So, yesterday, I wrote about Kevin Kelly’s theory of being able to earn a living from a base of 1,000 fans. But, can it really happen? I mean, building a base of 1,000 true fans does not seem that hard. Especially if you are already relatively well established. I have been writing online for more than 2 decades. I have become relatively well known for about 15 years now, through various sites. Things really started taking off for me, though, in 2006, a little more than 9 years ago.
Truth is, I have many times more than 1,000 who do things like subscribe to my newsletters, subscribe to my blogs and such. I would not go so far as to say, though, that I have 1,000 TRUE FANS using Kevin’s definition – a person who will buy every product that you release, and spend at least $100 per year on your stuff. You can’t measure everything by money, but still, I can’t say I have 1,000 true fans who have that measure of commitment. I think I am probably fairly close to that number though. I question, though, whether you can build a real career on that number of true fans. I am considering it, though, and thinking of the possibilities.
After publishing his article 1000 True Fans, Kevin followed up on it with another article called The Reality of Depending on True Fans. This follow-up article was based on the communication received from a fellow named Robert Rich, who is a musician. Robert has a base of somewhere around 1,000 true fans, and from what he writes, it seems that those fans to support him to the hilt.
Robert’s music is of a specialized genre, which somewhat limits how much he can do. In other words, he can’t really come out with a new CD 3 or 4 times per year, because he says that the music would be too similar, and maybe people would not buy it so many times over each year. On the other hand, what if Robert really pushes the envelope and expands his music into other similar genres? It makes sense, but Robert points out that his fans are very focused on his type of music, and if he spreads his wings a bit, many of his fans don’t like it and disagree with him changing his sound. He says that he feels a bit boxed in (my choice of words) by the demands of his fans.
Another thing that Robert points out is that to maintain this level of committed fans, he has to spend as much as half a day each day with communication, emails and such with his fans. I suspect that if he stopped communicating, his fan base would dwindle.
Robert sells CDs for $10 each. He was right at 1,000 fans. He releases 1 new CD each year. So, do the math, he makes $10,000 (fewer expenses) from his CDs. As I noted earlier, he feels that he can’t really release more than 1 CD per year, so he can’t release more CDs to increase his income, although that would have been my first suggestion for him. Another thing that Robert does is that he travels the country a few months out of each year and does small concerts for his fans. From this, as I recall, again he makes an income of around $10,000, which I assume is after expenses. So, basically, Robert makes $20,000 per year from his fans. That, in most cases, is not enough to sustain yourself, at least not in a nice manner. Robert also supplements this income with side gigs like music recording for other artists and such.
Is Robert really sustaining himself from 1000 fans?
I would argue that he is not. But, he is coming fairly close. I do not recall if Robert said he is married or single, but I am under the impression that he is single, so he probably said that. For a single person, if Robert could double his income, I would say that he could live pretty well. Personally, I think it is possible to double his income. Spread into other genres slowly, try releasing just one new album after 6 months. Maybe in addition to doing the concert tour, also hold a “Robert Convention” of some sort, some percentage of those true fans will travel. Put on a “Robert Music Camp” where you will teach aspiring musicians what he does. I am the type of person who believes that there are always more possibilities that you can exploit. It just takes careful consideration, a bit of pushing the envelope, and the courage to fail.
It is easy to get into a rut and accept that you can go as far as possible with what you do. I have been there, I’ve done it, and I even have the T-Shirt. Seriously, though, when I get into that rut, it usually does not take long before I rid myself of those kinds of thoughts and figure out a way out of the rut. I would encourage Robert to do that, and since this article is at least a few years old, I sincerely hope that he has moved on to bigger and better ways to make his fan base pay off for him.
Is it possible, though?
Is it really possible to sustain yourself from a base of 1,000 true fans? I think that Robert’s example would say that yes, it is possible. Maybe Robert is not quite there yet, but he is close enough that it demonstrates that the possibility is there. Also, Robert’s example demonstrates that through the Gig Economy, it is very possible to take on some gigs to supplement the income that you make from doing what you love and use those gigs to make enough to enjoy your life. Maybe Robert still wants more, I can’t blame him for that, but I think he demonstrates that the possibility is within reach.
So, the question keeps calling out to me.. is this something for me to do?