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1 December 2009

Farewell to the casual music fan?: a short attention span essay on how & why culture is produced

A question to ponder: Is the support of 1,000 True Fans better than the here-today, gone-tomorrow affections of a quarter million or more Lesser Fans?

The idea that an artist could be supported by only 1,000 True Fans was first crystallized in March 2008 in a sort of manifesto by Kevin Kelly, a NorCali futurist type whose greatest claim to fame is co-founding Wired Magazine in the early 1990s, a place where he still holds the title Chief Maverick. (This preceded Sarah Palin by many years. He is, to put it mildly, on the liberal end of the ideological spectrum.) If the portrait below is any reflection of his character, he’s a rather optimistic sort.
kevinkelly
Kelly was not making a literal argument with 1,000 True Fans. His manifesto was loaded with caveats. He did not think that nurturing a core fanbase vs. attracting more casual fans was an either/or position — rather he emphasized that “processes you develop to feed your True Fans will also nurture Lesser Fans.”  In addition to contributing proportionally more income to an artist’s bottom line, True Fans would work hard to spread word of mouth about their favorite artists’ work. Kelly also admitted that you might need more or less True Fan support depending on the medium you worked in: a video maker might need 5,000 fans while a painter might need 500. (A more technologically driven creator simply required a higher level of resources to produce.) Kelly later followed-up his original post with several follow-ups that leavened his argument by sharing the perspective of an artist who had actually utilized the True Fan model in his career. These follow-up posts were less-than-starry-eyed about the real world practicalities of appealing mainly to True Fans.

Earlier this month Jeremy Schlosberg — creator of music proto-blog called Fingertips Music — posted a kind of counter manifesto titled “Farewell to the casual music fan.” Schlosberg’s fear is that Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans model will become a literal reality. His core contention is that nurturing True Fans does not help to build a larger fanbase, but rather that it curtails an artist’s ambitions in such a way that large, communal art experiences may cease to exist.

Overall I found Schlosberg’s essay to be rather rambling & dire, but there was some very real wisdom in it. I’ve excerpted his core argument below. Read more »

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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