We talk so much about connecting with fans and encouraging fans to spread the word that we never get around to what happen when fans do bad things and connect it to your name. There's not an easy solution since each situation may have unique parameters but it's a good idea to at least think ahead to how you would respond to negative events. Like a wave of press coverage after one of your biggest fans did [fill in the blank with something really bad] while wearing your band's tshirt and listening to your music on their smartphone covered with band-related stickers.
I actually started thinking about the issue of fans and bad behavior at it effects bands when reading a DIY Musician piece about the pros and cons of bands wearing masks including:
"Con: Anyone buying your mask and wearing it in public will most likely be targeted as a dangerous individual and can expect to be 'neutralized' by local authorities."
It got me thinking about what a band should do if people wearing their masks did start doing dangerous things that led to intense negative attention on the band.
If such a scenario puts you into heavy damage control territory you might well need the help of a professional who knows how to contact and interact with the press in volatile circumstances. That is unlikely to be your typical music publicist. A smart lawyer should be able to direct you to someone if needed so make sure you have a smart lawyer.
But less extreme examples are also worth considering.
When Your Fans Are Treated Like Gang Members
I first encountered the issue walking down the street in the 80s with a member of COC. At that point they were a local Raleigh band with a growing punk following. I was walking with Mike Dean when a detective stopped his car, got out, checked Dean's id, asked him if he was doing anything criminal of late and then drove off.
He didn't say anything to me but I found the whole incident unsettling. It turned out that someone had broken into one or more houses, trashed them and included COC in the graffiti they sprayed on the wall.
As I recall COC dealt with it quietly and mostly put up with ongoing low level harrasment from Raleigh detectives though I'm sure they had lawyers as much as needed.
COC could have gone more public with the issue and possibly gotten a higher profile in the press but it might also have looked fairly minor to most people while resulting in increased harassment.
However, at the time, punk was being viewed by the authorities through a gang lens just as happened more recently with fans of Insane Clown Posse. By classifying Juggalos as a "loosely organized hybrid gang," the FBI opened the door to taking any negative fan behavior and connecting it to the band.
But it also criminalized Juggalos as a group. In this case it went far beyond the issue of how fan behavior affects the band's image. Insane Clown Posse sued the FBI for such labeling and, in the process, made the FBI look somewhat ridiculous in the press and solidified ICP's status as one of close alignement with their fan's interests.
When Things Get Really Tough
The most difficult scenarios come from extreme fan behavior that is closely related to a band's image.
In some ways the saddest situations are fans that identify so strongly with music that it helps define their choice of suicide as a final move. But acts whose music speaks to outsiders who might be more likely to turn their pain on themselves are often quite sensitive to such issues and respond with not only media statements but support for organizations that help people in emotional distress.
Perhaps the most difficult situations arise for those whose music is focused on a glorification of violence. Hip hop, in particular, has an amazing array of artists who have built careers on violent content, sometimes connected to violent actions, and yet have found ways to navigate mainstream society without giving up that content.
Ice Cube is a particularly strong example of someone who maintains street cred while making family movies. I find it somewhat amazing that he can pull it off.
Another interesting example is that of Russell Simmons who has maintained a media presence that offers him repeated opportunities, year after year, to play the role of apologist for hip hop. One of the biggest lessons I've learned in part from Simmons is that staying on message and keeping it simple works incredibly well. And, if you have the mic, you can repeat the same things over and over again for years and the media will keep spreading the word.
So How Should You Respond If Your Fans Do Wrong?
There's not one answer but it's something worth thinking about. If you're making art that supports violent behavior, then you should definitely be doing advanced planning for extreme fan action. If not, simply building postive relationships with fans and the press so that trust is established and channels of communication are available should be all you need.
Plus a smart lawyer but everybody needs one of those.
[Thumbnail image courtesy Clayton Perry Photoworks.]
Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/Facebook) is currently relaunching All World Dance. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.