No two music fans are alike. We happen to like several artists with our entire relationship beginning and ending with humming tunes to one of their records.
But then there are the people we are obsessed with. We can’t have enough of them. Between those extremes are the different levels of engagement that musicians, managers, and labels should monitor and nurture.
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With Web 3.0 initiatives rapidly rolling out, 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 change in the coming years.
Spring, a company that partners with artists in the e-commerce space, conducted a study of 8,000 music fans in hopes of mapping out the emotional and ultimately financial relationships in future between fans and artists.
The result was a psychometric analysis that put fans into 10 different groups, each with different levels of investment when it comes to emotions, spending, energy, time, and evangelism.
The first three types of fans that can be grouped are “Interacted”. The browser is the most casual music listener (37% of those in the survey), someone who stumbles across content, enjoys it to a superficial degree, and then gets distracted or gets bored and continue.
The second type is the Observer, someone who lingers in the music but doesn’t really get too deeply involved.
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The final “Interactive” type of fan is Curious. They are intrigued by what they hear and are willing to be encouraged to engage more with the community of like-minded people in a particular band.
The intermediate group of fans is called the “Supporters”. This starts with Subscribers, who consider following musicians through both traditional and social media. They sign up for the artist’s Instagram account, bookmark their Spotify playlists, and google stories about the artist.
A short step up from that is the engaged fan. They do everything Subscribers do but regularly comment on videos and photos, provide Facebook likes, and seek greater status in the fanbase around that artist. This is the realm of the true fan, someone who really digs into what’s going on and wants a part of it.
If an artist can take fans to the next level of the spectrum, they become “buyers” – and this is where people who appreciate a musician’s work can be monetized.
The first buyer level is Active. Only about one out of every thousand fans can actually be classified as Active (40% of respondents self-identify this way). They’re a bit of an artist and often wear t-shirts, set up specialized playlists, go to concerts, and occasionally buy physical products. If the artist initiates a conversation, the Active will start spitting out. And if necessary, they will vigorously defend the artist if someone disagrees with their excellence.
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If Active’s love for the artist grew (and if finances allowed), they became Collectors. This group collects everything: all the releases, all the merchandise, and all the knowledge they can about their favorite musician. They’ll also shell out big bucks for things like box sets and limited edition vinyl releases.
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The only level higher than Active is Superfan. Only about one out of every 100 fans actually fits this description. Superfans will do whatever they have to to achieve the deepest connection with their favorite musicians. For example, they will follow an action on tour for several weeks or months. Others will learn their expertise and stories related to a particular artist. Some form cover bands that play nothing but the music of their favorite bands. And they may even be acknowledged by the artist himself for their specialness.
If you want to research this group, we also need to consider BTS ARMY (the lovely representative MC for young people), Taylor Swift’s Swifties, Hardhead Deadheads, Beyoncé’s Beyhive, Dylanologists and Beatlemaniacs. Mariah Carey has Lambs, Bieber Beliebers and Jimmy Buffet Parrotheads. Little Monsters follows Lady Gaga obsessively. Slipknot’s hardcore platform is called Maggots. And if you’re a Juggalo, you’ll do anything close to being a part of the world of Insane Clown Posse.
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So far, so easy to understand, right? But Spring has identified a kind of future music fanatic, one that has only just been invented. They foresee the rise of an uber-superfan, a cult fan who is so enamored with a particular performer that they want an original version of something produced by that artist. These people are the people who buy NFT and other Web 3.0 products during development. They also help pay for things like audio recordings and tours by contributing to pre-funding campaigns through sites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe.
If possible, they’ll love the ability to collaborate with creators to do things like design merchandise. They will buy multiple copies of whatever the artist has to offer. If an artist endorses a particular product, that product becomes a fan favorite. And to help raise an artist’s profile, they’ll sometimes loop through that musician’s Spotify playlist and run it 24/7 with the volume down. And just wait until the metaverse catches up. These people will go crazy.
Spring believes that the future of the music business lies in getting people as far as possible through these 10 levels of fandom. And it may not be as difficult as you think.
Young people have always been the main driver of music culture and the next group of super fans will come from people born between 2010 and 2014. Let’s call them Gen Alpha (we’ve run out of letters with Gen Z, because So it’s time to start over). The oldest of those super tech-savvy kids will become teenagers next year, marking the beginning of their musical adulthood years. Their relationship with music will be greatly shaped by technology and to a certain extent, the COVID years.
Spring research says they’ll be more adaptable, collaborative and entrepreneurial than any generation of music fans we’ve seen to date. They will live in a world of AI, speech recognition, blockchain, NFT, hyper-interaction, hyper-personalization and gamification of everything.
We have come a long way. And the future is sure to be interesting.
Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.
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