter, the idea of microblogging as a shape rather than a limit, and, inevitably, Dexys Midnight Runners.
So who is @discographies? Are you a person, a committee? Do you have a secret identity?
@Discographies is me. Despite the fact that I have never put on a costume in order to fight crime, I do have a secret identity, but its going to remain under wraps for a little while longer. I can tell you that I am sometimes a person who writes things and sometimes a person who makes things and sometimes a person who sits around late at night listening to things and sometimes a person who talks loudly about all of the above in public places.
When and where did the idea for @discographies hit you?
I wish I had a more exotic origin story for you, but: I was standing in a long line at the drugstore waiting to pay for some contact lens solution and Come On Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners was playing in the background. I hadnt heard the song for years, and there was nothing for me to do but stand there and listen to it. I started thinking about Dexys Midnight Runners: theyre remembered in America as one-hit wonders, even though they made three distinctive albums which are all worth hearing. I decided to say something about them on Twitterin my secret identity, Im on Twitterand I began wondering idly if I might be able to sum up all of their records in 140 characters. That was my eureka! moment. By the time I got to the cash register with my ClearCare, I had written the first tweet and the idea for @Discographies had fallen into place.
How long does it take you to come up with each tweet and whats the process like?
Some are instantaneous. Most of them get worked on for a few days. One or two have taken weeks of endless rewriting and despair.
Many of the discographies are attempts at describing an arc, so that means Im always having to ask myself: what is the essential aspect of this band? Once Ive got that figured out (even if I change my mind about it later), I start writing.
Any general advice for brands who want to go on Twitter?
Provide meaningful content that readers will engage with. Twitter is a like a gigantic cocktail party, and people are going to gravitate towards the person who’s saying something interesting, rather than the person who’s trying to convince everybody to buy life insurance.
Anything you’d warn against?
Don’t confuse “meaningful content” with “we’re going to do some product giveaways and we’re going to have a big party with bands and celebrities and we’re going to tweet about it endlessly both beforehand and afterwards and…” Ugh.
What makes a perfect tweet?
For me personally, the perfect tweet is one that I haven’t written yet but might someday (I always feel like I can improve my game). But in the practical sense that you’re asking: I imagine that a lot of people probably check their Twitter in the way that I do–by skimming through the last few hours’ worth of tweets, reading some things all the way through, glancing at others, ignoring the boring people I wish I could unfollow (but whom I can’t because I know them personally and it would hurt their feelings). Twitter is a constant barrage of stimuli, so a perfect tweet should be something that stops me dead in my tracks and makes me give it my full and complete attention–because it’s funny or startling or exciting or telling me something I didn’t know before or some combination of all of those.
Any brands who you think are doing something interesting on Twitter?
The Old Spice campaign last summer was hilarious and brilliant and just kind of thrilling to watch as it unfolded. And it was a really intriguing answer to the question of how to get people to focus on a taken-for-granted brand that hadn’t mattered to anyone since the Eisenhower administration. Did it work? I dunno.
Any brands you think could be doing more with Twitter?
As in so many other areas, Twitter is proving to be yet another lost opportunity for the music business. I’m not talking specifically about artists, many of whom use Twitter brilliantly (@kanyewest and @superchunkband are good examples at different ends of the spectrum) but about record companies, digital music vendors, streaming music services, etc. Virtually none of them seem to realize that there are branding opportunities for them on Twitter that extend far beyond anything they’re doing now. (And these are entities that need all the branding and imaging they can get.)
What about being limited to 140 chars makes the medium perfect for those who know how to use it?
My big conceptual epiphany about Twitter and how to use it is this: 140 characters is not a limit. It’s a shape. Just as a sphere has unique properties that distinguish it from a cube, a tweet is its own form. It’s not a miniaturized version of something else. It’s a vessel that’s perfectly suited to contain a serving of content, and how you pack the content into it is up to you. One size fits all. (If you know what you’re doing.)
Can brands grow their audience organically on Twitter, or do they need to make media buys to point to their latest Twitter effort?
I’m sure brands can grow their audiences organically, but some smart–or lucky!–uses of media can certainly speed the process. I’m a good case in point. Immediately after I began, I received (through no effort of my own) several very flattering pieces of press coverage, and some recommendations from a few influential Tweeters with substantial audiences. That gave me a base of about 2000 followers in the first week. Once the base was there, re-tweeting helped spread the word (although the media coverage and attention from super-Tweeters has continued to play a role); a particularly successful tweet of mine these days will be retweeted about 400 times, so the audience continues to expand and to spread their enthusiasm. Which is incredibly flattering and humbling.
Brands tend to think that Twitter = viral success. How is this true or false?
That’s like saying “I have a hammer, so therefore I know how to build a house.” Don’t confuse the medium with the message.