“The hard part isn’t solving problems, but deciding what problems to solve.” Paul Graham
All creative industries are a game of hits. As a creator in any arena, it’s often feast or famine. But we’re seeing some signs that this is changing. We might be entering a world where a long-tail of full time creators is possible.
The web, as we know it, is less than 8,000 days old and the “creative apocalypse” some were predicting when the internet hit, never came. Turns out, the free distribution and cheap means of production that the web provides is only bad for the “middle men,” not the creators themselves.
Kickstarter is a prime example of this brave new world. You no longer need a major record label or movie studio to finance your project. If you can get a group of people excited enough to fund you, you’re good to go. But as anyone who has ever run a campaign can attest to, it’s not that simple.
Kickstarter solves a critical commerce and content problem. It’s a place to send your audience to transact and consume content. But it doesn’t solve “The Audience Problem,” a term I made up to describe the fundamental challenge creatives have always faced:
“The hardest thing to do as an artist is to identify and monetize an audience that will allow you to create full time.”
Less than 10 % of backers on any given Kickstarter campaign come from discovery within the platform itself. If you want your campaign to be successful, you simply point your current audience there to support you.
It’s past due for artists to rethink their Audience Problem from first principles, as opposed to blindly following the blind. Articles like this Hypebot piece will not save you.
This venn diagram illustrates it pretty well. “If you’re not good enough to get paid from your passion yet, get better.” This is a prerequisite. You’re ready to solve your Audience Problem when you’re good enough to get ONE person to pay you for your work. Until then, keep your head down and continue to grind. The box I want to focus on is “learn to monetize,” which assumes your level of talent is undeniable.
Jay Abraham argues there are only three ways to make money in any business:
1. Increase the number of people you sell to
2. Increase the size of each sale
3. Increase the frequency of purchases
The Audience Problem has been solved by “increasing the number of people you sell to” for the last hundred years. This is how Taylor Swift solves her Audience Problem — selling relatively low priced items to the masses once every album cycle.
But, as the internet continues to mature, we’re seeing it increasingly being solved by combining the second and third ways. It’s actually a throwback. Mozart solved his Audience Problem not by increasing the number of people he sold to, but by increasing the size of each sale and the frequency at which these sales took place.
He did this by relying on a small group of patrons throughout his life. One of the most well known and respected musicians ever didn’t have millions of people paying him for his art, he had nine at one time or another.
“If the twentieth-century entertainment industry was about hits, the twenty-first will be equally about niches.” Chris Anderson
The internet is small. Despite the 3.17 billion people online, we as individuals tend to congregate same the digital spaces. Day after day, we return to the same subreddits, retweet the same followers, and like the same people’s photos.
Previous generations were forced to group themselves by geography. We now do so based on interest, by way of the web. What we’ve learned is, just like the real world, the natural state of behavior on the internet centers around small communities. Unlike the past though, these communities are based on a common interest, not on the location in which you were born.
That’s why solving your Audience Problem by focusing on a core group is actually a more natural way to do it. It’s never a good bet to align yourself against human behavior. It seems better to open your sails behind a growing wind, instead of trying to swim upstream against the current.
The popular myth of, “I need an insanely large scale of fans before I can attempt to monetize,” seems to permeate the creative class. And it is just that, a myth.
Based on the idea of 1000 True Fans, the new math reads something like this: You need to find 1000 people who will spend $100 a year on you, generating a $100K per year income. Not bad to do what you love. The common criticism is that, to find your 1000, your art needs to touch a much larger amount of people. The top of your funnel may have to be 100K to 1M fans just to find that 1000.
Empirically, this seems to be true. No businesses converts 100% of its touch points into a sale, and rarely on the first interaction. It took Amanda Palmer a lot of touch points to get her to the core group who now gives her $35K every time she puts out a new “thing.” About 15 years, 1.5 million social followers, and the one of the biggest Kickstarter campaigns ever to be exact.
Think about your favorite artist. Do you like them because they have millions of fans, or because you connect with their content? Are you after the social proof of following a cool trend, or do you actually relate to their art on an emotional level?
Your super fans, the core you start with, will support you because they love your art, not because you have millions of followers. That art and connection is there today and isn’t validated by some extra mass of fans. When you break free of the “increase the number of people you sell to” mentality, it means you don’t have to wait until scale to start monetizing,
“Avoid the limelight; talk only to your audience. Even if your idea is so good that everyone will eventually get it, tell it to your core first. They’ll tell everyone else afterward, and it will sound a lot better coming from them.” Matt Mason
You’re looking for your top fans who are going to spend at least $100 a year on you. The average music consumer spends $40 a year annually on all music related purchases. If you’re going to capture over 200 % of their yearly spend, you better be going above and beyond to earn it.
This turns selling your art into more of a B2B rather than a B2C transaction. Higher price points, more time investment, more personal connection. Of course, this is predicated on knowing who your fans actually are.
So what is the solution to The Audience Problem? I don’t think there’s a silver bullet. If there was, everyone would do it. I’m most interested in the opportunities that technology is just now making possible. It’s time to shift the conversation to a place where artists spend their time figuring out how to win in the world we now live in.
The opportunity is to reach the right audience with the right content. From there, you build a relationship with them and begin monetizing your art. Start today, without waiting on that millionth follower that might never come.
But, if this isn’t for you, you can always dedicate your limited amount of time on earth trying to grow your Twitter following.
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dannyquick.nyc // email@example.com // @DQuick215