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Beware of Fringe Fans: Appreciate Them, But Don't Let Them Distract You

Imagine this …

You get an email from someone you’ve never heard from before. He writes:

“I’ve sampled a bunch of your free downloads online, and honestly, I haven’t heard one song I really like. So I’m not sure I want to spring for your new album. Tell you what … give me the entire album for free, and if I find a few songs I enjoy, I’ll pay you for it. Deal?”

How would you respond? (Once you stopped cursing, that is.)

I ask because I got an email just like this a few days ago. Only this guy wasn’t asking about my music; he was referring to my articles, blog posts, and books.

He said he hadn’t found anything of value in the stuff he’s found of mine online. Then he asked if I would give him some full ebooks for free. If he found something that “worked” in the books, he would gladly pay me.

How do you think I responded?

Thanks, but no thanks!

Why? Don’t I have confidence in my own material? Wouldn’t he be rushing to compensate me if he were only exposed to the awesomeness of my best ideas?

YES, I have confidence in my material. But NO, I doubt very much he’d ever find anything of value or be willing to pay for anything I publish, regardless of the cost or the arrangements.

The point being … this guy is a “fringe fan.” He is not my ideal customer. And while I welcome suggestions and respect a diversity of ideas, I won’t lose any sleep over what this guy thinks.

Do you feel the same way about your fringe fans?

The reason I ask: Artists like to please people. We love a kind word and a pat on the back. Therefore, I bet you often let music consumers of all stripes steer the way you run your career.

So you give everything away, or you beg people to attend your shows, or you water down your identity so you don’t offend anyone.

And guess what? That’s a sure recipe for failure!

Don’t get me wrong. You must be aware of the response you’re getting from people. Your radar must be up at all times monitoring which songs get the most positive response and what types of people are attracted to your music the most. That’s good.

But at some point you must draw a line between how you serve your “ideal fans” and how you react to everyone else.

For me, I know my ideal fans are proactive indie artists who understand the value of lifelong education and feeding their minds with fresh ideas on how to promote and sustain a music career. Those types of musicians are a small subset of the planet’s entire musician population.

So when it comes to the cynical “prove it to me” music crowd … I wish them well, but I don’t expend energy in trying to please them. They are not a part of my core “tribe,” as Seth Godin says. They are on the outskirts of it.

Who are YOUR ideal fans? Who are the people who celebrate and applaud your talents? Are you paying attention to them and serving them well? Because I believe that’s the key to your success as an artist.

I suggest you not be distracted by the people on the fringe of your tribe. Don’t insult them. You can appreciate them and thank them for their feedback … but don’t cower to them.

Focus on the people who matter the most: your ideal fans!


Reader Comments (12)


Really good post. I'm guilty of trying to please "fringe fans." I'm trying to stop! Honest! Keep writing the good stuff.

Hey Bob,

Great advice as always, Bob! Except, if I may, that I wouldn't even use the word "fan" to describe people like that in the first place. Someone like that is either looking for something for nothing (because "music should be free") or they're just one of those trolls who can't accomplish anything for themselves so they feel the need to try and cut down people who are. I have to say that my response would be (if I didn't just choose to ignore him altogether):

"Do you also expect to walk into a department store and get all the clothes you want for free? When you go out to a club, do you expect every drink to be free? The occasional buy-one-get-one-free shirt or on-the-house-drink is fine. And that concept is why I offer a free download of 'Jezebel' off my album. But if you want more, I'd appreciate you showing me the graciousness and respect of purchasing it just like everyone else has."

I wouldn't care one bit if he was insulted. I refuse to entertain a stream of negative people like that in my life, even if it's a "fan" I may never meet in person. I believe that for every person like that I might lose a sale to, another two or three or more who truly love my music and have respect for what I'm trying to do will be provided.

July 18 | Unregistered CommenterDarci Monet

Wow, "Fringe fans" is a very generous euphemism for them.

Since the music biz world is full of buzzwords and new terminology, let's avoid the temptation to make up new words. They're not "fringe fans" -- they're just assholes. Ignore them.

