On the issue of super fans vs casual fans

I was led to an interesting article the other day entitled “Farewell to the casual music fan” which you can read at www.fingertipsmusic.com/comment_casual.htm. (At the time of me checking it last seemed to be blanking out –part ii is on blogspot: http://fingertipsmusic.blogspot.com/2009/11/farewell-to-casual-music-fan-part-two.html)

It seemed to me to be a backlash against the popular notion of artists focusing on the ‘core fans’ (or ‘super fans’ as he calls it) as opposed to just making music for all fans whether casual or ‘hardcore’. I agree with a lot of what he says but I’d like to make the point that many artists won’t have a choice about ‘losing’ their casual fans if they’re forced to give away their music in order to gain fans, because that is the way the new media environment seems to be going. That is to say, they won’t be losing their casual fans, they just won’t be able to make money from them.

But I appreciate his skepticism of “future of music” schemes and that it could be unhealthy just focusing all the time on an artists core tribe of super fans who are willing to spend $100 on merchandise and box-sets etc. (He refers to Kevin Kelly’s “1000 true fans” idea where if you just have 1000 true fans who spend $100 a year on your music you could probably make a living from it).

And it’s a bit depressing to think that making a living from music might involve hours of internet activity, networking with potential fans, organizing marketing schemes and contests and selling merchandise on top of actually making good music. When will you have time to practice?

And I also think that there’s a lot of speculation and hype that goes round the internet when someone is successful from a clever idea or a marketing scheme or some corny video that goes viral. You never know if it’s just down to luck, or because the music’s good, or just because it got a little success in the beginning and then kind of snowballs -sometimes on the net people gravitate to something because everyone else is gravitating.

I also think there are several questions or issues involved that get confused. One is: “what does the new media environment (with social networking, file-sharing etc) mean for the old established bands and artists who made profits from selling CDs in stores? Will the major labels crumble? Will U2 lose their millions?”

Another question asked, perhaps by different people, is: “Can I, as a small time musician/band member/ songwriter find opportunities in the new media environment to actually make a living where I had virtually no hope in the old system?”

And I think this is where the theory of gain “1000 core fans” comes in. Is it possible to make a living with those 1000 core fans? I wouldn’t know -I’m still only a serious hobbyist. But I think the key is that it gives musicians a sense of hope in that it’s something they can work on themselves rather than the old ways of sending out hundreds of demos to record labels only to get no reply (I was there in the 90s).

And 1000 core fans seems achievable. If memory serves me, I think the theory is you gain 10 000 fans (by giving away your music free) and then 1000 of them should be the core who are willing to spend money and therefore support you.

But another point made in the article is that it’s become intensely competitive since people have fairly easy access to recording equipment these days anyway. Everyone wants to be the star, not the fan –we’re a ‘prosumer’ society now, we enjoy making the music just as much as listening to it.

Come to think of it, gaining 1000 core fans is really hard to do -that’s 1000 people who are inspired enough by you, and think your good enough and special enough to spend money on your music. You know, it’s probably easier to do that by pulling off some publicity stunt and becoming a celebrity rather than by people become fans of your music.

Anyways, I’ll continue in my next post and make an analogy to Karate tournaments.


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