There are two phenomena right now on the Interweb. One: access to self-distribution (for artists and small labels) means artmakers can explore new models for the business that supports their work. Two: an open market for ideas (the blogosphere, namely) means if you can come up with some pithy something or other, you can achieve overnight fame. Of course, the former is considerably tougher than the latter. And don’t make that idea too complicated or nuanced, because you’ll lose the link-happy bloggers impatient for you to help topple the conventional Record Industry.
Latest case in point: Kevin Kelly posits the notion of 1,000 True Fans as the magic number you need to support yourself as an artist:
…defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.
Can you put a dollar figure on this kind of fan? Sure you can: in this case that average number is US$100. It’s all made up, of course, but for someone it’s doable.
Chris Randall at Analogue Industries brings this all back to reality by suggesting you might want to not suck, not be a jerk to your fans, and not experiment with your style so much that you alienate your fans. (I’ll add: if you happy to be the Next Bob Dylan, maybe you can get away with that last one. Or even the second of those.)
It is an interesting idea, but I’d simply say, hit that spreadsheet a little harder. In the new music world, a handful of voices has tried to encourage classically-trained composers to bring back the commission. It hasn’t caught on, necessarily, but it’s still a great idea. Now, in this case, you might not want — or be able to get — 1,000 fans spending $100 as described here. But there might be one person willing to write a $5,000 commission, in exchange for seeing their name associated with a single, special piece of music. And you might get 200 starving musicians to see the concert for free. There are lots of different combinations here, and all that really matters is that the numbers add up for you. The 1,000 number isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, just because “you could count to 1,000” or you could add one fan each day. (Remember, that’s true fan each day, which isn’t feasible for a lot of great artists.) Then again, maybe the most important thing is picking a plan and pursuing it.
The real reason I mention this, though, is after suggesting some ridiculous incentives Trent Reznor could use to increase his scale from Free to $300 to Free to $300,000, someone has done basically what I was going to suggest.
Canadian artist Jill Sobule, cited as an example in the 1,000 true fans story, says to fans for $10,000 “you get to come and sing on my CD. Don’t worry if you can’t sing – we can fix that on our end.” For $5,000, she’ll come perform a concert at your house. Wired News covers all the options.
Now, you could say, this is more marketing than business — and you’d be right. But as I chuckle at the “Gold Doubloons Level,” I’m reminded that marketing is the point of the whole thing. After all, it’s just music. So, gimmicky as the blogosphere hooks could be, maybe the artists are onto something. It’s just going to take a lot of follow-through, artistically and building your fan base.
And you definitely can’t afford to be a jerk.