Musician Fan Clubs in the U.S.
Despite the initial decline of traditional musician fan clubs caused by the rise of the internet and social media, these same platforms have contributed to a resurgence and reimagining of artist fan communities by redefining the relationship between musicians and their fans. Among the trends driving this renewed popularity in fan clubs is an increasing focus on the obsessively-dedicated "superfan" and the growing importance of group identity within music fandoms. Additionally, the success of early-2000s fan clubs such as Dave Matthews Band's The Warehouse has encouraged the spread of third-party fan club management services seeking to build engaged communities and revenue streams for musical clients.
Increasing Focus on Superfans
- Whereas fan clubs from previous decades may have been relatively simple groups devoted to sharing enjoyment for a particular artist's work, the constant availability of musical content made possible by the rise of the internet and social media has led to the proliferation of "superfans", who are represented by the "total condition of being a fan".
- Modern superfans are not satisfied with merely owning their favorite artist's music collections or merchandise, but seek rare and exclusive content along with "the inside look at everything".
- Though today's biggest fan clubs are primarily created by artists themselves, superfans play an important part in the fandom ecosystem because of their willingness to share their experiences and enthusiasm with other fans. Superfans promote news and music from their favorite artists so much that they have become a "central hub" of modern online music marketing.
- Superfans are not necessarily the stereotypical teenage girl obsessed with boy bands, but may be from any walk of life. The unifying goal among all superfans, though, is to contribute to the success of their preferred artists.
- Cherry Tree, a fan club for American rock band The National, and "The Swift Life," an app released by pop star Taylor Swift, are reportedly both geared toward "die-hard" fans. The groups both focus heavily on the idea of providing superfans with private access to their favorite musicians.
Group Identity Among Fan Communities
- In addition to the most rabid superfans, more moderate supporters of today's music artists are changing the face of fan clubs due to the increasing tendency for group identities to form among fandom communities.
- While online fan communities tend to begin simply as platforms for fans to share their interest, many of today's fans reportedly hold discussions and develop relationships online that go beyond "the more superficial elements" of fandom. Members can be truly, personally affected by these online interactions that may offer needed "social support and solidarity".
- Participants in modern fan communities tend to be both passionate and expressive, and view their communities' spaces as avenues for "their own self-expression". Active members, who are already guaranteed to have shared interests, are reportedly frequently able to find other common passions and behaviors among one another, further contributing to a sense of intra-group identity.
- In addition to feelings of acceptance from online music fandoms that may be difficult to find in real life, the always-on nature of the internet allows today's fans to interact constantly. This round-the-clock communication has the effect of further cementing the group identity of fans in modern fan clubs.
- Modern online fandoms, such as Arianators, fans of Ariana Grande, and Swifties, fans of Taylor Swift, are reportedly prone to rivalries. Operating "like transnational powers", camps of these fans band together to "stake out the digital commons" on behalf of their preferred musicians.
Third-Party Development of Fan Communities
- In the 1990s, as a result of the massive success of the Dave Matthews Band fan club, band manager Coran Capshaw created Musictoday.com. The site was launched to help other musicians establish and manage web-based fan communities.
- Musictoday.com is now an industry leader in the development of online fan clubs, with artists like Britney Spears, John Mayer, Madonna, Metallica, and Nine Inch Nails using the site's services.
- The rise of third-party management services like Musictoday.com has allowed for more refined approaches to musicians' websites and online presences, since professional groups are able to maintain and manage the technical details while artists focus on their music and their fans.
- Third-party services of this nature also enable artists and their managers to accumulate fan data, creating more targeted marketing opportunities and allowing musicians the freedom to spend more time fostering relationships with their fan bases.
- In 2017, ticket sales website Ticketmaster launched a third-party service called Verified Fan, which uses an algorithm that aims to cut down on fake online ticket sales while also allowing performers to cater especially to fans. Taylor Swift, for example, has used the platform to grant ticket-purchasing priority to fans of hers who purchased merchandise or watched her videos online.
Certain trends which have emerged among artist-fan relationships along with the rise of modern, web-based fan communities have been detailed below. Popular online platforms such as TikTok have changed the way musicians interact with fans, allowing for more personal, direct relationships between the two as limits on communication become fewer and fewer. However, the intimate nature of today's fan interactions has the potential to cause tension between fans and artists, as fans feel increasingly entitled to performers' time and may threaten abandonment if their expectations are not met.
Personal, Direct Fan Engagment
- Social media platforms such as TikTok, which is especially popular among today's teens, have had a significant hand in transforming the relationship between modern musicians and their fans. TikTok, which allows users to create memes and original video content using their favorite artist's songs, gives fans the opportunity to "[highlight] the performative aspects" of their fandom.
- Musicians who actively interact with their own fan communities develop "instant access" to their fans, creating environments that allow for the exchange and reinforcement of mutual artist and fan interests. For example, alternative rock group Pearl Jam's fan community, Ten Club, uses enhanced communication to offer fans exclusive content like contests, limited-edition merchandise, and pre-sale opportunities.
- Music podcast host Suz Paulinski notes that the musicians who are most successful engaging with today's audiences are those willing to simply "be a human connecting with other humans". Artists who participate in community conversations in a "vulnerable, transparent, authentic" way are reportedly more likely to generate meaningful engagement with fans.
- British rapper Asknikko, whose popularity has exploded in recent months thanks to the performer's viral TikTok videos, has stated that she makes an effort to have "direct contact" with her fans, without whom, she notes, she wouldn't have a career. Asknikko refers to traditional fan outreach like mailing autographed photos as "impersonal", and says she instead focuses on engaging in online chats with fans and trying to "make them feel appreciated".
- Hundreds of celebrity musicians, including Paul McCartney, Jennifer Lopez, and OneRepublic, have partnered with tech startup Community to begin offering "seemingly personal" cell phone numbers to their fan communities. These numbers, which frequently use area codes from artists' hometowns, allow fans to send text messages directly to performers, who in turn receive contact information for their biggest fans.
Accountability and Keeping Promises
- While the increasingly intimate nature of the artist-fan relationship provides performers with many benefits, the artists putting themselves "on display" in these encounters risk alienating fans who come to see their idols as simultaneously personal and larger-than-life.
- Musicians can inadvertently set themselves up to keep impossible promises by sharing release dates, song snippets, and interviews on social media for projects that experience delays or never come to fruition. Artists simply seeking to "share their creative process" often don't realize that their works-in-progress can translate into new expectations for fans.
- One example of this dynamic is the four-year span between 'channel ORANGE', singer Frank Ocean's debut studio album, and 'Blonde', its highly-popular successor. Research suggests that, while those awaiting Blonde eventually had their patience rewarded with one of the most-celebrated albums of the decade, today's Frank Ocean fans are not as sure that another triumph is guaranteed after an additional four years of waiting.
- One music fan on Twitter proclaimed that they trust their favorite artists online "until they give me a reason not to", and that once that trust is gone, they "don't get as excited" or "subscribe to the hype" around new releases.
- This environment of heightened expectations can create difficulties for performers, who must walk the line between keeping their fans engaged while "not raising their expectations so high it will break their trust". Fans that lose faith in their favorite artists can in turn lose their patience, leading to the worst-case scenario for performers: "an apathetic fan base".