No two music fans are the same. We happen to like quite a few artists, with our entire relationship beginning and ending with us humming the tune to one of their records.
But then there are those we obsess over. We can’t get enough of it. Between these extremes are different levels of engagement that musicians, managers and labels should monitor and encourage.
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As Web 3.0 initiatives quickly take off, the music industry is looking for new ways to understand the next generation of fans. Technology is changing the nature of fandom in ways that will be transformative for years to come.
Spring, a company that partners with artists in e-commerce, commissioned a study of 8,000 music fans in hopes of revealing the future emotional and eventually financial relationships between fans and artists.
The result is a psychographic breakdown that places fans into 10 different categories, each with different levels of investment when it comes to Emotion, Spending, Energy, Time and Evangelism.
The first three fan types can be classified as “engagement”. The browser is the most casual music listener (37 percent of respondents), someone who stumbles upon content, enjoys it superficially, and then either gets distracted or gets bored and moves on.
Type two is the observer, someone who sneaks around the music but doesn’t really get too involved.
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The final “Engagement” fantype is Curious. They are intrigued by what they hear and are open to perhaps being encouraged to get more involved in the community of like-minded people who follow a particular band.
The middle group of fans are known as “lawyers”. This starts with subscribers who have made it their goal to follow the musician across both traditional and social media. They subscribe to an artist’s Instagram account, tag their Spotify playlists, and google stories about the artist.
A small step further is the Engaged fan. They do everything the subscriber does, but regularly comment on videos and pictures, provide Facebook likes, and strive for higher status in the fan base surrounding that artist. This is the realm of the true fan, someone who genuinely likes what’s going on and wants a piece of it.
When an artist can take the fan to the next level of the spectrum, they become “buyers” – and this is where people’s appreciation of a musician’s work can be monetized.
The first level of buyers is the active one. Only about one in a thousand true fans can be classified as active (40 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as such). They are a little more evangelical about the artist and often wear t-shirts, create special playlists, go to concerts and occasionally buy physical products. If the artist comes into conversation, the active begins to bubble. And if necessary, they will vigorously defend this artist in case anyone disagrees with their brilliance.
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As the activists’ love for the artist continues to grow (and if finances allow), they become collectors. This group collects everything: all releases, all merch and all the knowledge they have about their favorite musician. You’ll also be spending big bucks on things like box sets and limited edition vinyl releases.
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The only level higher than an Active is Superfan. Only about one in 100 real fans fits this description. Superfans will do anything to create the deepest connection with their favorite musicians. For example, you will accompany an act on tour for weeks or months. Others are looking for their expertise and stories about a specific artist. Some form cover bands that only play the music of their favorite bands. And they may even be recognized for their uniqueness by the artist himself.
If you want to study this group, we also need to look at the BTS ARMY (Adorable Representative MC for Youth), Taylor Swift’s Swifties, Hardcore Deadheads, Beyoncé’s Beyhive, Dylanologists and Beatlemaniacs. Mariah Carey has Lambs, Bieber Beliebers, and Jimmy Buffet Parrotheads. Little monsters follow Lady Gaga obsessively. Slipknot’s hardcore base is known as the Maggots. And if you’re a Juggalo, you’ll do anything to become a part of the world of Insane Clown Posse.
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So far, so understandable, right? But Spring has identified a future music fanatic type who is only just being invented. They foresee the rise of a uber-superfan, a cult fan who is so deeply in love with a certain artist that they want the original version of something produced by that artist. These people are buying NFTs and other Web 3.0 products in the pipeline. They also help pay for things like recording and touring by contributing to pre-funding campaigns through sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe.
If they could, they would love the opportunity to collaborate with creators to do things like design merchandise. You buy multiple copies of the product offered by the artist. When an artist endorses a particular product, that product becomes the fan’s favorite product. And to raise an artist’s profile, they sometimes set that musician’s Spotify playlist to repeat and keep it on 24/7 at a low volume. And just wait for the metaverse to take hold. These people are going crazy.
Spring believes the future of the music trade lies in getting people as far as possible through these 10 fandoms. And it might not be as difficult as you think.
Young people are always the primary drivers of music culture and the next cohort of superfans will come from those born between 2010 and 2014. Call them Gen Alpha (we’ve run out of Gen Z letters, so it’s time to start fresh.) The oldest of these super-techy kids will be turning teenagers next year, marking the beginning of their musical coming-of-age years. Your relationship with music will be hugely shaped by technology and to some extent the COVID years.
The spring study says they will be more adaptable, collaborative and entrepreneurial than any generation of music fans we’ve seen. You will live in a world of AI, speech recognition, blockchains, NFTs, the metaverse, ultra-personalized engagement, and the gamification of it all.
We’ve come a long way. And the future sure looks interesting.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster on Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.
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