Transforming Fans Into Superfans:The Complete Guide

“To be a successful creator, you don’t need millions.” 


Kevin Kelly (founding executive editor of Wired) dropped that piece of wisdom in his 2008 essay, “1000 True Fans.” Nearly two decades later, the industry is pouncing on the idea with renewed vigor. We just can’t get enough of the concept of a “Superfan.” 

So, we’re going to dig into the idea; of what it means for independent creators, and why this highly dedicated group of fans is the target for new product suites and experiences from the music industry at large.

Superfans: A Definition For The Industry,
Defined By The Creators


If a regular fan knows of you, your Superfan knows you.

They’re the type of fan that will drive 100s of km to see you, they’ll buy the limited edition cassette tape, the hat and the shirt. They’ll stream your music and put your album on repeat. These types of fans are invaluable - they’re your chief marketing force spreading the word within their networks. Back in 2008, Kelly’s idea was that 1000 of these fans spending $100 a year directly on an artist would mean an adequate living. While the bar might have shifted on quantity - the idea still holds - the ability to reach these fans directly is key and one way to “make it,” without fighting for a billion streams.

Industry-wise, this idea has translated to streaming numbers, and willingness to pay for “deeper fan-artist experiences.” It’s the idea that a particularly dedicated portion of music listeners may be willing to pay more for some artists to get access to additional related physical goods or more expansive digital subscriptions (fan clubs, etc.) 

And it’s a highly lucrative segment, with untapped earning potential:

  1. Spotify’s recent report on Super Listeners outlined that while superfans make up only 2% of the platform, they account for more than 20% of all streams and more than 50% of all merch sales.
  2. Another report by Luminate indicated that superfans are 80% more likely to spend on music, and 128% more likely to buy physical music like vinyl, CDs and cassettes.
  3. And according to a Goldman Sachs model, income from superfans could generate an additional $4B a year for the record business by as early as 2030. 

Folks are fighting to get ahead of the curve when it comes to monetizing superfans.

How The Music Industry Is Approaching Superfans


For the last few decades, aggregators (labels, record companies, distributors) have been trying to find ways to optimize their earnings on the long tail, and creators (individual artists, producers, inventors) have been trying to keep ahead of the crushing downward pressure on prices that the long tail brings. Things like pennies per stream. 

Today, there’s increased pressure on figuring out that last part - giving artists their due - or at least more of it. Let’s look at 1 big success, and 1 burgeoning idea when it comes to superfans.

1 Big Success: K-Pop’s HYBE - The Weverse Fandom Platform

Launched in 2019, Weverse was HYBE’s solution for subscription-based access to artist-related content (i.e. a digital fan club). Weverse brings together artist-related content such as music videos, teasers, and live streams into one centralized place for fans. It also has a merch platform known as Weverse Shop and has recently launched Weverse DM and Fan Letter for direct communication from fans. 

In 2022 HYBE generated $51.9M from its fan club activities (including Weverse).

1 Burgeoning Idea: Universal x Deezer’s Comprehensive Artist-Centric Music Streaming Model

Back in 2023 Universal Music Group (UMG), and Deezer announced the launch of an artist-centric streaming model, which was designed to better reward the artists and the music that fans value the most to combat outdated “aggregate” streaming models. 

This new model intends to:

  1. Focus on Artists - rewarding “professional artists” (those with a minimum of 1000 streams per month & 500 unique listeners) by boosting their streams.
  2. Reward Engaging Content - double-boosting songs that fans actively seek out.
  3. Demonetize Non-Artist Audio - rain sounds, white noise, AI-generated content, etc.

On top of their partnership with Deezer, UMG CEO, Sir Lucian Grainge, has emphasized that their focus for the upcoming years is on superfan experiences and products. 

How Artists Are Approaching Superfans


On the individual level, superfans have long been invisible to their idols, since artists and their teams lacked the tools to track their fans’ actions and habits (information like who is buying tickets, merch, etc.) Something as crucial as the names of your fans, who’s part of your dedicated core, and how to reach them have historically been hard to narrow down. 

