It’s an age-old wrestling match: quality vs. quantity. Every business, at least at certain points in its life cycle, has its sights set on growth. Nobody takes out loans and works tirelessly around the clock in hopes of never having enough paying customers to actually cover the rent. So we make projections and graphs or stick inspirational bar-napkin quotes on our walls as road maps and metaphorical carrots to guide us down the path to growth and, ultimately, success.
But what should that end goal be? How many paying customers does it take to truly make it? In an age of cheap manufacturing, instant everything, and Twitter followers by the tens of thousands, it’s easy to get caught up in a “more is more” mentality. Crunching the actual numbers is up to you, but it’s worth considering the growing consensus that quality really does trump quantity. Especially for the creative artist.
Unlike socks or wonder mops, art is 100% about connecting with people. It doesn’t matter how many social media likes you have if people aren’t willing to shell out the cash for a ticket when you come to town; you need your fans not just to like you (or “like” you), but to love you.
There is perhaps no better, or more colorful, example of fan devotion than the Grateful Dead (cue dancing bears)—a group that took their fan interaction to a whole new level. From mailing out newsletters to switching up set lists from show to show to encourage repeat attendance, these guys knew how to make their fans feel wanted and included, and garnered themselves a following in the most literal sense. It was not unheard of for diehard Deadheads to quit their jobs just to follow the band around on tour. And as the Dead grew from a little group playing pizza parlors and music stores into their own cultural movement, they maintained their artistic identity. Fans could be loyal because they knew whom they were being loyal to.
Today’s up-and-coming artist can likewise benefit from this mentality of connectedness, even if not taken to quite the same extreme. Relationship is vital. If you can sell 200 $10 tickets to people who may or may not remember you later, or sell 75 $40 tickets to people who are going to pick up a t-shirt at the show and buy everything you release in the meantime, which will be more profitable?
Nielsen gives a fascinating breakdown on types of music fans and their spending habits. According to their 2013 study, the most devoted 14% of fans are doing 34% of the music spending. The numbers for other fan groups follow suit, in direct proportion to the quality of their engagement.
Personal engagement is the new hot. It pays to nurture your true fans rather than diluting your efforts for the sake of numbers. The best part is, what your true fans want most is more of you. When you hone in on the crowd that really likes what you’re all about, you’ll be more free to focus on being yourself, rather than being a salesman.