Kevin Kelly has been blogging about new business models for artists who work at "the low end of the long tail," and exploring how one might make a living in a micro-niche. He proposed the idea of artists directly cultivating "1000 True Fans" in a previous post, and follows up with real numbers from artists who have a reputation for thriving on a dedicated fan base…
One of the artists I contacted was musician Robert Rich (above), whom I knew only as a fan (but not a True Fan). Rich was an early pioneer in ambient music, and a force in the Bay Area new age music scene in the early 1980s. He's prolific, issuing about 40 albums in the past 20 years, many in collaboration with other ambient musicians. Among his earliest albums was "Numena", which made his reputation, and among his latest is "Eleven Questions", which was recorded with colleagues in a seven day burst at his home studio.
Robert Rich was one of the first professional musicians to start dealing directly with his fans via his own website, which is why I contacted him. He wrote an extremely candid, insightful and thorough reply to my query. He tempers my enthusiasm for 1000 True Fans with a cautionary realism borne from actually trying the idea. The summary of his experience is so pertinent and detailed that I felt was worth posting in full. With his permission, it follows, slightly edited.
I agree strongly with your basic thesis [of a thousand True Fans], that artists can survive on the cusp of the long tail by nurturing the help of dedicated fans; but perhaps I can modulate your welcome optimism with a light dose of realism, tempered by some personal reflections.
Previously on Boing Boing:
HOWTO Earn an artist's living in the 21st century: 1000 True Fans