There are a handful of artists out there making great progress and learning how to meaningfully connect with their fans, build communities around themselves in new ways –  one of these  news ways is by bringing the fans deeper into the creative process. But there are still many agencies and traditional artists running fly-by-night ‘campaigns’ or superficial ‘create a logo for us / do an ad and win $500’ dis-respectful call-to-actions. Things have changed and the ‘wanna be an extra in our indy film’ does not cut the mustard anymore in a world where the users have already tasted self-publishing – nowadays we are talking about solidifying loyalty by integrating existing fans into the creative process at from the birth of the project through to the final distribution.

This post, which is a follow-on from my Co-Creating Transmedia Communities post in Sept,  looks at the levels (specifically six kinds) of crowd sourcing engagement and takes it one step beyond.


We all have our favourite artists – musicians, directors, sculptures, painters, TV personalities and we all have varying degrees of relationships with them. There is a big difference from appreciation at one end to super (obsessed?) fan at the other. But with the new breed of wonderful, stable online collaboration content networks available, the super fan can now become meaningful collaborator. The nature of ‘fanatic’ has evolved:

  1. DISTANT – Worship from afar and happy to just enjoy pushed, finished, packaged content
  2. COLLECTOR – Collects extra insight content from and about the artists
  3. PHYSICAL – Regularly goes to experiential events and concerts and may possibly have low level interaction with the artists
  4. ACKNOWLEDGED – The artist nurtures the fans into a community, a tribe that builds its own identity. They may change their personal look and brand themselves as being part of the artist’s ‘tribe’
  5. CONVERSATIONAL – A dialogue, direct and often in real time between artist and super fans
  6. CREATIONIST – The artist and tribe make ‘stuff’ together

It is of course the last three of the new types of relationships above that have come to the fore in recent years.


Bondi Sculpture by the Sea 2010 162

As I was formulating the previous 6 levels (yes I like doing levels!) I suddenly thought of one of my favourite films, from my youth. I have always been fascinated by Speilberg’s Close Encounters…and particularly the meaning behind the ‘Third Kind’. As we know it is actually a reference to J. Allen Hynek‘s 1972 scale of interaction with extra-terrestrial life forces. (There are actually seven levels listed on Wikipedia but the sixth one is redundant being a duplicate of number 2)…

  1. A sighting of an extraterrestrial craft
  2. Physical evidence of the extraterrestrial
  3. Seeing live extraterrestrial beings
  4. A human is ‘taken-in’ or acknowledged by the extraterrestrials
  5. On-going, real time, communication between extraterrestrial and humans
  6. Procreation between extraterrestrial and human

So as you do, I decided to merge 2) the escalation of our extraterrestrials with 1) the evolution of the fan and I came up with, drum roll – Gary’s Online Crowd Sourcing Levels of Six Kinds: (lets assume a level 0 which is basically passive consumption of everything that follows)

  1. 1st Kind – ACTIVE – Many fans are happy to passively watch this lower level take place. We voyeuristically watch and offer minimal personal contribution, perhaps a bit of money (for a frame of the finished film), some voting on directions to take the painting or ‘liking’ or offer to promote the film/song/art over our networks with the artist thanking from afar. Being able to view the process is enough for many and it becomes packaged and entertaining in itself.
  2. 2nd Kind – BLENDED – The fans take some of the artists ‘finished’ content (with or without direct approval) and do their own mash-ups, away from the artists hub. Usually the results end up on YouTube or other public sites as it  is mostly about them showing off ‘their’ reversioning or comp’ing prowess – but the end result still promotes the artist (more often than not!)
  3. 3rd Kind – LIVED– The artist and fans meet at experiential event, workshops or concerts and do relatively ‘superficial’ live creations. Whether sing-a-longs, fans as performers on stage, being able to ask ‘creative’ questions on panels, suggest improvisations on stage and of course capturing the experience for fans to share – and so on.
  4. 4th Kind – TRUSTED – The artist gives fans exclusive, raw assets – exposing themselves often in the process. The fan/users are acknowledged and trusted to take film rushes, vocal tracks, lyrics etc and create something around them, something new. This is often directed, but the fans are brought, or taken into the artists creative trusted circle.
  5. 5th Kind – CONTRIBUTED – The fans are in constant conversation, engaged in dialogue with the artist/s (often in real time using updates or even better live video streaming). As the project is in progress they are contributing and resonating at every stage and are receiving real feedback – “I like that”, “Anyone got one of those..”. The artist is still in control and is filtering contributions that work for them and the fans are gratefully acknowledged for each morsel. If I had to invent a word for this tribe it would be Colla-Munity 🙂
  6. 6th Kind – CO-CREATED – Very hard to achieve in reality. A democratic, self-perpetuating and balanced creation where everyone did their bit and the end result is a true blending of talents –  indistinguishable as being lead by one person. Of course without key auteurs driving the ‘creative’ element one would think it would end in blandness, but this is where structure and rules are the key, the framework is built in advance by the artist (effectively setting up the ‘game’ rules) and it is populated by hundreds of elements, automatically peer reviewed.

