Personal Learning Plan

22 Nov

In my deliverables for my Personal Learning Plan, I promised “One blog to rule them all. (Or at least one that summarizes my findings, any potential interviews, etc.).” Here is me holding true to that promise. (For any who need a refresher on what my plan was, here is my blog explaining what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.)

The primary portion of this report will be sort of a case study (or at least personal reflections) on The Civil Wars, with some miscellaneous findings afterward. Onto that…


I first heard about The Civil Wars on Twitter. At the time they had about 1% of the followers they have now, and they had just released their video for “Poison & Wine” on YouTube in conjunction with its appearance on “Grey’s Anatomy.” I was familiar with Joy Williams, a former Contemporary Christian Music artist and more recently a singer-songwriter living in Nashville, and after listening to the song and liking it I decided I’d follow them to keep up with what they were doing. At the time they had no studio material available; all they had was a live recording of their second show that was free on NoiseTrade.

One thing I noticed about their Twitter was that they used it for more than just official band announcements; they were very conversational with their fans. When they finally released two copies of their Poison & Wine EP at Grimey’s (a local record store in Nashville), they tweeted about it; I swung by, picked up the second copy, and tweeted about it. They retweeted me, saying “Thanks so much!” for picking it up.

Within a year of being a band, they had already grown fairly significantly; and now only two years later (almost to the day) of them posting the “Poison & Wine” video on YouTube, the video itself has garnished over 2 million hits, they have over 100,000 Facebook fans, and they have opened for pop star Adele and attracted outspoken fans such as Taylor Swift, who attended their sold-out album release show back in February. In case you are not very familiar with how bands get started, build a fan base, etc., suffice it to say: This is not normal.

The Civil Wars have grown an incredible fan base in only two years. And the main fuel behind this fire is their use of social media. At this point, they are less conversational on social media; aside from being busy touring most of the time, the chatter about them on Twitter is simply too big to interact as much with as when they first started out. But social media is what helped create their fan-base—a fan-base that is not only widespread and numerous but also devoted. Tickets for their upcoming January show at the historic Ryman Auditorium sold out in minutes, which speaks to this. Many people, like myself, connected in a small way with them simply on Twitter or Facebook.

Now, this is not to downplay their music or real-life personalities. To the contrary, their music is exquisite, their live shows are an incredible experience, and in real life they are extremely down to earth, easy going, and friendly. These three factors are more timeless than their presence on social media, and they are ultimately what makes the band successful. However, it was social media that connected them with a variety of different people that might otherwise not have heard them. Social media enabled personal connections which ultimately led to real-life success.


This type of fan connection is what many different sources in Nashville are using to get the word out about concerts, because something like a tweet can spread the word much faster than hanging a poster on a lamp post. In addition to looking at how specific bands like The Civil Wars are using social media, I examined a few different types of sources, primarily Twitter accounts: music-based blogs and magazines (e.g., Nashville Cream), radio stations (e.g., Lightning 100), record stores (e.g., Grimey’s), specific individuals who are well-connected in the music industry (e.g., Charlie Peacock), and live music venues (e.g., the Ryman).

They all have certain elements that are unique to their field—Nashville Cream includes a number of album and concert reviews, Lightning 100 promotes actually listening to the station as well as requesting songs through Twitter, Grimey’s mentions new album releases and in-store events, Charlie Peacock networks with and promotes artists with whom he is involved, and the Ryman talks about upcoming concerts. But what all of these come down to is personal connection.

Even if a thing (e.g., a music artist) is enjoyable, a person will not usually be passionate about supporting something from which he or she feels alienated or unconnected. What all these sources are trying to use social media to do is to make people feel connected to the music. Social media is the medium that is being used more and more—the means—but it is not the end. Social media changes constantly, but what stays consistent is people’s desire for connectedness. While social media is often the tool that is needed to grab people’s attention these days, the goal of this attention is to bring people together—in this case, at live concerts. And if the example of The Civil Wars is any indication, it’s working.


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