In Defense Of 1,000 True Fans – Matthew Ebel – Part II

In part ii of my 1,000 true fans series I chose to interview my friend Matthew Ebel. I have known Matthew for a few years because he runs in the same geeky podcasting circles that I proudly run in.  Matthew is the type of artist I refer to in my book as a “Builder” meaning Matthew is constantly pushing his career forward using not only musical innovation but also technology.

What I find most striking about this interview is the fact that Matthew makes 26.3% of his net income from just 40 hard- core fans.

Imagine what it will be like for him when he gets to 1,000?  The other thing that really stood out for me is the fact that an artist like Matthew (who is totally comfortable with Social Media and extremely Internet savvy) has very little idea what to do with analytics that he is gathering via Google Analytics,, and, as well as email stats via Blue Sky Factory.

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The Indie Maximum Exposure List (A Guide For The Rest Of Us)

My phone rang last week and it was Tom Silverman from Tommy Boy calling to discuss my panel for his upcoming Chicago New Music Seminar. Tom was half amused and half disgusted. “Have you seen Billboard this week?” He asked. Since Billboard is a publication I largely ignore, I fessed up: “No. Why?” “You have to see this article,” he said. “It’s the most ridiculous thing ever.”

In a few moments, I was reading it and I was laughing out loud.

Here are a few excerpts: From the September 26 edition of Billboard:


“Today the ways artists can promote their music have proliferated so rapidly that it can be hard to keep up with what’s new — what’s actually cutting through the clutter. It’s in this context that Billboard decided to geek out with 25 promotions and publicity experts across genres and mediums to create the ultimate multimedia metric: Our first Maximum Exposure List.”

I sampled a few random ones from the 2009 list to give you a sense and the whole 2008 list can be found here:

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New Media Pioneer – Fresh Peaches of Such Cool Stuff Blog

Celebrating Independent Artists

1. What are your favorite blogs/audio blogs featuring new music do you like to visit?

You know, it’s funny. I don’t really read any music-related blogs on a regular basis. I’m a bit of a chronic Googler, and that’s how I find most new (and new to me) music, both for my blog and for my own enjoyment. I read other blogs regularly, particularly in the left-leaning political and feminist blogosphere, but I’m pretty fickle when it comes to subscribing to blogs about the arts.

2. What inspired you to start site?

I very briefly tried to run an Etsy shop, but I found I was far too lazy to keep it up. One of the biggest challenges I had was getting my name out there, so when I decided to start a blog with the idea of profiling things I enjoy in general, I quickly saw that I could use it to help other artists promote themselves and their small businesses.  Then I e-mailed a few artists I admired and got things moving. Initially I profiled only visual artists (painters, photographers, fashion designers, etc), but I really wanted to expand to include music.

I’ve been quite literally surrounded by music all of my life.  My father was a studio musician for years, and my uncle was played with Dobie Gray in the 70’s.  My sweetheart is also a professional musician, so our house is filled with music all the time.  It was only natural for me to want to expand my blog to include music.  Much like the artists I began Such Cool Stuff! with, I started by e-mailing musicians I admire, and before I knew it things really took off.  I love playing my small part in helping artists of all types get their name out there.

3. What do you think is the impact of blogs, internet radio, and podcasts on independent music?

It’s just huge. This is a frequent topic of conversation in our household.  With this new media there is a lot more access to the public than you had back in the day. Anyone (like me!) can start a blog and become an instant media outlet, and smaller artists have a greater chance to get their name out there.  On the downside, with the pool of both talent and media so large now it will take an extra measure of effort for those who do gain exposure to make it meaningful.

One of the things I mourn about the way new technology is impacting the industry is that the digital availability of music has pretty well killed the concept of the album. I’ve always been a big fan of looking at an album as a whole, as a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Now with things moving to a digital format, that’s being lost.  Every track needs to be able to stand on its own. There aren’t any B-sides now in the traditional sense.  Such a shame. My favorite songs have typically been the B-sides.

4. When you started your station, did you anticipate that blogs would have such an upscale trend as it does now?

I actually only started the blog about a year ago, so there hasn’t been that much of a change for me personally. I do think it’s astounding to look at the way the internet has changed our lives on a massive scale. Just twelve years ago I’d never even used the internet. Now I use it for pretty much everything, and whole industries have had to change everything about the way they do business.

5. What are the ultimate goals you wish to achieve through your site?

Such Cool Stuff! has always been fairly experimental. I started it without a clear idea of where it was going, and the direction has proven to be ever-changing. It’s a hobby for me (my day job is in a very different industry), so I have the luxury of letting the current take me where it wants to go with regard to the blog. I’m excited to see where we end up!

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September 27, 2008

Billboard Staff

It wasn’t so long ago that a comprehensive promo plan meant working a record to radio and maybe buying ads in the local alternative paper when a band went on tour. This may sound quaint, or maybe, if your job depends on successfully promoting a band, it sounds blissfully simple.

