The Power of a Small Fan Base…
I (Phil Svitek) see lots and lots of people try to emulate social media megastars like Kim Kardashian in order to have the same large fan base, or “reach” as it may be called. Emulate them how? Well, therein lies the problem. The ways in which I see people emulate these celebrities is surface level. They forget the craft and instead seek the result… aka they aim to become famous. I’ve said time and time again, if you’re pursuing a creative passion, you need to have it be your passion. The ultimate goal cannot be fame or money. That’s a byproduct of the value you’re able to bring to people – just like in any other field by the way. Recently, I saw Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born and there’s a quote I really like that speaks to this. Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. The quote goes, “Look, talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you’ll never know. That’s just the truth. And there’s one reason we’re supposed to be here is to say something so people want to hear. So you got to grab it, and you don’t apologize, and you don’t worry about why they’re listening, or how long they’re going to be listening for, you just tell them what you want to say.” Looking at it from that perspective, is all you have to say “hey, look at me, I want you to like me”? FOR FUCK’S SAKE STOP WORRYING ABOUT HOW FAMOUS YOU SHOULD BE! Instead, start worrying about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Align your art and skills with your values because you will never attract and sustain an audience if you don’t truly captivate them. And guess what? Once you do that, even if you don’t have millions of followers like Kim or Kylie Jenner, you’ll be able to support yourself as an artist and impact an audience. I’ll show you exactly why a small fan base can be stronger than a large one. I’ll reference Almost Famous (with Philip Seymour Hoffman), comedian Adam Carolla and Kevin O’Leary from ABC’s Shark to illustrate certain points. And I’ll go to the source – Kevin Kelly who coined the term “1,000 True Fans”. All these will teach you how a small fan base can earn you a living – the dream of any artist. Write any comments or questions you may have so I can respond too!
Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans Article: https://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/
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I have come to realize first hand the importance mental fortitude has in achieving creative endeavors. That’s precisely the lessons I want to share with you to make your journey a little bit easier.
This week I came across an article from Cosmopolitan.com with the headline “Kim Kardashian Met the President of Uganda and, LOL, He Asked Her What Her Job Is.” Now, I’m not here to comment on Kim Kardashian or any of her family members. But that headline made me think about what it means to have a fan base or audience. Sometimes people will even refer to it as “your reach.” They all mean the same thing – how many people are engaged with your content.
Someone like Kim Kardashian has an insanely large following, certainly by social media standards. And whether it’s her or someone else really famous, I see lots and lots of people try to emulate them. Emulate them how? Well, therein lies the problem. The ways in which I see people emulate these celebrities is surface level. They forget the craft and instead seek the result… aka they aim to become famous.
I’ve said time and time again, if you’re pursuing a creative passion, you need to have it be your passion. The ultimate goal cannot be fame or money. That’s a byproduct of the value you’re able to bring to people – just like in any other field by the way.
One such example of what I see is men and women post provocative selfies to attract likes on social media. They do this because posting something else doesn’t garner as many likes as a sexy selfie. That may be, but what are you really promoting or saying?
Recently, I saw Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born and there’s a quote I really like that speaks to this. Don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler. The quote goes, “Look, talent comes everywhere, but having something to say and a way to say it so that people listen to it, that’s a whole other bag. And unless you get out and you try to do it, you’ll never know. That’s just the truth. And there’s one reason we’re supposed to be here is to say something so people want to hear. So you got to grab it, and you don’t apologize, and you don’t worry about why they’re listening, or how long they’re going to be listening for, you just tell them what you want to say.”
Looking at it from that perspective, is all you have to say “hey, look at me, I want you to like me”? FOR FUCK’S SAKE STOP WORRYING ABOUT HOW FAMOUS YOU SHOULD BE! Instead, start worrying about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. Align your art and skills with your values because you will never attract and sustain an audience if you don’t truly captivate them.
