Connect With Us

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner



« Breakthroughs, Bitterness and Biopics | Main | Have I got a bridge to sell you. »

Farewell to the Casual Music Fan

One of the recurring themes of the recent Future of Music Policy Summit in Washington, DC was the necessity, for musicians, to develop an “active fan base.” There wasn’t one specific panel about this, or one discussion; it was instead a constant thread through many different panels and discussions, and the seemingly inevitable answer to the industry’s $64,000 question: how on earth can musicians earn a living in the digital age?

We all know the basic plot by now. Musicians are on their own out there, lacking both the imprimatur and promotional budget once afforded by big record labels. And by the way no one wants to buy music anymore either. What’s a poor singer/songwriter boy or girl to do?

At the conference, something like a consensus emerged in response: foster the artist-fan relationship. Any number of experts in any number of different ways ultimately said the same thing: succeed with so-called “fan engagement” and you’re on your way. (Well, okay, musicians were also told, repeatedly, “not to suck.” Another worthy goal, but outside of the purview of this essay.)

And luckily for today’s musicians, the internet is just one big crazy fan-engagement machine, if properly operated. Through regular forays into blogging, Twittering, and Facebooking, musicians can get up close and personal with their fans, and use this interaction to—let’s be blunt—make money.

In the minds of those pinning the future of musician well-being on fan engagement, what they’re talking about is really a sort of fan engagement on steroids. It’s not just about collecting email addresses and talking to fans at the merch table after the show. That’s relatively easy, old-fashioned, and, now, inadequate.

Fan engagement as newly conceived is relatively difficult. It involves managing an arsenal of 24/7 social media pages and being ever on the lookout for creative avenues of interaction and out-of-the-ordinary sales opportunities. Needless to say, this is time-consuming. And—it should be noted—the path from this new, aggressive kind of fan engagement to revenue isn’t necessarily clear.

The general idea, however, is that the more that fans feel connected to musicians they love, the more they are likely to want to attend their concerts, buy not merely songs but premium items (specially packaged albums, boxes, et al), and be interested enough in their beloved musicians’ comings and goings to be willing to pay as well for any number of offshoot endeavors that the musician can dream up—custom clothing, exclusive video performances, hand-made art items, you name it.

With all this in mind you can see why the experts at the conference seemed to agree that in the digital age, the central important thing that’s changing in the music industry is not so much the technology as the artist/fan relationship. Musicians should be thinking of fans not as fans at all but, said one panelist, as “co-conspirators.”

So I’m listening to these ideas in Washington and I’m wondering what isn’t sitting right with me. Not that there’s anything wrong with the concept of fan engagement per se. How could there be? All any committed band wants to do is make an honest living through their music, and I understand why an augmented sort of fan engagement strategy may be just the way some bands eke it out in the digital age.

But I also think the fan engagement bandwagon is missing something significant in the bigger picture of how music functions in the world.

Outside of the confines of the Future of Music Policy Summit, this new approach to fan engagement has been most widely pondered and discussed in the context of Kevin Kelly’s well-known “1,000 True Fans” post from last year. As pundits are wont to do, Kelly attempted to crystalize an interesting idea into a concrete credo, which was his hypothesis that anyone producing any kind of art needs only to have 1,000 passionate, committed fans to make a living.

Most of the discussion generated by “1,000 True Fans” has focused on whether it works or not financially. Is 1,000 the right number? Is it more if you have more people in the band? I’ll leave that to others. I’m wondering about whether it works culturally.

In some important ways, if the music scene is transformed into a place in which all worthy musicians are supported by enclaves of super-engaged fans, 21st-century rock’n’roll musicians may win the battle but lose the war. Because the more that artists require so-called super-fans for their livelihood, the more they will leave behind the very sorts of casual fans that made rock’n’roll such a robust musical arena for such a long time.

For better or worse, popular music depends upon the existence of casual fans. Back when the big albums of the day were selling a few million copies, these were not purchased by a few million super-fans. Even when a band like Arcade Fire sells a “mere” 300,000 copies of an album, this does not represent an audience of 300,000 super-fans. Once a band achieves any measure of widespread success, that success hinges, somewhat paradoxically, upon catching the attention of people who aren’t really paying attention.

Today’s fan engagement schemes, however, deny the existence of casual fans by leaving them out of the picture entirely.

Because what entices a super-fan will almost, by definition, be of no interest to a casual fan. Just because you happen to like a song or two, or even an album or two, doesn’t mean you require a musician’s real-time biographical details, doesn’t mean you crave endless streams of recording flotsam and jetsam (b-sides, live takes, remixes, etc.), doesn’t mean you’ll want to purchase objects lit by physical association with the musician (self-designed t-shirts, hand-addressed postcards, and the like) or watch repeated video presentations.

Casual fans also lack any need for the very sort of online interaction that sits like a holy grail at the center of this new idea of fan engagement. The various schemes I’m seeing now on a daily basis—make a video of a song for a contest! donate money so your name can go on the album jacket! subscribe to a service offering journal entries and/or webcasts and/or live recordings!—make no sense to a casual fan.

Most important of all, a casual fan will not spend upwards of $100 a year purchasing music and other accessory items from one band or musician.

In his original “1,000 True Fans” post, Kelly asserted that the processes artists develop to feed their diehard fans will also nurture what he calls “Lesser Fans.” I see no evidence beyond wishful thinking to support this idea.

I believe, on the contrary, that the more the music scene focuses on these kinds of super-fan activities, the more likely it will be that casual fans more or less disappear.

Such a development will not be unprecedented in the unfolding history of music. For instance, you have to be something of a super-fan to know what to do with, how to listen to, and how to interact economically with classical music. Jazz is another genre that caters by and large to super-fans.

This could be rock’n’roll’s trajectory too. And that may be for the best for all I know. But I don’t think anyone busy touting hyperactive fan-engagement scenarios has considered the large-scale consequences of transforming rock into a super-fan genre.

