The Visionary vs. the Randomizer

A fine article on over reliance on the super-fan [via lucas] by Jeremy Schlosberg is a good read.

It seems Jeremy attended a Future of Music event in Washington last month where the consensus was that in order to make a living out of music on the web you need 1,000 true fans who are willing to buy your toe-nail clippings. Jeremy’s article rebuts that idea to the point of claiming it hurts music culture more than helps.

Look, my biggest problem with Jeremy is not the ideas in the article (about 80% of which I agree with), it’s that he attended a conference called the “Future of Music” and expected something other than a chilly October weekend in Washington D.C.

With the recent transfer of operations of ccMixter to ArtistTech Media I find myself in the world outside of pundits and conferences and blogospheristry. Not that building and maintaining a non-profit music community is a theoretical exercise, but for 5 years I’ve been gleefully deflecting (and yes, pundicizing) on the business of music. Now, however, I find myself, as a consultant to ATM, in the real world of having to make decisions, of putting stakes in the ground and expecting folks to come into the tent.

I’ve been the balloon-popper, dream crusher, project killer guy. It’s a good and necessary sport but it is, in the end, just talking – some of it based on useful ideas (his warning about echo-chamber sophistry of a tightly knit group of super-fans seems very valuable) and some of it over-reaching bullshitterification (like the concerns about the effect to the creative process.) Taking all of it into consideration, I could never advise ATM to ignore super-fans because the word-of-the-mouth advocacy and multiplier affect seems to outweigh the potential downside.

Here’s just two more cases:

If you get enough of a groundswell for an artist and can prove a degree of emotional connection to a segment of population, you are that much more attractive to game designers looking for music.

I don’t think a digital copy of music is worth money, I don’t care who makes it. But if a rich trust fund dude wants to patronize an artist with $1,000 for the artist’s time then, my god, yes, that’s an important component to a career in music.

Time for work.

6 thoughts on “The Visionary vs. the Randomizer

  1. HeuristicsInc

    Well, sure… but I think the author was suggesting that it’s bad to focus all of your attention on connecting with and making the superfans happy. I think there’s probably a middle ground to be had where the casual fan isn’t left out. I resonated very strongly with his assertion that he isn’t interested in focusing on any one artist to the detriment of listening to others. I really enjoy Einstuerzende Neubauten, but I never signed up for their exclusive club because I like lots of other artists too… I guess I’m a casual fan by necessity. Anyway, I thought he made very good points. And I can certainly see that, if an artist is focusing on only this small group of people, and constantly getting tight feedback from only that group, that their creativity could be affected…
    -bill

  2. fourstones Post author

    >but I think the author was
    >suggesting that it’s bad to focus
    >all of your attention on
    >connecting with and making the
    >superfans happy

    I’m sure he was – and the only people even thinking about doing that are the pundits at pointless conferences about how to “save the industry”

  3. gurdonark

    There’s an old Dream Syndicate song I like, with the line:
    “I thought I knew the answer/but no question was posed”.

    The shifting in the music industry makes clear to me that nobody is quite sure what the question will be nowadays, either.

    I suspect that there is not one answer, and not just one question, but a lot of different questions and answers about the new technology.

    I am more interested in the question “how can the new music technology build communities outside the traditional record industry model” than the question “how can people make money from music?”. But it’s okay if someone else tries to solve that second question.

    I’m just not sure the second question is nearly as much fun as the first question.

    Music was a patron’s game before it was a corporate recording game. Who knows what game it will become?

  4. spinmeister

    side observation: there may not be any money in the recorded music business for “normal” music makers — but there seems to be money in the dream merchant industry (conferences, “how to make it” books). That’s an interesting niche industry, that exists for all kinds of arts/crafts/hobbies that people do for fun, but have dreams of making money with.

  5. jp

    I must have missed this while I was out of town attending a “All music is now Free, get used to it” seminar, but..The Future of Music Coalition is a good organization. I am a charter member. I joined because they were the only people addressing an issue that is near and dear to me..how do musicians make money now that etc etc..but they also helped wake up Russ Feingold to the fact that Clear Channel, under the “watchdog” of the Powell led FCC, was going to pull a robber baron move..and have also been trying to get health insurance for those of us who are foolish enough to not have day gigs at Price Waterhouse and/or the US Congress.

    I know the gist of what you are saying Victor, and YO do I agrees with it, but the FMC is legit.

    Today in Music Think Tank, ol’ Ariel H had another of her numerous rebuttals (using one of her own clients! the clever gal) re the article about why the 1K fan bit is nonsense. A quick read between the lines of the “interviewee” unmasks a few innerstin’ tidbits..like when she waffles around the question of “so how much money did you make last year?”..

    Happy New Year Boss..if you are ever in the fly over zone, me and Kaer will take you out to the Comfort Zone Bar b que for some alligator gumbo…it’s not Kanter’s, but you know..that’s a GOOD thing.

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