Casual Music Fans vs. Hardcore Fans

I just finished reading a really interesting post at Music Think Tank entitled “Farewell to the Casual Music Fan” .  I always like to dig into contrarian thinking and this certainly goes against the grain of current music industry thought.

In short, many people have floated the idea that a music artist can make a livable wage with 1000 “true fans”.  The figuring being that these true fans will spend about $100 a year with the artist via shows, music, specialty items, etc.

Jeremy Schlosberg’s article linked above makes a point that by focusing on the super fan, the casual fan will be left out, uninterested, and usually completely unaware of an artist.

Current indie music industry thinking goes like this: Give the music away.  You can sell CDs to the people that want them.  But you should also have bigger packages and special items.  Like when film studios offer the double DVD set will a bazillion extras and behind the scenes stuff.  Music artists are supposed to put out big sets with remixes, demo tracks, live tracks, extra songs, special packaging, etc.

Beyond that, we’re supposed to be in constant contact with everyone via email, facebook, twitter, youtube, video, audio, and text.

Jeremy’s point is that the casual fan doesn’t want all that stuff.  They just want the songs.  And so pushing all the extra stuff on them will just make them go away to a less pressured situation.

And that makes sense from a consumer point of view.  Anyone who reads my blogs knows I’m a huge Disney geek.  But did I buy the new version of Snow White?  Nope.  Why?  I’ve got the movie already and it looks fine.  I don’t need video games to go with it.  I’ve already seen just about every extra they could offer on other versions.  The movie is from 1928.  How many more interviews can there be?  And really, you’re only going to watch that stuff once, right?

Let’s take a band.  I love Metallica.  I learned how to play guitar listening to Master Of Puppets.  Last year when they started their subscription service I signed up for the free part.  Downloaded a couple of the free concerts.  Didn’t join the paid version.  And I haven’t been back in months. I did buy their new CD though.

Keep in mind, this is a band that I adore.  But I don’t need 100 live recordings of Sanitarium.  And I don’t need a Metallica toaster cozy or whatever little side items they’re offering.

So even though I’m an engaged fan that listens to the band regularly and will see them live when I can afford it, they’re certainly not making $100 from me each year.

And as an artist I sometimes have a problem with this stuff.  I really try to concentrate on the quality of the music I release.  That means a lot of songs don’t make it to the public eye.  Yes, I could release a song every two weeks.  But it may not be a very good song.  My average output is 3-4 songs a year, plus 5-10 comedy bits.  And since I’m not working in an improvised style of music like jazz or blues, the songs are going to sound fairly similar from show to show.  So putting out a bunch of live tracks seems lame to me.  And since I’m not a fan of being cooped up in a recording studio, I record only what’s going on the next release.  So there’s not a bunch of unreleased stuff sitting around.

I’ve worked a long time to not put out garbage.  And now it’s recommended that I release everything I’ve ever put to tape and keep it coming regularly to keep people engaged.

How many of you have Prince’s 5 disc Crystal Ball collection?  If you don’t, you can usually get it pretty cheap.  Why?  Because there’s a lot of junk on there.  I kind of like it because I’m interested in his artistic process.  And I’m a HUGE fan of his work.  But still, a lot of it is crap.  And I certainly don’t put on regularly.  And get this…. It DIMINISHED my interest in him.  Even with my interest in his artistic process, something in the back of my brain said, “this isn’t very good and I should be listening to a better artist.”

So I think the idea of putting out junky tracks subconsciously hurts the listener.

Then there’s the idea of premium offerings.  For big acts that means the DVD/CD combo pack in a display worthy box including a 30 page booklet and signed photo.  Obviously a pretty expensive way to go from a manufacturing standpoint.  For smaller acts it means things like hand decorated CD cases, or like Amanda Palmer, auctioning off your clothes and stuff via twitter and ustream.

What the heck does that have to do with music?  People are interested in my music.  Who cares if I can decorate a CD case?  Nobody says to a painter, “Hey that painting is good.  You should give it away.  But first, write a song to go with it and sell that instead.”

If I wanted to spend my time designing t-shirts and bags and such, I’d have become a fashion designer.

So here’s my plan.  I’m going to work even harder to write more quality material and release it more often.  I’m going to do my best to stay in touch with any many people as I can.  And any side items I release will be because I think they’re creatively and extension of my work that makes sense.

And I won’t be aiming for 1000 true fans.  I’ll be aiming for a million fans of any sort.  Aim for the stars and hit the side of the house.

I gotta go write some songs now.

Phil Johnson

PS… I would like to give you a taste of my work.  And I’m giving away 8 free songs to you to show you what I can do.  If you’d like to hear them, go to

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