Your Fans Aren’t Means

One of my favorite things about music is that it’s an end in itself.

In my head, I have a kind of continuum with “means” on one side and “ends” on the other side.

“Means” are things that you do to get to something else. They tend to be less enjoyable and you typically wouldn’t do them without the promise of reward.

“Ends” are things that you do because they’re fulfilling in themselves. They are inherently satisfying and you would probably sacrifice money or time to do them.

I’ve written this in a few different places, but this past week, I’ve been thinking about it again: I increasingly believe that the ultimate end of life is relationship.

(Full disclosure / random aside: I’m a Christian, and I think relationship with God is the ultimate end. But if you’re not religious, it’s still pretty easy to see ultimate value in relationships.

Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel for work in behavioral economics and is considered one of the most influential living psychologists, boiled down his research on happiness to this:

“(Happiness) is primarily spending time with people you love, and who love you back.” In other words: happiness is relationship.

I think even music, while close to the “end” side of the spectrum, is a means toward relationship with yourself and with others.)

Two further thoughts from this line of thinking:

1. I want to see you as an end.

^Yeah that sentence is probably kind of weird and it’s definitely real cheesy. But I’m not taking it back.

Because literally the most fulfilling part of working on Two Story stuff is the chance to hear your stories and, sometimes, to hear how Two Story has helped to play a role in them. I legitimately care about your success and your music. That’s why I try to read / reply when people email me (although I’m incredibly bad at doing it promptly).

I’ve spent the past six years working at a marketing agency. The agency itself is great, but most companies I’ve worked with are run by people who seem to see other people (and certainly their own businesses) as means rather than ends.

I’m in the process of turning Two Story into a full-time business, which means that it’s increasingly serving as a means toward providing for my wife and I.

But I want my relationships with artists to always be ends in themselves.

2. The community around your artistry is an end in itself.

All right, let’s turn the camera back on you. One of my core principles is that your fan community is its own end; it’s worthwhile in and of itself.

If you view your fans solely as means toward supporting your artistry – eh, that’s just a sucky and limiting way to see people. This perspective is what leads to spammy / scammy promo efforts – it’s the perspective of the artist who only posts on Instagram to promote their new album or who only sends direct messages with links to stream their new single.

Another example: I’m on a bunch of email lists that send emails like this one all the time…

Please take this as a general thought and not as specific hate – I actually like the guy who sent this, and when you get to his content, it’s good. And I’ve studied marketing for almost exactly a decade, so I get the psychology behind withholding information to encourage action. It totally works and he’s not wrong to do it.

But man, in a real-life relationship, this is not how I’d want someone to treat me.

The thing he’s selling during the Zoom sesh is the end, and he’s using his audience as a means toward income.

There’s nuance here, obviously.

  • You can’t have real-life relationships with all of your fans.
  • Your fans do provide the means for financial support of your artistry.
  • You’ve got to sell (and selling is a relationship).
  • Businesses need to make money so that they can exist and support outside relationships.

The truth is that most things are both ends and means. There’s not really a binary distinction.

But I think it’s best to always err on the side of the spectrum that sees people primarily as ends, and then to try and treat them accordingly. This makes building a fanbase far less spammy / scammy and far more fulfilling.

After all, the whole point of being an artist is to be fulfilled by the practice of making music.

All right – that’s all I’ve got for this week.

Thanks for reading.

Next time I check in, I’ll probably be out of “beach mode” and I’ll probably try to write something a little more practical. For now, we’ve reached…

The end.

Want to build a meaningful community around your music?

The Bundle

I’ve packaged years of experience running Two Story Melody (a top-ranked music blog) and Two Story Media (a music PR firm) into a book called How to Promote Indie Music.

It lays out a roadmap to better indie music promotion – promotion that doesn’t suck. You can check out the first chapter for free.