Online Creative Crowd-Sourcing of the Six Kinds

There are a handful of examples of The Sixth Kind, most often rearing their head in a transmedia storytelling context. There are some lovely online ‘story toys’ such as the seven mentioned here in Make Use Of but more democratised examples include Jane McGonigal’s A World Without Oil and Superstruct, examples of real time role playing in Games and Social virtual worlds (I covered one called Midian City in an old post) and more story centric examples such as Mongoliad.

More recent Fourth and Fifth Kind examples include the Crowd Sourced Web series Mob Mentality, Ridley Scott’s Life in a Day (a sneak preview here) and a few in Australia Redd Inc , George Miller’s Map My Summer YouTube project and the upcoming 11111 Project. The Third Kind, Lived, is mostly about the physical coming together and how crowd sourcing at concerts or by bringing talented people together can result in great ‘art’ as well as something special for the external community to watch. A recent example of this is some of the surrounding activities for YouTube’s Symphony Orchestra such as Making Tracks.

But back to the more ’emergent’ areas of creative crowd sourcing – as we know there are potentially many ways to do a ‘Sixth Kind’, shared co-creation and the original intention of this post was to explore a deeper anatomy of that ‘Sixth Kind’ but first lets look at examples of the lower ‘kinds’ and what you need to do to make creative crowd sourcing really work – and in case you were wondering why artists (musicians especially) are trying to ‘connect’ with their audiences, a little reminder…


Imogen is a singer/songwriter and tech whizz who I actually taught music tech back in the mid 90s! Aside from her lovely music (she has done 4 commercially successful albums and endless TV/Film tracks) she & team have really grabbed the social media bull by the horns by approaching it at a very, organic grass roots level. This is different from most ‘record or film company’ dominated artists, who tend to do agency Social Media ‘stunts’ or traditional Facebook style promos vs authentic fan interaction. Imogen’s pioneering in this space has lessons for all filmmakers, visual artists and indy musicians who want to get all ‘cuddly & creative’ with their fans.

Imogen has achieved great results (at my Online Crowd Sourcing of the Fifth Kind) through a lot of experimenting in the crowd source space for the past few years but also by slowly building up strong community foundations – across multiple platforms. She and her team, obviously see it as critical to create a strong loyal tribe before you venture into meaningful ‘call for contributions’ at CS levels 3-6. Sadly many crowd sourced efforts really get this wrong and just dangle a carrot in front of a bunch of strangers and wonder why very few bite or the quality of submission/collaboration is poor, often it attracts wannabees vs engaged quality…but back to Imogen’s foundational work. Her following across key social networks have been growing continuously due primarily to her constant and authentic online presence…

  • Conversation with 1.5 million followers on Twitter –!/imogenheap
  • Personal album update vlogs to 30 000 subscribers on her YouTube channel where each upload gets on average 50 000 views and nearly 4 million total views
  • Leveraging a more stable user base 540 000 ‘likers‘ on Facebook-
  • Experimentation across other social media portals such as 12SecondTV or uStream reaching out to more hardcore SM users

