Fans As Customers



I have been reflecting an increasing amount on the fan-artist relationship and how to organize it into a logical framework that can be assessed and improved upon. Music, after all, is an intensely personal experience for a fan, and an artist has to accept and address the fact that a single creative work spawns up to an infinite amount of personal experiences that are beyond their control. At the same time, artists rely increasingly on direct interaction with their fan base in order to make a living in today’s music industry. Revenue streams derived from touring, and by extension advertising, appearances, and merchandising, are becoming the bread and butter of balance sheets and all of these things can impede on that initial personal experience from a fan’s perspective. The music, which from a financial standpoint was once the center of an artist’s revenues, is increasingly reduced to just being that disembodied ice-breaker, the artful greeting that (hopefully) begins a much longer conversation. On top of that, the great paradox of the band/fan dialogue is that the artist is often placed on a pedestal, above the “eager onlookers”, when in reality the relationship should be exactly the opposite.

It occurs to me that anybody who has ever worked selling high-price items in a retail environment knows that “making the sale” is not about tricking the customer into walking out with a product as quickly as possible using empty gimmicks and flurry of impressive jargon. Its about listening, showing respect for their concerns, and being honest. While framing this dynamic between the musician and a fan in the context of a good sales process may be distasteful to some, let me assure you that it is possible, even necessary, to combine the posotive aspects of both disciplines without accepting the negatives. Fans are the artist’s customers and everything that an artist does should be geared toward making sure that they become repeat buyers who are loyal to the brand.

Evaluate Your “Fansumers”

When a “fansumer” enters your place of business (for this analogy, consider a musician’s “place of business” to be either their website or the venue) they are generally of two types: those who are there because they know exactly what they want and those are checking in to see what you’re all about. Both are important, but for very different reasons. Those in the first group are already aware of what you are, what you do, and what they expect. It is important to meet those expectations. If your website doesn’t have a community message board and your fans expect it, for example, then you have lost an adherent to your cause. Winning people back who have been disappointed is far harder than keeping people happy. The second type, those who are checking in, need to be “welcomed to the fold”. For these purposes, providing as much preliminary information as possible is essential. Streaming your whole album from your website (not just the single), mentioning the names of all your songs, band members, and the merch guy at a gig, and just saying “hello, I’m actually happy to be here” from the stage are all examples of moves that increase that vital sense of inclusion.

Be Open And Honest

We at Artists’ House are all about embracing the current wave of “heightened connection” that services like Twitter, Facebook, and comment threads provide. They allow us to be as dynamic and interactive as possible with those who ultimately make what we do matter, our audience, and also allow us to be constant presence. Bands should be doing the same, and not in a way that seems false either. Make your drummer Twitter (I would suggest other members of the band, but I often find that the drummer has the best perspective and is short enough on words that 140 characters won’t limit them). Have a Flickr feed embedded on your website that is populated with pictures you take with members of your audience after a show. Send out personally written emails to everyone who signs the mailing list the day after a gig, thanking them for showing up. All of these things are done for the express purpose of reversing the pedestal equation I mentioned earlier, and making people feel like you are on their level. They allow for you to be exposed in a way that is honest, and the more brutal that honesty is the better as it gives a greater context for what you as an artist are trying to sell and makes everything you do seem more genuine.

Listen Twice As Much As You Talk

The next logical step to allowing everyone to take a look at the formerly hidden aspects of your profession is encouraging feedback and interaction about your activities. You will garner the best indication as to what to do next from the people standing in front of the stage, not the people behind it, so it is important that they be acknowledged and given an avenue for expressing their ideas. Empower those who are most vocal in this regard to implicate the changes they want and appoint someone to monitor the suggestions that come in, a community manager of sorts. As an example of this interaction, consider letting fans pick parts of the set list for the an upcoming gig. People often leave a show wishing they had heard a back-catalogue track that wasn’t played. Make a habit of red-flagging any complaints or legitimate negative feedback that is sent your way, as it will be vitally important to address these concerns head on. The squeaky wheels are the ones that make most noise, after all.

Thinking of fans as customers forces a re-evaluation of the roles of both the musician and the fans themselves. The tendency to get caught up in the monolithic importance of the art can cause artists to forget that without the people listening it would ultimately be far less meaningful. Artists who present an open, honest, and attentive presence to their audience will be far better off in the long run, and will be far better able to sustain and grow that group moving forward.