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What's the Idea Behind 1000 True Fans?

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By Bobby Owsinski of Music 3.0.

In the latest version of my Music 4.0: A Survival Guide For Making Music In The Internet Age book I explain that making a living in music is considered the new success, as we shift our priorities to DIY. That said, the way that's accomplished is by have a group of core fans. In the following excerpt from Music 4.0, this “1,000 True Fans Theory" is explained.

“The “1,000 True Fans Theory” by Wired magazine’s “senior maverick” Kevin Kelly states that all an artist needs is 1,000 true fans to maintain a fruitful, if unspectacular, career, thereby relieving the artist of the need for some of the nastier things in life as a regular job. True fans are sometimes called superfans or uberfans, depending on whose theory we’re talking about.   Kelly wrote the following:

A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author—-in other words, anyone producing works of art—-needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living. 

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the superdeluxe reissued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the T-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can't wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans. 

The idea is that if each of the 1,000 fans bought $100 worth of product every year (the figure equals an arbitrary full-day’s pay), you’d have an income of $100,000, which, even minus expenses, can still represent a reasonable living for most artists. The trick, of course, is how you expand your fanbase to that magic 1,000-fans number (providing that you buy the theory, of course).    Like most theories on such things, the detractors of the 1,000 True Fans theory point out several relevant issues. They are:

The $100,000 amount is the gross income and doesn’t take expenses into account. Expenses for any creative endeavor can be quite substantial and must be accounted for in any income assumption.

Even if you reach the magic 1,000-fan number, that doesn’t mean that each will spend $100 per year. That’s true, but remember that $100 is an average number. Some fans might spend $500, while others might spend only $20. Of course, you have to present them with the products and the opportunity to spend money. If you put out a single release and don’t tour, it’s unlikely that you’ll hit your target. If you’re touring, and a true fan attends three shows and brings five friends, that could easily account for $100 right there. And if you release two albums, a deluxe box set, and newly designed T-shirts, hats, mouse pads, and coffee cups, there’s an even greater chance that the true fan will just have to have whatever you’re selling.

Music 4.0 presents a worldwide marketplace, so 1,000 fans don’t necessarily have to reside just in the United States. Again, this is true and can lead you to believe that developing your fan base is a lot easier than it really is. Don’t forget that true fans in some countries such as Russia, China, and Mexico might not be paying anything at all and still be enjoying your work thanks to the prolific piracy that those areas are accustomed to.

You can expect some attrition of your new fans. Hopefully, the attrition of your fanbase will at least be offset by new members, and perhaps even grow some in the process.

Other artists are competing for the same fans. There’s always competition in the marketplace for every dollar, sale, and item. You must differentiate yourself and your product from your competition to make the choice easier for the fan. For sure, you’ll lose some fans during this process, but if done well, you’ll make that number up, and more.

While the total number of true fans actually required to make the theory work (is it 300 or 1,000 or 4,000?) may be in question, the idea is that you need this hard-core group in order to sustain your career. Whatever the number that you’re lucky enough to develop, be sure to take care of and nurture them, because they truly want you to."

Producer/engineer Bobby Owsinski is the author of 23 books on music, the music business and social media, and has been featured as a music branding and audio expert on CNN and ABC's 20/20. He's also a Forbes contributor on the new music business, and his Music 3.0 and Big Picture production blogs are some of the most widely followed in the industry.


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