Once in place you can effectively start to run those two way, crowd sourced initiatives. Here are three Imogen examples based on my Crowd Source Kinds before we get to her current venture:

  • L3 LIVED – During her concerts around the globe during 2010 she auditioned Cellists via Skype and on YouTube to play during some live songs on stage – hundreds of top rate musicians applied for all of us to see. She also took her tweeters on stage when she won the grammy, virtually in a live twitter LED dress. Covered here by Mashable
  • L4 TRUSTED – Exclusive assets, when musicians from around the globe took her raw multi track vocal for an unfinished song and provided the instrumentation around it for the Twestival Covered here by Laurel. Hundreds of versions resulted
  • L5 CONTRIBUTED – Guided contribution, Love the Earth visual orchestral combo – contribution of images and specifically video of ‘nice nature’ would form the backdrop to an orchestral piece she was composing. This culminated in a live Royal Albert Hall premiere.

So onto her most ambitious, close to Level 6 venture Heapsongs – an album created over 3 years with fans contributing and co-creating the songs (one released every three months) at every step – well that’s the plan!

Beginning March 14 2011, Imogen Heap brings her fanbase into the creative process to create her new ‘crowd-inspired’ songs. Join Imogen as she’s talks about the process which will see her create the song and release it 14 days later on March 28th 2011. Find out more at and at

Online Crowd Sourcing of the Sixth Kind (well almost) with @ImogenHeap

Heapsongs is happening now and I recommend dropping in at some point to see the process in action – a call for content, a few hours to submit a photo, then next day a solo, then some sound effects and so on. To be a bit pragmatic, this is not really any different than a teacher/composer with a class of talented artists collecting contributed snippets and melding them together – but dispersed globally, with a commercial end result and driven in real time, by a grammy (BBC clip) award winning artist – makes it special. I haven’t time to grab a balanced sample of all the interactions taking place but here is a small archive sample and like any old traditional live TV format, it is about being there in the moment…

TWITTER (and some pushed to) FACEBOOK – some of hundreds of interactions sans the media elements and the long comment streams.
  • imogenheap The adventure of not knowing where it’s gonna start is so exciting to me! I do love a challenge 🙂 Can’t wait to get stuck in xx
  • Margaret Jean Simply amazing. I love it! It’s so inspiring to see your studio space and sort of get a feel for how you write music. I love it when things just fit together-when you didn’t intend them to, but they do. It’s wonderful.
  • Imogen Heap At midnight’s close we’ve 3,173 images for heapsong1#! Amazing response, thankyou! Next up is video: 
    Christine Gilbert Oh my god… my eyes are watering XD That was incredible.
  • imogenheap Decided on C#minor thx to ukulelegranulate seed. I played a haunting chord progression along to it. I’m all excited! See you at noon x
  • Rew Start This life has a meaning, when little is said, it’s in the thoughts between words, that our life is led
  • Chelsey Ott I enjoyed it so much! Good to see I am not the only creative mind who struggles to explain my process. Immi, you are inspiring!
  • imogenheap The first ‘seeds’ session was great! 188 samples uploaded by people. From swans to an awesome dishwasher door! The new album has begun
  • René Husted If this is the direction the new album is taking you … – then I can’t wait to hear it ALL … 🙂
  • Imogen Heap will be live discussing your word cloud submission in about 5 minutes –
  • Maria Laura Re This is so wonderful. It’s already a very interest process to follow. Excited to see how it finally turns out.
  • imogenheap No limit @DuudeiTSCAP on number of sound bites you can submit. In a few hours Monday’s piano key page will have info to explain more. xx
  • Jesse Christenson You’re changing the game, sister. Cheers from Chicago, IL USA.
  • imogenheap Hello @freddurst! Go to this website/keyboard menu/monday 14th piano key at 6am + you can see 🙂 – send me a seed?
  • Jon Glassett About the modulation, I’d love to hear what you come up with going from C# minor to F minor. There are some nifty melodic minor-ish qualities when you move between them. In the context of that song it might be really nice.
  • imogenheap Imogen Heap  @IM863 the bigger the better but I’m not too fussy. no need to go beyond 24bit.
  • Jamie Epicawsome Buckingham hi immi, totally new to your work just would like to add that it is such a great idea colaborating with your fans creating a song togethe, not to mention seeing the ‘inner workings’ of your music.
  • Imogen Heap – Want to hear where #heapsong1 is after one day? Skip to ‘19.13’ on my latest live blog for the highlight!
  • Chris Grose This whole project is absolutely brilliant! One more example of why I love Immy’s unique brand of genius. Love watching the project unfold and can’t wait to hear the finished product!
  • Imogen Heap – well… I’m now off to bed. I’m shattered! Got a long way tonight with #heapsong1. Will get middle 8 section up by probably around 10pm. x
  • Constantine Thomas Sounds really good :). Given that Imogen was making up great songs on the spot on her tour, I’m not too surprised that she can piece together something awesome from all the contributions 🙂
  • Imogen Heap – here is andy carne’s list of favourite photos from Very nice! #heapsong1″
  • Orion Ross McHugh Your project is bringing me to tears. I engineer for a living, and I can honestly say your interactive project is absolutly awe inspiring. I feel like the one person who makes music that touches my soul (you) is reaching out into the real world as a part of my life.
  • Imogen Heap – After much deliberation, the tempo is 128bpm. I went with Robyn’s fastest heart beat. About to sing in chorus. #heapsong1
  • Charli Jepson – I agree with mark totally an utterly i’d simply be honoured its that simple! I think it is amazin how you do this for fans, givin us a chance to be part of somethin. No money’s should be paid just make a bloody good tune like you always do:) XXXX
  • Imogen Heap ‎- 3. Rise high, Cling to the laughters, For that moment of broken tragedy
  • Jawad Abu-Lughod Fuck. That is amazing! By 24 minutes I was feeling the tears. Thank you for sharing this experience.


