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Musicians on Twitter

Is the "microblog" Internet phenomenon the next leap forward or just a tweeting waste of time?

Saturday night, your musical options include the grinding punk-blues of ­Austin-based Ohio transplants Heartless Bastards, whose new album The Mountain is drawing raves, at Last Concert Cafe, or the Peaches-like electro-sex raps of Hollywood freaks Punk Bunny ("Cockring," "Gloryhole") at Meridian. Of course it's Valentine's Day, so the paired-off among you will no doubt be distributed among Houston's many romantic-type eateries.

Whatever you do, thanks to the Internet phenomenon known as Twitter, you can now give your friends a blow-by-blow account of what's happening in real time (provided they have their own accounts, that is). True, your date may have a slight problem with your constant texting while they're trying to carry on a conversation, but then why would you want to hook up with someone so technologically out-of-step with the times in the first place?

Twitter (www.twitter.com) is a kind of pared-down social-networking site, or "microblog," where users enter whatever they're doing or whatever's on their minds in brief messages known as "tweets," which are shared among whoever may be "following" them. It's just socially sanctioned stalking, more or less, but like Friendster, MySpace and Facebook before it, you're nobody online these days if you're not tweeting.

Twitter is more than a year old, but its profile has risen exponentially in the past few months. More than a million new users signed on between last October and November, and when Twitter users broke the story of US Airways Flight 1549's emergency landing in the Hudson River last month well before CNN or The New York Times, the site itself became almost as big a story as Captain Chesley Sullenberger's cockpit heroics.

Musicians are hardly immune to the Twitter bug. Sonic Youth is tweeting regular updates from the studio where the New York noise-rock gods are recording their next album; rappers Q-Tip and Just Blaze have done the same thing. When hip-hop preservationists the Roots' tour bus crashed on the way to Paris last fall, drummer Questlove tweeted from the ambulance to let fans know the group was okay.

"Take the Rick Ross/50 Cent drama," says Houston-based music journalist kris ex (The Source, XXL, Houston Press). "Via Twitter I was able to get the opinion of other artists, editors, writers and bloggers in real time. The responses ranged from 'whatever' to 'LOL,' and I'm not sure how else one would get a cross-­section of views from tastemakers to sheep in one setting.

"Also, it's much easier for me to get in touch with interview subjects like Joe Budden, Jean Grae and Questlove," ex adds. "No more manager/publicist crap — I just DM [direct message] them."

Twitter has also engendered the rise of "tweet-ups," spontaneous gatherings similar to the "flash mobs" of earlier this decade. ­Someone tweets to suggest a meeting at a predetermined time and place — Coffee Groundz in Midtown, which accepts to-go orders via Twitter, is one popular Houston tweet-up spot — and then a bunch of people show up and tweet about it. Unlike flash mobs, however, they don't have to show up pantsless or anything like that (although Noise guesses they could).

Beyond keeping up with the latest gossip and sharing a never-ending stream of links, Twitter's practical uses for musicians seem to be limited — unlike MySpace, for example, they can't post MP3s or videos, just links to both. But a circle of Twitter contacts is about the closest thing there is to a captive audience, so the site is already proving invaluable for getting the word out about everything under the sun (including, inevitably, a lot of stuff probably best kept to oneself).

Local artist/techie workspace-for-hire Caroline Collective uses Twitter to keep records of its monthly Band Camp ­musician-resources workshops, and Thursday will host the Houston edition of "Twestival," a worldwide tweet-up in more than 175 cities entirely organized and promoted via Twitter. (Donations benefit the group "charity: water," which helps communities in developing nations access safe drinking water.) The Twestival's bands were also booked through Twitter, although CC co-founder Matthew Wettergreen says musicians in general — and Houston musicians in particular — have been somewhat late to the Twitter party.

"Houston musicians are not that technologically savvy and willing to adopt new tools," says Wettergreen, who follows and is followed by more than 1,200 tweeters. "Nationwide, I think it's just that they don't get it. Twitter's something that most people don't get. It's really just with playing with it that you learn the power of it and how useful it can be with connecting with people."

Noise understands completely. He's what a good friend likes to call "last caveman to the fire" when it comes to any sort of technological innovation — he didn't even get a cell phone until 2003, and still doesn't have the Internet in his apartment. Nevertheless, momentarily ignoring the realization that Twitter is probably one more nail in the print-media coffin (what else is new?), last week he set up an account for the Houston Press's music blog Rocks Off.

He did it more out of curiosity than anything else; it's impossible to understand the benefits and drawbacks of networks like Twitter without being a part of it yourself. He also figured the exposure would help boost Rocks Off's pageviews, and that the occasional tweet might actually lead to something worth writing about.

For the most part, that's what happened. Thanks largely to the efforts of Noise's brother and Houston Press Assistant Web Editor John Gray, by last Friday Rocks Off was following about 80 tweeters and being followed by a little more than 50. There were a lot of nonsense tweets — "might get a Mohawk today," that sort of thing — but also playlists for Bob Marley's birthday, links to U2's new video "Get on Your Boots" and information about Brooklyn indie/prog/soul duo's surprise Houston show Saturday at — where else? — Coffee Groundz. (Which — surprise, surprise — turned out to be a hoax, but oh well.)

Plus, he got a Rocks Off post out of kris ex's tweet about some MP3s of President Obama's impression of a rather profane old friend ("This shit's getting way too complicated for me") in the audiobook version of his autobiography Dreams From My Father. Not long after, kid_twist86 tweeted the following reply: "OH MY GOD!!! That is hilarious!!" So we've got that going for us, which is nice.

Noise has mixed feelings about Twitter. It can be a huge distraction, though no more so than in the early days of MySpace, when all he did was click from profile to profile for hours. And any new source of information — especially one as immediate as this one — is always welcome. Either way, given our society's never-ending appetite for gossip, Dr. Phil- and Oprah-abetted tendency to overshare and short attention span in general, Twitter looks like it's here to stay. Get used to it.

Tweet tweet.

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