So let’s look at four such consequences.

Consequence No. 1:  Far, far fewer fans for rock music

Proponents of these super-fan scenarios seem to be presuming that the total number of active music fans will remain somewhat the same. That’s the beauty of it, in theory: so, instead of three million people buying one particular artist’s album, 1,000 people will buy 3,000 different albums. That’s still three million music fans, right?

Actually, no. As noted earlier, in the glory days of the album-selling past, if any one artist sold an album to three million people, a large percentage of those people were casual fans—people who heard a song or two and liked them enough to buy the album, or people who had been exposed to the music via a friend, or people who were just kind of swept along by the zeitgeist.

There is of course no research to cite here; I can only go with decades of my own anecdotal observations. I’m suspecting that the ever-useful 80-20 rule may be applied, but in any case it is clear that any band throughout rock history that has broken through to some amount of widespread success—say, sales of 250,000 copies or more of one album—has done so largely on the backs (and purse strings) of casual fans. Probably, also, the higher the total number of albums sold, the higher the percentage of casual fans.

Super-fan orientation shrinks the rock’n’roll marketplace because to foster tribes of passionate fans requires throwing maybe 80 percent of the potential audience out the window.

Musicians nurturing diehard fans are not, of course, making a conscious decision to freeze out casual fans. It’s just that seeking to promote super-fans inherently alienates the non-super-fan. I disagree with Kevin Kelly’s belief that musicians will be able to “convert” their “Lesser Fans” into “True Fans” in an ongoing way. I contend, instead, that casual fans (a phrase I prefer to “lesser fans”) are disinclined, behaviorally, to be somehow lured into ratcheting up their involvement with any musician simply because they happen to like a few of his or her songs.

In my experience a True Fan is actually a type of person (and I mean that almost archetypally). I don’t think casual fans are typically or easily converted into True Fans. Sure, you might get them to give your their email address for a free MP3 but their hearts won’t be in it for the long run. (What is likely, instead, is that a True Fan of one musician will be open, additionally, to becoming a True Fan of any number of other musicians. The market isn’t expansive but, rather, cannibalistic.)

From the perspective of any one individual musician who is happy now to be supported by his or her diehard admirers, freezing out or alienating casual fans may be pretty much okay—a necessary evil, say. And maybe this will foster a whole new kind of music, as bands aim not for mass success at all, but for idiosyncratic sonic niches, or, in any case, sounds that appeal to much smaller rather than much larger numbers of people.

Let’s just be clear, however, about what casting aside casual fans entails. If industry pundits are wringing their hands to date over shrinking bottom lines, just wait till the super-fans take over.

Consequence No. 2:  Cultural disconnect

Beyond plummeting album sales, another disorienting hallmark of the digital music age has been the fragmentation of popular music into a mind-boggling array of genres and sub-genres. Are there any songs or artists that “everyone” listens to and knows about any more? Not apparently.

And yet so far, at least, this is not for want of trying. That is, many musicians still aspire to gain the ear of the multitude, if only from the instinctual understanding that if as a musical artist you have something important to say, you hope to say it to a larger rather than smaller number of ears.

In the brave new musical world of fan engagement, musicians need no longer aim in this direction. As artists, by necessity, nurture their super-fan following, no one will need to think about creating something for everyone rather than something for their marketplace of 1,000—or, even, as one recent story would have it, just forty.

By and large this is presented as a liberating idea. Release yourself from the desire to appeal to large numbers of people, follow your individual muse in a way that pleases your flock of supporters, and you shall be set free, goes the basic thinking. Let go of the ego need for millions of fans and you’ll see it’s okay to seek a micro-audience, because a) you’ll be making a living, and b) everyone listening will be listening really carefully and pretty much worshipping you.

But the point here isn’t psychological. It’s cultural. The point isn’t getting artists accustomed to aspiring to selling to only a thousand people. The point is the different nature of the involvement sought and the consequential effect on a culture being served by this new kind of musician.

Aiming to reach a vast audience and seeking to connect with a limited group of people are two very different things. The end result of having all or even most of our contemporary musicians seeking the former rather than the latter style of artistic connection means the loss of a meaningful musical commons in our joint public experience.

The restorative effect of this type of commons is subtle but powerful. Just the other day, I was working out at the gym and the song “One” by U2 came on the sound system. I am not a diehard U2 fan, and yet the song in that context triggered a deep, ineffable pleasure. Hearing a good song that everyone knows in a public setting recharges the spirit in a subtle but meaningful way.

Note that this is not just about me hearing a song I like. I hear a song I like every time I’m listening to a playlist on my iPod. This is about me hearing the song in the midst of other people, total strangers, who also know the song and are hearing it at the same time. What transpires is a communal, connective experience, even without any words passing between those having it.

This effect is the antithesis of a super-fan moment. The connection to the music is casual; it’s a sense of human connection here that provides the frisson of aliveness. Music in this way can offer a culturally constructed way of feeling at one with the world around us.

In a world in which musicians are encouraged, if not forced, to cater exclusively to their most passionate followers, likewise a world in which music fans listen exclusively to music most passionately loved, we lose this important but overlooked capacity to connect. The world shrinks. Something about being human is lost.

Consequence No. 3:  Artistic claustrophobia

The decision to go from having an audience which includes diehard fans among others to having an audience exclusively comprised of the diehards will have aesthetic consequences too.

That’s because musicians aiming to slake the appetites of diehard fans are likely to retreat, however unconsciously, into a closed-off, self-referential space. The music is likely to become constricted over time, for a few reasons.

