I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at NAMM last week about how to make money in the music business. Normally when I speak on panels it’s me and a few other Social Media,  Marketing, and PR peeps but this panel which was curated by Tony Van Veen of CD Baby / Discmakers was exceptional because it included an artist who is making it right now…  Brian Mazzaferri, the fearles leader of Chicago’s own I Fight Dragons had incredible insights to share about was his band is doing now to make money in the brave new world of “The old model isn’t quite totally dead yet, but the new model isn’t really proven either.”He took some time to really delve into his thoughts on the theroy and I’m delighted that he shared his insight with me and I know you will be too:

Ariel Hyatt: Do you believe that 1,000 true fans is a theory that can work?

Brian, I Fight Dragons: I will first say it’s an awesome theory and idea.  And if I had to place a bet, I’d say that in 10 or maybe even 5 years, it will be MUCH more possible.  However, I’d imagine most people reading this would like to build a music career now instead of waiting 10 years, so then I would have to say a very qualified yes, with some big conditions:

Condition 1: You’ve got to be a solo artist.   MAYBE a duo.  The handful of people I know who are truly making this type of model work make decent livings, but start dividing that living up 3 or more ways, and you dip below the poverty line pretty quickly.  My band has 6 people in it.

Condition 2: You’ve got to be both willing and able to do a lot of things yourself that traditional “professional” musicians don’t.  Same reason.  Managers, Producers, Booking Agents, Labels, Graphic Designers, Publicists, Studios, and Webmasters all need to get paid, and that’s above and beyond your living.  Every member you add to your team needs to eat.

For example, my band toured with mc chris this fall.  He calls this balance ‘trimming the fat.’  He runs an incredibly efficient music operation, self-managed, self-produced, self-webmastered.  The only team members he has are a booking agent and a tour manager that does the business and merch with him on tour.  But that means he has to do the resthimself.

And in the 1000 true fans model, that’s the goal!  That’s the finish line!

I would say this is the toughest realization for most people pursuing an indie music career (I know it was for me!), since I think the main reason we got into this industry was to make music, and we probably don’t have as much passion for the business end even if we have the ability.  And that’s as it should be!  If you have MORE passion for the business than the music, why do the music?  Personally, I like the idea of working with team members.  My manager, booking agent, lawyer, and social media coach are all ridiculously awesome at what they do, and working with them gives me more time to focus on music.

“If you have MORE passion for the business than the music, why do the music?”

– Brian, I Fight Dragons


However, having a 6-person band and a large team, I’d say my band’s “True Fans” number is definitely above 10,000, which starts to become preposterous when you think about what a “True Fan” is.  Make no mistake, even 1,000 is very very hard to get to.

So, as much as people like to hate labels (especially the majors), we’ve come to the ugly truth: they’re really the only people investing the time and money it takes to build an artist up in the traditional ways.  And people like to say terrestrial radio is dead, but trust me, it’s no such thing. Radio is crazy powerful.

Plus, the other tricky part is that a True Fan is not a possession.  It’s a relationship.  As such, it grows and changes, and people come and go as you grow, and as they grow and their lives change.  Plus the more True Fans you have, the less overall time you have for each one, which is definitely a factor for the people that are your biggest fans.  Keeping up with 1000 personal relationships is a monumental task!

“…a True Fan is not a possession.  It’s a relationship.  As such, it grows and changes, and people come and go as you grow, and as they grow and their lives change.”

– Brian, I Fight Dragons

And I suppose I’ve written an essay here, but to sum it up, I do think 1,000 true fans is possible, but currently only under very specific conditions.  However, as more and more people spend more and more time and money on the internet, this can (and likely will) change over time.

AH: Are you currently making a full-time living as a musician from your music?

B, IFD: Yes.  Admittedly it’s pretty damn humble, but I hope it will grow 🙂
AH: How many years did it take you from day j-o-b to part time job to F/T Musician?

B, IFD: Well, I started in music in early 2007.  For the most part I’ve worked part time from then until late 2009, making just enough to stay alive while spending every waking moment on music.  Also, I should say that my first few projects were huge learning experiences that went nowhere, and my current band didn’t really launch until early 2009.
AH: Can you give us a breakdown percentage wise of the following:

B, IFD: I don’t have exact %, but I’ll try and say how we do:

A. CD Sales?

We’ve sold a little over 4,000 physical copies of our debut EP, almost entirely at live shows. This is our biggest source of income at live shows.

B. Subscription Site?
None.  All of our subscription-type content (email-list) is 100% free

C. Live Shows?
Because we’ve continued to try and play larger venues and to tour, we usually make very little money from guarantee / door, and instead make it mostly from CD sales with a little bit from t-shirts

D. Merchandise?
T-shirts.  They’re awesome and they sell at live shows (and a little bit online), but they’re EXPENSIVE.  Especially if you want to make them decent quality and you don’t have the budget to order very many at once.  We also do really well selling sweatbands and wristbands.

