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While live events are on hold, many artists have launched fan subscriptions as a way to generate income and give their fans the kind of connection and excitement that an in-person show can create. Not only have fan subscriptions provided financial stability during a time when many artists are not on the road, they’ve also become a mainstay in their business strategy.
There is no one-size-fits-all method for running a fan subscription service. Below, musicians using Bandzoogle to run fan subscriptions share their perspectives on what works for them, and how other artists can create rewarding experiences for themselves and fans alike.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, folk singer-songwriter Abe Partridge launched a fan subscription called the Alabama Astronaut Art Club. Each month, members receive an exclusive, high-quality print of a painting Partridge creates specifically for the group. Members also receive early access to view and purchase new works by Partridge before they are made publicly available.▼ Article continues below ▼
“Prior to [the pandemic], I made most of my income from performing as a touring songwriter and selling merchandise at my shows. By the end of last March it became apparent that I would no longer be able to continue making a living that way,” reflects Partridge. “The Alabama Astronaut Art Club has kept my family afloat through these dark and trying times. In fact, once I am able to return to touring, I will be in a better position than ever before, having the Art Club providing us with a monthly income…and not having to rely so much on the road.”
Musician and producer Rench is heartened by the camaraderie that has grown out of Barnstormers, the fan subscription for bluegrass-hip-hop project Gangstagrass. “It has certainly shown us more clearly than ever how strong a connection we have made with our top fans, and what a community it has become. For example, we had one Barnstormer step up to cover the cost of a month that another Barnstormer couldn’t spare, so that they continued to get the content. People have started to identify themselves as Barnstormers in comment sections and shout each other out!”
Fan subscriptions allow artists to offer the content they want. While there is no secret formula for a successful subscription, monthly consistency and exclusive offerings are key for encouraging fans to become committed subscribers.\
“They’re there to support you as a musician. If they sign up for that, they really love what you do. I think it’s worth giving something special back to them, and it’s not really a huge amount of effort,” explains harpist and vocalist Maevyn Stone. “I do one live stream specifically for them a month, and it’s been great. They get that extra interaction that they might not get when you’re doing [publicly available] live streams…there are a lot of people tuned in, and you can’t guarantee that you’re going to respond to a specific person. So, if they really want to get your attention, then they get that in your fan subscription.”
For Americana roots band The Steel Wheels, offering impactful yet sustainable offerings have been a key approach to managing fan subscriptions. Essentially, their subscribers pay $5-50 a month and receive the same two works each month, with subscribers at the higher level receiving very high merch discounts. Listeners can contribute as they see fit on a continuing basis. Vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Trent Wagler adds, “It’s about trying to find the right way to maximize some income, so that the band can keep afloat financially, but also not overpromising anything that is going to leave you feeling like you can’t sustain it. For us, it made a lot of sense to keep that simplicity of doing two things a month, two unique works. Ideally, it’s helping you move forward creatively. It’s helpful to push us to do something.”
Although subscriptions and social media are both virtual, musicians can think of them as separate settings, much like the difference between busking and a ticketed concert.
Wagler explains, “I think one of the toughest parts right now is to be your authentic self like you would be on a stage, when you have a two-hour show where people bought tickets to be in the room with you, so you can relax, just be yourself, and do your thing. Because everything’s online, we’re supposed to have that elevator pitch every time: ‘Here’s what you need to know! We’ve got an album! Subscribe! Do this thing!’ We didn’t get into music to become professional marketers. On the other hand, once you get into the subscription, it allows you that space to say, people paid for this. They want to be here, and so you can slow down and get back to that creative place, which is where we all want to live.”
Singer-songwriter Jont adds that subscriptions create a space for deliberate experiences. “If you’re catching it on a news feed, and you’re just coming across it, it’s slightly different than if you’re going to a curated space. It will have that energy of intention. One has to be careful not to get to desperation. When you’re really coming from a place where you’re connected, you’re not feeling that. We’re trying to get past that slight illusion of the more people, the better.”
In the current climate, virtual connection is more important than ever, and fan subscriptions allow for the interplay not only between artist and fan, but to grow a community within a fanbase as well.
Melanie Kealey is the Communications Manager at music website platform Bandzoogle. She regularly creates blog posts with advice for musicians and manages the company’s email marketing and social media. She lives in Ottawa, Canada with her musician husband and their two sons.