Perfect Sound Forever


Masters of engagement: Ariana Grande, Grateful Dead, Imagine Dragons

Why All Performing Artists Need To Know About 'Fan-ily'
by Missy Shackelford
(June 2019)

Today's music fan wants more than just great music, they want an experience. Due to the vast amount of new music available on many streaming services, fans have an assortment of music options. But studies show1, they are responding favorably to the acts that are creating a community for them. When they feel a connection with the creators of the music they love, the response seems to be more than just a download. They are invested.

Savvy and successful artists are creating a communal approach that engages fans, in a digital age, by relating to them on a more personal level. Their social media is filled with more than just promotions; they include personal content such as recipes, self-care posts, make-up tips and other content that allows their audience to see them as more than a star.

Recently, Ariana Grande made a self-care video for fans where she said the following, "I just wanted to say hi and remind you guys to protect your peace and your energy and to not forget to take care of yourselves and protect your space… you are loved and not alone. You deserve the best there is, and I love you." It is this type of commentary that makes the Ariana fan's feel close to her and even protective of her with thousands of comments such as, "We love you, Ariana", "Protect yourself as well- we worry about you," etc..

By using social media as an avenue that encourages participation from their fans, the once elusive artist is becoming more than just appreciated but adored.

Like Ariana, Imagine Dragons consider themselves "Authentic and Normal" and it shows in their social media posts with tweets and Instagram pics of just a regular day. According to Facebook metrics, the typical post from the band receives 30,000 likes, comments, or shares, and their page tends to have around 100,000 people talking about it.

According to Instagram analytics, it is personal commentary shared by artists that are receiving the most engagement. This type of interactive dialogue seems to make super fans respond more like friends. This type of interpersonal communication has been around but is continually growing according to The Journal of Audience and Reception Studies.2

Enter the new era of the "Fan-ily."

Loyalty and commitment is the mutual by-product of this spirit of unity. This level of involvement results in a surprisingly significant reward for the artist, with greater ticket and merchandise sales as well as increased activity on social media pages which in turn leads to more fans.

A similar prototype was first established with the "jam" or "festival" band. From the Grateful Dead, and its legions of Deadheads, to more current bands like Phish and Wide Spread Panic, have mastered this strategy. This is the only explanation of how a band can have a substantial number of concert attendees with ample merchandise sales, while being absent from Billboard charts and mainstream radio. They have flourished in a difficult market by establishing a brand that listeners identify to as a culture. According to Midia research3, "59 percent of an artist's annual revenue came from live performances, compared to 9 percent in music sales. The effects of this shift can be seen in most artists and bands turning to concert tours as their primary source of income. Where performances were once a vehicle for increasing record sales, they are now a driving force for the music industry as a whole, providing substantial income for artists and entertainment industry professionals alike."

Currently, Billboard artists are embracing the "fandom" philosophy by keeping followers connected as part of a group to identify with. Many artists have even given their fan-ily a name to associate with. Beyonce lovingly refers to her fans as the "bey-hive", Adele calls her fans the "Daydreamers," Lady Gaga has her "Monsters," Ed Sheeran has his "Sheerio's" and even harder acts such as Five Finger Death Punch have applied this method by calling their fandom the "Knuckleheads" and Houston rapper and rising star Megan Thee Stallion has her "Hotties" who promote positivity.

If fans are becoming family, think of social media outlets as the house you welcome them to with content being the Sunday Supper.

How is this approach accomplished for those starting out in the industry? For new acts it is vital to initially generate a visible brand identity for followers to associate with in an ever expanding sea of options. It begins with a strong artist identity paired with specific branding for the fan base desired. In marketing campaigns it is called targeting the demographic. According to a recent article in Forbes magazine4, "In order to build a fanbase and a following, your songs should connect to a specific audience and give a voice to those who don't perform. Talent will make you a good singer, but talent with a message will make you a great artist."

Today's fan is not being introduced to new music via the radio. Instead, they are finding new music via digital media services, like Spotify and Pandora, and the introduction is by visual aesthetics. Therefore imaging is a crucial first step. If the music is consistent to the image, it becomes the winning combination for establishing the new listener as a faithful fan and member of the" tribe."

To effectively capitalize on this new trend is the act of offering a culture. An artist that is in a particular genre of music will miss the mark if their packaging does not represent the preferences of the average fan in that genre. The future members of the fan-ily are, in essence, recruited by this process.

For 2019 and beyond, music and marketing will be a necessary hybrid according to music analysts. This has already proven itself to be true judging by the evidence of today's thriving artists.

Accommodating fans may not be a new concept but, the importance of cultivating an environment is. The goal for musicians will always be to create music for their listeners, this will never change. But, the goals for acquiring the listeners will.


1. Dean Shapero "The Impact of Technology on Music Star's Cultural Influence" (The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 2015); Jadey O'Regan, review of Mark Duffett (ed.) "Popular Music Fandom: Identities, Roles and Practices" (dancecult); Uve escribano "Fandom in cultural studies: 6 fan studies book recommendations" (The Daily Fandom, 12-23-15)

2. Nancy K. Baum "Fans or Friends" (Participations, November 2012)

3. "Do Not Assume We Have Arrived At Our Destination" (Midia, 6-15-17)

4. Mei Mei Fox "How to make it in the industry" (Forbes, 2-13-19)

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