Posted on | January 25, 2010 | 1 CommentDuring the early days of the first Iraq War, a video seemed to run continuously on television. In this video, a jet fighter launches a smart bomb. Moments later, it hits a ground target the size of a doorway, as the audio backing track explodes with the celebratory sounds of the American pilots and ground crew.
The scene in the video was some high order, whiz-bang stuff, offering, as it did, the tantalizing possibility that America’s future was one of remote control wars waged mostly from the air, with few, if any, casualties on the ground.
The planners of the second Iraq War definitely accepted the premise that this sort of war was the future. No need for a large ground force. Just shock and awe them from the air with our superior technology. Then bring in the troops for a fast sprint to “mission accomplished.”
But as our second go round in Iraq has shown, the problem with doing everything from the air is that it’s often difficult to see what is actually happening on the ground.
Even with so-called “good intelligence,” subtleties get lost, misunderstandings stack up, and it can be difficult to gauge mission effectiveness. Is the mission undermining the opponent’s morale? Or is it actually hardening its resolve and creating exactly the sort of quagmire that air power was supposed to prevent? Too often, the answer seems to be quagmire.
This particular denouement isn’t limited to the military or the Iraq War. At a metaphorical level, people throughout society routinely succumb to the allure of air power with similar consequences.
In the music business context, social media sites seem to offer the opportunity to build a fan base from the comfort of a computer desk in the bedroom. Publicists, radio promoters, and other so-called “insiders” acquire such power in the minds of some musicians, that connecting with these people becomes almost more important than the music itself.
But despite some examples to the contrary, most of these air power strategies aren’t very helpful without a good ground game. If a band isn’t on the ground around the country (and the world), it’s nearly impossible to make the sort of personal connections that really seal the relationship between a band and its fans.
Air power strategies, while seemingly efficient, are also prone to false positives. 25,000 Myspace friends seems like progress. It may well be progress. But there’s a good chance that this metric offers a rather abstract and overly optimistic picture of how things are going. The same goes for a report from a publicist or radio promo person showing all of the outlets that have been serviced.
The ground game is not abstract. It is a harsh mistress. The losses are concrete and immediate. If the club holds 200 and only 20 people show up, a band really knows where things stand in that market. If the whole tour is that way, well, it’s even clearer where things stand in general.
But each night on tour, the band also has the opportunity to make an impact on those people who do show up, people who are giving the band the most concentrated attention it is ever likely to receive in any context. Even if an audience member only listens carefully to one or two songs, that’s more than they would probably do anywhere else.
For this reason, each audience member the band converts to its cause is probably worth more than 100 Myspace friends. Why? Because these are the people who are the most likely to evangelize on the band’s behalf, to drag new people to the show the next time the band comes to town, to play the band’s music for friends, etc.
Building this group of people is the long, cold, hard, ground war of any endeavor. Well timed, and well applied air power can help make the campaign more effective. But in most situations, it can’t take the place of having boots on the ground.
So before getting too deeply invested in a particular battle plan, make sure to ask whether you have the correct ratio of ground troops to air power. Otherwise, you may piss away a lot of time, money, and energy on stuff that isn’t supporting anything real.