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September 11, 2010

It's all for you!

The most obvious and fundamental source of esteem is a musician's fans. Fans may bestow esteem on a lyric, a melody, a groove, an act's attitude, a songwriter's social commentary, sense of humour or myriad other elements.

Fans' esteem is most easily converted into income when they buy CDs, tickets and merchandise. Kevin Kelly's notion of 1000 True Fans is an important demonstration that it's not the size of the fan base that counts but the intensity of their support. Merchandisers generally estimate that pop music fans will spend an average of about $4 each on merch at a concert, but metal fans will spend about $6.

Fans' esteem can also be converted into power. The sheer size of Radiohead's fan base gives them a stronger position when negotiating a distribution deal than my band would have. It also gives them influence when discussing the state of the industry and suggesting strategies other bands might use.

In the new technological environment, fans' esteem can easily be converted into free labour, which reduces production and marketing costs. Street teams are an obvious example of this, but fans also donate their time on an ad hoc basis when talking about upcoming concerts, reviewing albums or remixing releases.

Finally, fans' esteem can be converted into the raw materials of production if they contribute concert footage to a video, or design a logo for their favourite musicians. Fans have even been known to donate things like legal advice, accommodation, and food.

The problem with fans' esteem is that it often attaches in unpredictable ways, like to the band's least favourite song. When this happens, bands can lose esteem by omitting a crowd favourite from their setlist, or "selling out" to advance their careers in ways the fans don't approve.

Fan esteem requires constant maintenance and musicians must realise that their job does not stop when they leave the stage or studio. Successful musicians hang with their fans after the show and devote considerable time and resources to interacting with fans online.


The esteem of fans is an essential source of income, labour and materials. But fans can be fickle and require constant attention. In this business, building and maintaining a fan base is as important to Independent musicians as writing good songs and staging a great live show.

This post is the summary of Part 2 of Dr Huge's "How the record industry got it so wrong". The latest version of the complete ebook can be downloaded here and a hard copy can be ordered here.
Posted by DrHuge at September 11, 2010 4:56 PM

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