And maybe this is me just trying to raise the standard of art higher than the lowest common denominator, but from firsthand experience there’s audiences out there hungry for more meaningful content. They may be a little harder to reach but that just means you don’t want it bad enough. You don’t care about the craft. You just want to be famous. And if that’s your jam then best of luck to you. I always tells the hosts at AfterBuzz TV that I work with that what I do is build careers and careers by definition span across decades. My goal isn’t for you to get just 15 minutes of fame and then flame out. I want you to have fans that find what you do impactful and stick with you over the long haul.
In 2008, founding executive editor of Wired magazine Kevin Kelly wrote a blog post entitled 1,000 True Fans. I encourage you to read the whole piece so you get the lesson directly from the horse’s mouth so to speak. But the general overview of his theory is that as artists, you don’t need to aspire to have millions of followers. All you need to be successful is 1,000 true fans, hence the title of the article. These 1,000 fans should be people who respect your work so much that they’ll tune in each time you have something new.
The idea is that rather than have this insurmountable goal for yourself when you’re starting out of reaching 1 million fans, it’s easier to think that all you need is 1,000 fans. The reason this methodology works is because if those 1,000 true fans are able to contribute $100 a year to you, that earns you a living of $100,000 yearly. I’m not sure about you, but that to me is a very good living. Kevin Kelly’s article put creatives at ease mentally and many have been able to apply the notion into practice. Instead of a musician trying to appeal to everyone but getting no one, she started concerning herself with a target audience and spoke deeply to them. The 1,000 true fan theory is mentally manageable and practical in reality.
So when it comes to your content, STOP WORRYING ABOUT BECOMING FAMOUS. Worry about the content first and foremost. If you’re worried about how many people you can get to watch your video, like a social media post or so on, all you’re doing is putting the cart before the horse. And from personal experience, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll ever garner a community that way. Focus on making your art have something to say, like A Star is Born teaches us. It might be cliche but do it for the love. Art is about expressing yourself in the most honest, human way possible. There’s enough garbage out there in terms of content. You don’t need to add to it. Dare to be different. Dare to be you, which is a unique individual.
In large part why I don’t think people attempt more with their art is because they have tremendous fear. They’re worried they won’t make money and so they emulate other methods they think work. Or they’re afraid the world will judge them based on what they have to say. Perhaps they might think what they have to say won’t fly in today’s political climate. Maybe they’re so scared from life, as many artists sometimes feel, that seeking outside validation is a form of making peace with themselves. This of course is a false calming of the self. No one can provide you with validation. You have to be okay with yourself.
Another type of fear might be they don’t think you have the right resources to create the type of content they want to create. Does any one of those resonate with you? All these resonate with me and then some. But it’s all fear based in illogical thoughts. Steven Pressfield would call that Resistance with a capital R. It is Resistance preventing you from being the authentic you and so fear cripples you and projects a false image of yourself onto society through your everyday art and actions.
Let’s examine the first fear I mentioned a little deeper, shall we? The fear of not making money from your art. That’s a big one because of course at the end of the day, you have to make a living of some kind. Even if what you do creatively isn’t a full time job and more of a hobby, I encourage you, nay, I urge you, at least if you want to get any traction with it, to work on your craft every single day. Holidays and weekends included. Doing this is the only way you can ever expect to make any money from your art. You must be serious about it and put in serious hours and dedication. When you do that, good things start to happen. And that’s what Kevin Kelly is really teaching us. The good things I’m talking about is all of a sudden people discover your work and latch on. It doesn’t take many. Just a few. And it starts to build. The more honest your content’s message is, the more it resonates with people and the greater the chance of growth and revenue. That’s what suddenly turns you from just a hobbyist to a true professional. See, people get intimidated because they feel the only way to make money is by having hundreds of thousands of fans, if not millions. Not the case. In my interview with Elaine Pofeldt, who is not only a writer for Forbes but also the author of Million-Dollar, One Person Businesses, she highlighted a painter who was getting rejected from art galleries and instead of sulking about it, she started a Facebook page to showcase her art. Her audience was small but they were loyal. They were loyal as hell. How loyal? Well, before she started her Facebook page, her paintings, on the rare occasions she was able to get a spot at a gallery, went for $100 a painting. Through her Facebook page she’s able to earn a lot more. How much more? Let’s just say that some paintings she sells go for upwards of $35,000 a painting.
