Clay Shirky: The Downside Of Attending To Fans

Lately, I’ve been re-reading Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky and found this quote to be simple, yet revealing. Considering how much artists are encouraged to attend to their fans, engage them, and address their concerns; it’s often left out of the conversation how much time this really takes. Now, I’m not one who buys the 'artists-should-just-be-artists business,' but I think it’s worth noting that, in attending to fans, it's not simply time spent away from art. On the larger scale, as Shirky implies, connecting with fans could mean getting nothing done at all.

image from comnetwork.org "The downside of attending to the emotional life of groups is that it can swamp the ability to get anything done; a group can become more concerned with satisfying its members than with achieving its goals." Clay Shirky

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  1. The problem with this statement is that it assumes that the reader is disorganised. The key factor to attending to fans and balancing making music against marketing time it is simply being organised. There are so many great tools to simplify your music business processes and free up your time. Get organised!
    You need to connect with your fans emotional side to build their trust, respect and support, that is much more valuable in it’s own right than your actual music if you are looking to commercialize your art in my opinion. What Clay says is a downside is actually a valuable feedback loop for independent artists. Ignore your fans emotional needs at your peril, the new music business has no room for misplaced egos!

  2. Relationship management is a career in itself. So there are a lot of people doing it, usually outside music more than inside music.
    I’ve found that many people get into music because they want to make music, not because they are thinking about meeting the needs of fans. And yet that’s what a lot of new music success stories involve. Either the artist/band engages with the fans or someone on the team does.
    So what is being required in the new music world is not what was required in the old music world. I think this has yet to sort itself out. People tell artists to engage fans, not realizing those are a unique set of skills which not everyone has.
    In the old days, when songwriters wrote and performers performed there was a more logical breakdown of skills. You could be an introvert and still do well in music. Now people are expected to be good at everything: writing music, performing music, communicating with fans. Rarely do you find all of those skills in the same person.

  3. Suzanne you got it, people are expected to be good at more things, but the good news is that these skills are learnable, artists just have to make the choice to add them to their skill set (we use less than 2% of our brainpower, thats an amazing fact…)
    Being more entrepreneurial in the new music industry is the only way that independent artist will get ahead. The tough part is not that you have to do or learn more, but making that leap into a new way of working to take 100% responsibility for managing your own career and forget the “I have to chase a record deal” mentality.
    Now its up to the independent artist to take the reins, get in the corridor with what they have and grow like mad. That’s an opportunity to be really excited about.

  4. it’s a metaphor to be really confused about!
    anyway, I totally disagree that it’s the only way to get ahead – if you’re good enough, that stuff takes care of itself; look at Joker http://www.myspace.com/thejokerproductions – who is not in the least entrepeneurial, but is so good that indie labels were falling over themselves to sign him.
    but yes, the merely ‘good’ need to be a lot more business minded these days.

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