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An open letter to would-be Twitticians 

Wednesday, Mar 25 2009

Everybody from your publicist to your barber's kid sister is recommending you get on Twitter, 'cause Twitter is the new Facebook. And it's tempting: What's not to love about millions of people caring how you'll answer the question, "What are you doing?" Everyone is Twittering. Wanna get stock tips from Ashton Kutcher or find out what Lily Allen had for lunch yesterday? Get on Twitter and get in on all that action.

But as a music fan, I offer unsolicited Twitter advice to musicians out there: Just say no.

Twitter, for the five or six people still unfamiliar with it, is a San Francisco–based microblogging Web service with some six million users who "tweet" tiny bits of their personal lives into the ether, 140 characters at a time. They have a network of followers, known as "tweeple" or "tweeps," with whom they organize "tweetups" and "twestivals" and make up annoying new words to add to the "twictionary." But for every freakishly enthusiastic Web geek in the (ugh) "twitterverse" who claims Twitter is the Future, there's a normal person who is deeply ambivalent about the site's basic premise that the minutiae of your life is fascinating to others.

The argument for using Twitter lies in its power as a promotional device: Get more followers, sell more records. But Twitter works only if you pretend it isn't just a marketing device — if you act like "a real person." Don't just post about your next show or your new album: Reveal your actual thoughts, your "normal" observations.

For fans, being able to track your favorite actor, singer, or athlete throughout the day seems cool at first, but no one is fascinating all the time. Disappointment is inevitable. It'd be almost impossible for the Decemberists' Colin Meloy to live up to the nerdy superhero image I have in my head of him, and his Twitter stream confirms it. I might love spending hours analyzing the lyrics to Picaresque, but tweets like "2nd day of rehearsal in the bag; show is coming together eerily well. P'haps I'll post a photo tomorrow" and "This corduroy jean jacket is supposed to be the one I lost years ago. It looks identical, but something about it just isn't right" leave me asking, "So what?"

I wonder whether Dave Matthews fans aren't bummed that their hero has nothing better to do than to post 25 Tweets a day. Most musicians (except maybe Ryan Adams) have an inner filter: If not every song is good enough to make it onto the album, why should every passing thought be worth floating onto the Internet?

Once upon a time, if fans couldn't get enough of their favorite stars, they'd go watch a movie for the 11th time, or spin a record till they wore out the needle. But apparently that isn't enough anymore. Now the public wants an all-access tour of the soul. And they want it for free. Dirt, not art, is the currency of the digital economy. Twitter floods the market with private thoughts of public figures, most of which aren't really worth articulating.

Historically, though, artists who don't say much stay captivating the longest (see: J.D. Salinger, Robert De Niro, Bob Dylan). You might expect banal commentary from Jimmy Fallon, but how shattering would it be if Al Pacino's musings on his Cobb salad were out there for the world to read?

Feeling confessional? Fine. Put it in a song. Good art outlasts bad economies, tabloid scandals, and, yes, even social networking Web sites. So, dear musicians, if you want to leave a mark, do yourselves a favor and save your pithy mini-epiphanies for your next record. Step away from the Twitter.

About The Author

Maya Kroth


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