It’s curious to me that a simple name can ignite such intense scrutiny, but I have come to the conclusion that it wasn’t the word, it’s the supposed traits that define the term that bother people. Some people choose to reject such a thing altogether, others call it laughable, and still others believe – as I – that fandom is a spectrum. Anyone who has read our blog for any length of time should know by now that at the very least – I don’t buy into the judgements of what makes a fan a fan. If you’re a fan who has never met the band but loves the music, I say fantastic. If you’re a fan that buys a CD if you like it, and goes to a show when it’s convenient, brilliant. If you are a fan who has gone to see the band every single time they’ve been at the studio and the band knows you by name – great. If you are like me and you’ve been to several shows over the years, excellent. If you’re a fan who lives somewhere that the band doesn’t make it to very often (if at all), and yet you still can say you love the band after all of these years, fabulous and more power to you. It takes all of it, all of US, to make this work.
There is little point in attempting to use this blog to define what may or may not be a Superfan (or even whether or not we think such a thing exists, or whether the term itself is silly), purely because there cannot be one set definition. That was part of my surprise in finding an entire article devoted to teaching musicians and bands how to create that type of fan. However, there are two sides to this: the fandom itself, and that of the musician. While you and I might find the idea of creating a legion of superfans (or a cult, as some have pointed out) distasteful and divisive, it is exactly what a band or musician might want. These superfans are loyal. They spend money. They aren’t typically very fickle, and they stick around for the long haul. Sound familiar? Let’s be honest: collectively we – you and I – are exactly what any band might want. Fans that stick around. Loyalty, and let’s not forget that almighty dollar. So while I was annoyed that someone felt like they needed to write an article on the subject, I suppose that at least partially I shouldn’t be surprised. But I am.
In the past few months, I’ve written a few blogs for Andy Taylor’s website – andytaylor.tv – primarily about the Direct-To-Fan model. At this point I could write entire an entire thesis on what that truly means, but I’ll spare you the reading. Ultimately what it comes down to is that the band goes directly to the fans to market their goods. In the purest of Direct-To-Fan marketing there is no middle man, as in – no label, no glossy PR, no “social media” people. It’s the band and the fans. Naturally there are many, many versions of this model out there, and some bands use some facets of the idea and ignore others as suit their needs best. The idea itself isn’t new, but it would seem that as the idea of “indie” labels (which in my opinion is an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) grows more mainstream, I hear about Direct-To-Fan marketing and all of the nuances thereof more and more. Many of the online magazines, papers and news blogs that I am subscribed are dedicated to the subject, and it’s downright shocking just how much has to be taught to the fledgling bands and musicians out there. Things that you and I might take for granted, such as the very statement “communicate with your fans”, bands are starting to learn.
In theory, I love the ideas of Fan Empowerment and Direct-To-Fan. I like the idea that fans can give a hand up to the bands and musicians of their choice. It’s much different from the days where we’d simply sit by the television or the radio and just wait for tours and albums to be announced. I like having the chance to communicate directly with artists of my choice. I like the idea that the music is taken directly to the fans and that the success of that music has everything to do with the fans. The theory looks great on paper, but is extremely difficult to put into practice – and do so with a genuine sense of heart and soul. We’re at the highest point in a very large learning curve that is taking place industry (and world) wide. I’ve seen more than one artist succumb to the efforts that Direct-To-Fan takes, and it can be very disheartening to fans and artists alike. It would seem natural that the increased interaction with fans would carry over to sales – but that isn’t happening for very many. Until that hurdle can be realized with more certainty, these theoretical models are just that. Theories that only the very bravest and driven put into practice with success.
As a result, there’s a scent of desperation in the air, and it’s not coming from the fans this time. The phrase “grasping at straws” comes to mind. When I read these articles about how to communicate with fans, how to turn a “like” into a sale, and how to create superfans out of casual fans, I really believe the straws are running away faster than they can be grabbed. It’s as though the desperation to succeed has completely exhausted people of their common sense. There are twenty artists and bands that get radio play at any one time, and if a band isn’t on that exclusive list, then yes – they are desperate to figure out another method to get their music heard, and as most recognize – it’s not an easy road.
There are two sides to this story. As a fan, I find the idea of teaching a band how to get, keep and employ fans laughable. It would seem to be obvious, and by having to be taught this methodology (creating superfans) seems pretty synthetic and not the least bit genuine. Letting the music speak for itself would seem to be far better in the long run. However, if I were an artist or in a band, I wonder if I’d be reading those same articles with the same feelings of disapproval.