If you stumble upon a captivating track on a playlist, you might want to dive deeper into the artist's work. You might listen to their catalog, read their media coverage, and snoop through their Instagram to catch a glimpse of their character. If you find something you like, you might pre-save their upcoming releases and even tell your friends about the artist. At that point, you are a fan in the making, but you are probably still a long way from buying top-priced tickets to the artist's live show.
Fans go through a long journey from discovering an artist to becoming passionate supporters–and might fall out at any point along the way. This article will delve into the stages of the fan journey, providing real-life examples and valuable tips to help artists strengthen their connection with their fans.
The Fan Journey Model
Extracted from the classic marketing framework of the consumer journey, "The Fan Journey Model" outlines how people become more engaged with your artistry over time. Becoming a fan involves a five-stage journey that starts with Discovery and progresses through Exploration, Retention, Purchase, and Advocacy. Each stage is measurable using metrics that help you achieve your goals and gain insight into how your fans feel about your work.
When fans download music and purchase merchandise, they move from followers to active buyers. The interconnection between the stages reflects the real-life dynamic nature of the fan, where they seamlessly navigate back and forth between different stages and actions.
The traditional fan journey model in the music industry typically places Purchase ahead of Retention. However, as the industry adjusts to the digital age and streaming services reshape how we discover and generate revenue from music, it becomes necessary to reevaluate "The Fan Journey Model." Retention must precede the purchase because the more engaged a fan is, the more willing they will be to purchase.
This stage refers to when individuals become aware of an artist for the first time. People can stumble upon your music through playlists, social media, word of mouth, or other means. Given that listeners lack direct control over editorial playlists like New Music Friday or elevator music, this process occurs passively, without the intentional effort of fans. At the end of this stage, individuals will have progressed from discoverers to listeners that know at least one of your tracks.
Getting accurate measurements for awareness can be challenging due to its organic nature and the lack of attribution in music promotion. Here's an example of how to estimate discoveries using Spotify monthly listeners. This artist released a track on March 11 with only 27 monthly listeners. On March 15 and on March 21, the track was added to two editorial playlists. Twenty-eight days later, it had 6.6K streams, and the artist's monthly listeners skyrocketed to 3.7K, suggesting that the track gained attention and reached a larger audience.
We can estimate that there were 3718 discoveries following the track's addition to the editorial playlists. While it is possible that the majority of the increase in monthly listeners can be attributed to editorial placements, other factors may be at play, such as word-of-mouth recommendations. Additionally, some monthly listeners may have existed before the track's release but were not actively engaging with the artist until the new release or the playlist placements.
Tip for Discovery - Build online traction first: Establishing online traction and generating anticipation before releasing your music can significantly contribute to the process of Discovery, particularly when it comes to your first release. When pitching to playlist curators, mentioning your online traction can help you get placed, as the editorial process is becoming more based on the artist’s streaming history and online presence.
Creating online buzz might appear to happen overnight, but it takes considerable time, planning, and consistency. Here’s an example of how Saint Levant built a social presence as a content creator before transitioning to music.
After you catch listeners' attention, they will be interested to learn more about you and explore your artistry. This can involve delving into your catalog or checking out your social media. At this stage, people have transitioned from being listeners to explorers; they know more or less your story, sound, persona, and aesthetics.
There's no way to know what each fan thinks of you. Still, engagement metrics such as Chartmetric Engagement Rank, Spotify monthly listeners, Spotify Fan Conversion Rate, YouTube Channel Views, and TikTok Likes can indicate an interest in your artistry.
Following her second performance at this year's Coachella, Palestinian-Chilean artist Elyanna experienced a boost in her social media and streaming numbers. Her groundbreaking Arabic-language set sparked people’s curiosity and increased cross-platform engagement, including a surge in Wikipedia views. For many, this discovery served as an invitation to explore further into her music.
Tip for Exploration – Cultivate an “inviting” profile: According to Spotify’s Fan Study, about 75% of all active streams, including streams from listener playlists, album pages, artist profiles, and liked songs, are catalog tracks. By creating an enticing and inviting online presence with engaging content readily accessible for people to explore, you increase the likelihood of capturing the attention of potential fans.