First, think about the time and energy required to feed and nurture a group of super-fans, and whether this leaves a musician time to tend to his or her actual art. In the old days, musicians needed only to convey the idea that their music was worth the price of an album or a concert ticket. This modest goal involved first putting out a good album and second getting the word out that it was indeed good—no mean feats to be sure, but at heart not too complicated. The energy was by and large directed towards writing and performing good songs, and trying to convince people to give a listen.

In the age of the super-fan, the musician is charged with conveying the idea that his or her music is worth $100 a year of various and sundry purchases, some or even most of which may not involve actual music. I am not saying that this can’t be done, I’m only pointing out that this is first of all a less modest goal than musicians of the past were charged with and second of all requires a different approach to a music-making life.

Some 21st-century musicians appear to be well-suited to this new mode of being. It requires an unmitigated willingness and ability to be a public person in a much different way than is involved when simply singing songs on a stage. Artists for whom such conduct feels natural may not find it any particular kind of burden.

I suspect, however, that many musicians will find this behavior difficult to come by in any consistent way. I suspect many musicians will be unhappy when they find that time and energy that once could be devoted to writing and performing must now be deflected into other endeavors and activities that may have little to do with music.

Even if a musician can find a manager-like person who can help out with all the social media interaction and the peripheral offerings required to stoke the super-fan base, staying on top of fan engagement will still consume personal resources he or she may not have. The music may suffer. The first stage of claustrophobia is arrived at out of basic depletion.

Above and beyond the time and energy situation, creating for a tribe of passionate fans has a couple of additional artistic drawbacks as far as I can see. To begin with, the situation strikes me as similar to a politician surrounding him- or herself with sycophants, or to a writer who, after a big bestseller, no longer feels the need to be closely edited. Regardless of how talented the artist, to create exclusively for people who are predisposed to believe that you are utterably brilliant is a less than ideal environment in which to create meaningful art.

The final element of the claustrophobia relates to the look and feel and vibe of an artist catering to and grooving off of his or her tribe of super-fans. Artist and super-fans are insiders together, sharing information and ideas with an ever-present interactive feedback loop.

To the expert I heard at the DC conference, the idea that artists and highly-engaged fans will “co-conspire” like this represented nothing less than the future of music. To me, it sounds like middle school. You’ve got the cool group on the inside, and what they mostly conspire to do is keep the uncool and unworthy outsiders outside.

Insider cliques stoke egos but fall short when it comes to worthwhile activity. I am not optimistic about the quality of music likely to emerge over time from super-fan-driven musicians.

Consequence No. 4:  Debilitated listeners

If the musician motivated by fan engagement is in danger of losing his or her creative touch, the fans in this scenario are at risk of a similar loss at the receiving end of the creativity.

To begin with, just as musicians may grow artistically flabby catering to a tribe of worshippers, listeners likewise may find their powers of discernment slacken in this environment.

Think about it. Listeners are congregating exclusively around artists they passionately love. They pay $100 a year or more for the privilege of buying a variety of products from their beloved musician. In that environment, there is little room for critical thinking.

And so, among this small group of devotees—who, don’t forget, have an unprecedented capacity to talk amongst themselves, and therefore reinforce established opinions—what the musician produces will wind up in one of two basic drawers: the drawer of “oh my god, I’m gonna cry, this is so brilliant”; or, the drawer of “oh my god, I’m gonna hurl, this sucks.” That’s because in this group of super-fans, particularly as the artist acquires a body of work, those who think that every tiny thing the musician does is genius will exist side by side with those who think that every tiny thing the musician did used to be genius but now (as noted) sucks.

It’s the nature of diehard fandom, and not a big deal, except to the extent that the fan engagement model becomes the bedrock of the music scene and we’re left only with the diehards. Not a lot of good happens when we are left only with colliding extremes (cf. 21st-century U.S. politics).

One of the great, if paradoxical, things casual fans bring to the scene is the fact that they don’t care quite so much. They are somewhat objective observers. For those who’ve read Nick Hornby’s new book, it’s the difference between the written reviews of Juliet, Naked that Duncan (the super-fan) and Annie (the casual fan) post online (not to mention the difference between what proceeds to happen to each of them).

Another way listeners may be debilitated over time by the super-fan scenario is how it will accelerate the already existing trend of closing ears off to music that is not already known. And some of this closing-off will be a purely logistical problem.

The key word in fan engagement is “engagement,” after all. Musicians in this model are trying their damnedest to keep your attention—encouraging you to browse offerings, haunt message boards, enter contests, follow tweets, read newsletters, leave blog comments, and so forth. All of this takes time. A lot more time than just listening to a song or two. A principal reason that the super-fan scenario will close listeners off to experiencing new music in a more casual way is that there are still only 24 hours in a day.

Consequence of the Consequences

The ironic bottom line about the fan-engagement model of Saving the Music Industry is that, if effected, it will shrink the market for rock music far beyond the place to which technology and circumstances have already shrunk it—far beyond the place, that is, where everyone’s already freaking out.

Remember, there is no such thing as popular music without casual fans; remove casual fans from the mix and out the window also goes popularity.

I know that in theory most critics and pundits and sideline observers don’t really care about that. Being “popular” is never that cool a concept with such folks. So if that’s the case, then sure, let’s sit back and applaud as rock’n’roll takes its place next to jazz at the table reserved for music that used to be popular and now caters to a specialized set of listeners. Maybe some new and interesting musical avenues will be opened up in the process.

But here’s the thing. This happened to jazz in a more or less organic way. Yes, I know I’m oversimplifying, but with jazz one could say that the music went one direction, the mainstream audience another. (Same with classical, sort of.) The idea behind something like “1,000 True Fans” is different. Here, musicians are told to aim for slender segments of listeners. This is an aim that purposefully—if somewhat obliviously—shows casual music fans out the door.

What’s more, it’s doing so in a way that seems kind of…well, icky. Jazz musicians followed their muse away from the mainstream. It was all about the music, and if a limited number of people still wanted to listen, so be it. Via “1,000 True Fans,” musicians are being told that it’s not just about the music. It’s about the tweets and the video updates and the t-shirts and the personally-signed pottery cats and dogs and who knows what else.

