There are many artists who attract large crowds when they tour, but only a select few attract large tribes. Fans come and go like passing trends as they grow older, but the followers of a tribe grow together. In his new book Tribes, Seth Godin describes a crowd as a tribe without a leader or communication. The leaders of tribes instill passion into their followers to the point of loyalty beyond reason. These cults of heretics form communities around artists, establish a connection and relationship, and demand music that is real, authentic, and meaningful.
Bill Starkey and Jay Evans were two teenagers from Terre Haute, Indiana who transformed a shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change in January of 1975. They began contacting their local radio station WVTS in order to get their favorite artist played, but the program director, Rich Dickerson, turned them down. Not to be discouraged, the two kept campaigning the station with letters that were signed: Bill Starkey – President of the KISS Army and Jay Evans – Field Marshall. By July of 1975, Rich caved in and began to play their records, often referring to the KISS Army on air. It wasn't long after that listeners began calling the station asking how they could enlist. Though leveraging the tribe to allow it to grow and gain new members Starkey and Evans started a movement of their own.
When KISS announced it would be touring to the local venue, the Hulman Center, in November, Dickerson saw the marketing potential of the Army. Working with Starkey and Evans to provide advanced promotion...
for the concert, he let the two begin to take phone calls on the air to recruit as many members as possible. As a result of their efforts, the show on the 21st sold out all 10,000 seats, a feat Aerosmith and Lynyrd Skynyrd had previously failed to achieve. The KISS Army was an organization that sought out to destroy the status quo and won. Recognizing their efforts, the true leaders of the tribe, Gene and Paul, brought Starkey on stage and presented him with a plague from KISS.
In 2001, twenty six years later, another tribe went on-line. With 23,678 registered members who've posted 228,063 times, and launched chapters worldwide, The Black Label Society is tribe of passionate followers who are led by Zakk Wylde. Addressed as family members, brothers and sisters, they are grounded in respect and admiration for the leader of the tribe and for the other members as well. Seth goes onto say that “Tribes are about faith–about belief in an idea and a community.” For these family members, the brothers and sisters of The Black Label Society, it's the about lifestyle and the deep seeded beliefs, the love and respect for everyone in the community, and, above all giving a fallen brother or sister a hand if they've fallen in the mosh-pit.
The most notable of tribes are the metal fans themselves. In this culture, not everyone is a leader, but the followers come out through the woodworks when addressed. The metal tribe has a strong belief system, much like the KISS Army and The Black Label Society, but much more complex. Patrick Hanlon's book, Primalbranding: Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company, and Your Future goes on to explain that the belief systems of tribes contain seven pieces that work together to make them believable, called the Primal Code.
- The Creation Story – There are many stories that elude to the creation of metal, but the most famous one started when Tony Iommi's industrial accident caused him to lose the tips of his middle and ring fingers of his right hand, which impacted the sound of Black Sabbath because he to detuned his guitar.
- The Creed – Their mission, to destroy the status quo of popular music and as Patrick states, “The image of iconoclastic youth.”
- The Icons – Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Pantera, and Slayer
- The Rituals – The albums, mosh-pit, the black t-shirts, camouflage, tattoos, and the thrusting of the metal horns popularized by Ronnie James Dio.
- The Nonbelievers – Everyone else.
- The Sacred Words – "Generals gathered in their masses." "You've got another thing comin'." "Master of Puppets I'm pulling your strings." "The Number of the Beast." "We're the cowboys from hell." "Angel of death, flying free."
The last and most important piece of all is The Leader. Ozzy Osbourne and James Hetfield, were Agents of Change, who organized massive crowds, provided leadership, and communicated their intent. They gave legions of metal fans everywhere something to believe in. They never attempted to manage their fans, they successfully united and lead their followers. In his closing statements, Seth Godin says. “All I can hope for is that you'll make a choice. Every leader I've ever met has made a choice, and they've been glad that did.”
Will you make the choice to lead the followers of your band, record label, or new music business idea?