Years ago I never really thought much about being a fan of an artist and what it can mean. For me, it’s always been about supporting the people you love in whatever form you choose and that’s about it. Whether this means just buying their records or attending as many gigs as you can or both, that was up to you. It didn’t really matter as it was about support.
Now though, we are in the days of upfront and personal social media where you can get a lot more involved with the artists you follow and interact with them in a more direct way. This can have many upsides as you can basically speak to them one on one, but I suppose we must not forget that this doesn’t mean we know them.
I have been very lucky with my online experience as without it I wouldn’t be writing this blog for a start. It has enabled me to make lots of great connections and discover lots of new artists. It has also brought me into direct contact with my heroes and I have been lucky enough to actually meet some of them in person.
One of them in particular (who shall remain nameless) has taken it upon himself to name me as a superfan of his band because (and in his own words) “it needed to be put out there”. I am not necessarily in agreement with this and I don’t actually know how I feel about it if I’m totally honest. It has meant that online and even at gigs people now recognise me and come and talk to me about my writing and the band in general like I might have the insider info. I don’t really consider that I am any more committed than they are though and I certainly know plenty of other folks who are doing more for the cause than I am.
It’s always very nice to hear that something I have written has resonated with other fans though and that my opinions are somewhere in the same ballpark as theirs. Writing is all about opinion and I totally understand that not everyone will feel the same way as I do. So when I met some fans of a band that I had written a somewhat subjective album review on and they told me that they totally agreed with everything I had said, it was an interesting thing to hear. It did however, beg the question as to why they were telling me this and yet I was the only one making quite a specific point about the record in print without anyone backing me up. I like to be honest with my opinions (and I am), but it does seem that perhaps others prefer to give lip service rather than put their heads above the parapet. For me being honest is a very important thing. I don’t have to like everything my favourite artists produce and I won’t be pressured into saying it’s ‘the best thing they have ever done’ if I think it’s not.
Anyway. Something I find rather frustrating about the whole ‘fandom’ of bands is the way that it brings out cliques of people. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against fans joining together and forming a unit where they all love the same thing and discuss it etc (which is basically what a clique is). I am in several of these myself and enjoy being part of a group of like minded souls and have made some amazing friends through bonded experience. What I have an issue with is those that think they are better than everyone else because they are on the “inside” with an artist. Just because they happen to talk to you slightly more than some other people doesn’t mean you’re best mates.
I also take exception to those that I will call ‘fake fans’. These are the folks that in one breath happily admit that they know nothing about the artist or even like them, and in the next they are on the front barrier at a show proclaiming that they love their work more than anything that has ever come before. Mainly because it suits them and their own agenda. I have come across a few of these sorts lately and should find their try-hard nature rather amusing, and to be fair I do. New fans for an artist I like are always good, but when these people go overboard trying to impress it actually becomes quite sad. Admitting you don’t like a band to making out you’re their biggest fan ever doesn’t wash with me I’m afraid.
When I first started going to gigs you just went to the show, watched it and then went home. Hanging about outside the stage door was something only hardcore fans did and more than likely they wouldn’t get to see the artist anyway. It’s a whole new ballgame now though. Depending on the artist, they may be the sort that are more than happy to engage with their fans after the show. Mark Morriss regularly stops for a chat after his solo shows and will sign some merch or have a photo taken. Tom Speight stays on the merch stand himself and takes the time to talk to everyone that pays him a visit. These are key methods to building your fanbase and by being engaging on a level that allows your fans to see you as approachable is a massive positive.
I’ve also been to a backstage party with a band and spent some time with them chatting in their dressing room. It was something of an interesting experience. The best time I’ve ever had so far though was going to a show and the singer (who I am informed doesn’t often come out afterwards) came out specifically to meet me. That in itself would have been enough, but in a rather random chain of events I ended up taking some photos of the band for the support act and then went to the pub with them all for a drink. It was just me and the band sitting listening to the jukebox and enjoying a beer. It was a beautiful human interaction with no pretence, no fan-girling or any weirdness. It was certainly a highlight for me and I’m very grateful that the band accepted and allowed me just to be with them.
My partner often compares being a music fan to being a sports fan and cites the difficulties he has experienced as a football season ticket holder. Now, it’s not exactly the same thing, but I kind of get where he’s coming from. He has been a lifelong fan of his footie team and has held a season ticket for well over 20 years and has spent an inordinate amount of money on seeing them. When it comes down to it though, his loyalty doesn’t actually mean he will get a ticket to a final should he want one whereas someone who has only ever been to a few games might. Very unfair. And the same applies in the music world.
Being a fan of a band for over 20 years doesn’t mean I will ever actually get to meet them, but someone who has only just decided that they’re their current flavour of the month might well do. And is this fair? Well, some would say no. I think you can be loyal in all sorts of ways and show how much you acknowledge an artists talent. The try-hard people might just get noticed more because they are more upfront about it, but rest assured those of us in the background who are silently plugging away and being supportive might just be the ones who hold all the cards.
Because we are the ones who will always be there for our favourite bands. We won’t lose interest because going to the backstage party for X is going to get them more exposure than being seen on the barrier a Y’s gig. We’re not that fickle. We might not like all the songs on your new album, but we won’t ditch you because of it or because you’re not as popular as you once were. We’ll remain a fan because that’s what we are. There is no hidden agenda, you’ve struck a chord with us and captured our attention and we’re in it for the long haul. And just remember, the real fans are the ones who were there at the beginning and they are the ones who truly know.