Because here’s what it’s really about: figuring out how to pry $100 a year from your most ardent admirers.

There are many who say: and what the hell is wrong with that? Maybe nothing. It’s nice work if you can get it. As a major consumer of music for 30 some-odd years, I will note, however, that I am much happier when I feel as if I’m pushing money to my favorite artists rather than having it pulled out of me.

Look, it’s always been nearly impossible for most musicians to earn a living wage. And yes, the 21st century has made it even more difficult. There’s file sharing. There’s the bad economy. There’s more file-sharing. (And did I mention file-sharing?)

Worse—and pay close attention now—there’s the badly overcrowded marketplace. Thanks to the combination of laptop recording and web-based distribution, the barrier to entry for being a musician in the first place has all but disappeared. Amateurs and imposters have flooded the marketplace.

And so, even as industry experts propose fan engagement as a panacea, my conclusion is that, if effected, it will only make matters worse. It may ultimately be even harder for musicians to earn a living.

Because if everyone now thinks they only need 1,000 fans to make it as a musician, then yikes—you won’t believe how many more people will be out there trying to do just that.

And that, to me, is the biggest indictment of this well-intended but not well-thought-out idea: that it will in fact be a beacon of hope for “vanity press” musicians who write and sing and record songs that they should not even be sharing with their friends, never mind 1,000 strangers. No matter how untalented and unpromising any one person with a Mac and a dream may be, he or she will be nothing but inspired to know that all all they need are 1,000 fans and they can be a full-time, professional musician. Why, most of them probably have at least 600 Facebook friends. That sounds like they’re already more than halfway there.

Will “1,000 True Fans” work nicely for any one particular musician? No doubt it may. Set it loose on an unsuspecting marketplace, however, and watch out. Casual fans will disappear and in their wake come those we may as well call the casual musicians. I for one don’t like the trade-off.



about Jeremy Schlosberg

Reader Comments (36)

Thank you!! Jeremy, you've quite eloquently said what I've been trying to say in my comments here for the past year. I especially agree with Consequence 1. When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. The hammer in this case is social networking. It is the myspaces and sonicbids of the world that have created this perception that promotion is about narrowing your focus to "personal" connections with fans. This sort of thing helps, but it is not what sustains truly successful music.

I do however disagree with the notion that this will lead to the destruction of good music. Why? Because, it doesn't work! If it doesn't work, people won't do it. And guess what? THEY AREN'T DOING IT. In my opinion, the "1,000" true fans and "peronalized fandom" memes are fads for non-musician commentators on the music industry. Yes, we all read some interviews with a few select artist on this site that are doing so. But look at every single band with a record deal. The goal of basically everybody making music is to play larger shows, make bigger deals, and sell more records. Bands are smarter than armachair industry aficionados and social networking gurus, and they aren't falling for it. So don't worry so much about the bad consequences of a trend that mostly isn't going to catch on.

I will take this opportunity to beg and plead with the industry writers out there: please stop writing about how the tools of the new music industry can help you fish for fans, and start writing more about tools that can make you and your music more INTERESTING. Write about how artists can better define themselves and their image, not how they can find new ways to have their fans tell them what to do. Nobody gets famous by listening to their fans, primarily because if you're not famous yet you don't have fans. You get them by doing something unique and creative of your own doing. Fans don't know your art as well as you do. Make more art, make it your way, and promote yourself, not your fans.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Thanks for your thoughts, Justin. And just so you know, I'm not really all that worried. I've laid out the consequences I see precisely to show how rather unlikely the whole fan-engagement "future" actually is, in my opinion. As for "Fans don't know your art as well as you do": yes, exactly. This is partly why the so-called "remix culture" has me a little edgy too. Is everyone artistically equivalent? If everyone is somehow "participating" in the music, is anyone just listening? But that's a whole other essay, I suppose.

December 15 | Registered CommenterJeremy Schlosberg

Why do you believe that catering to super-fans alienates casual fans? To me, the take-away message from the fan engagement/"true fan" concept is that one size does not fit all. Different listeners want different things from you, and are willing to pay different amounts for those things. So you, the artist, create different offerings to meet those needs.

The majority of fans will be casual fans -- they just want to download the music, nothing else. So you give them that option via iTunes, Amazon, your artist website, etc. No reasonable "true fan" advocate would suggest that artists should ONLY offer premium or niche products. But if a handful of super-fans want to pay $50 for the digital/CD/vinyl/t-shirt/DVD-of-your-life-story bundle, why deny them the opportunity? The casual fans will just ignore the premium stuff. The super-fans will appreciate it.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterLaurence Trifon

Great post Jeremy. I totally agree.

These "super fan" promo ideas are getting on my nerves. What's next? Are fans going to write the band's next album?

When everyone's special, NO ONE IS. Every kid's got a big ego now. They all feel "special", or they desperately want to. They want to be a part of it... But by giving them too much access and importance, artists are killing the mystery.

When all the mystery is gone, so is the magic.

I guess that's what happens when ;

1- People steal music or expect to have it for free = no value. So lets put all our efforts on Facebook and T-Shirts!
2- Everyone with a guitar and a computer records an album.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterFebreze

Very well put, thank you!

I am a super-fan of no one. I am a casual fan of hundreds of musicians, bands, composers, and performers. I drove 120 miles one-way to see Brian Setzer recently, not because I'm a super-fan but because that was as close as his tour was going to get to the town I live in. While I was there I bought two t-shirts and a CD. Why? Because it was easy to do so.

And that's the key to serving the casual fan: make it easy for them to part with their money.

December 15 | Unregistered Commenterbravo!

