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Very thought provoking -- sort of the dark side of the whole 'small is beautiful' thing.

I know it's partly rhetorical technique, but I'm always skeptical of the true/casual fan dichotomy. There's a lot of gradation in there, and I think most indies already appreciate the importance of reaching and connecting with 'fans-in-passing' (e.g., someone enjoying your opening set for a band they went to see), in those fleeting moments where you have that person's attention.

Suzanne Lainson

There are so many elements with the "true fan" concept that it should give us something to talk about for years.

I'll toss out a few thoughts in this thread as I go along, but for now I'll suggest that most bands won't stay together long enough to take advantage of a lifetime of fan loyalty and most artists won't turn out enough material to keep true fans together for decades.

Suzanne Lainson

Here's one resource you might find of interest.

"How Cults Seduce and What Marketing Can Learn from Them"


Kyle Bylin

As always, your an invaluable resource for new thoughts. I'm halfway through an fascinated by the information in this piece.

Kyle Bylin

Thank you for commenting and I think your right that there are definitely two sides of this. And, much that I've not covered. Plus, I am biased by my own experiences and that of my generational hierarchy. There is also a certain degree of imagination that's been interjected into this.

And, your right, I think most of this is known, but the topic really fascinated me and I wanted to see what I could add on.

Kyle Bylin

I agree with you here too, that there's so much to be covered, and I'm excited to see begin to see it all unravel and see some of the best minds take the topic on.

"most bands won't stay together long enough to take advantage of a lifetime of fan loyalty and most artists won't turn out enough material to keep true fans together for decades."

I think your right, which it, in itself, could be a whole other essay.

Suzanne Lainson

The longevity of a band or an artist is really going to come into play as we encourage more bands/artists to think of themselves as brands.

I've worked with both athletes and musicians and in both cases, age becomes a factor. Athletes will only be at the top of their sports for a limited number of years and musicians may not want to tour past a certain age (though we are seeing quite a few people still on the road into their 40-70s), so you might want to build your brand while you are young and then figure out ways to extend the brand into other areas when you get older.

For example, if you are a musician, perhaps you develop a line of clothing to sell on the road, and then if it becomes popular, maybe it will have staying power even if you aren't performing anymore.

It's tough, though. Not many athletes or artists/bands remain brands after they retire from competing or performing.


I'm not sure I'm reading the situation accurately, but it seems like the indie 'market' is tipping to favor solo artists, and I think it's related to what you and Kyle are saying. A person can maintain a brand almost indefinitely, either as a solo performer or bringing in players as needed, whereas a band almost inevitably leads to some sort of creative (or 'other') conflict.

Suzanne Lainson

A solo performer has so much more flexibility. When he/she is just starting out, all you have to pay for is that person. That means that rather than piling a band in a van, you can fly the performer to gigs as they come up.

And creatively, it is easier to keep a solo artist going than to keep a band together.


Interesting article. (Nice photo as well.) I've been writing on similar themes lately and found myself nodding my head a number of times. I think you do a good job of bringing together thoughts that are oft-stated in passing but are rarely explored and expressed together as a whole.

The language factor of fandom is particularly curious. While casual and more involved fans (of varying level of knowledge and interest as Neil suggested above) do differ and often need to be distinguished easily if only for expediency in conversation, "true" (and the alternative "real") don't denote a level of interest or expertise in a subject but rather a judgment of authenticity and value, especially noticeable when the phrases are used in their common comparisons: "A true fan would X"; "If they were real fans, they would Y." Even if you don't adhere to perfect true/false or real/fake binaries, you're still stuck with one level of better v. varying degrees of lesser: you can be in many stages of dying, but you're either dead, or you're not; you can be in many stages of fannishness, but you're either true/real, or you're not. At its best, I find the valuation silly; at its worst, egotistic. And I say this knowing that I myself am accorded by some a level of "trueness" in certain fan circles, whether I care for the label or not.

