What if your fans don’t want you to get too successful?

I remember the first time Jennie made me listen to Green Day. We were both working at our college radio station, and I was still mostly listening to Paul Weller. I had no clue what to make of them, and I would never have expected, fifteen years on, that they would become rock royalty.

Along the way, I’m sure they shed a bunch of early fans that accused them of selling out or getting weak. At the same time, they’ve evolved into something new and, many people would say, better.

Still, there’s danger in success. I’ve seen it happen plenty of times, and it’s one of the reasons I started thinking about writing Grow Your Band’s Audience, back when I still worked full-time in radio.

Let’s say you write a full-length album about all of your experiences up to that point, say, your 25th birthday. Every song is rich and textured and filled with all the love and hurt and hope in your life.

And it takes off.

You whiz around the world, playing your songs in tiny radio studios and in packed concert halls. You enjoy a fresh Belgian waffle every morning from room service, before sliding into your tour bus and watching CNBC on the mobile satellite TV while you’re stuck in rush hour traffic. And you cram little recording sessions in here and there because your label’s on fire to get your follow-up album on the shelf in time for Christmas.

And that follow-up album tanks. Why?

Because your songs went from being about your “real life” then to your “real life” now. So there’s a song on there about Maria Bartiromo, and a song about waffles, and a song about how lonely it is on the tour bus.

When Ryan writes about how the Garden State Effect ruins music for him as a fan, it’s not just the fact that your fans — especially the early ones — really enjoy having something that they feel is just theirs. It’s about the scientific law that observation inherently changes matter. When a million people buy your record, that will change you.

Can you avoid the Effect? I think so.

First, use the tool that every successful songwriter uses. Nick Lowe does this. Dolly Parton does this. It’s why they get six-figure royalty checks, but it also is why they’ve written timeless songs. Write one song every day. At the end of the year, you’ll have 365 songs. Maybe only ten of them are any good, but that means you’ve got 355 bad ones out of your system. If getting rich or famous changes you, you’ll have a back catalog of songs that you wrote when you were still broke and hungry.

Second, play the long game. As I wrote about in GYBA, all those limo rides and tour buses and five-star hotels come out of your pocket at the end of the day. Again, the most successful and secure musicians I ever met do a lot of investing, and spend money only when they have to. You won’t end up writing about room service if you’re not ordering any.

Finally, remember to be true to who you are right now. Not all of your fans will stay with you throughout your entire career, especially as you grow and change and express your interests. Look at all the folks in the Northeast grumbling about the latest Springsteen record. They’ll grumble until he comes out with another record of rock anthems, but Bruce will be fine either way.

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2 responses

  1. Good info. It’s something for acts to think about… REM is an especially great example. The fanbase they had when they were HUGE was not the same group that put them there.

    Bottom line, in my opinion, is just to be true to yourself. You can’t please everybody, so why bother?

  2. […] easy to write it off as a “sophomore slump.” I’ve written about it in the past: as your music career grows, your success impacts your creative process. Not only does your perspective change, but you’ll also start hearing chatter from fans who […]