Guest Post by Shannon Curtis. A version of this article first appeared in Pyragraph.
Yes, you read the title correctly. I’m an independent singer-songwriter, and my resolution for 2016 is “no more fans.” I know it sounds crazy, but let me explain.
I’ve never been quite comfortable with the word “fan.” It’s always seemed to conjure for me an artificial hierarchy separating me and the people who listen to my music. Like, “Here I am up on this stage, and there you are down there, adoring me.” Ew. That’s never been the way I feel about the people who listen to, love, and support what I do as a musician, nor is it a representation of the relationship I want to have with other human beings.
And so whenever I’ve needed to use the word “fan,” I’ve heard myself saying it sort of like it has air quotes around it.
And then a few years ago I discovered the power of sharing my music with people via house concerts and my vocabulary started to change. At a house concert, there is no stage from which I tower over the audience and bestow upon them my grand artistic visions. On the contrary, I’ve been invited into someone’s home, I’m in their living room or on the grass in their backyard, their friends and family are gathered around on couches or blankets on the ground, and we’re sharing a musical experience together in the most intimate of settings. And then at the end of the concert, these people make contributions to a donation vessel in expression of their enjoyment and gratitude for the music.
This does not feel to me like a fan-and-star relationship. What this feels like to me is community.
In a community, everyone brings something of value to the table for the benefit of the group. In this case, I bring my music in an experience which I hope is moving and meaningful. The host provides the space for us to gather and the group of friends with whom to share it. And the guests bring not only their reciprocal energy, but also a financial contribution in measure of the value they attribute to the experience so that my tour can continue on to the next house and I can continue to make music and bring it into the world.
These same people sign my email list, follow me on Twitter and Instagram, and friend me on Facebook where I get to foster relationships with them in the virtual realm until we meet again in person on my next tour. I tell them congratulations on their job promotions, wish them happy birthdays, and make “awwwww” comments on their cute kiddo/kitten photos. They do the same for me, and also they support the music I make throughout the year – sharing my new songs and videos with their friends, contributing to my crowdfunding campaigns, volunteering to open up their homes for house concerts.
The relationships I have with my community are genuinely fulfilling and sustaining to me as a human being. It’s a wonderful thing to feel so actively connected to others in a meaningful way.
This seemingly small shift in semantics has had profound implications for me as an artist. First, it means I need to adopt a laser focus in the work I create: “how is this work going to be valuable to my community?” Secondly, it means that I get to experience the benefit of sharing my work with people who know me and are genuinely interested and invested in the work I do. And finally, it means that through these relationships, I’m building a meaningful and lasting foundation of support for my creative work for years to come.
So I’m giving up on getting more fans. What I’m focusing on in 2016 is building my community.
Shannon Curtis is an independent performer, songwriter, and author. She recently gave a TEDx talk based on her experience with the community that supports her music, and has published a best-selling book about her successful model for house concert touring.