@bravo! The fact that you drove 120 miles to see a band and bought 2 shirts and CD would make you, in some people's eyes, more than a casual fan. :)

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterLaurence Trifon

@Laurence Trifon - A good part of the essay was an effort to describe exactly that: why catering to super-fans might very well alienate casual fans. I believe this to be the case if (and this is an important "if") bands are overly focused on nurturing a super-fan fan base. The problem, in my opinion, is that any concerted effort to put the "1,000 True Fans" strategy into effect is by necessity going to be a rather all-encompassing activity.

That said, I did not intend to suggest that bands shouldn't be offering premium products to those who want them, not at all. Absolutely they should. I just think they should do so as part of their normal marketing efforts, not as part of an overarching strategy to have those 1,000 True Fans we've heard so much about. My point was that fostering and nurturing a super-fan fan base would necessarily cut a band off from having more casual fans in the first place-- for reasons, again, described at (rather) great length in the essay.

December 15 | Registered CommenterJeremy Schlosberg

Jeremy, I'm SO glad that you've said all these things. I'd been wondering for ages what to say to people who told me that I as a musician should be doing all these things -- things that felt a bit "icky" to me, as you accurately put it, but I couldn't say why. Reading your article has crystallised and clarified my thinking. I'll be passing on the link to a lot of fellow musicians. Thank you so very much.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterSarah McQuaid


Thanks for a well-thought-out essay that mostly gets it right, in my opinion.

I am a longtime performing artist and songwriter who has long been studying what makes music emotionally satisfying for myself and my listeners.

I think artists need to work harder and create exceptional music that moves people.

It's true: the 'Net is now awash in a tidal wave of "me, too" copies of the current, typically simple musical styles by people who apparently took up the instrument just a few months ago.

I wonder: will this will burn itself out once all these would-be superstars realize *nobody* is listening? Or will there be a constant stream of junior high kids taking up the axe and creating sounds nobody really hears?

Another factor: ALL the great music of the past is being digitized and will eventually be available on request from your cell phone or connected MP3 player. Think of all the astoundingly talented artists and bands that you never really learned about, that people can now discover and enjoy!

I think we could all get our fill of satisfying music for a few decades even if NO new music was created.

So the amount of music competing for a listener's attention and time is huge.

All this means that you have to give listeners a moving experience with each song you put out there. Otherwise you are wasting your time, and adding to the noise.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen

Casual fans? Casual fans are for chumps.

Casual fans are the ones that only read one book a year, recommended by Oprah. Casual fans are the ones that abandon you the moment you have an opinion on anything (see: Dixie Chicks, et al) or try something different. Casual fans buy the "greatest hits" compilations because they only want the radio hits.

Casual fans are the reason artists make limp, unintelligent, non-challenging cookie-cutter music. Casual fans are the reason why artists lie about their age and spend more time on their hair and makeup than writing interesting songs.

We're never going back to 1992. "Casual fans" are never going to pay $18.99 to sample your music ever again. They will preview it at Lala or Rhapsody for $0.02 a spin. If they like it they will select ONLY the tracks they want and buy them for $0.99 or less.

Forget about piracy; a casual fan won't even care enough to bother. (Seriously, if you're still worried about piracy in 2010, you should quit now and go sell bookcases or something. You are lost.)

Ignore these "casual" fans. I'm serious. They either get it or they don't. No fence-sitters, no tourists. Like the man said, spit out the lukewarm.

Also. Get used to the idea that culture is, and has always been, participatory, and that's never been more true than now.

Want passive listeners? Get lost. Or build a time machine. Or get a job.

Anyone else here uncomfortable with "remix culture," or hates the idea that any kid with Protools and an internet connection can bang out an album? You should quit music, right now. Because these things are here now, they're not going away, and they don't need your approval to exist.

Seriously. Get out of music. Save yourself. How will you handle the future when you can't even handle the present?

December 15 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew


As far as living off Superfans (and disdaining the casual fan who is more interested in the song than the person, and thus flits from artist to artist easily for new songs and styles)...

I figure you need to make about $35,000 a year if you are a solo performer and have some kids to support, and your wife works as well. Rent is expensive, not to mention kids needs.

That's 350 Superfans each spending $100 a year, every year, on you at 79 cents a song.

That's a bunch of songs. And lots of $20 T shirts.

That doesn't seem likely. How ARE you going to handle the future that way, much less the present?

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen


That doesn't seem likely.

There's your problem right there.

December 15 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew


Apologies, my response was unnecessarily blunt.

But I do kind of stand by it. Why is it unlikely? What could you change to make it "more likely?" I can't tell you, I don't know your exact situation and there's no One Formula.

Who said a super-fan had to be a $100/per year commitment? What about $50 per year? What about $20 per year?

Who said you had to sell t-shirts? Who said you had to sell CDs? This is the type of one-size-fits-nobody advice I can't stand. But it's up to the artist to think beyond it and apply it to their specific situation. And if that artist has already decided that a strategy "won't work for them" because it doesn't work for everyone, well...

December 15 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

To all:

As I posted before, I largely agree with what Jeremy wrote. But jeez, whats with all the hating on "amateurs" or "anyone with a computer" who can make music and "think they're special"? On the whole, the proliferation of music tech and the boom in the number of recording artists it has produced has been, by a wide wide margin, a net GAIN for both quality and variety of music available.

The issue is how artists market themselves. Thats the problem.

Artists in 2009 made far better music than was the norm in 1999.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Interesting read... I don't know whether to be inspired or miserable... Either way, I'll be tweeting the link.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterStanmore Phoenix

To be honest, I stopped reading this towards the end. I see your points, but totally disagree that "catering to super fans" is going to shrink the amount of casual fans.

Causal fans are - CASUAL - meaning they don't give a shit about anything other then hearing a song from time to time, and maybe buying an album. These are people like my parents who just listen to the radio and never bought a dollars worth of nothing from any band ever. Yet they still got to listen to the music their whole lives.

