Smashing Convention: Billy Corgan on why artists need more than viral videos

Welcome to Revolution Season 3!

Although, we unofficially launched one of the interviews early (because of the GRAMMY Awards), Season 3 proudly debuts with an unapologetic interview with none other than Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins. This episode also celebrates the release of Oceania, the new Smashing Pumpkins “album within an album.”

As guitarist and co-founder of the Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan was at the forefront of one of the most important music movements in recent history. He’s not finished either. The Pumpkins not only have a new album coming out in June, Corgan is also focusing his energy on helping artists take control back from labels to produce more lucrative careers and engaged fandoms. At the same time, he’s calling out to fans to invest more in the artists they love as fans now play a more critical role than ever.

Corgan, who’s no stranger to controversy, believes that the state of music is not only one-sided, it prevents artists from appreciating the past success of artists before them. He once told me that with the state of things today, he doesn’t believe the Pumpkins could have achieved similar success, or anything close to it, if they debuted now.

In March, Billy and I took the stage together at SXSW Interactive and that discussion sent a series of shockwaves throughout the music industry. As he shared in Austin, artists are becoming much like sex workers, saying that once you’ve score a record deal, “you’re just the fresh stripper.”

Sensationalism aside, his point is that both artists and fans must assume responsibility for the future of music if it is to mean something more than viral videos and hit singles. This is about engagement. This is about sustained relevance.


Bonus story…

Several years ago I started a fun tradition to kickoff my presentations at SXSW. During one of the early Techset parties (I can’t remember the year), Hugh MacLeod (@gapingvoid) and I ventured to a far part of the venue to seek a bit of serenity. There we encountered The Color Pharmacy, a live band whose music created the perfect atmosphere for us that night. We stayed and watched the entire set and shared our praise with the band as they wrapped up. This was the beginning of a friendship that continues today.

Now, the band plays a live acoustic set each year in the Techset Blogger Lounge. Lead singer Jake Dilley also pens an original tune to introduce my presentations before I take the stage. At SXSW 2012, Dilley was on hand yet again, this time to open the now infamous interview with Billy Corgan. It was epic. For those who weren’t there, Jake sent along this video of the performance to share with you here. Love the lyrics! Well done Jake…


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  • Ron J

    Corgan is spot on. Let fans take some ownership and they become more than fans; they become advocates. Equipping them with opportunities for unique experiences and tools to tell stories on your behalf is maybe the most potent way to engage them.

  • Grant Crowell

    Let’s carry Billy’s argument over into blogging and other forms of self-supported journalism/content marketing. Because “fans” didn’t want to assume the responsibility of paying for quality content, it opened up a large amount of behind-the-scenes, non-disclosed material relationships between content creators and advertisers (including the publishers themselves with guest contributors). What has suffered greatly is the lack of disclosure and consumer transparency. As a result, trust in media and business is at an all-time low. (And that’s according to the Edelman 2012 Trust Barometer Report.) 

    Free is often a good thing, but it often begets deception. It’s now not just a question of getting the trust back of consumers, but also of if those are willing to start valuing the quality content creators enough so it’s self-sustainable and with complete integrity in commerce.

    “Pay Me To Trust You,” maybe?

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  • Instrumentali muscali (UK)

    in the future everyone will be famous for 15 seconds. it’s not just about attention span, its about talent being spread thinly across a lot of web based media outlets… not least, mixcloud. he’s right about fan power but wrong about it somehow being responsible. if you’re not with us you’re against us isn’t a good message to send people you are relying on for voluntary assistance. some people, they has to work..

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    if it is to mean something more than viral videos and hit singles. This is about engagement. This is about sustained relevance.

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  • Anonymous

    Greatt sum up. ‎”If you are an artist think about your inspiration and turn that into an experience that you can bring your fans into and embrace. If you are a fan, then show some support for that [which} you love.” Brian, I think your statement and Corgan’s observations apply to many businesses, but especially news, which has always been a combination of art and commerce.

    • briansolis

      Thank you Sally for sharing this…you’re absolutely right!

  • Gregory

    At the same time, he’s calling out to fans to invest more in the artists
    they love as fans now play a more critical role than ever.

  • DaraBell

    Hi Brian, 

                        Artists need to wake up to the fact their is a revolution afoot. They need to know that they can tap into tech and make their messages move. 

    Burn a CD. Write a blog post. The message wants to move and the rails are everywhere. I call it the ‘The Making Of The West Again’. The first time around we had train tracks the second time we have tools. You have to start small and get going. Seth Godins’ really the won that emphases that but the action makes you talkable. The message wants to move anyway. Changing metaphor but the message is like water moving in a stream it’ll flow without you doing a lot but oftentimes damming and moving it in channels or viaducts is the real ticket.

    Other strategies artists might try are content wrapping (on the way to trademark shop for that). You wrap content say on Youtube with an ad for your record. Pay attention to the content’s flavour. Is it a music show? A clothes show? A Clothes designer could wrap your an ad round -The  Closet- or something fashion related. Look at Youtube shows blog search on Google BS for blog too.  

    You might be able to find free ways of doing this too.  

                                                                            Hope that helps


    • briansolis

      Thank you Dara. Great comment… +1

  • Joe Griffin

    Brian, just found out about you. Maybe I’ve been under a rock. Anyway, really enjoyed the video with Shira Lazar and just watched this post with Billy Corgan. First, awesome interviews, second – I love The Smashing Pumpkins, and third, you have a new fan sir.

    • briansolis

      Thank you and welcome… :)

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    The new Smashing Pumpkins “album within an album.”

  • Stan

    At the same time, he’s calling out to fans to invest more in the artists
    they love as fans now play a more critical role than ever.

  • Kyle Field

    Three thoughts/comments -
    1.  Wow Billy is brilliant…I never saw that through the music but cool to hear his thoughts and perspective which I personally think are right on.
    2. The “more than music” model that you spoke about and the yellow submarine experience is what I see Florence and the Machine doing.  Granted, they are already huge but they have a full clothing line, great social interactions with their fans, art…it feels like a whole world vs just “we make music, buy our song”. I think this is the exact model…but that it also HAS to come from the heart.  it has to be real and not just a cover that was put on to monetize.
    3. The parallel to the blogger world is perfect…it’s about creating a unique world and fleshing it out so you’re providing more than just news / music…but that your unique world pulls in the listener/reader and keeps them coming back. The same is true with the monetization model…end users largely think music and even more so blogs should be free…how do you create something that people feel a part of to the point where they are willing to invest themselves (financially and otherwise) in the experience.  Turn what might otherwise be a product into an experience.

    Thanks for the great discussion Brian and Billy :)

  • Jeff Ortiz

    He once told me that with the state of things today, he doesn’t believe
    the Pumpkins could have achieved similar success, or anything close to
    it, if they debuted now.

  • Billy

    he doesn’t believe the Pumpkins could have achieved similar success, or anything close to it, if they debuted now.


Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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