But oh have the tides shifted.

We are in the age of ubiquitous peer-to-peer communication. You have tools to distribute your music and brand directly to the masses through platforms like TikTok and BeReal, and you can sell directly to fans with easy-to-set-up commerce stores like Shopify. Streaming and social media have unlocked a wealth of aggregate audience data - from basics like age and preferences to the ability to segment fans based on categories of engagement levels.

To that end, the challenge for artists approaching superfans in 2024 and beyond, is the ability to make a living from their fans by knowing exactly who they are and what they like, and then reaching them directly. It’s no lie that you can build a career and an audience through platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube - but relying solely on these platforms results in you renting your data rather than owning it. You build your audience on the platform, then pay that same platform to advertise against those audiences, and should you ever hope to leave that platform and maintain the same audience- you’re out of luck.

This may not feel like an urgent problem. After all, the music industry generally uses streams, the volume of organic searches for an artist, how often an artist’s songs are added to playlists, and social media following as success metrics - but siloed and rented audiences stand in the way of ownership and power when it comes an artists’ influence on their career. 

So what do you do about it? 

How to Cultivate Superfans With Fan Data

The TL;DR is that it takes just 5 steps to start:


Here’s a little more detail.

Step 1: Acquire data and turn anonymous streams into known fans

Explore ways for fans to engage with your artist directly. Be it with interactive campaigns such as trivia or voting polls online, or gamified experiences such as scavenger hunts at concert venues. Collect first-party data about the fans that you can own. It is easy to interact with fans through third-party platforms but Superfans, for example, would not hesitate to visit a landing page to voice their opinion. This is a 2-way street- the fans tell you who they are, and you hear them out on what they would like from your artist.

Step 2: Through consent-first opt-ins and subscriptions, build up channels where fans are eager to hear from you directly

As the fans start engaging with your artist off of third-party platforms, ask them to opt-in for direct communications such as Email or SMS. In return, give those fans access to exclusive information such as updates on upcoming releases and tours or extra content such as behind-the-scenes or making-of footage. Build a community that fans are happy to be a part of. If the fans feel heard, getting them to opt in for communications will be the last of your worries.

Step 3: Connect your sources of data, remove siloes, and build comprehensive fan profiles 

This is when you start connecting the dots. Fill in data gaps from data sources you do not have direct access to by asking fans directly within those engagement campaigns. Look at the ticketing data, merch sales, and fans’ listening habits. Once you have all the information, you can start building fan profiles and identify who are the Superfans from the regular fans. 


Step 4: Segment your fans based on their behavior, geography, and demographics to personalize offerings. 

Now that you know the fans as much as they know about your artist, you can super-serve those Superfans. Segment the audiences based on their affinity and intent towards your artists to build more efficient marketing plans. Map out their fan journeys to build more personalized experiences. Reactivating loyal fans is cost-effective- those savings can then be allocated toward campaigns built to reach a broader audience for artist discovery. It's a win-win scenario.

Step 5: Deliver exclusive content:

The final step is to sustain your community. You know who those loyal fans are, and you know who those fans are who want to stay updated about your artist. It's time to do your part and give them what they want. This means first access to merchandise or tickets. This means prioritizing interactions with your artists. This means new and exclusive tracks. And more importantly, going above and beyond to provide exceptional experiences. 

That is how you identify and retain Superfans.

As the industry squirms to monetize on the superfan phenomenon, the simple solution seems to be a fan-first approach. Invest in methods to engage your fans directly, collect zero- and first-party data, and nurture a deeper relationship between your artists and their fans. With record numbers of live event attendees and sky-rocketing ticket prices, the numbers don't lie- fans are ready to pay more for exclusive experiences. As you prepare to deliver it to them, ensure your efforts are sustainable by developing a lasting community of fans and superfans. 

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