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I’m Your Biggest Fan (part 1)

October 24, 2011

Something I always try to keep in mind when writing my site is that I always wanted to capture what it feels like to be at a show from a fan’s perspective. There are few roles in life that I’ve identified with as much as being a fan of music; it has defined me in almost every facet of my life.

I have several favorite films, but Almost Famous is probably the one that I most identify with. To me, it captures the essence of what it means to be a fan of music better than anything else has:

I feel like so much time these days is spent talking about the decline of the music industry: falling album sales, the changing business landscape, touring and ticketing issues, etc….all negative stuff…when really, this is probably the best time in music to be a fan.

My ‘real’ life job is in a field called consumer research, meaning that I have managed focus groups and surveys for many different brands to understand the voice of the consumer. Many other industries have realized and accepted the power shift from the company to the consumer, and want to listen to what they have to say in order to try to serve them better. Has the music industry done this? Based on the way ticket sites work, merch stores are set up, social networks are run, and music is released, I would guess minimally at best.

my limited edition NIN Ghosts box set

So, I decided to marry my professional skills with my not so professional writing career and talk to superfans of bands to see what they have to say about their bands (brand and band are only one letter apart!). I think we have a lot to learn from them. In an industry that is going to be increasingly fueled under the Pareto principle, the superfans hold the keys to a band’s success and sustenance.

What follows are eloquent quotes straight from the superfans. Reading them will remind those of us who are fans why we love music, and will perhaps shed light on an idea or two for a “mid-level band struggling with their own limitations”….

The bands:

Iron Maiden
Ozzy Osbourne
Mötley Crüe
Nine Inch Nails
The Cure
Pearl Jam
Steel Panther
The Dead Weather

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

The fans:

A wide age range of males, female, single, and married passionate individuals from all over the U.S. and Europe.

What does it mean to be a fan?

“It means that you’ll support them, you’ll buy their stuff, you’ll wear the colors, and you’ll spread the word about them . And you’ll love them, no matter what :)” (Iron Maiden)

“I think it means the band has had a profound impact on who you are and is an integral part of your daily life.” (Pearl Jam)

“Realising that the music this band puts forth is the best in the world. That after familiarising oneself thoroughly with the band’s work one is able to say: ‘Yep, nothing that I ever heard or will ever hear is going to be as good as this.'” (Om)

“I believe a hardcore fan is one that goes a step beyond listening to the music. They apply it, they learn from it, they share it, and most importantly they live it.” (Deftones)

pearl jam 20 signature wall

“To be a hardcore fan, you have to connect with the music beyond the superficial. The music morphs into something personal and you connect with it on a different level than other music. You keep connected to the artist and all of the news and upcoming material. You are open minded to the material the artist presents but you are also critical of it and you’re able to examine it. But you never disown or give up on your favorite artist, no matter what.” (Muse)

“I’ve always associated it with a certain feeling that you and the band are, in some way, on the same wavelength. It’s not about getting upset when other people don’t like them, or about wanting to have their babies, or even about loving every single thing they do. For me, it’s about getting something so profound out of experiencing the band that you gladly spend time, money, and attention on them above and beyond what a “normal” person might.” (NIN)

How did you first find out about your artist? Were you instantly hooked, or did it happen later?

I once had a psych professor tell me that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a negative thing unless you are talking about your profession. I’d say the same applies to fandom. Once fans latch onto a band, it’s like falling in love, or taking on a job. There’s a huge time investment and monetary investment involved; they want to know everything.

Word of mouth seems to be the main way people get into a band, but hearing them perform cover songs of other bands or being members of other bands ranks a close second.