It can if you are willing to trust the crowd in your ‘kitchen’. (Must be dinner time hence this metaphor!) To create anything of value with large numbers of people contributing a wide range of ingredients requires a chef with experience, able to fuse the right flavours and modify some ingredients to make them work. I also think there are other aspects of creating the right environment which increase the chances of success.

  • be direct with your interactions, make them authentic, real insights into your process at minuscule levels vs those polished DVD extra behind the scene videos which come across now as promo vs insight
  • be timely, a real time as much as possible, give a real sense that something is actually happening or just happened. This draws people into the fold, a sort of gather round everyone ‘listen/look at this’
  • be prepared to make mistakes, explore other areas, new services, be seen to innovate rather than be another ‘upload a funny moment’ bland clone
  • passion – be seen to really enjoy what you are doing
  • work hard and like a good ‘teacher/mentor’ inspire and motivation the Colla-munity, don’t just ‘shout at’ them
  • try to be everywhere and reach them wherever they may be able to participate or watch
  • have a story, bring your crowd into your world, your story arc
  • build trust by being continuously ‘in the cloud’ – as an artist make it part of your lifestyle, don’t suddenly appear on the scene with a ‘structured campaign’ that feels to the potential collaborator as another on/off, flash in the pan
  • make the collaborators feel respected – with Imogen the fans are made to feel that their contribution is valued and most importantly listened to

So I hope that Imogen’s culinary skills don’t desert her in this venture and she sets the benchmark for others to follow.

Finally, to wrap and on a personal note (an odd form of disclaimer perhaps) – a song called ‘Come Here Boy’ by Imogen Heap wrote about/for me a long, long time ago and I only found out last year at her Sydney gig! – Now that is the ultimate type of crowd interaction, perhaps of the Seventh Kind  🙂 You’re So Vain anyone


The first song of the album is finished and is called Lifeline – here is a video of the song and before that a talk from Imogen on BBC Radio about the process

As an artist that has long been connected with her fans in cyberspace, it seems only natural that Imogen Heap would tap into crowdsourcing as a form of making music. It’s a quest that has intensified her own album making process as we know it.

And the result of this ‘collaboration’