The casual fans who DID buy an album? They're was no way of interacting with those fans back then, their was no Internet, so how can you say they COULDN"T be turned into raving super fans?

The super fans are the ones that build the fanbase out, that bring the casual fans to the show where they hear the music for the first time. They're the ones that get the act to a certain point that casual listeners start noticing and wanting the songs.

The super fans are also the ones in the end going to see Morrissey at 50. The casual fans don't give too shits.

Nothing is going to change. Causal fans will remain casual.

Is it going to effect album sales? YES. Tough shit. A lot of people made a lot of money for many years and all those people got to live the rockstar lifestyle. Well guess what, good for them, they got away with it. Now it's time to forget that and stop crying.

Instead of 100 people making 1 Million dollars a year as a musician, there will be 1,000 people making 100,000.

Oh yeah, and a lot of shitty music was made to appeal to those casual fans, so if they go, I say good riddance.

December 15 | Unregistered Commenterevolvor


Apology accepted. You are right, that $35,000/year can come from any combination of income streams from fans.

I have thought about this a lot. I read the articles stemming from Kevin Kelly's idea of 1000 True Fans. Last I read, they asked if ANYONE was actually doing it, would they please contact the blog, please step forward.

None did that I saw.

Only a single name came up: Most people said "Jonathan Coulter. " I never read Mr Coulter say whether he had done it or not. But it sounds like maybe he is the one guy doing it with super fans. Making a decent living.

One person.

Look, I will give you the secret to getting a huge fan base.

Here it is:

At every public performance most of the people have to get so much pleasure from most of your songs that they tell and drag everyone they know to your next show.

That's it. That's the secret. Nothing else will work.

That has to happen. That's word of mouth at work, and that's how you get enough fans to make a living.

There are thousands and thousands of performers who play without this happening. They get nice applause, but they don't get a living wage number of fans unless this excitement happens.

To do this, you must MOVE people in an exceptional way. You must MOVE them more than the other music they could listen to moves them.

Or else they will just listen to the other music.

And if you sound just like everyone else, and maybe not quite as good yet...well, people are not going to be moved.

Come up with a way to move them. That's what I DON'T see happening from most music I hear on the Internet from new musicians strumming into a laptop and posting the MP3s.

Because it's REALLY, REALLY hard to do. Don't kid yourself. It takes a lot of practice and talent, and more practice.


I am still working on it, and I have been at it a long time. I am a baby boomer and my "crowd" is older. But the same principle applies to any musician and any age crowd.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen

@ Glenn

Right on! But do great songs ever go unheard?


December 15 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Warila

@scottandrew and @evolvor: To begin with there may be a semantic problem here. As noted somewhere along the way, I used the phrase "casual fan" to differentiate from the concept of "True Fan," as laid out by Kevin Kelly, among others. In this context, "casual" does not necessarily mean "passive," nor does it necessarily mean someone who doesn't give two shits about music. I have personally been an eager, active music fan for 30 years. I have bought tons of albums, most entirely out of the mainstream. And yet I consider myself a "casual fan" as compared to the super-fans now being sought (by some). The point is, I love great music, but I don't need a sweater my favorite musician has knitted, nor do I need every last outtake they've ever recorded, nor do I feel the need to interact with them online or otherwise.

And by the way there certainly were ways to interact before the internet. Fan clubs go back a long way. I might argue that *those* fans were far more committed because it wasn't quite so easy to engage.

Sorry the piece couldn't hold your attention, @evolvor. To each his/her own.

Oh, and @scottandrew, you've got a really pleasant singing voice for someone who sounds a wee bit cranky as a commenter. :)

December 15 | Registered CommenterJeremy Schlosberg


Interesting link. I got a lot out of reading it. Thanks.


December 15 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen

Great songs go unheard all the time! But great, artistic, promotional ideas are never ignored!

If I may once again defend Jeremy's point, I think that those of you who are saying that there is nothing *wrong* with cultivating hardcore fans are missing the point. The point is that hardcore fans should be a self-selecting crowd. You shouldn't base your music marketing strategy about attracting a few "true" fans, because that kind of strategy would be inherently DIFFERENT than one that just went after anyone they could get. The latter is far better, because if you're any good, the hardcore will come out of the woodwork and be "true fans" because they choose to be, not because you made it easy for them to fall into the true-fan mold you prepared for them.

The fact is, there are many self proclaimed music gurus out there that peddle easy answers and make it seem like musician + internet strategy = cakewalk to music career. And a big idea going around in those circles now is the "1000 true fans" idea. This is not to say that the idea is wrong for everybody, but I am saying that it is merely an easy answer; and oversimplification.

What Jeremy's post says to me is that serious musicians should ignore the siren song of aiming low for a digital cult following. It doesn't work as a marketing plan, and it undermines you as a musician. Aim high, and you'll end up reaping the benefits of the 1,000 fans approach anyways. And if you're lucky, you'll do better and have an actual, career-sustaining fanbase.

Time to name names. A consistent example of this type of thinking - in this webspace - seems to be Ariel Hyat ( I have absolutely nothing against Ms. Hyat, and have nothing against her. But I thoroughly disagree with the simplified, easy-as-pie spin that her company puts on music promo. Sites like hers suggest that a musician is merely a consumer, who needs to just make a few purchases and small investments to get their career off the ground. The 1,000 fans meme is popular in this neighborhood.

This. Is. Not. How. It. Works.

You will have 1,000 true fans when you have 100,000 casual fans. Aim for 100,000, not 1,000.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterJustin


I tend to agree with you.

And I will reiterate, if your shows aren't generating excited people, with larger crowds each time, then that 100,000 is not in your future.

Ever-increasing crowd size tells you you are doing it right. Congratulations!

