Searching For 957 True Fans

Kevin Kelly of Wired recently wrote an article suggesting that artists should cultivate a thousand ‘true fans’ in order to make a living from their work. Although it’s an interesting piece, the amount of feedback it generated is certainly more due to the author than the content…
(from Digital Music)

What Is A True Fan?

I think the basic premise of Kevin’s article is correct, but has been somewhat overshadowed by his definition of a ‘true fan’. His thesis states that it’s not realistic for artists to expect to become fabulously wealthy and garner an audience of millions; a paradigm shift has occurred (in the music industry at least) which means that greater revenues can now be earned by musicians from fewer fans.

If you sell 3,000 albums at 15 quid a pop and produce/distribute the album yourself, that’s 45 grand – which will keep most people going for quite a while. If you have a major record deal, you won’t see much at all from 3,000 sales, and you’ll have to move huge volumes of product before you earn the same amount. So it isn’t necessary to be a chart-topper to make a living from music; you just need to find your audience.

However, by Kevin’s definition, I would say there are very few acts in the world that have 1,000 true fans. Here’s how he puts it:

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work.

Do You Even Need Any True Fans?

This sort of fandom is bordering on obsession; and while it would be nice to have such devotion, finding these people requires a huge amount of exposure. By the time you manage to cultivate a thousand true fans, you will already have a much greater number of ‘normal fans’, who will buy your albums and go to your gigs, and an even greater number of ‘casual fans’ who might buy some of your albums or go to some gigs. Then there are the people who don’t pay for your music, but might come to a gig…and so on. At this level, you would be a very well established and well-known act – and many fantastic bands never make it this far.

I think the concept might be better applied to the role of influencers and evangelists; within any social group, there will be someone who is extremely interested in music, who recommends music to their friends. This person might spend most of their spare time at gigs or involved in other musical activities, and their musical opinion would be respected by their peers.

If you can convert a few of these influencers into evangelists for your band, then you have the key to growing your fanbase. Not all fans are created equal; so, in agreement with Kevin, I suggest that you try to focus on the fans that are the most valuable.



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