July 19 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland


I'm not sure if there's such a thing as a fringe fan. A fan is a fan, however all of them have different thresholds to consuming your material. That threshold is dictated by things like;
the quality of your output,
money (I'd buy this song if it were xx cents),
general availability of access to your output and a few other things I could come up with.

Generally, your so called 'core fans' have a much lower threshold to consuming your material than your other fans. However 'fringe fans' also have a point at which they will consume your material. That point is just higher than that of your 'core fans'. That doesn't mean to say it can't be lowered at some time in the future.

For example, I could get a new, higher paying job and all of a sudden I'm able to buy albums having only heard 1 or 2 songs. Whereas, previously I may have had to think about every dollar I spend, my new lower monetary threshold is now enabling me to consume that artist's music on a wim.

In my mind, just about anyone who is willing to spend their time consuming your material is your fan. I think I mentioned on someone else's MTT post, that I'd include all those who attend gigs on corporate tickets as fans! After all they are giving up their time, voluntarily, after which it's your job as an artist to lower their consumption threshold.

The idea of consumption thresholds applies to all industries and funnily enough I believe banks do a great job playing the theory behind it very well.

In relation to the music industry, the question would now be; Can you identify your fans' consumption threshold and where you can is it economical (time or moneywise) to overcome any barriers that exist?

In the case of this specific fan who wrote to you, I agree that you shouldn't have given them anything for free. Though I think he valued your material enough to write to you, he obviously went about it the wrong way.

@ Justin, my apologies for over-using another buzzword! It just had to be in the next comment after yours too!

July 20 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Charakupa


I believe you made a mistake. These days musicians can't be picky about who wants their music nor is there a benefit in labeling them "fringe" fans - how do you know who is a fan or a fringe fan anyway? Earlier this year, in a keynote speech at a conference that I gave, I asked of musicians to stop putting prices on their CDs and T-shirts at concerts. The ones who tried it doubled or tripled their income from sales. You should have given that person your album as you would have turned them into a fan just by being generous - they then tell others etc, etc. Here's links to the articles I wrote and one also about how Ben Taylor (son of James) used my idea to great effect..

How Bands Can Make Money By Not Putting a Price on CDs

Ben Taylor On Tour Says Pay What You Want for My CDs, Sells More

July 20 | Unregistered CommenterDave Allen

Thanks for all the great comments! Here are a few follow-up thoughts ...

I used the phrase "Fringe Fans" because I wanted a quick way to articulate the type of fan I was writing about. Plus I wanted something that would look good in a headline, and I liked the double F alliteration :-)

You can call them "casual fans" or "secondary fans" or whatever. It's the idea behind it that matters to me.

Perhaps the example I gave of the guy who wanted free stuff wasn't the best to make my point, which was this:

There are different types of fans who support you in different ways. You should welcome them all. BUT I believe you should focus on your most supportive fans and not be distracted by trying to please the entire spectrum of your overall fan base.

These "core" or "ideal" fans support you in many ways: with their time, attention and money, for sure. But also with their positive word of mouth. However they support you, it's all valuable.

But let's not overlook the monetary value of core fans. Radiohead has millions of "fans," but only their core fans paid for the "choose your own price" download and later bought the CD. Trent Reznor has millions of "fans," but only his core fans sprung for the $300 deluxe box set.

These core fans are your support team and real world promotional army. Send them some special love. Cater to them first and foremost, even if it means offending some of the more casual, dare I say "fringe" fans out there.


July 21 | Registered CommenterBob Baker

Hi Bob,

I understand your frustration with customers who ask for something for free. However my interpretation is always that the reason they take this stance is that they may not have the physical cash to purchase the product, and understandably be too embarrassed to say this.

As a music producer and an business owner in a similar market as you, I've discovered a way to turn these types of customers into your very own street team. Solve their problem by asking them to go out and seek out a customer for you, and if the referred customer buys, they get the products they asked for free. Their time and effort is something they have in abundance and own completely regardless of their bank balance.