Smaller, same-size crowds tell you you have not found a successful musical style yet, and you still have much work to do finding a way to move people in some special way.

It can be lyrics, entertaining presentation, up-tempo excitement, down-tempo thoughtful ideas. Something.. We all need to find something special or it's not going to be a viable career, I'm afraid.

--- Glenn

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen

@Jeremy: Interesting, thought-provoking "contrarian" article. Thanks! As a songwriter/artist who is still growing my art and my fan base, I appreciate stuff like this to jog my grey matter. I certainly see how each day brings an ever-growing variety of choices of ways in which I can spend the time I have available for my music, and how a *lot* of those choices don't involve making any music.

I also see how focusing on one's micro-genre can lead to self-referential songwriting and activities. I see it happen in my own small genre regularly, and I have to consciously work to avoid it in my writing. "Toes" has sold several orders of magnitude more copies than "Blame it on Buffett," for example, and given the choice, I'd rather write the next "Toes."

@Glenn: Good words - "At every public performance most of the people have to get so much pleasure from most of your songs that they tell and drag everyone they know to your next show." To me, that's the "gold standard" to strive for...though I might substitute "from the experience of your performance and songs," as the most compelling songs in the world performed by someone who can't connect with an audience aren't going to get as far as they should either, IMO. And know you're getting better when more people show up, more people buy stuff, more people throw money in the jar, etc.

I think there's a place for social media and "super fans." Anything that can multiply and magnify my efforts to get the word out is generally a good thing. But I think it's also important to remember at times to shut down Facebook, turn off the computer (unless you write with it), and spend quality time with the instrument of your choice.

-- Loren

December 16 | Unregistered CommenterLoren Davidson

This is just some input from a seasoned song writer musician .

I think song writing should be paying attention to world community social networking in regard to
the world struggle with life experience . Example ( Song For My Son ) is a song about children weapons or a son away at war . It is culturally diverse because of it's performance .This song has over 55.000 views and growing on You Tube . I invite you to view it and hope you enjoy

Song For My Son -Preformed by Jackie Jones & Mickey Carroll

Song For My Son - Preformed by FF Bascombe written by Mickey Carroll

All the best with your ongoing creative music adventure


Mickey Carroll
Grammy nominee
Gold Record recipient

Mickey Carroll
Mother J Productions

December 16 | Unregistered CommenterMickey Carroll

What happens in a genre of music (Hip Hop) when the artist is traditionally admire for being above his or her fans? Trying to cater to a certain audience is nearly impossible considering most listeners of hip hop are casual listeners. They actually admire the fact that you are some what above them. Being to close to them means you're no different then their friend or cousin who raps. Also you (hip hop artist) seem to have to be co-signed by another artist before considering being a real artist.

I've notice a lot of music conferences fail with dealing with Hip Hop artist issues, most conference I've been to are more about Rock music. There are some independent Hip Hop artist out there folks and we do have our indie labels as well. I own one Tytanium Music

Tye Banks

December 16 | Unregistered CommenterTye Banks

Scott Andrew has it right - and nicely put. :)

The last thing a performing artist should worry about is entering into a financial relationship with the most interested members of their audience, i.e. their fans - their ultimate customers.

What should be far more worrying is contracting away one's future career as a musician to a record label in exchange for the prospect of a minuscule royalty upon the lottery chance odds of becoming famous.

If you're in the business of selling billions of copies (a record label) then you need music that appeals to the lowest common denominator. You also need a monopoly and draconian enforcement to prevent any of your featured artists' fans making their own copies to promote the artist.

I'm also discussing this issue at

Don't sell copies. Sell your music.

The market for copies has ended. The market for music is as strong as ever.

December 17 | Unregistered CommenterCrosbie Fitch

As a mature singer/songwriter who is preparing to launch, this discussion brings home some important issues. I have been struggling with building my social networking base for six months or so now, in preparation to release my "Emissions", that I expect to put me on the musical map. Really thinking about this, I have to look at myself and my activity as a fan other artists. I simply don't have time to be a 'superfan' of anybody. Yet I am and have always been a heavy if not voracious consumer of music, constantly seeking new music to enjoy. When I find it, I buy it. For me to buy artist merch ( I really don't remember the last time I have), it has to be unique and make a statement that I want to promote.

All of this said, I chose the middle path. In these days of the 'new music biz paradigm', I find most opinions defining an extreme. Maybe it is the digital age, where it has to be either a 0 or a 1. Human beings simply don't work like that. I believe that serious work on defining my market then putting my songs in front of it in any way possible is the only way to success. I want and need as many of those casual fans as possible, and in the accumulation of them, I expect to reach key individuals that will become my mavens and communicate what I have to offer to others that respect their opinions. When I find an artist whose music really does something for me, I want to share it with my friends. Organic, grassroots growth is what I will need to achieve in order to finance my children's education. That will be done only through commitment to my artistic mission.

December 17 | Unregistered Commentercrainor byrd

"That’s because musicians aiming to slake the appetites of diehard fans are likely to retreat, however unconsciously, into a closed-off, self-referential space."

I think that's a definite risk. But it's mitigated somewhat by the deep personal connection the super fan has with the artist and their story, as much as the music itself.

Once on the artist's trip, the super fan is often more willing to accept stylistic detours and 'growth'. How long the super fan follows this trip depends on how long the artist can 'not suck'.

"I suspect, however, that many musicians will find this behavior [regular fan engagement] difficult to come by in any consistent way."

This is absolutely correct. Some artists - like many non-artists - just aren't wired that way. The stage/studio is the best and sometimes only way they can express themselves freely.