“The very first time I remember hearing NIN was, strangely, at family hour at my local swimming pool. Their cover of “Dead Souls” had just come out and the radio station the pool played often spun it. It didn’t hold any particular interest for me at the time. Later, I saw the video for “Closer” and was equally interested and appalled. I lived in a small conservative town and was just starting to understand that leather, bondage, and the like were turn-ons for me, and “Closer” was one of the few pieces of media featuring them that trickled down to me. Around the same time, I heard “The Perfect Drug” and realized it was the same guy, so I ran out and bought The Downward Spiral…and hated it. (I find this all very funny now, because the NIN fandom community has a lot of disdain for the trope of the NIN newbie who lists “Closer” as their favorite song — and I was once that guy!). Years later, my brother played “All The Love In The World” for me, and when he told me it was “the ‘Closer’ guy,” I was impressed by the range. He gave me a copy of With Teeth, which I played quite a lot and then forgot about. Even later, I heard NIN was doing an alternate-reality game tie-in for Year Zero, and kept meaning to look it up, but never did. Finally, my girlfriend pointed me toward the free downloads of The Slip and Ghosts I, as well as some interviews. That’s when I first started really getting a sense of Trent Reznor’s personality outside of the music, and I found his take on things very inspirational creatively. It was the mixture of learning about his personality and being exposed to yet another aspect of his music that finally made everything click.”

“I first became aware of BRMC when my friend, who is also a music blogger, asked me to road trip to the House of Blues in San Diego to see them in 2007. I had no idea who they were and had never heard of them before. I distinctly remember standing in the balcony overlooking the giant backdrop with their skull logo and falling in love right there. I was enamored from that moment…”

“I remember it was somewhere between 6th & 7th grade, being the time I began listening to rock music. I started to separate myself from the rest of the kids and began listening to bands like Korn & Green Day, then as soon as I saw the video for “My Own Summer” I knew they were going to be my band.” (Deftones)

“Way back before they changed their name to Steel Panther. Back in the days when they were Metal Shop and then Metal Skool……and The Atomic Punks. They were also the band “Danger Kitty” in the Mastercard commercial. They’ve been legendary in many capacities on the Strip for quite some time…Given who was in the band, I was already a “fan” when they started. Russ Parrish (their guitarist, known in the band as “Satchel”) was in Fight with Rob Halford (among several other projects) and I followed his career from that point forward…When they came out as Steel Panther, I eventually stopped at Target one day and bought their CD a few months after it was released- I was hooked immediately. The first vocal scream on the first song completely sold me- my friend and I just looked at each other and smiled and laughed through the album. I very much needed to hear music like this- it made me happy! I went to my first Steel Panther show a few days later. “

(filmed by the Steel Panther fan)

“As an avid fan of most things Jack White is involved in, the discovery of this band was rather quick and easy thanks to the internet and the promotion that White’s company Third Man Records put into promoting the band from the start. So, first chance I had at hearing of this band was practically the moment it was publicized… it wasn’t hard to get behind this group especially when I realized Alison Mosshart was the front woman (aka the badass girl from The Kills), and come to find out, this band was more about her taking the lead than any other Jack White project I’d been fond of in the past. She is a force, she makes the band! The Dead Weather would be everything and more, especially if you had the chance to experience the live performance!”

“When Pearl Jam first “hit”, I was still listening to a different genre of music, so I missed the super saturation of the band during the first few years. In the fall of 1992, I would carpool with one of my friends to community college (a 50 minute drive each way). Whoever drove got to pick out the music. He would always want to listen to “Ten”, which annoyed me at the time. A couple of years later, I started listening to “alternative” (Mazzy Star was who actually got me into it). My closest friend at the time was a big fan of Pearl Jam. He wanted me to like them too. We were at his house one day and he handed me the guitar transcription book and it had lyrics. He turned it to Black and played the song on the stereo. I listened and read along with the words. By the end of the song, I had tears in my eyes. I was so embarrassed because I felt like such a girl and there were 3 guys in the room with me. I looked up from the book expecting them to make fun of me for crying, but instead they were all just nodding.”