Today the ways artists can promote their music have proliferated so rapidly that it can be hard to keep up with what’s new — what’s actually cutting through the clutter. It’s in this context that Billboard decided to geek out with 20 promotions and publicity experts across genres and mediums to create the ultimate multimedia metric: Our first Maximum Exposure list.

Ever wonder about eh relative value of a cover of Rolling Stone, a gig on “Oprah” or a song on “Gossip Girl”? Read on.


Promo spots provide coveted showcase for music

Patrick Wimberly can’t stop giggling.

The reason for his uncontrollable mirth? The drummer for Brooklyn-based indie rock act Chairlift can’t quite process what he saw on a TV screen the day before. It was a 30-second commercial advertising Apple’s newly launched fourth-generation iPod Nano-with the Chairlift song “Bruises” playing in the background.

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We Are On HYPEBOT: Move Over Billboard: Here Comes Ariel Hyatt And Friends’ “Indie Maximum Exposure List”

When I read “BILLBOARD’S 2009 MAXIMUM EXPOSURE LIST” a few weeks ago, I thought The Onion had taken control of the venerable music trade magazine with a satirical piece.

“Today the ways artists can promote their music have proliferated so rapidly that it can be hard to keep up with what’s new – what’s actually cutting through the clutter,’  the article began. “It’s in this context that Billboard decided to geek out with 25 promotions and publicity experts across genres and mediums to create the ultimate multimedia metric: Our first Maximum Exposure List.”

image from

Sounds fine until you read on and find a list of filled with old school, unachievable and down right “this might actually hurt your career” advice. A small sample:


image from Indie music marketing guru and author Ariel Hyatt (twitter: @cyberpr) of Ariel Publicity also read the same Billboard article; and unlike me, who just found the list sad and amusing, she decided to do something about it.  As with all things Ariel, her response, “THE INDIE MAXIMUM EXPOSURE LIST” (A GUIDE FOR THE REST OF US) is filled with realistic and achievable suggestions.

It’s also a collaborative effort, bringing in a team of industry experts who are, like Ariel,  in the trenches with independent artists every day. She also asked several artists who make a living as musicians to contribute. Her dream team includes Derek Sivers (, Jed Carlson & Lou Plaia (both from Reverb Nation), Tom Silverman (New Music Seminar & Tommy Boy ), Emily White (Whitesmith Entertainment) and musician Jonathan Coulton.

The resulting “INDIE MAXIMUM EXPOSURE LIST” is a must read if you’re an artist who wants to move their career forward, someone who works with those artists or even if your a fan who just wants to  understand how this whole Music 2.0 thing works. Download the PDF here:

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In Defense of 1,000 True Fans – Mountain Goats – Part I

Since I started my career in this business. I’ve always been working within the 1,000 True Fans model.
Here’s my story: In 1996, I was living in Boulder, CO and I had just started Ariel Publicity, my boutique PR firm.

Acoustic Junction and Zuba two local bands became my first clients. Both had been staples in Boulder for a couple of years, and both made fantastic livings touring and selling their independent releases from coast to coast. They did this with no label, no distribution, and no major marketing budgets: just a manager, a tour manager, and me.

I also represented The Toasters, Bim Skala Bim, The Slackers, and Skinnerbox, (and practically everyone touring during the third wave of Ska).

These artists and dozens like them all made full time livings from playing and touring.  They had a core group of fans that supported them by seeing several shows a year, buying merch and buying albums.

Today, it feels revolutionary when we hear about bands that make a living based on their music.

What happened? What changed?

The fact that CD sales are decimated has clearly not helped at all, because a major part of the income for each one of these bands who were road dogs was selling merchandise at shows. To top that off Internet has glutted the playing field.

I refuse to listen to the naysayers who are refuting 1,000 True Fans and I am going to focus on featuring as many artists as I can who are proving the model.

My theory is: Plenty of artists are getting to 1,000 True Fans, but it’s going to take some time for them to prove the model because it takes time to build true fans in today’s two-way conversation economy.

One-on-one fan building using touring and social media can be painful. I’m not saying it’s fair, I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that if playing music full-time is your dream, passion, and calling I believe it’s possible.

Trent Reznor and Radiohead proved 1,000 True Fans practically overnight and they will always remain as the two cornerstones of artists who did it quickly and efficiently for obvious reasons that don’t need to be rehashed here.

On our panel at the New Music Seminar in Chicago this past week Corey Denis presented the first artist I will focus on: The Mountain Goats.

Here is Corey Denis’s full report:

I entered the music business at the exact witching hour when the Internet was born. My career was rarely based on physical marketing and very quickly became focused purely on digital content, online street team/ fan base development & digital marketing for artists & projects ranging in genre from comedy (Stephen Lynch), indie electropop (Figurine), funk (Maceo Parker), folk (David Wilcox), to indie rock (Frank Black, The Slip), Jazz (Charlie Hunter) and Jambands (New Monsoon).

