What does 40 years worth of social currency look like?
For one thing, it plays a mean harmonica.
For almost half a century, Bob Dylan has been building social currency. Call it ‘fame’ or call it a ‘fan base’, it’s still the same thing. And, because he built it so well, it doesn’t matter if, at a concert, you can’t actually understand what he’s saying.
The Anti-Concert That Works
I went to the Bob Dylan concert in Fargo, North Dakota last night. This is the fourth time I’ve seen him in concert, and it never ceases to amaze me, at every concert, that:
- The crowd is hugely varied.
- You can only understand about 3 percent of what Dylan is singing. He’s not really singing as much as talking and rasping, and it’s not necessarily ‘on tune’.
- His piano playing is fairly accurate, but sometimes sounds like he slammed his hand down on the keyboard randomly.
- He doesn’t have an opening act.
- He doesn’t talk between songs or to the audience. The only talking is introducing his band members at the end.
- He’ll sing “Like A Rolling Stone” because the audience wants it.
You wouldn’t think such a performance would work, would energize fans, would you? But it does. The crowd goes wild, and obviously loves him. When you leave, you feel like it was the best concert ever.
How Did He Do It?
How does Bob Dylan manage to get away with not chatting up his audience, putting on a flashy show, having an opening act warm up the audience, or even singing well — all of the usual things, and still have his audience adoring him at the end of it all? How did he build his social currency?
- Trust. He became famous not for fame’s sake, but based on the great and difficult songs he wrote during an era of unrest (the 1960′s), building trust among those who didn’t trust anyone.
- Don’t look at me. He doesn’t come off as a glory hog, and instead brings attention to his band during the concert. He doesn’t try to eat up every opportunity for publicity that comes his way off the stage. He doesn’t wear out his audience constantly being in their face, building exclusivity.
- Product first. He writes songs, makes music, and draws and paints as he sees fit. He knows his personal brand well, and stays true to it even as he explores the outer edges of it stylistically.
- Longevity. Dylan keeps going whether he stumbles with an album or his voice is getting raspy. He’s an artist, and he doesn’t stop creating. Period. Even when the times are a changin’, his brand stays solid and steady.
It’s classic social media how-to: build trust, share the spotlight, make a great product, and put in the work for the long-haul.
Bob Dylan’s low-key concerts highlight the music, not the performer. His social currency has been built so long and so well that his fans give him a pass when it comes to actually understanding what he’s singing. It’s enough that he’s Bob Dylan.