rockstars to writers

It’s rare that I’m surprised by music.

I am a product of my father’s musical tastes, so as a teenager, I was baptized by Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”, Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung”, and the Moody Blues’ “Tuesday Afternoon, rather than new releases by Foo Fighters or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Call it snobby, but I have a pretty high standard when it comes to the music I listen to.

Which is why when I walked into the Mercury Lounge in New York City not too long ago I was pretty much blown away by the opening act. I was there to see a folk singer I had stumbled upon when I was in college, but quickly got sucked into the angst-filled, bluesy growl of the band that preceded him.

They had the crowd in the palm of their hands. After every song, the cheering got louder and louder. You know something special is happening when everyone in the first couple rows lifts their smartphones into the air and hits the record buttons on their video cameras to capture a band they didn’t know existed 10 minutes ago.

When they finished their set, no one was ready for them to depart the stage. The headliner was good, but in no way moved the crowd the same way. I went home and posted the band’s official site to my Facebook page, tweeted to my meager following how bitchin’ they were, and preordered their upcoming album.

The reason I’m bringing all this up is that I’m starting to feel about content on the Internet as I do about music. There are sites I consume on a regular basis that I know I’m going to like, but every now and again, something wows me enough that I marvel all over again about the infinite possibilities of music and technology.

There are plenty of days content it is exactly how you imagine it. There are videos of sleeping kittens that have millions of clicks, rants about celebrities and First World problems, and an unending supply of crackpots, fools, and fanatics (yes, I realize that I work on the Internet for a living).

However, like stumbling on a band that has a new twist on an old sound, you can find also amazing, stimulating, and engaging (see what I did there?) content online that sends us running to our Twitter feeds and Facebook statuses to beam it out to our connected worlds. Some websites—like the revamped New York Public Library website that has caused a friend of mine to lose sleep rating and uploading books on her digital library—grab hold of us and force us to play them over and over again like a catchy song or album.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when drawing up the lyrics for the content you hope will melt people’s faces off:

1. Lead off with the right note

Whether it’s the opening chords of Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” or Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” the beginning of a song dictates whether a crowd swells as one, or heads to the bathroom. So when you’re crafting your content, be the master of the opening paragraph. Make sure that the audience craves the awesomeness that greeted them when they clicked on your stuff.

2. Keep us hooked with a good riff

Now that you’ve hooked us, keep our heart rate up with a rocking middle section. Don’t settle for mere words either. Switch it up with an embedded video, photo, or slideshow. This is where you can really show off and let your freak flag fly, so give it all you’ve got. Just be careful not to get carried away like Eric Clapton did at the end of the plugged version of “Layla­—a.k.a. repeating the same riff over and over again until your audience is in a coma.

3. Be human

This is good practice in general, but especially when it comes to online content. Don’t preach, don’t consider yourself omniscient, and don’t put yourself in a higher class than your readers. There’s a reason why a couple of million people go see Bruce Springsteen in concert and buy his albums. He’s singing about us. He’s making us feel a part of the experience. Without us, there wouldn’t be a Boss. We’re online to connect with something on a human level, don’t make that process any harder.

So, if you’re like me, you’ll always rely on a tried and true catalog you can trust when it comes to music and online content—along with some guilty pleasures. But don’t forget to let your guard down every now and then because, like discovering a new band or singer-songwriter, finding great online content redefines our tastes and keeps the momentum of fresh ideas out there.

You’d be surprised what’s rockin’ in the free world these days.

[Image: wonker]