By Refe Tuma
In any well-managed business each member of the team has a set of specific measurables to help them – and their employers – know whether or not they’re on track. Without these milestones it can be very difficult to remain focused and accomplish long term goals.
Artists and musicians are no different – except that they may need this structure even more than their white-collar counterparts. A career in music is something that builds slowly and takes constant, focused attention to properly cultivate. The goal is sustainability. You want to have the means to quit your day job and support yourself with your music. It can take years in the trenches to reach that point, and without strategic goals and milestones it is easy to lose focus. The most frustrating thing for an artist to wake up and realize they’re off track and have been treading water for months (or years!)
1,000 True Fans
One of the best music-career milestones that I’ve come across is the concept that Wired co-founder and blogger Kevin Kelly dubbed ‘1,000 True Fans.’
The concept is fairly simple, and since most of you are likely already familiar with it I’ll just provide a brief explanation. If an artist can cultivate a base of just 1,000 fans who are radically committed to his work, those fans will provide enough income to support that artist. The theory goes that each ‘true fan’ will spend on average about $100 per year on the artist. That adds up to an annual revenue stream of $100,000. Even after expenses that should be enough for any individual artist to live comfortably.
There is a common argument against the 1,000 True Fans concept. If you are a member of a band it may have jumped out at you right away. $100,000 per year gross may be enough for an individual artist, but once you divvy that up between the members of a four- or five-piece band it starts looking a bit measly.
Fortunately, the math isn’t as bad as it sounds. Remember – these 1,000 True Fans represent only the most committed subsection of your fan base. There many other fans - what Kevin Kelly calls ‘Lesser Fans’ – contributing to your career. I’m not going to use the term ‘Lesser Fans’ because I don’t like it. Instead, I’d rather use the terminology that Tom Silverman used at the New Music Seminar here in Chicago on October 6. Silverman split fans into four categories: super fans, active fans, passive fans and potential fans.
Think of your fan base as a pyramid. The super fans are the smallest group, but contribute the most revenue per fan. They’re at the top. Beneath them you have a much larger group of active fans. Instead of spending $100/year, these fans may spend closer to $20/year on your products and shows. Yet, because there are about five times more active fans than super fans, their gross contribution ends up being about the same – $100,000 annually. The total revenue from these two groups is $200,000/year.
Below that you have your passive fans. Again, there are about five times more passive fans than active fans, but they only download your most popular singles, resulting in a spend of about $2 per year. This group contributes about $50,000 per year.
Potential fans of course make up the largest group at the base of the pyramid. These are people that may not be aware of your work, but who have an appreciation for the style or genre of music you play. Maybe they follow similar bands. This group contributes only a fraction of the revenue of the previous group, but when it all adds up may equal something along the lines of $5,000 per year.
That brings our total to about $255,000, or a quarter of a million dollars. Split that up four ways and although you won’t be able to afford that Bentley you’ve always wanted, you each should be living comfortably. And remember, this is just the revenue coming directly from your fans. This does not include sync licensing, sponsorships, grants, royalties, etc. The actually number could be closer to $300,000.
To 1,000 and beyond
The 1,000 True Fan marker is a milestone, but your career shouldn’t stop there. Obviously, you want as many people as possible to hear and enjoy your music. The bigger the tip of the pyramid gets, the more that will trickle down into the rest of your fanbase. Each super fan is going to influence several other people (sometimes hundreds, thanks to social media) and evangelize a few new active and passive fans who have to potential to one day become super fans themselves.
In a follow-up post I’m going to address how to go about cultivating these 1,000 True Fans. One of the most frequent questions that arises when this concept is discussed is, ‘How do I get there?’ I’ve put together some strategies that will hopefully help to answer that question.
In the meantime, is this outline clear? Let me know your questions, comments, concerns and I will try to incorporate them into the follow-up to make sure all of this is as helpful as possible.