New music can be daunting and unintelligible to some potential listeners, yet I find that many people who experience it for the first time with an open mind can become some of its most passionate advocates and ardent fans if given a real chance to do so. The question in my mind lately is how best to prepare, engage, and keep listeners involved past their first experience and help them become true fans.
One of the things I value most about the profession I’ve chosen is the thoughtfulness and depth of consideration of my colleagues in the music world, particularly in the genre of “new music.” A lot of thought goes into creating the art we present, from the creation of the music itself by composers, to the planning and execution of the work by the artists that give it life in performance. In return it often requires a lot of thought and openness by those experiencing it if it’s not to be dismissed out of hand as “weird” or “esoteric.”
At this year’s New Music Gathering this past January in Baltimore, where the theme was “Community,” I spent three incredible days meeting my entire Facebook wall and many artists I’d only ever interacted with through performance recordings and occasionally attendance. My ears (and eyes, and sometimes nose) were bliss-bombed with three days of wide-ranging and truly excellent and committed performances. I thoroughly enjoyed a lot of the discussions I had over that weekend about what people were into and what didn’t speak to them at all, and why, and took note as usual that there are certain artists, composers, works, and types of music that different people would “go anywhere for.” That melded right into my ongoing thought process about lots of different things I’ve read in the past regarding audience engagement, fan base creation, promotion, and career longevity and support.
At the same time, I was introduced to Musochat: a weekly informal discussion on Twitter on topics of interest in classical and new music: bingo, the perfect opportunity to ask some questions of my new friends and colleagues. On April 10th I’ll get my first chance, so I decided to dive in head-on with the topic Creating The True Fan.
What Is A “True Fan”?
I admit it, I co-opted a somewhat incendiary term in my topic title: the term “true fan” is pretty heavily associated with a post written by Kevin Kelly a few years ago entitled 1,000 True Fans, which spawned a pretty heated debate on the subject of art, creation, and monetization as related to creating a sustainable living as a creator. It’s been making the rounds ever since, has been widely quoted and recommended by different lifestyle gurus such as Tim Ferriss, and has been translated into more than ten different languages. This article hits pretty squarely on the ongoing (and passionate) discussion of entrepreneurship, commodification, and capital in the arts, and though it contained some good thought, Kelly discovered pretty quickly that this hypothesis doesn’t always bear out for artists: read his updates The Reality of Depending On True Fans, in which he shares the experience of musician Robert Rich with this system, as well as his follow-up, The Case Against 1,000 True Fans for more in-depth discussion. You could clearly go down the rabbit-hole of the internet for weeks reading responses and analyses and forming your own opinion, but I’ll let you do that on your own time (and come back here for more discussion later.)
Though Kelly’s entire premise doesn’t necessarily work out, he does hit on a couple of really important ideas, including the idea of ongoing engagement with your audience and creating fans that will show up for anything else that you create: the “true fan.”
How Do You Create A True Fan?
Of course, the assumption going into this part of the discussion is that you’re already speaking to whatever portion of the population is most likely to find the art you create engaging. I’m a firm believer that no matter what kind of art you make, there’s an audience out there for it somewhere, though that’s a different discussion we’ll save for another day. (So many great conversation threads! *headdesk*) I’ll assume for the moment that you’ve drilled down on your audience, they’re likely to be receptive to what you have to offer, and you just have to hit the right notes, so to speak.
In some ways, I’m preaching to the converted here, because if you’re interested in new music and reading this post, you probably already play some role in its inception. Let’s face it though, lots of us don’t get out of our bubble enough to get to New York or Chicago or San Francisco or even the next town over to hear each other’s creations, even though we’re some of the most dedicated fans in the genre. Honestly, most of us are so busy creating our own art in our own little spheres that we don’t take the time we should to go out and support each other’s productions (another good topic for conversation), and mea culpa, I’m as guilty of that as anyone as the Managing Director for Great Noise Ensemble in Washington, D.C.
If you can’t get out to support a live performance, thank goodness for YouTube, SoundCloud, and Facebook, I suppose, BUT:
At the heart of our creations is the wish to share the things we love with other people who may find them as inspiring as we do. That we get to create them for other people to enjoy makes that process even better. To do so in live performance as well as recordings is fantastic. It also creates the problem of ensuring that there are as many people listening enthusiastically in the audience as onstage, and returning to do so each time we create the opportunity.
So how do we do that?
What can we do before, during, and after an interaction with our audience and our fans to grow commitment to supporting what we do with their enthusiasm, attendance, and encouragement? What can we learn from those who do those things well and who have inspired us in the same way?
I certainly have my ideas, though I’m more interested in hearing what you have to say on the subject first: no poisoning the well for me here, I want fresh perspectives other than my own.
I’d like to know what things you’ve experienced that have turned you into a True Fan of someone else, and what they’ve done to keep your commitment going. If you’re an artist, I’d also love to know what has helped you build a solid corps of fans. For that matter, it doesn’t matter if you’re an artist, a fan, a thought purveyor, an entrepreneur, whatever– I’d love to understand your perspective on this.
You’ll notice that for this post, I’ve chosen not to allow commentary, and that’s for a very good and specific reason: I want you all (artists, fans, incendiaries, and advocates) to participate and chime in on Twitter at 9pm on April 10th, 2016. You can follow me there at @katiekellert and follow @musochat and the #musochat hashtag to keep up with the conversation generally. If you can’t participate at that specific time, do so later in the week– I’d love to hear your opinions whenever you want to chime in.