The Hard-Knock Life Of Superfans And Musicians

image from images.publicradio.org In his column for a Seattle Weekly blog, singer and songwriter John Roderick gets to the heart of the tension between superfans and musicians. Together, they walk a thin line. Superfans do work on behalf of the groups they love. Only to find themselves neglected or taken for granted down the road.

New fans come along and the group isn't able to give them the access they crave. Superfans get disappointed. They're happy to see groups grow and gain more traction. Yet, all of the sudden, if they deem themselves to be mistreated, they start to second guess that show they booked and the cookies they baked.

On the other hand, the group is trying to control their access. Fans don't always understand that the artist's time is precious too. They want to exchange stories and be the superfans best friend, but they need the energy to perform later on.

At the same time, superfans are living the lives of an up-and-coming artist themselves. Their love for the music comes before everything else. Anything they can do to express their love for the music comes before anything else they do.

After awhile, once the energy of the superfan wears out, they begin to become as exhausted and jaded as the artists that they long to get closer to. The group get popular, and as Roderick suggests, soon both the group and its superfans are pinning for the simpler times of yesteryear. Here's how he describes the dynamic:

"Superfans want access, but bands, especially bands on tour, have to CONTROL access to themselves… Time is limited and demands are high. As bands get bigger, the demands increase and the time available shrinks. Access to the band, especially the kind of unmediated and casual access a superfan treasures, is one of the first things to go after sleep and good nutrition. It's never apparent to the fan how much energy it takes a musician to sit and have a relaxed one-on-one with them… before… a show.

Superfans have a lot at stake in the relationship, too. They put their love of music ahead of many other priorities. In a sense they are living the rock-and-roll life just as surely as the musicians themselves–in many cases WAY more hardcore–and the consequences are real. Fans can start to suffer from exhaustion and jadedness just as badly as the musicians they love. Jadedness is the feeling that there's nothing good or interesting any more… nothing you do matters… everything gets ruined…" (Read on.)

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  1. I’ll cross post here the comment I made on the article:
    This is the heart of the social media issue for bands. You are trying to sell a relationship to the fans, but the more successful you get, the less time you have for those relationships. I don’t think there’s a way to get around it, but it is naive for music marketing people not to acknowledge that this problem exists and why there are limits to how well social media will scale. And the idea that the bigger you get, the more you can charge your fans for access to you is totally unfair to those fans who were there first and shouldn’t be asked to pay to hang out with you once you are famous.

  2. Cross-posted as well:
    There are several points to be made. As Suzanne mentions, the career of the musician and closely linked to that, the relationship between the artist and the fan develops. You can’t accuse Amanda Palmer for working with a growing team of people, including management. Still, she is in contact with her fans (online & offline). Though, there might come a time she can’t afford to write her blog herself.
    Suzanne is right – you can’t ignore the correlation of success and fan relationship. More success means more fans, more fans means thinning the relationship. So, what to do to maintain the personal aspect between fan and artist?
    In times of Social Media, it’s not only an issue in marketing. It’s also about balancing your career (as an independent artist) and the bad conscience you might have for your loyal fans. Though selling your highly valuable time at “Meet & Greets” appears to be an easy way out, it just deepens the gap.
    There you are, the artist, most probably disliking those events. Maybe even more than interviews. Regarding bad conscience, there might even be the scent of prostituting yourselves. Then there’s the fans shelling out the money – I remember numbers of up to beyond $ 1,000. For ONE Meet & Greet. And go figure, fans are happy.
    Though, there are fans supporting you in another way. They provide constructive criticism during your career instead of worshipping you. Maybe they won’t pay for Meet & Greets, but they are willing to support you in lots of other ways. These are the people to cater as being your Street Team. This is the core of your fanbase. Sure, they might be intersections, but I think you might divide your fanbase into Street Team, paying ones, and the ones who just like your music.
    Again, there are interesting points to be learned from artists like Amanda Palmer – some people in her team have been fans. Core fans. Now they are rewarded. Hell, even Prince did that when he recruited people from fansites. Ok, that’s long ago and may I assume he just did it to achieve more control? Whatever.
    It’s time to become aware of the fact that bands & artists are more than those 1 to 5 people. From a certain stage on, they are building hubs. And a hub is more than just a network. A network is what it starts with.
    The artist, once established (though not necessarily making a living from music) is surrounded by people supporting him and pushing his career. Before there’s even a manager, there’s backup musicians, or a producer, someone texting at Twitter, someone designing the site. Plus, there’s the core fanbase. All of these are building up to the entity called artist. Of course, the musical creativity part still is up to the musician.
    Conclusion: While developing your career and building your hub remember to reward them. Sometime later on, it might be money. Before that, it starts with credits, you might help them in their projects, doesn’t matter. That’s nothing too strange for a designer or producer you work with. But remember your core fans, the Street Team, too.

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