I want to spin my little watch right before your eyes

My Twitter feed is gradually accumulating a small band of adherents, all of whom, I am sure, are keen to digest my scintillating prose, rather than just following people at random as part of a Twitter-spam operation or SEO scam.

Quimbe, one of my new buddies, has been especially keen to share with me an amazing opportunity he has unearthed. Do I want to ” Discover A Rebel Psychiatrist’s Amazing Secret?” One that will let me “Put People Under Your Control Quickly & Easily … and Get Them to Do Anything You Want?” Well, who doesn’t? This arcane knowledge can be mine for only $197, thanks to the amazing generosity of master hypnotist Igor Ledochowski.

Actually, what Igor is peddling is not particularly new, drawing as it does on the work of the fairly well-known American psychiatrist Milton Erickson, pioneer of hypnotherapy back in the ’50’s. Erikson had a somewhat idiosyncratic concept of the unconscious as an entity whose therapeutic power could be tapped by entering into a hypnotic trance, which he famously could induce in a subject using only his secret handshake. Erikson’s ideas were always on the fringe of respectability, and his modern-day followers, most notably practitioners of Neuro-linguistic programming, which draws heavily on his work, are largely confined to the life-coaching and self-improvement industries.

Igor may not have much clinical credibility, but he does show some appreciation of modern business trends. He used to charge thousands of dollars for his seminars (he says), but there was a physical limit on how many of these he could do, and also a small pool of potential customers, for whose attention he had to compete with all the other gurus out there. With the advent of digital distribution channels he has been able to benefit from a new, and much more lucrative, revenue model – mass circulation and (relatively) micro-payment.

All this came to mind today when I read about the travails of the Second Life music scene. Apparently musicians and venue owners are struggling to get audiences to pay anything at all for their live music experience. Mankind Tracer, alter-ego of musician Seth Regan, is proposing that venues start charging a cover, and he feels that L$500 would be about right for one of his performances, though comments on the thread suggest that people think this would be too much for the market to bear.

My first thought was that if punters won’t pay US$2 to see your band then you probably need to practice a bit more. I’m not out much these days, but back when I was an avid gig-goer I would regularly pay US$10 or more to get into a club without even knowing who was playing. I guess the difference is that in real life even if the band sucks you can still have a good time, because you are in a bar, with your friends, but in SL if the act is no good then the night is a washout.

Even if we take the stinginess of virtual audiences as a given, it should still be possible to make good money if you put on show that is good enough to draw a big crowd. If you played to ten thousand people you’d still do OK even if 90% of them paid nothing at all and the rest coughed up a dollar apiece, and even better if you dropped the suggested tip to 25c and half of them put their hands in their pockets.

The problem is that this mass-audience/micro-payment plan requires a scalability that Second Life currently does not provide. Full sims can theoretically support up to 100 avatars, though on the rare occasions when I’ve been somewhere with more than a couple of dozen or so other people (which have all been music events, interestingly) the experience has not been particularly enjoyable. So even if your band could pull in a five-figure crowd (which is not entirely unrealistic, given the potential world-wide reach), the sim would crash long before you started making money.

Blue Mars, which has (finally) gone into public beta this month, promises the capacity that could make this model work. If that turns out to be true, virtual musicians on that platform might get the rewards they deserve.

There are certainly some bands I’d pay L$500 to virtually see…

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