People may come across your work through social media, so your overall aesthetic should extend beyond just your Instagram feed and be cohesive across different platforms, tying everything together. Disjointed and confusing profiles with uninteresting bios can lead to a loss of interest from potential fans.
A great example would be adding an artist playlist to your Spotify profile. In that way, listeners can explore your catalog and favorite tracks to get a glimpse of the inspiration behind your new releases.
Once considered a subsequent stage in the fan journey, it now assumes greater significance. These aren’t just people who follow you on social media and the DSPs, but fans who subscribe to your newsletter, see you on their Release Radar and actively engage with your content. Fans at this level of this journey are more immersed in your brand than those at Exploration and anticipate a certain level of engagement and acknowledgment.
Spotify followers, Spotify fan conversion rate, YouTube subscribers, TikTok followers, and Instagram followers measure retention. It's important to recognize that not every follower actively engages with your content or streams your music. Tracking engagement rates is essential to understand which types of content resonate most with your followers. Analyzing these metrics allows you to identify trends, track engagement levels, and be attentive to any noticeable peaks or valleys in audience interaction.
Among these exploratory fans, many felt a connection to Elyanna and decided to stick around, solidifying their conversion from casual explorers to followers. This conversion is a testament to the artist's ability to engage and resonate with her audience, solidifying the foundation for continued support and long-term fandom.
Tip for Retention – Provide incentives: You should ask yourself: ”Now that I caught their attention, how can I make them stay?” The significance of streams and editorials diminishes when you can't establish a genuine connection with your followers. Consider content that appeals to new followers and your existing fan base. This approach will help your fans feel valued and appreciate the content you promised them when they found you but also seem inviting to new people.
For example, motivate your fans to create UGC content using in-app functionalities like Stitch and Duet to maintain engagement. However, it’s one thing to have fans create content for your music, and it’s another thing for you to acknowledge it. If you can’t make every single one of your fans feel special, you should make one feel special in public and showcase it.
This is important for any artist who wants to build a sustainable career. Today, fans must be immersed in your artistry to support you financially. Most fans aren’t willing to buy a CD when the album can be found for free on YouTube but are eager to showcase their support through diverse avenues such as merch and exclusive experiences. However, your dedicated fans will continue to value physical copies of albums.
Purchase is measured by digital downloads (iTunes charts), physical and digital merch sales volume, concert tickets, and Fanclub subscriptions.
Tip for Purchase – Know who’s willing to support you: Ask yourself, “How many of my listeners signed up for my merch drop? how many are willing to buy a ticket to my show?” It is vital to generate income in addition to streaming revenues to continue making great music.
Advocates are fans who constantly tell everyone about you, have a stan account on Twitter, and are willing to protest outside of Rolling Stone’s office if they exclude you from their "Greatest Singers" list. Their advocacy is built on genuine connection, memorable experiences, and your strong musical identity.
Similar to Discovery, measuring Advocacy can be challenging. However, you can know how your super fans feel about your artistry by monitoring positive sentiments, such as comments and mentions on social media platforms. You’ll see fans calling for everyone to stream you, buy your music, and make sure you hit number one. Measuring the number of fans attending your concerts and tracking ticket sales reflects your fans' support and advocacy for your live performances.
Despite being in a record deal since 2014, British artist Raye got her big mainstream break last November with “Escapism.” after she went independent. Since the beginning, her faithful followers have stood by her side, fully aware of what she has endured from the lack of creative control and drug abuse, and always showing their unwavering support whenever possible.
Tip for Advocacy – Meet your fans: The impact of a brief thirty-second interaction with your fans before and after the show can leave a lasting impression, as they will cherish and share this experience with others for a lifetime. Even if you haven't started touring, regularly going live on social media, playing your music, and acknowledging fans who comment can create a strong connection. Some fans may even request personal mentions.
The fan journey can vary for different artists and fan bases, so it's essential to understand your audience's unique dynamics and preferences and customize the model based on that.
What if you only want to make music?
As we have seen, everything you’ll do will be connected to your fans, and a loyal fanbase can help you achieve whatever you want. Releasing music without working to get the recognition it deserves is a waste of time. However, remember not to get overly caught up with the model and the numbers, but instead put yourself in the fan’s shoes and remember that their primary connection to you is your great music.