$100 a painting vs $35,000 a painting. That to me is incredible.
That right there has to prove to you that it’s not about the size of the audience but rather the quality of the audience. But if it doesn’t, or you want more examples to be inspired then let’s keep going.
You have it in you to do your own version of something like this. But it must start from a passion for your art. Kevin O’Leary aka Mr. Wonderful from ABC’s Shark Tank says that when starting a business you need to worry about making the best product, not revenue. Revenue will come if you have a good product. That logic applies to creative endeavours.
Here’s another example of a loyal, but “small” audience. It comes courtesy of AfterBuzz TV creator Keven Undergaro – Adam Carolla sure doesn’t have the following that major celebrities like Kim Kardashian have. And yet whenever he writes a book it’s automatically a New York Times Best-Seller. Every weekend Adam Carolla sells out comedy clubs. When Adam wanted to make a movie, his fans supported him Kickstarter campaign to such a degree that they doubled what he was asking for in donations from around $1 million to over $2 million. Keven’s not convinced many of the celebrities you admire and try to emulate at times could command that sort of connection with their fans and neither am I.
Go for a quality community of fans rather than pure quantity because quantity will ultimately mean nothing in the grand scheme of things if the connections not there. Having 1,000 true fans is what makes today’s day and age so exciting. In years past, the barrier to entry to access fans was extremely limited to the masses. Now with social media platforms and the internet in general, any artist has access to anyone in the world. But don’t make it just anyone. Make it someone. Make it special to that person.
That’s another thing I work on with AfterBuzz hosts – this idea of building a community. Building a fanbase is really about building a community. In order to build a community you must participate within the community which means not just posting and constantly barraging people to like your work. It’s about getting to know and understand the people. It’s about engaging with them. Doing so will allow you to gain trust with them. It’ll create an extremely strong bond between you and them. That’s how you reach 1,000 true fans – by building and nurturing a community of people that have gathered because they like the message you have to say.
In a way, the more fans you have, the harder it is to have that personal connection with people. It’s not to say it’s impossible. In fact there’s plenty of people whose work resonates with millions of people. The movie A Star Is Born is an example of that. But it resonates because of the dedication Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper put into it along with the rest of the cast and crew. For those that watch me on Popcorn Talk’s Anatomy of a Movie, which is an in-depth discussion show about movies, know that I didn’t love the message of A Star Is Born. So does that make me a hypocrite? No because that’s how powerful the movie was. It forced me to think and come up with an opinion on a major topical which I won’t say so as not to spoil the movie. And in watching it, the movie was as honest as it could be for the filmmakers that made it. That I respect wholeheartedly of anyone.
The lesson there is stop trying to please everybody and go please somebody. In fact, I’ll give you one better. I’m a huge South Park fan. It’s a show that’s very polarizing for many people including its own audience. NYU News wrote that “South Park doesn’t just break down barriers – it ignores them completely.” If you stop and think about that quote, consider this. Barriers are constructs of human minds. They don’t exist. It’s just a societal means of stating what people are comfortable with and what they’re not. Because South Park is unconcerned with barriers, in a sense it’s saying South Park is not concerned who it offends and therefore who its audience is. You would think that by doing that it would have no audience because it someone pissed everyone off. And yet, because of the show’s unapologetic brashness, the show resonates equally as strong with the left as it does with the right political parties in the US. Talk about the irony of ironies. South Park, whether you love it or hate it, has an extremely loyal audience. Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators, don’t live in fear of being criticized. They go for it every week and deliver the best show they can. You too can stop living in fear and when you do, your art can connect with people and eventually earn you a living. To do that, you have to dare to be different. Speak honestly.
Let me give you another example of content that I see people create in hopes of attracting an audience and that’s shoulder content. What is shoulder content? It’s content that discusses other content. For example my Anatomy of a Movie show is shoulder content. We ride on the shoulders of a popular movie because in order to watch our show you must have knowledge of that movie. It’s not standalone content. All of AfterBuzz TV is shoulder content because our after shows are talking about TV fans’ favorite TV series.
