What You Can Learn From Other Artists (Even if You Dislike Their Music)10th July 2016 • No comments
Popular music is filled with examples of divisive artists. You know, those artists whose mere existence results in passion in extremes – you love them or you hate them. A critical mistake many musicians make is dismissing those acts rather than paying attention to what they can learn from their careers, regardless of their genre or persona.
Let’s take a look at a few bands and performers who people love and hate (and love to hate) and break down what those artists are really good at-even if you hate their music.
With their outlandish makeup and Spinal Tap-inspiring stage antics, Kiss is a band that people devoutly love or disregard as comic book characters with instruments. No matter which position you hold one thing is undeniable; no band has mastered branding and marketing better than Kiss.
From their trademark makeup, pinball machines, action figures, and caskets (sorry, Kaskets), Kiss revolutionized how bands market themselves. Each band member releasing a solo album on the same day was a way to maintain band cohesion while pursuing individual artistic pursuits and the epic public reveal of Kiss performing with no makeup for the first time were subdued, masterfully thought out, and brilliantly executed campaigns in the Kiss marketing machine.
Lesson: Recognize that you are a brand and get creative. How can you market yourself in unique ways? Maybe caskets (sorry, Kaskets) aren’t for you but be willing to expand your merchandising, album releases, and your brand with something a little (or a lot) left of center.
You would have been hard-pressed to turn on a radio or video station in the 80s and 90s without at least one Michael Bolton track coming on. He was a force to be reckoned with, having amassed numerous multi-million selling records and countless sold-out concerts in stadiums and arenas around the globe. He still records and tours consistently and his career has staying power few artists have experienced. He’s also frequently the butt of jokes, skits, and much mockery by the masses who don’t appreciate his talent quite the same way as his legions of fans. While it used to irritate Bolton, in recent years he’s grown to appreciate the snark and disrespect directed at him. He now embraces it and obliges those who want him to sign copies of Office Space, a film featuring a character named Michael Bolton who, when asked why he doesn’t change his name, responds by saying: “Why should I change? He’s the one who sucks.” Performer Michael Bolton has learned to see the light-heartedness in the thick of the insults and embraces it. (See: Artists Who Brush Off Critics Have the Last Laugh).
Lesson: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Appreciate the success you find and understand that there will be criticism, often mercilessly. Enjoy the ride and use your platform to show you have a good sense of humor. Michael Bolton may forever be the butt of jokes by way of Office Space but far more importantly, he’s had enough success to do anything he pleases when it comes to his career and his fans adore him. What more could you want for your career?
The Grateful Dead
You either love the Grateful Dead and the sub-culture they created or you don’t, that’s pretty clear. Epic tours, endless jam sessions during live performances, artwork, and a lot of drugs come to mind when The Grateful Dead is mentioned. Far beyond that, The Grateful Dead had (and has) fan loyalty few artists in history have known. They created Street Teams before Street Teams existed by treating their fans as equals and encouraging them to record and trade live recordings of Dead shows. Their laissez-faire approach to what many artists protested solidified their place as number one fan oriented band and it was brilliant. The people who were recording Dead shows and trading them, or even selling them, created one of the strongest communities in the history of music. The band was (and still are) beloved and have a reputation for respecting their fan-base more than anyone. In doing so, they amassed a marketing team of millions who support everything they do, from tours and supporting solo projects, to sharing their music with new generations of fans.
Lesson: Your fans are the best marketing team you’ll ever have, and they work for free. Be accessible, be relatable, put your music first and take advantage of the community that inadvertently markets your music and merch. Be appreciative and malleable and they’ll be loyal for life.
Yes, she dates people. Yes, she’s written break-up songs. Yes, cameras like to follow her around and exaggerate her every move. She also runs her career exactly as she wishes, enjoys multi-platinum sales in an era when most people don’t buy music, and she readily acknowledges that her fans are the reason she has the life and success she has. No one is better at fan engagement and interaction that Taylor Swift. You may write her music off as irrelevant pop drivel but do you know why she’s as successful as she is? Because she’s always interacted with her fans regularly and cultivated a reciprocal relationship which results in those fans buying her albums, tickets, and merchandise. She leaves supportive comments on fans’ social media accounts when they’re struggling. She buys them gifts and surprises them at their homes. She donates money to help them when they’re ill or trying to scrape together tuition money.
Cynics scoff and roll their eyes, convinced all of Swift’s kindness is merely part of a good marketing plan, but so what if it is? Plenty of artists spend millions of dollars marketing and it doesn’t work at all. Genuine interaction from a favorite singer is putting something positive in the world and making fans feel appreciated and for many, it makes them feel less alone during difficult times.
Lesson: For many people, music is the way they process the world and their experiences. When the person who makes their favorite music takes a few moments to acknowledge them, it means more than many people realize. Interact with your fans regularly. Tweet them, retweet them, reply to their comments on Facebook, thank them for supporting you. When you’re a newer artist, it’s easier to take time to appreciate your supporters and younger acts tend to openly show that appreciation more than those who are well established. At some point, many musicians forget what it’s like to be a fan. Consistently engaging with your community throughout your career is how you build a tribe of supporters. It’s also how you stay grounded and appreciative of the people who make your career a possibility.
Insane Clown Posse
It’s hard to think of a group that brings about more vehement reactions than ICP. The makeup, the Faygo, the violent lyrics, the song “Miracles”- it’s all fodder for loathing amongst their detractors. Despite what the masses find deplorable, with each album release Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope sell millions of records and further cement their fans’ unyielding devotion. Well beyond album sales, ICP has created a community, the likes of which are unparalleled.
The members of ICP speak often about feeling like outsiders and not fitting in anyplace. In doing so, they’ve made themselves human to their fans and created a family of sorts. Juggalos, as Insane Clown Posse fans are known, identify with feeling like outsiders and have taken solace in a community of like-minded people around the world who share the thoughts and experiences they do. They do this while forming a bond over music they love. This community is so large, in fact, Insane Clown Posse launched a tour celebrating their music, their fans, and introducing up and coming artists, big name acts, and Psychopathic Records label-mates.
Since 2000, The Gathering of the Juggalos has featured seminars, wrestling, exclusive access to the artists performing, carnival rides, comedians, contests, and a whole lotta music over the course of several days. The largest Gathering was attended by upwards of 20,000 fans.
Lesson: Insane Clown Posse may be among the most hated acts in the entirety of music but they don’t care. They make music they want to make and, in doing so, have amassed a following that is willing to drive to days-long festivals in the middle of nowhere so they can feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. In fact, it’s very likely that the mass hatred contributes to the sense of belonging amongst Juggalos, who are often quite used to feeling isolated from the norm. What’s different about you? Do you adopt a persona and act perfect and always-together for your fans? Do you pose for the perfect selfie and only share the highlights of your career or are you willing to admit that you have your own personal struggles? Fans respond to sincerity and even in the case of ICP, behind the clown makeup, there are songs and people fans identify with, even if you don’t. Don’t be afraid to be yourself and make the music you want to make, the way you want to make it. Insane Clown Posse did most everything in their career unconventionally because the masses collectively dismissed them. You may hate everything about them but do you have over 20,000 people who would celebrate you for 4 days?
There’s a lot of music made by many people and the knee-jerk reaction by most is to dismiss anything done by an artist whose music they don’t enjoy. Though you may not feel the inclination to support every artist, don’t let your arrogance cloud your ability to recognize what other artists do well. There are lessons to be learned by observing others and you’ll find greater success if you’re open to what they can teach you.