Musician Making A Living With Forty Committed True Fans

A year and a half ago, we wrote about Kevin Kelly’s theory that to be a success as a content creator, you just need 1,000 “true fans.” These were the ultra-committed fans. The fans who would follow you to the end of the world and purchase whatever you came out with. And — more importantly — they’ll help bring more fans into the fold. The point isn’t that these are your only fans, but the most committed. At the time, I wasn’t sure if the 1,000 number was really accurate, but certainly agreed with the idea of more closely connecting with your biggest fans. My guess was that 1,000 wasn’t really enough. But, perhaps I was off in the wrong direction? Ariel Hyatt has been blogging about the concept of 1,000 True Fans and has an interview with musician Matthew Ebel, an up-and-coming musician who makes a living from his music, and breaks down the details — including pointing out that he makes 26.3% of his net income from just 40 hard-core fans.

Music Sales:

  • CD Sales – 4.1%
  • Digital Music Sales – 13.9%
  • Subscription Site – 36.9%
  • Live Shows – 18.1%
  • Cover Gig Fees/Cover – 9.8%
  • Original Gig Fees/Cover – 6.2%
  • Tips (Including UStream) – 2.1%
  • Works For Hire & Voiceovers – 8.2%
  • Affiliate Sales (typically for my own albums/tracks) – 1.1%
  • Licensing – 13.2%
  • Independent Film – 6.6%
  • Internet – 6.6%
  • Web Design – 4.6% (I include this because I’m doing a website for a friend… it’s something I choose to do, but it is part of my income this year.)

Now, first thing I’ll point out is that I’m still not sure the numbers fully add up. Matthew doesn’t give a total amount earned, but in a comment says:

Suffice it to say that I’m renting a house in Wellesley, MA with a couple of room mates… I’m not starving, I can still eat sushi from time to time, and my car (neither a Pinto nor a Bentley) is paid off.

So, he’s making a living wage, but not raking it in, which is to be expected (and is certainly a hell of a lot better than many musicians). Now, of course, the other number that stands out above is the “subscription site” with the single largest percentage of his revenue. That would be his site, where he offers a $5/month subscription offering. It actually looks quite a lot like the music business model I suggested back in 2003, so it’s nice to see someone making it work directly. Basically, it’s people paying for access to Matthew (he even admits that in the description, saying it’s like a permanent “backstage pass”). While subscribers will get regular access to new music as soon as he creates it, the selling point is special invitations and access to the artist.

And, of course, Ebel seems to certainly recognize the CwF (connect with fans) part that has to go along with this RtB (reason to buy). In the interview, he discusses the importance of really connecting with those fans. First, he notes that one of the nice side effects of his “subscription” offering is that he promises fans two new songs and one live concert recording every month, and that keeps him top of mind:

Little did I realize that new releases every two weeks would be better than any good album reviews or press coverage. Giving my fans something new to talk about every two weeks meant exactly that: they talk about me every two weeks. They’re not buying an album, raving about it, and losing interest after a few months, they’re constantly spreading my name to their Twitter followers, coworkers, pets, etc. Regular delivery of quality material is damn near my one-step panacea for the whole industry.

And, of course, he uses social media to connect as much as possible:

Good music is barely enough to get fans to hand out 99¢ anymore; they have to be emotionally invested in the artist if that artist wants their loyalty. Don’t get me wrong, there can still be a “fourth wall” during a live concert or video, but real, meaningful connection with the fans is what keeps me in their heads after the show’s over (heck, even your “character” can interact with fans in-character). I chat with my fans via Twitter, Facebook, and, and as many other channels as possible. The more I interact with them between performances, the more I stay fresh in their minds and the more inspiration I draw from them.

Yet another musicians showing how CwF+RtB works. Now, I’m sure some will complain that this isn’t a “real” success because he’s not selling out stadiums or something (of course, those are the same people who would say that those selling out stadiums don’t count because they can afford to do crazy experiments). But given how many musicians we’re hearing about these days making exactly these types of things work to the point where they can make a living doing it, you have to begin to realize that something’s working.

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