Like with anything, there can be good shoulder content and bad shoulder content. The distinction is how we as AfterBuzz TV go about it. We didn’t do it from a place of saying this is low hanging fruit. We started AfterBuzz TV from a place of seeing there was no one out there talking about our favorite shows like Breaking Bad. Shows like that needed to be processed because of how deep and rich they were. And so we said if no one else is doing it, we’ll do it. And it truly was just from the act of wanting to get together with our friends and discuss the shows we liked. It was like poker night for us. Well, apparently, it resonated with people so much that it snowballed in this massive beast it is today with six studios, hundreds of hosts along with hundreds of weekly after shows that engage millions of fans worldwide. I say this because I see others out there see success like this and immediately jump on the bandwagon thinking they can achieve the same success. They can’t if they don’t do it earnestly.
I think the thing we all have to realize is audiences are smart. They can sniff out something if it’s disingenuous. In fact so much so that Anna Kendrick who starred in A Simple Favor as a mommy blogger, found through her research into the role that the most successful mommy vlogs were the ones that were the least produced. So does this mean audiences don’t want visually pleasing content? Do they want the gritty, raw feel? No. What it says to me, if you examine this further, is that the mommy vlogs that were highly produced cared about style and not substance. The low quality mommy vlogs cared about delivering the best tips for other moms out there. But there is a way to combine high production value with quality information in a way that truly resonates with people.
However, for better or worse, what and how much something resonates with people is unpredictable and outside of your control. That’s the other lesson Kevin Kelly learned and so must we. You see, by 2008, the time in which he published 1,000 True fans on his blog, Kevin Kelly already had a massive body of work. He had articles and books and a large number of readers. But when he published 1,000 True Fans, suddenly something magical happened. People who had never heard of Kevin Kelly flocked to this article and it spoke to them. His intention was just to write it in hopes of people feeling a little bit better by not having to bite off more than they could chew, so to speak. Well, that feeling touched artists around the world and today it’s probably his single greatest contribution. That’s insane. He certainly didn’t expect that. And that’s the takeaway. You don’t know what will stick and what won’t. All you can do is create content as honestly as you can. Over and over. If it sticks it sticks. Who cares? Move onto the next project and next project after that.
I’ve brought up Anatomy of a Movie several times. But allow me to use it again as an example to illustrate this particular point. In the past, I used to be so sure of which movies we covered would get the most views. A few times I was right. Many times I was wrong. If you search through our archive there’s episodes we did that have half a million views. That’s incredible to me that half a million people would watch something of mine. More incredible is which movie discussions those views are attributed towards. For example, never in my wildest dreams did I think Tarzan, a movie I enjoyed but most people didn’t see, would get half a million views from our discussion of it. And there’s plenty of examples of other movies we covered that I have the same feeling about. Conversely, there’s movies I thought for sure would be hits for us and weren’t. These things are unpredictable so stop predicting them. The whole notion of emulating other content because they’re trends or work for other people is exactly the act of trying to predict an outcome. Just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. You can take their best practices and certain methods, but you must apply it to your own voice. Their voice you can’t take. The spirit of your work must be your own.
I get why we all look to others. We try measure our success by comparing it to someone else’s. This stems from that dreaded f word. Fear. You don’t trust your own work enough and so you look to others to see if it’s on par with theirs. Stop doing this. Be like the tortoise from Aesop’s The Tortoise and The Hare fable. Slow and steady wins the race. Remember when I said that my hope for artists is to build themselves a career? Remember I said that? Well that’s what makes a career. Slow and steady. Unwavering passion towards your creative goals. Others may seemingly achieve their goals faster. That may be, but remember there’s more to it than you may see. The ones that achieve greatest and are able to maintain it are doing so because it’s a way of life for them. The others, meaning the ones who achieve lightning in a bottle fame fizzle out quickly. I can sit here all day and give you examples of those type of people but I won’t because it ultimately doesn’t benefit you or me. Learn from others but don’t become jealous. There’s a spot for you and an audience out there wanting to listen somewhere. The daily creative process is the only roadmap you have for finding them.
