This is worrisome: The looming crisis in music fandom

Back in the day, you were either into an artist or you were not. You bought albums and singles, went to shows, and maybe had a t-shirt or two. But as this article by Mark Mulligan in Hypebot shows, being a fan today is not just expensive, it’s complicated. And you’re being manipulated.

The Chinese authorities’ crackdown on fandom represents the first major growing pain for the global fandom economy. Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) will likely be the bellwether of this shift, with two-thirds of its revenues coming from non-music (i.e., fandom) related activities.

But this is more than just about China – it shines a light on the dark underbelly of the global fandom machine. The companies behind K-pop and Idol acts industrialized fandom by leveraging and even exploiting, fan psychology to massive global businesses that trade upon extracting every possible ounce of spend from fanbases. The China crackdown should act as a wakeup call for the global music market.

The Chinese music apps illustrate just how much more can be achieved when experiences are built around the music, rather than simply relying on music to always be the experience. Alongside this, the rise of K-pop, which leans heavily on the Japanese Idol model, shows how much fanbases can be willing to support their favourite artists, particularly in terms of both spend and passion. But, as exciting as these models are, they have also been underpinned by the temptation to push fans’ spending and obsession further and further.

Even Western artists are getting in on the act. When Taylor Swift encouraged her fanbase to go and buy the re-recorded version of Fearless, she was looking for their support in her old master recordings ordeal. But who really needed the $50 for a vinyl copy most, Swift or her fans? 

This industrialization of fandom has actually weaponized it, and, in doing so, puts its very essence at risk.

Yikes. I was thinking something along these lines when I realized that it costs more than $50 to download Metallica’s new Blacklist album. Think about that: Fifty bucks for a bunch of MP3s. If you want FLAC files, it’s $70. Is this kind of ask from fans sustainable?

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “This is worrisome: The looming crisis in music fandom

  • September 17, 2021 at 4:07 pm
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    Is this new? Doesn’t the music industry always do this? 2016 I was still buying vinyl for a reasonable price. There were a few released I would shell out $40 for and that was on a rare special occasion. Now its if you want a new release, $40 is a great deal. And its not like you are getting special packaging or anything like that. Its just a standard pressing with a normal jacket.

    I stopped buying new vinyl because of pricing. I’m can’t be the only one.

    The music industry has a great talent to drive people to piracy and then being shocked that people would “steal”.

    Reply
  • September 18, 2021 at 5:03 pm
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    *James, Im putting this at the top because i got verbose again. Have you tried the artist website direct? You didn’t mention where you were shopping for the vinyl.

    I would also mention as a possibility discogs? The Euro was way down about a month ago so it was worth it to buy vinyl from the States for a change.
    ***
    I’m definitely a fan-girl as in the awestruck, gripping my friend’s arm (he’s not impressed) ‘OMG, John and Exene just walked five feet in front in front of us!’ as we were killing time before I went see X nearby and he went off to study for an upcoming football pool. I’m also one in the sense that it’s part of my identity. I don’t play music or sing and concerts are (this is impossible to truly, accurately number) what make me want to wake up every day. Music is at the heart of it.

    I don’t skimp on things like buying music or merch or although I do have limits and i won’t buy stuff to just support someone if i thought it was ugly or stupid or cheap or overpriced (looking at you on those last two, Social D) but i might give the merch person cash if its obviously the band or support for the band when they are small or an opener).

    But paying 40 bucks just to have a no frills vinyl album really is holding a fan hostage. I get that losing an entire factory last year probably hurt things pretty badly and it seems something else happened but thats more than three times what a cd will cost you and they cannot blame any cost increase on the whole world on fire thing. I surely did not hear anything about them closing down when we all got sent home. (Speaking for the States only.) I’ll have to pay more attention to the people buying vinyl at my next show because I’m not seeing a great surge in that arena at shows (no pun intended). I’ve seen vinyl at shows for years and the prices haven’t gone up much, if any, that i have seen. But, that takes us back to new vinyl and i just am not in that audience. I wouldn’t know new music if it slapped me in the face although i would probably act like the stereotypical ‘what’s all that noise!?’ old person. I buy new music from the bands I like that are still putting it out but I buy it from them if (lost my head for a moment there.) they are touring – in the before times or from the band direct and all the bands i buy from are bundling. Pick your favourite combo amd give 4-8 choices and I go from there.

    Reply

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