The music industry might be on it’s last legs, resembling something that has been dragged backwards through a hedge in a particularly unsavoury part of town, but it isn’t all bad news.
If there is a silver lining, it is the increasing opportunities for fans to interact with their favourite musicians.
A few years ago (okay, decades), aside from screaming in concert halls or at limousines (don’t judge, we’ve all done it) the opportunities for fans to learn about their favourite artists were as rare as dodo steak tartare. At best, fans would send a postal order for three pounds to the fan club PO Box address, probably addressed c/o a girl called Sue or Madge, who carried the grand title of “fan club secretary”. Twenty eight days later (the ad would always insist on 28 days for delivery, no matter what) in return for their hard-earned, the sender might receive a pin badge, a black and white promo photo of the pop star in question, probably actually signed by Sue or Madge in said pop star’s absence, and a photostat newsletter three times a year containing crucial details of the pop star’s favourite colour, affinity to cats or otherwise and other hard to find biographical details.
This was an excellent system for fans to “get closer” to their otherwise unreachable favourite musicians and had the added benefit to the pop stars (at least if their name was Gary Numan*) of introducing them to their future wife. If you were lucky, and the band was really rich and famous, like U2, Coldplay or The Beatles, there’d be a flexi disc popped in the post at Christmas with a message or exclusive track for the most faithful or devoted.
All well and good. We all love a pin badge and a forged signature on a photo, but times have moved on, and fans’ expectations have increased, albeit in inverse proportion to the size of record company advances. Sue and Madge are now more likely to be seen operating artists’ Official Twitter Feeds and fan clubs have gone the way of the dinosaurs, dodos and the iPod Classic.
The most enterprising of bands, doubtless having followed various series of The Apprentice and Dragon’s Den like a panther, have seized the entrepreneurial spirit with both hands – not easy to do when you are already playing a guitar – and now offer something special to the public. We have already seen how Asylums is finding success by launching its own record label, and how Ash is releasing its first album for years through PledgeMusic.
To top it all comes Sweet Billy Pilgrim who have a new album entitled “Motorcade Amnesiacs” and are also using PledgeMusic. However, The Billies have taken interaction with their fan base to a whole new level. Whilst admirers can snap up signed copies of the new album like fevered crocodiles, it doesn’t stop at “mere” signed copies of records. Some of the more esoteric items available to the discerning Sweet Billy Pilgrim shopper include:
- Having the band write an exclusive ringtone for their phone,
- Some handwritten lyrics, a CD of never before released music, and tickets to an exclusive pledgers-only gig,
- Having their very own song written by the band
- Have the band come to their house to play a show.
It’s extraordinary stuff. By cutting out the record company, bands now have the ability (and maybe the need) to connect with their fan base more closely, and offer a genuinely special and unique memory not just for the fans, but for the band also. Judging from the comments on Sweet Billy Pilgrim’s Facebook page these home-gigs mean more to both parties than might a more corporate style meet-and-greet VIP “experience” that many artists offer to fans. Here’s an example:
Hopefully the band will also refrain from throwing your TV out of the window, or driving their Rolls Royce in your swimming pool when they come to your house to play. If you do have them round, I’d probably insist they sign something before the gig along those lines, just in case. You know what these rock bands can get like….
None of which means anything, of course, if the music isn’t up to scratch, so it’s good to report that the new Sweet Billy Pilgrim track “Coloma Blues” is a corker.