December 17 | Unregistered CommenterSlowburnmusic

You're not likely to turn off casual fans by marketing to superfans, unless you market to casual fans as if they were already superfans. With so many available ways to connect with music buyers, it shouldn't be difficult to devise methods to allow superfans to identify themselves (by their carefully measured behavior) and then offer them (and only them) greater levels of involvement. The important thing is to know who your current fans are so that you then know the characteristics of your potential fans and focus your marketing efforts accordingly; if your intent is to be a mainstream pop artist, your market is everybody, and you'll have to find ways to make your act appealing to all. This can be a recipe for lowest-common-denominator mediocrity OR Beatles/Beach Boys magic, that part's up to you.

December 20 | Unregistered CommenterMojo Bone

This a really interesting article. I like the discussion about opportunities for fan engagment provided by new technologies, but also the warnings of the problems overusing these technologies can cause the art and the artist fan relationship. However I wish Jeremy had spent more time addressing possible solutions to the problems he brought up. I felt like the article spent too much time refuting the points in the 1000 True fans articles without offering an opinion as to what a more successful model for fan engagement might be.

December 27 | Unregistered CommenterRenee

Great article! Sorry I'm late to the party. The length of the article intimidated me into bookmarking it rather than reading it straight off, but it was well worth the time investment.

The whole superfan concept makes me feel icky. I can't see myself creating a "fan funnel" that includes a CD + my blueberry muffin recipe at $20. I see the wisdom of it from a financial perspective, but it just feels a little... stalkerish? I deeply appreciate my fans but I'm not sure I want to encourage that level of obsession. For the same reason, I've avoided those "raise money for my album" sites, even though I think I could pull it off. I'm happy to accept money for my music, but beyond $15 it starts to feel a little dirty.

It's probably because I've never been a superfan myself. I don't go to live shows, buy singles, read interviews, or read any band's RSS feed. An album every couple of years is all I ask. I'm passionate about music, but I guess I'm a lousy fan.

January 1 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

Here are my main concerns about many of the music marketing discussions floating around these days:

1. I get tired of suggestions that if you use all of today's online tools, you, too, can make money at music. It's not that easy. Beside the time needed for writing, recording, and performing music, someone has to do booking, updating show calendars, fan management, etc. There is a lot of work involved that has to be done by the artist, the band, volunteers, paid staffers, or someone.

2. Not every musician wants to do all the marketing and other stuff. A lot of people get into music because they want to play music. So telling them to do all the side projects (e.g., marketing, promotion) means you are telling them to take time away from what they really want to do. It might be much better to help them find ways to create the maximum time to do music and how to minimize everything else they have to do that takes them away from creating and performing music. And sometimes the best way to carve out the most time for music and still pay your bills is to get the most lucrative day job you can find (even if it isn't music-related) and then set aside as much time as possible for music itself.

3. The more people we encourage to try to make a living at music, and the more technological tools we provide to enable people to create and promote music, the more crowded the music world becomes. For example, if we tell people to give away their recorded music and then make it up playing live shows, we have to figure out where all of these people are going to play. The number of venues and the number of fans going to live shows hasn't suddenly expanded.

January 1 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson


Good point about the number of live music venues. I agree.

Unless there are suddenly going to be many more people starting to go out to hear live music, then we will simply have more musicians wanting to play to the same audiences.

And many will be willing to play for less to get "exposure". Down goes the price. We already have clubs that ask musicians to pay the club in order to perform there! It's called "pay to play".

One other point to consider about the live music scene: most of the bars and clubs are mainly in business to sell drinks and food. They are not concert halls.

People are there for some other reason that the music. Bands that do well in these places are bands that help create a carefree party atmosphere. These are not places to play thoughtful songs or quiet tunes that invite introspection. :)

I think house concerts are bettor suited for a lot of musicians and songwriters, although I think you'd be hard pressed to support a family on that income, especially given all the travel involved and the price of gasoline and car repairs.

I don;t know how this is all going to sort out. But having many more musicians and the same number of listeners means less pay for music. It's the Law of Supply and Demand. That law has not been repealed and never will be.

I wonder if the number of musicians will start to dwindle once it becomes well known what they are really up against?

January 4 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen

I wonder if the number of musicians will start to dwindle once it becomes well known what they are really up against?

That's more or less what I am hoping. I don't mean that I want fewer people creating music. Technology is giving more people the opportunity to create music easily and inexpensively. And I know lots of people will continue to be involved in music (playing for free or even paying for the privilege) because it is fun.

But I am trying to paint a realistic portrait of musical careers so that everyone understands not only are they not likely to become rock stars, they aren't likely to make a living wage at this. And I think when reality hits the industry, fewer people will be seeking and giving tips on music careers.

It's the same for all creative fields. Don't count on it for income. Do it because you want to or you must, but be prepared to make sacrifices if you plan on living on your creative earnings alone.

January 4 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne Lainson

Suzanne, you are just so negative and trying to spoil all the fun...

the fun,that is, of all the music futurists/gurus/experts/providers who have suddenly sprung up and seized the OPPORTUNITY!

Those who insist all you have to do is subscribe/hire/book or otherwise pay for simply the best snake oil, er, services that indie artists can sqeeze out of their already thin wallets (along with their threadbare hope once they find out they've been had).


Analytics? NO! Even respectable anecdotal evidence? Again, NO! Aren't you listening?? Just pay them and it will all work out.

What a spoil sport you are, Suzanne...if people listen to you how will this new crop of music industry pirates capitalize? Just because they are virtually the only ones monetising music is the best kept secret of Music Web 2.0/ long tail theory/ etc. ad nauseaum.

SHHHH...please be quite and go away before the word gets out...

January 4 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

I write songs about prevalent issues in the world and produce concerts that give back to world community . I dedicate these songs to the 1%

You Got To Give Back - Producer Howard Albert Audio Vision Studios Miami

This is a press release that went out to the internet world yesterday .
Entitled You Got To Give Back a song I composed dedicated it to corporate
America .

The Economy Song - Top video list Orange TV Orlando

Happy Holidays

December 13 | Unregistered CommenterMickey Carroll

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>