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How Many Fans Must a Band Have?

Traditionally, music artists have been advised to focus on a narrow selection of heavy listeners for marketing and earn revenues by selling to them. New research shows that people listen to multiple genres, and their listening choices depend more on the reach or popularity of an artist than their genre. Therefore, artists should change their marketing strategy from targeting a niche to a wider audience and focus on building a bigger brand for themselves. Streaming services should also promote new music to all listeners.

Music is among the most popular leisure activities, with millions of listeners worldwide.

Streaming has made music even more accessible. In this market, visibility and penetration are challenges for musicians, especially given that streaming algorithms make it difficult for listeners to discover newer artists. The advice to musicians is to find 1000 “true fans” and earn $100 from them annually, making up $100,000 annually (in a 2008 study by Kelly). A recent study considers thousands of listener choices to answer the question: Does the “1000 fans” marketing strategy really give musicians their best shot at success?

The strategy of marketing to a niche would work only if people listened to a narrow selection

of music, say, only a single band/artist or a single genre. It is a reasonable assumption, especially given that streaming services recommend new music based on prior choices. Further, these services offer personalised playlists, and when listening to an album, subsequent songs are from the same genre or artist. Intuition also suggests that people’s tastes in artistic matters are thematic, that is, they tend to prefer similar works. So, for example, a person who likes Classical music would not enjoy Hard Rock.

Surprisingly, the study’s findings contrasted with the “1000 fans” theory. There is significant

cross-listening between artists, albums, and genres. Listeners do not focus only on one or a handful of artists, albums, and genres. The partitioning in music is not as rigid as one would expect. Even the music industry is subject to the law of Duplication of Purchase for genres, artists, albums, and songs. Moreover, this trend is visible in the short run (as short as one week) and the long run (1 year).

As technology drives a mushrooming of competitors, how do brands distinguish themselves and improve their reputation? Here’s a post on how seller marketing capability can make a difference.

The Duplication of Purchase Law states that customers’ loyalty depends on market

penetration or the market share. Therefore, customers of one brand will buy products of another brand in proportion to its market size. That is when purchasing products from multiple brands (e.g., artists), customers will buy more products of a bigger brand (e.g., The Beatles) and fewer products from a smaller brand (e.g., a local band). So, even Jazz lovers could listen to Electronica if the band or artist is well-known. Therefore, music artists can increase their sales by building a bigger brand, which requires reaching a wider audience rather than a niche one.

The study has vital though unexpected, insights for those in the music industry, especially

artists, record companies, and streaming services. Artists and producers should focus their resources on competing with more prominent brands rather than with similarly positioned artists. The goal should be to grow as a brand irrespective of genre. Instead of aiming market activities at only heavy listeners, they can modify their marketing strategy to include medium and light listeners. Streaming services can consider the findings to modify their recommendation algorithms. Instead of suggesting new music to listeners of similar music, they can promote it to listeners of all genres to maximise its reach.

If we think of music artists as brands, then artist collaborations can be assumed to work like joint promotions. What happens when a stronger and a weaker brand partner? Find out here!

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