“I was instantly hooked. I remember playing that song for about 80 times before I got into their other material – which was equally awesome.” (Om)

“Muse released Knights of Cydonia on Guitar Hero. I loved the track and played it over and over. I purchased their live DVD (HAARP) and was completely blown away by their live performance. I started watching their live performances on Youtube and I was even more impressed. It wasn’t until I finally got to see their own headlining arena tour for The Resistance that I became immersed in the world of Muse. I wanted to see them before, but they were opening for bands that I was not into (My Chemical Romance, etc.) and I waited it out. I completely regret waiting now and wish I could go back and see all of those old shows.”

“I became a fan in 10th grade (2003). Before my musical evolution, I was SUPER into Blink 182, and they did a song with Robert Smith, that is actually, very very amazing. It definitely peaked my interest to find out who’s beautiful heart felt voice it was. I became a fanatic soon after that due to heartbreak. I was talking to a friend who was huge into The Cure and knew I was getting into them, and I was soo upset over a dumb boy. He told me to listen to “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea” from the Wish album. So I download it from Kazaa (ha) and read along the lyrics while I listened, and it is a moment I will never in my life forget. The song took my disturbed feelings and turned them into a beautiful immaculate song that soothed my soul. From that moment, I was a diehard. I would buy one Cure cd (physical cd) at a time, and get to know it personally inside out until I bought the next one. I started with Japanese Whispers.”

There are a lot of questions that revolve around how a new band can get fans. The key to everything is always awareness. You have to be everywhere…then you edit from there. It’s all about trial and error. You can see that some of these hardcore fans found out about their bands in unconventional ways. Without MTV, you have to go for less mass channels. While word of mouth carries the most clout because you will always trust your friends over media, things like Guitar Hero, soundtracks, commercials, and opening slots at shows are proving to do the trick nowadays.

In ad school I learned that repetition is the key to acceptance; bands have to find ways to get through the clutter to get people to actually sit down and pay attention to listening to their album. Once they pay attention, there’s that chance they will become your biggest fan.

I think one of the biggest takeaways I got from working in research for big brands is that people appreciate a point of view, a story, a vision. A common research exercise is to have consumers say “__________ brand is all about __________.” It may sound like you’re overthinking it, but bands should have this, too. When I was growing up with MTV, the VJs told me what the bands were about. GNR was rock/blues about hard times with elaborate videos and guitar solos. Metallica was angry and about speed (with the exception of a few songs) and the dark side. Nirvana was depressing and anti-establishment and represented an ‘alternative’ lifestyle that was easily picked up en masse due to the mainstream good looks of its front man. Nowadays, a band has more control over this…which both works for and against them. You can control the message, but you also have to get out the message. Think about popular music today. Everyone knows that Lady Gaga is about expressing your inner freak and being accepted for it, Insane Clown Posse is about family and belonging, Foo Fighters is everyone’s rock band, Radiohead is the soundtrack to a sad dream.

Hardcore fans have woven the band’s music into their life experiences. The lyrics of the songs have helped them express things…the mood and tone of the music has helped them feel things. Sometimes I don’t realize what a song is about or the what the lyrics really mean until much later on, and then I become a bigger fan of it. Below are the stories of what these bands mean to their fans, which, to me, is the greatest story of them all.

What is the thing that you most identify with about your artist? How does their music make you feel?

“Complete. Happy in knowing I’m a blessed person for knowing this music and being able to enjoy it. The music itself (which is Stoner/Doom/Psychedelic) gives me a feeling of deprivation, hopelessness, desolateness… I feel overpowered, struck, it’s really hard putting it into words. What I do want to add is that these things aren’t values I carry throughout life (I dont see myself as a depressed person, even though the previous sentence would seem to indicate so), it’s just stuff I really like to experience in art.” (Om)

“There are a few bands that I will go see no matter what, see over and over again… but there are a few bands that reach in and really get at my emotions and this is one of them. I’ve always said that BRMC “writes the soundtrack for my life”… I feel so emotionally tied to a lot of their music, so when I go to see them live or listen to them, it’s more than “just music” I’m listening to. A concert with them is like a therapy session for me, talking things out with a really good friend. It takes me to another place when I listen to them… I can’t totally describe it, other than that I am totally emotionally tied to the music and that’s why I love it so much.”

