By Chuck Crisafulli
Normally, I'd expect a panel of heavy-duty media executives to be a little upset about having their speech interrupted by bleeps, bloops, chirps, and ringtones, but no one seemed annoyed by the continuous background noise Friday afternoon at the Social Media Rock Star Summit — after all, the chirps are part of the territory when you bring together some new media kingpins to address an audience of bloggers, vloggers and tweeters.
The summit was held at the GRAMMY Museum at L.A. Live, and it was kind of cool to walk past an exhibit of Elvis Presley photographs shot in 1956 to get to the auditorium — it's as if you were walking through the moment when rock and roll began to set a precedent for where music was headed.
The panelists included Nikhil Chandhok of YouTube, David Karp of Tumblr, Kevin Rose of Digg, and Pete Cashmore of Mashable. These digital "rock stars" were joined by one actual rock star — actor/30 Seconds To Mars frontman Jared Leto. The talk was moderated by the extremely media-savvy Rick Sanchez of CNN who told the crowd that he knew an important line in social media had been crossed when he started receiving tweets from Sarah Palin in the middle of his newscast.
One big idea kicked around was that there's nothing so new about new media — tweets, blogs, diggs, and YouTube posts are just the latest form of the kind of community-building and socializing that humans have always done (as if stepping online is not that different from joining the old tribe around a campfire). Cashmore even made the point that the era of mainstream media "gatekeepers" was really the "aberration" — people have always wanted to work out what they see and hear for themselves, and the digital space lets that happen again.
Leto was loose and funny — at one point offering to swap his "real" rock star's bank account with any of the founders and CEOs around him (he got no takers). But when he asked his own assistant in the crowd to be sure and tweet about his participation in the event, his fellow panelists, shocked, needled and challenged him to write his own tweets. The rocker explained he simply didn't want to be thumbing away while sitting onstage, but he dutifully retrieved his phone and got to work.
By the end of the summit, it was generally agreed that a new artist has to get deeply involved with social media to achieve success these days, and that the power of social media is a positive game-changer for artists and fans (though maybe a tougher puzzle for record labels). The precise power of the media was made clear when Cashmore said to Sanchez, "I wouldn't know who you were if it weren't for Twitter." Sanchez responded, "My kids wouldn't know who I was if it weren't for Twitter."
(To view photos from Social Media Rock Stars Summit and other GRAMMY Week events, click here.)