How Music Icons are Reinventing Fan Clubs for Modern Membership

By / May 16, 2018 Neil Young wants you to be a member of his online community. (Kris Krüg/Flickr)

Are you into The National, or more a Taylor Swiftie? Both have taken steps toward launching fan club concepts that focus on the die-hards—each with models that associations might appreciate. But both might pale in ambition compared to what rock legend Neil Young is doing.

Big-name musicians have long been known for having fan clubs that are designed to offer a little more to the folks who love their music the most.

For example, The Beatles would famously drop some of their most experimental, unusual audio experiments on Christmas records for fans. Often, though, these fan clubs would be organized not by the musicians themselves, but by those who consider themselves superfans of the artist.

The internet has sort of pushed back these kinds of clubs in recent years—because who needs fan clubs when you have online fandom—but there’s a movement among artists to bring this fan club approach back. And the result is looking pretty membership-y.

A great case in point on this is Neil Young, the classic rocker whose well-known obsession with musical purity has often led him down unusual paths for a rock artist, including launching his own tech company. His latest strategy, however, involves putting a subscription on his archive website and adding a modest membership fee for users to access his sizable archives, which he announced last year. Young will charge fans $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year to use the platform, which will give those users access to his entire catalog (in high-resolution audio form, of course) as well as the ability to pre-order concert tickets.

Young, in announcing the plan on his Facebook page, suggested he would quit social media and instead run his online operation through his own platform.

“It will also be the place where I live on the Web. I won’t be here,” he wrote.

Young’s membership-driven approach won plaudits from media outlets, including The Outline, who noted that Young’s sizable audience allows him to make such a move, but that it was a goal for other artists.

“In essence, Young is combining old-school patronage and fan clubs with new-school internet monetization and fan subscription services, a la Kim Kardashian,” the website’s Ann-Derrick Gaillot wrote.

Other artists have dabbled in similar approaches. The National, a popular indie rock band that won a Grammy back in January, recently launched a fan club of its own. While it has a higher price tag than Young’s—$50 per year—it also comes with more physical perks, including exclusive merchandise and “annual collectible vinyl,” on top of the promise of priority ticketing for concerts and exclusive content.

Certainly, these artists have sizable fanbases, but perhaps not fanbases that, say, frequently trend on Twitter. It turns out that artists like that are also experimenting with the membership model as well. Last year, Taylor Swift released a new app called “The Swift Life,” which played up the fact that her fans can be a bit, well, obsessive. The app doesn’t charge anything, but it definitely focuses on the private community—including features that focus on the idea of access to the pop icon. (Hey, she might like my post!)

It is, of course, for the obsessives. In a piece for The Verge, writer Elana Fishman (who describes herself as “part of the target demographic” of the app) admits that it’s not for everyone.

“Honestly, it’s probably not meant for you unless at some point in your life, you’ve opened Instagram and thought, ‘You know what’d be cool? If literally every photo in my feed was of Taylor Swift,’” she wrote.

Certainly, it’s not the same as the fan club of yore. But many organizations, including those that have nothing to do with music, have these kinds of superfans, and building communities around them is a great way to give the fans a little extra love.

Associations looking to boost their own engagement might want to take notes. Especially on that Taylor Swift app.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »


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