And through all of this work over a 12-year period, I’ve discovered 3 key crucial elements to figuring out the new music industry.

1.    Run your career like a business, but ditch the myths: there is very little money in the music industry, there never was much to begin with and there’s less now. Record labels are not going to rescue you.

2.    Quality Matters.

3.    All careers take time: It takes at least 12 years to “make it” (for this purpose, let’s define “make it” as a television appearance on a #4 Nielsen rated late night show)

The three rules generally work together: Setting appropriate expectations, focusing on your art, and connecting to your fans as you develop over a long period of time. Your career is an investment by you, and anyone who wants to pay you to be you. And for a return on your investment, your goal is to make it a desirable investment to your most beloved fans.  But how do they become true fans?  If you remember the first two rules, the third is up to you. My favorite more recent example is the Mountain Goats. I don’t work with them, but I happen to love the band and know a “superfan” named Matthew. (Superfan: One who spends $100 – $300/ year on a band).

As I interviewed Matthew, he explained how he just purchased a purple vinyl limited edition (only 777 available worldwide) of the new Mountain Goats album; he “couldn’t wait to twitter about it.” He went on to show me that his photo of a rare Mountain Goats collaborative release with Kaki King on swirled vinyl received over 500 unique views – the most views “any photo has ever received on my flickr account.” Matthew beams with pride as he reports spending “at least $400/ year on the Mountain Goats” on items ranging from vinyl (new and rare) to digital EPs and t-shirts. And that is the best-case scenario any artist can hope for – a fan that takes pride in both the full experience and consumption of your art.

Converting pride into a return on investment will take at least ten years.

The reality of 1,000 true fans beyond the joy of garnering fans is knowing what to do once you know you have a fan, while continually growing as an artist.

The Mountain Goats are not just any band making any kind of music. You can bet that their album ‘Sunset Tree’ will end up on multiple “Top 100” albums of the last decade, and the band is regularly revered by music critics worldwide ranging from Pitchfork to

Last week, The Mountain Goats (now on 4ad), promoted their new release by way of a performance on the Colbert Report.  And none of this happened overnight. Not even close. Darnielle has been building relationships with his fans for more than 12 years, and their overt appreciation of his art is the result of a pure connection built on respect. John Darnielle, with more talent in his eyelash than most people have in their entire bodies, respects his fans. Here are 5 ways John Darnielle has built one of the greatest indie success stories of all time, based on talent, fans & genuine connections:

1. Communicate With Fans As If They Are Friends
In the mid-90s, Darnielle played extremely small venues (coffee shops, pizza joints) and stayed after the show to sit with anyone who enjoyed the show. “When a connection was made, he took their address and wrote a letter to every single person,” explains Matthew. He loves this story, and with reason: this is actually how Darnielle met his wife. Matthew knows the story inside-out and continues to tell it with a smile, “her name is Lalitree, and the song about her is called ‘02-75’ because that was her Post Office Box number.”  Darnielle communicates directly with fans electronically today by posting on the popular forum at The Mountain Goats website.  At one point he asked his fans what kind of merchandise they wanted. The forum exploded with fan suggestions and The Mountain Goats delivered: the next tour had a Mountain Goats reusable grocery sack for sale as merchandise. The grocery sack sold out.

2. Make Music Available
The Mountain Goats release an album about every 2 years, but between full album releases, fans are inundated with singles & EPs. John Darnielle has released multiple singles & EPs unexpectedly on the forum, with donations accepted but not required. In addition, Darnielle requests on the forum that fans do not steal. Matthew reports he has “always paid, always. I have to, why wouldn’t I?”

3. Make Limited Edition Physical Product: Take Advantage Of 1K Runs!
Once able, it is wise to invest in physical product to sell on the road and online. The Mountain Goats have released split EPs with Kaki King & John Vanderslice on limited edition vinyl.  A limited vinyl edition of The Mountain Goats album Satanic Messiah was released only at indie retail, with a catch: 666 copies only. The most recent Mountain Goats album, The Life Of The World To Come (released last Tuesday) has a similar limited edition purple vinyl release, this time 777 copies. Matthew owns #740 and explained, “Some people on the forum have 3 copies.” Fans did not know which indie retail store would carry the vinyl, so they had to seek it out. Matthew found his at Rasputin music in downtown San Francisco.

4. Your Fans Are Smart, All 1,000 Of Them
If it’s not you on Twitter, your fans will know. If it’s not you on the forum, your fans will know. If it’s bad music that isn’t finished, your fans will know. If you are writing form letters, your fans will know. To build a connection with fans and harvest a relationship, it is important to remember that your fans are as smart as you, they demand the same quality art that you demand of yourself. They are growing with you, aging as you age, over about 12 years, to enable your career as a full time musician making a decent living.

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