This puts a value on both your product and their time, you get a sale you would have never made, and the referrer gets what they wanted too. A great deal for both parties, a good way of building a street team, and guaranteed way to turn a potential negative situation into a surprisingly pleasing outcome.


August 25 | Unregistered CommenterSimon Adams

Really, you think most people don't have 5 or 10 bucks to buy an album? How the hell do they pay their internet connection and computer? They're just cheap, and getting used to the fact they can get it free if they try.

October 22 | Unregistered CommenterFebreze

My response, if I chose to give one, "Well, if you have not liked anything you have heard so far, then I doubt you'll like any other material I have."

I see the need, on some of these replies, to make a negative a positive, but be honest. Why do musicians, songwriters, composers, photographers, and other types of creativity get picked on by needing to be "FREE?"

Does a sculpture give his stuff away? Does a mechanic do work for free? A Doctor? NO. Someone pays.

I'm not giving my stuff away free. It cost me money to create it. Computers, equipment, instruments, training, and so forth.

The model to not put prices on your cd's and stuff may work at a few places, but not all and just like any other business model, you have overhead you need to cover -- at least us struggling artist do, not like those that do this for fun.

Real artists have day jobs.

I couldn't agree more with this post! I am not a venture Capitalist and I certainly did not become a songwriter and artist to become wealthy. On the other hand I don't want to be the Ginny pig for a new barter and trade system either. I find it interesting how often the people who are proponents of giving away ones music as a business plan, are often reluctant to be as altruistic with there own services! Some how the art community is held to a different standard than any other sector of our society? I have and will continue to occasionally give my music away but only in exchange for some tangible return, for example, I give a song away for joining my mailing list. As a matter of opinion and one that comes from experience, I believe that while giving ones art away can boost sales for some and can be part of a short term promotion plan, I don't believe it is a sustainable business model. At least not a model that will lead to greater and greater value for both art and intellectual property in general, quite the contrary I think it will continue the devaluing of all creative property. Value is created by valuing something. If I do not value what I do than who else will. Which leads me to my main point. My real fan understands that my art is worthy of compensation and does not manipulate or challenge me to impress them. They either fundamentally understand that, or I don't want to win them over, in short, I don't want them as a fan! I have had fans that want to trade albums or art or some other respectful form of fare trade, I almost always agree and sometimes I will give albums away (certainly to reviewers or radio stations) but only when I chose! If that means less sales so be it as I said earlier I didn't get into the arts to be wealthy I do this to express something that feels VITAL TO ME first and foremost!

March 23 | Unregistered CommenterCraig Bancoff

How 'bout: "Tell you what - you pay me first and then if you don't find anything you like, you return it all to me, I will send you your money back. Of course, if you can't remove all of it from your system to return to me, then there won't be any money to return to you."

March 23 | Unregistered Commenterjim c -


Thank you for your interesting article.

At a point I have to agree, you can not give attention to the 'haters'. I believe those increase with success. Because If you are a struggling up and coming artist, you do get loads of love and praise. Once you begin to make it, the haters appear. When they do, you know you're on the right way.

That said, what you have called a 'fringe fan' is an entirely different matter. It's not a 'hater' or a 'real fan'. Someone said above that anyone willing to ask and listen to your music/read your material is actually a fan or a person in interest. You do not want to push them away by being unpleasant. In our dates of downloading, we can get any material we want, either it's books, music, movies, tutorials. People do not want to pay anymore. Especially for music. Now If someone is asking you to send them your latest release free of charge, in my opinion you should. There's a few reasons for doing so. They can download it anyway if they wish to do so and you will only get to be flagged as an unpleasant individual/band. If you do send it, you will be very much appreciated, the 'fringe fan' will become someone who will respect you and will brag to all their friends about how he has a special relationship with you - making the friends listen and potentially buying the album. It's not desperation, it's simply marketing.

If you receive bad vibes from the person who contacted you in the first place, I believe it's best not to reply at all.

I think it's time to forget the phrase: Nothing in life is free. Because fact is, any material is available to download online for free. If you won't give it to them, they will find another way to get it - or worse, not get to listen to it at all.

May 14 | Unregistered CommenterN.M

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