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?