In history, there have been artists who weren’t recognized for their genius until later in life. Picasso is one such example. Then there’s artists who weren’t acknowledged until way past their deaths. You may look at it as a sad fact of life but I actually look at it as inspiring. The way I look at it is they were able to live through their art and be happy no matter what. I’m sure they struggled like everyone does in life with problems, especially with finances and such. But in the grand scheme of things they survived life and their contributions live well beyond. They are able to affect, touch and perhaps even inspire people across time. That is the true gift of art, not how many likes you received on a social media post.
Put blinders on and push forward. Stop worrying what people think.
Here’s another way to view it. These lines come from a film called Almost Famous.
Lester Bangs: Aw, man. You made friends with them. See, friendship is the booze they feed you. They want you to get drunk on feeling like you belong.
William Miller: Well, it was fun.
Lester Bangs: Because they make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool.
William Miller: I know. Even when I thought I was, I knew I wasn’t.
Lester Bangs: That’s because we’re uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don’t have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we’re smarter.
William Miller: I can really see that now.
Lester Bangs: Yeah, great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love… and let’s face it, you got a big head start.
William Miller: I’m glad you were home.
Lester Bangs: I’m always home. I’m uncool.
William Miller: Me too!
Lester Bangs: The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.
In the spirit of Almost Famous – “be uncool.” Perfect your craft and good things will come, because after all, you just need to make a genuine connection with a small amount of people in the world to be successful. That’s what Kevin Kelly taught us and that’s what hundreds of artists have now proven. To help reinforce today’s lesson, here’s a few quotes I think you’ll like.
“My decision to end my marriage was such a risk to lose ratings and lose my fan base. I had to take that risk for my inner peace and to be happy with myself.” – Kim Kardashian
“There’s so many people who have never heard of us, but I think what we’ve learned is you can’t underestimate the power of a core fan base and people who believe what you’re doing. I think they’re the ultimate marketers. They’re the ones promoting us.” – Tyler Joseph
“I think it’s important to earn your fan base and not just try to immediately advance to the top. If you ride to the top quickly, you’re liable to fall as quickly. Take your time. It’s a long journey ahead of you as an artist. There’s nowhere that you’re supposed to be other than right now living inside of your art.” – Jason Mraz
“I think the moment you start trying to please a fan base is when you start going downhill. I’m going to always, always write about what I want, even if it doesn’t necessarily cater to most of them.” – Ed Sheeran
“I’ve gone through many phases in music in my life. Before I was signed, I was making completely different music, and my fan base has followed me. They continue to follow me as the music progresses and as I grow as an artist. As long as I stay true and don’t pretend to be someone I’m not, I hope they’ll come along with it.” – Charlie Puth
“An influencer with a small but loyal and engaged following can often have a far greater impact than one with a much larger fan base.” – John Rampton
Before you click away to another lesson from Phil, here’s a few more things. For your benefit, the transcript of this episode is on Phil’s website. A link is provided so you can always review it. Please be sure to hit that like button if you enjoyed this episode and tell your friends and family about us. Leave a comment with your thoughts and opinions and what lessons you’d like to see Phil tackle next. The more specific you are with your questions, the better he can answer them. Also, you can support this show on patreon.com/philsvitek if it doesn’t burden you financially in any way. Every contribution is truly appreciated and helps defray the costs of putting on this show – which as you can imagine takes a lot of effort. To be notified when future episodes release, subscribe on Apple Podcast, YouTube, Facebook, Google Podcast, Spotify or whatever other platform is most convenient to you. Specific links are provided below. Lastly, if you’re interested in joining AfterBuzz TV as a host or as an intern, visit AfterBuzz TV’s contact page. A direct link is provided. Or of course you can Tweet @PhilSvitek or Instagram me @BonjourJuliet. Thanks for watching. I’m Juliet Vibert, a producer on the show and we’ll see you next week with another one of Phil’s life lessons. Bye!