The next evolution of direct-to-fan will be fan-to-fan
Photo: Anthony Delanoix
Last month, we wrote about creator burnout and the need for more sustainable paths toward financial stability for artists. The abundance of creator platforms has opened the door for anyone to share their music, but it has also turned artists (and other creators) into 24/7 content creation machines who are racing against the ever-rising pace of consumption and whittling attention spans. There is a growing tension in the digital entertainment world: platforms want more content with little or no vested interest in the sustainability of individual creators, but, instead, focus on the viability of creators en masse as a business opportunity. A creator pressure valve is needed. Fan-to-fan may be part of the answer.
The creator economy now has plenty of direct-to-fan platforms, from Twitch to Patreon, which allow artists to connect directly with (and monetise) their audiences. More emphasis should also be placed on tools that drive fan-to-fan interaction, which not only help artists nurture fan bases, but also take the pressure off of the artist to churn out content. Of course, artist fan clubs have always existed. But the concept is ripe for a 21st century makeover, potentially helping ameliorate the recent spate of creator burnout.
The fan-to-fan tools revolution has already begun
There is plenty of experimentation already happening. The simplest example is a private Discord server where fans can connect. On the ten-thousand-member Discord for artist collective and record label Soulection, for example, fans share concert footage and suggest merchandise ideas; while on producer Kenny Beats’ server, 118,000 fans (most of whom are artists themselves) host beat battles, trade music gear, and solicit feedback for their own music projects. Decentralised autonomous organisations (DAOs) – community-owned and community-governed online organisations that individuals purchase (or earn) tokens to join – are another emerging method of fan-to-fan engagement. Here, fans can earn rewards for their fandom, connect in both virtual and IRL spaces, and exercise voting rights to influence things like merchandise drops and fan experiences. As yet another example, Hybe’s in-house community app for fans of its K-pop roster, Weverse, has 5.3 million monthly active users and ended 2021 with more than 36 million subscribers. Hybe also backs the app Fave, where users can join fandoms for artists, including BTS and Taylor Swift, create profiles, post content, and compete for prizes.
Shifting the focus from audiences to communities
By developing virtual spaces where fans can connect, artists can nurture their fan bases into self-sustaining communities – which thrive regardless of how often the artist may release music, post on social media or live stream. Going deeper, fan-to-fan interaction can also open up secondary markets. Fan engagement platform Fave is developing a marketplace where fans sell homemade merchandise to each other, relinquishing a percentage of sales revenue back to the artist who lent their IP. Avenged Sevenfold fans who buy the band’s NFTs not only unlock access to its Deathbats Club, but – in the same way as Bored Ape Yacht Club – also receive full commercial rights to the image of their NFT, which they can use to create everything from merchandise to an animated series, or even their own virtual band.
The music industry has evolved from one-way engagement (the artist makes music and the fan listens) to two-way engagement (direct-to-fan tools that allow for fluid interaction between artists and fans). For the creator economy to be sustainable in the long-term, there must be a third prong where fans are not just connecting with their favourite artist, but also with each other.
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