Losing fans

Philip Morgan

Are you afraid of your email list?

Quick tophat: Who is an authority to you? I'd like to learn, and will share what I learn with this list next week. Please take 60 seconds to tell me: https://pmc-authorities.paperform.co

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For a while I've believed that the rules by which modern audience-based businesses succeed are the same rules by which art succeeds. Or doesn't succeed.

On one level, that observation is obvious and dumb. They're both audience-based things, so of course the same rules might govern them both.

On another level, how many of us are actively trying to learn what the music business, and those working within it, have figured out and apply those lessons to our little online expertise-driven businesses? How many of us see those similarities?

There's the whole-business pespective.

The music business has successfully transitioned from a labels-and-media-sales economic model to a live-performance-and-streaming one. Neither model was perfect, but a new workable model has emerged out of the rubble of the old one.

I believe that soon -- sooner than any of us would like -- anyone who depends on free visibility from an aggregator (Google search, for example) is in for a music-business-level disruption. When I say soon, I measure that in years, not months or weeks.

And there's also the artist-level perspective.

How many fans did U2 dissapoint with the headspinning combination of Rattle and Hum and Achtung Baby? How many of them could survive the 6-year journey from The Joshua Tree to Zooropa?

If you are an individual business owner publishing to an email list, I guarantee you can identify with the queasy feeling that happens when you consider changing things up, or expressing a more opinionated version of your POV, or trying a different approach.

"I wonder how this is going to land with them?"

I love Nick Cave's take on this, from a recent Red Hand Files letter. I'll excerpt liberally:

Q: With your new sound, you don’t fear losing old fans?

A: We love and respect our fans, both past and present, but, of course, they are free to come and go as they please. What The Bad Seeds are trying to do is to nurture our listeners, to challenge and confront them, to make records that create some kind of dissonance, and perhaps even disturb them, but hopefully ultimately move them.

Losing fans is the collateral damage that comes from engaging in music from an artistic perspective, rather than a commercial one. Making music specifically to please fans can be patronising and exploitative. Challenging music, by its very nature, alienates some fans whilst inspiring others, but without that dissonance, there is no conversation, there is no risk, there are no tears and there are no smiles, and nobody is moved and nobody is affected!

For some of us, moments of genuine emotional resonance are rare; we are besieged by insincere forces and have become cynical and suspicious of the world. Many letters to The Red Hand Files signal a despair and anger toward the way the world operates, but they also display a deep love of beauty and a need for meaning. We want to make records that do not add to the hollow clamour that surrounds us but instead challenge people and guide them toward meaning.

That's most of Nick's answer, but not all of it. Reading rest of it, and his thoughts on why Kanye West is the greatest artist working now, is worth the trip over here: https://www.theredhandfiles.com/fear-losing-old-fans/

There are artists and musicians who pretty reliably give their fans what their fans are used to and seem to want every time the artist creates something new.

And then there are artists who take a lot of risks, and give their fans something fresh, perhaps something unexpected, perhaps even something hard to comprehend or contextualize within the artist's past work. Maybe not every time, but they do it quite often.

At some point, usually after those who started the program with no list but have built a small list, I make a point of asking Expertise Incubator participants if they are afraid of their email list.

However large or small your audience is, are you afraid of them?

Are you happy with your answer to that question?

Does it effect your risk-taking behavior?