I had to laugh when you said, "No one and I mean no one can try to bullshit a true fan. They know a language that onlythey can speak fluently – that only a member of their tribe could hope to understand." Fields and subjects have their terms and buzzwords indicative of a minimum knowledge base, while personal relationships over time build their own lingo through common experience, shared jokes, etc. But the internal language of a fandom is often a combination of the two, both knowledge of a subject *and* a shared experience of it. "Dialect" seems too strong a word to describe the differences, but a primary fandom language gets broken into variations of diction based on which subset of experience or organized community you happen into.

But even without these regional variations, learning a language isn't always easy. I've grown fluent in certain subject/band languages by jumping in, but others I've found too intimidating (either because of the language or the people using it) to want to put forth the effort required to pursue them. In the latter case, I've chosen to be fannish independent of the fandom -- which some might automatically label as not-true despite whatever interest or knowledge I might have.

One point in particular that jarred for me:
"But, if you’re a curious progressive, you embraced the tension between your religion and their new sound, wrestled with it and through it, and then decided whether or not to embrace the new album or reject it, to continue being a true fan or not."

It seems to me your "curious progressive" by definition as one who "continue(s) to grow with an artist, throughout their career, despite newfound commercial appeal or drastic changes in sound" would be less likely to turn in his/her fan credentials as a result of rejecting a new album. I'm sure I qualify for just about every category cited depending on the band, but for a number of artists, I continue to be/consider myself to be a fan of that artist even if I'm not a fan of that particular album or project or direction.

Apologies for the lengthy comment: believe it or not, this is the short version. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

Suzanne Lainson

I'm not as interested in how fans react with other fans as I am in how artists/leaders/celebrities react with their hard core fans. Now that we are encouraging musicians to cultivate 1000 True Fans, I think we also need to explore the relationship between the artist and the fan.

I've been around both musicians and athletes who have had fans follow them everywhere. On the one hand these stars appreciate the support, but on the other hand they are a bit wary of it, on the assumption that it isn't really normal for anyone to be that much of a fan.

I wrote this in part to explore that relationship.


Kyle Bylin

Thank you very much on the thoughtful comment and compliments to you for nailing a few things that had escape my grasp in it.

Very well noticed on the curious progressive point, as it looks like I took away from the concept by also trying to make it tie in for the next idea that I wanted to talk about.

You did a great breakdown of fandom language as well. Again, very grateful that you took the time to share your ideas with me, I learned quite a bit of takeaways.


This is a very interesting thread and all of what's been said so far I can understand and agree with. The one thing I'm still trying to fathom is the idea that, having 1,000 true fans will somehow leave out casual fans.

I know from experience that, the Die Hard fans or fanatical fans were usually that because of their personality. They would be fanatics about a number of bands, some were a little nuts. You'd have to be a little nuts to follow bands around (groupies).

Though it was great to have that level of support, usually after a show I would avoid the nutters :).

I can appreciate the fact that there will always be fanatics and casual fans. Does creating an indepth connection with fans through social networks alienate the casual fan?

Might it scare them off if becoming part of that tribe (and the language) seem too difficult or perhaps leave themselves open to scrutiny by the Fanatics?

So how do Bands engage with their fans in a way that caters for all levels of fandom?

Might it be useful for bands to have a couple of entry points for fans on their websites? One for Fanatics and One for casual?

A little about me: I was a fanatic during my teens but when I became part of a successful band during the late 70's and 80's I became more of a casual fan. In fact, I have very rarely bought any music since 1979. :)

(which makes it ironic when a band pitches their music to me)

A fantic will listen to a song over and over, a casual fan will listen until the next thing comes along and these days there are so many distractions it's easy to lose interest in music, if it no longer supports your beliefs.

I think people buy into music as a way to support their beliefs and attitudes, which can change over time and as you mature (hopefully) Probably a whole other topic there.

Taurean Caseu

Suzanne I also thank you for the pdf. I was literally blown away from the information. Cult Marketing is very interesting. Im excited to apply some its methods and see what results I get.

Thanks again.

Oh and Kyle your essay was great too.

Dexter Bryant Jr

I'm not sure if the indie market is tipping in favor of solo artists but "bands" like Owl City (Adam Young) are certainly making a case for your point Neil.

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