“I think the thing that I most identify with is the pure honesty of the songs. Nothing is glossed over. And I like that the lyrics can change meaning depending on what is happening at the time you hear them. For example, Alive (as it was first written/performed) was a depressing song, but after the tragedy in Roskilde, it became more of an anthem to remind everyone to live every day you are given, because it could be your last. I also like that the band has such integrity. They could have easily taken the easy road when they hit it big early on, but instead they remained true to themselves, even if it meant losing fans. I think those of us that have stuck with them got to see their true talent. The early stuff was good, but nothing compared to later. Also, I appreciate that they aren’t afraid to express their beliefs no matter what the outcome. I was at the Denver 2003 show when Ed first brought out the George W. Bush mask…a huge percentage of the crowd booed them. But I think they enjoyed getting people to engage in the political conversation, even if it was contrary to what the band supported.”

“I would have to say that the ability to choose a song from deftones that fits my mood is why I love them so much. Their diversity seems to be something that plays into the different feelings and emotions I can feel at times. I can be angry and play something off of Adrenaline. I can be heart-broken and play something off their self-tiled…etc. It seems that as I grew up and went through my own personal hell they also matured and morphed into something that I could identify. I went bored and angry to love-struck to out of place and into many other phases of my life. They seemed to have gone through all that with each album. At least to me it seems like they did.”

“They are very talented, intelligent, quirky and fun. They are talented in multiple areas of music. I really identify with Matt’s lyrics. He knows how to illustrate the ups and downs of relationships and packages it in a musically complex, yet catchy tune. Their music can make me feel happy, empowered, saddened and nostalgic all in one moment.” (Muse)

MUSE photo collage

“I’m an author, a bit of a misanthrope, and I definitely exist outside the realm of “normal” by society’s standards in just about every definition, so NIN’s songs about creativity, frustration with humanity, and being an angry but squelched outsider are important to me. The music makes me feel understood, like a companion I can always turn to. The scope of NIN’s material over the years means that I can find something for almost any mood, and yet the core of what it’s all about is consistent — themes of not giving in are particularly meaningful to me.”

“Their music makes me feel alive. Makes me feel accepted and strangely safe. Motley Crue has an image of danger and sex and drugs and whatever. But the thing I took away from the lyrics most, especially as I got older is that… One can be who they are, no matter how strange that may be. Or how NORMAL that may be. And if other people don’t like it, who cares?? I spent a lot of time lying about myself and TO myself to get people to like me. And the day that I stopped caring about what other people thought of me… was the most liberating day of my life. It took a while for the message to get through, but it really did.”

“First of all, they rock. I feel like they have picked up where the “good” Van Halen left off (circa 1983). I like clever and humorous music that is played with skill and a monstrous guitar sound. These guys have all those elements. They say things that I would never verbalize (but have run across my mind) and it’s nice (at times) to have someone so over the top like that. Laughing and rocking out are both very healthy activities. The offensive nature of the music, while sometimes amusing, puts me off a little, but as weird as it sounds, I actually enjoy music that makes me a little uncomfortable. I really like to rock out and their awesome originals and the cheesy (but rocking) covers they play always make me feel like a teenage metal head again- a special time in my life I always look back on fondly.” (Steel Panther)

“Good question, how does the music make me feel?! Like I’m on an intense gritty blues roller coaster reaching the highest highs and delving into the lowest lows with a grip so fiercely tight I refuse to let go until it rides me back to the top where my pulsing heart and the sweat that falls drips in unison to the beat… how’s that for feeling? That’s what rock n roll is meant to do. As for what I most identify with, it would be the soul that the music conveys. Lyrically some of the songs are quite simple, but it’s the soul of the music and the vocals that reaches into my being and yanks out all of the darkness and lets me know I’m still alright, I’m alive.” (The Dead Weather)

Stay tuned for Part 2: the music, the concert, and the merchandise.

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