Last night I had the rare treat of going out to a gig. I don’t go out much so that might have been treat enough but it was an especially enjoyable night because this was one of my favourite bands, Marillion. You might not have heard of them, especially if you are under a certain age, but I think their story is quite instructive.
You know how the music industry works. Bands fight to get noticed by record companies. They may or may not get a deal. If they do the money they are paid is really a loan against sales, with a whole heap of expenses taken into account including video production, etc. Bands are basically in hock to the record company for years unless they make it very big very quickly.
This band has been around since 1982 and did the record label thing. The interesting part for you though is what happened in the late 90′s.
Unlike the rest of the music industry herd they chose to forego bending their knees to the gods of the major labels and instead turned to their online fan base. All the costs for producing and marketing their albums are paid in full, 12 months in advance, by fans pre-ordering the new albums on announcement. Bands normally go on tour to promote a new album, Marillion fans on the other hand have already bought the album before the band arrive so their gigs are more like a celebration.
What is the lesson for the rest of us?
It underlines to me the wisdom of rather than trying to reach a mass market, attempting to please everyone, aiming for a smaller, more targeted audience is the way forward.
it was the revolutionary concept of asking their fans to pre-order and pay for the recording costs an album some 12 months in advance of its release that hit the headlines in 2001. Astonishingly, over 12,000 of their fans pre-ordered [...] In terms of fan loyalty, it can be said that Marillion have an international underground following to rival the mainstream
When singles —˜Don’t Hurt Yourself’ and —˜You’re Gone—˜ breached the UK top 20 —“ the latter making it all the way to number 7 —“ jaws dropped right across the music world.
Not bad going for a band without major label backing.
But it was merely the latest twist in a 23-year-long history of a group who have held on to the conviction that what they’re doing MEANS something real.
Added: This from Sound on Sound is a good summary
The way Marillion go about the business of making their music and the way they service their audience is totally unique. With virtually no radio play or media exposure of any kind, they have managed to sustain a huge fan base, sell hundreds of thousands of copies of every album they release and continue to attract fans who weren’t born when they started out. As they approach their silver jubilee, they have more relevance in today’s music industry than all the boy/girl bands laying end to end across the Atlantic Ocean (although that doesn’t seem a bad idea). In these days where major labels have an increasing stranglehold on retail, whilst at the same time investing in short-term celebrity with no thought to musical integrity and longevity, Marillion are market leaders in Internet marketing and forward thinking.
Instead of spreading yourself thin trying to please a huge gamut of prospects, focus on delighting a specific niche. Really care for and nurture this smaller audience. Prove your value and never betray the trust they place in you. Now we are talking true lifetime value rather than grasping after a 15mins of fame. That’s success to me.