E. Other? Please name what the other categories might be.
I think Other is very very important.  Making limited-edition, very high-value stuff is awesome.  We sold 100 Lifetime Membership USB drives for $100 each (lifetime admission to any IFD show, free digital content for life), and that was a huge $10,000 boon for us.

Also, digital downloads are very important too.  We’ve sold around 10,000 tracks online through iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, etc.
AH: If possible (I know you may not want to share this information), can you share the amount of money you have grossed in the last 12 months, broken down by months correlating with market, and promotional, and touring efforts?

B, IFD: We do have some data on this, but it’s scattered around (I need to get it together).  Honestly we only started about 12 months ago, so it’s not very much data, and I’m not ready to share it quite yet 😛
AH: How many die hard fans, fans that will buy everything and anything from you, would you imagine that you have?

B, IFD: That’s a tough question.  I’d guess between 500-1000.  It really depends on what you mean, since I think there’s a sliding scale, not all True Fans are created equal (although they are all created awesome), and a lot of them come and go depending on what’s going on in their lives.
AH:How long did it take you to build up this many fans?

B, IFD: It’s been about a year.
AH:  Do you have a strategy with long-term and short-term goals in place to get to 1,000 true fans or for any future looking aspects of your music career? If so, can you share these goals?

B, IFD: Well, to be honest, right now we’re talking with labels about releasing our full length.  If we released our full-length on a major label, it would go to radio, and we would tour to support it.  I’d say my biggest goal is to continue to try and bring awesome fan interaction and social media stuff to a larger scale, and to see what other awesome things we can do artistically that people will enjoy.
AH: Have you ever made money from social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, or Ustream? Can you please tell us exactly how and correlate them?

B, IFD: Not directly.  Those are great ways for people to discover us, and for us to interact with fans, but we generally try to keep those channels about interaction and not about sales.
AH: Has your connection to the podcasting and online world, and your popularity with podcasters helped you to earn more money?

B, IFD: Indirectly, yes.  I wouldn’t say we’re incredibly popular with podcasters, but those that have been our champions (Hipster PleaseMothpodGeekDadThe Nerdy Show,and more) have been invaluable in helping us spread the word.

AH: What are your next steps to continue to help yourself move forward in your own career?

B, IFD: For us, the next big step is finalizing how we’re going to release our debut full-length album, and how we can bring the social media and crazy new ideas we’ve used so far to work on a wider scale.
AH: If you could give a band or artist any type of advice on how to start in social media, what would you advise them to do?

B, IFD: Starting is a tough thing.  I’d say know your audience, and join the conversation.  Use Twitter especially to join in conversations that are already happening.
AH: If you had $500 to spend on marketing and promotion, how would you spend that money?

B, IFD: Just marketing and promotion?  I guess Facebook Ads are the only specific ‘marketing’ money we spend.  I’d say a lot of the money we spend to make and distribute free content is arguably marketing money though.
AH: How do you use analytics to your advantage? What are your measurable online results, and how do your measures help you with your music career?

B, IFD: Analytics are definitely important to know if things are working or not.  We use Constant Contact, so I see how many people open each of our emails and who clicks on what.  That’s very very valuable.

AH: On a scale of 1 to 10, would you say you share a lot (a 10) or are you guarded in what you exposure on social media sites about yourself and your personal life?

B, IFD: Probably 7.  We try to share a lot of ourselves, but we try not to make people uncomfortable.
AH: What would you say to a fellow musician, that thinks that Twitter is just sharing “eating a tuna sandwich”  and is stupid?

B, IFD: Um, “you’re stupid.”?  Learn about something before you dismiss it.
AH: And – is there anything I missed you want to say?

B, IFD: I guess I would say that it’s a fascinating endeavor.  My last big concern about the 1,000 true fans model is longevity.  Most of the people using it work through the internet, and everything on the internet has an exponentially shorter shelf-life than it’s Real Life corollary.

I just think there’s very little data right now on how long an internet music career can last.  Most traditional music careers, even people with a hit record, are lucky to last more than a decade, and so traditional music business literature says to make as much as you can while you’re hot and save it up for when your career’s over.

What’s the new model for that?  Is the expectation that an internet music career is longer than a traditional one?  I suppose one could argue that, but it’s a tough sell for me.  The internet is fickle, and tastes change.  I guess we’ll see the truth of that as time goes on too.

Sorry to be the ultimate downer!  I’ve been wrestling with a lot of these issues myself lately, and these are my latest thoughts.

“For the record, I’m incredibly positive about music in general, I just guess I think we’re in a weird spot right now where the old model doesn’t work like it used to, but the new model isn’t powerful enough to take over yet, so there’s upsides and downsides to each one.  I suppose my biggest goal is to combine them both :)… I don’t think I’m the ultimate authority, this is just where I stand at the moment.

Hang with I Fight Dragons:





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