Thursday, November 26, 2009

Belief, rock'n'roll and the danger of fans

I went to see New Model Army last night - the result of sitting next to lead singer Justin at a restaurant at Luton airport in the summer.

Wasn't on the guest list or anything, it was just that the chance encounter inspired my wife and I to go.
NMA have been touring in varying line ups for 25+ years. Their latest album was released this year.

And I think the reason they have been able to continue is they give their fans something to believe in. They stand for something. Something anti-establishment; for the common man - against the city. They were even once denied visas to tour the States. A feather in the cap indeed.

NMA also believe. It's what motivates them to play on a Wednesday night in Cambridge - rolling out Poison Street one more time. It's what kept them going despite the death of a prominent founding member.
It's what keeps the same fans coming back - dressing the same ways - and spreading the good word to their friends.

Belief has - I hazard a guess - made them happy, made them fulfilled, made their lives meaningful.
But it hasn't made them millionnaires.

And I wondered about that.

Not everyone wants money. But certainly NMA would like more believers (more in The Family).

So here's The Message. Don't be defined by your fans.

David Bowie was a big UK glam rock icon. Then he made a disco album. And went global.

Bowie fans are defined by Bowie.

Apple fanboys are defined by Apple.

Not vice versa.

You can be very successful by all kinds of measures by following your beliefs. But to take success beyond the silo of your current followers you must be prepared to redefine yourself on your own terms.

If NMA could have brought the Stop The City message to a wider audience by getting a haircut and playing the samba music they secretly hanker after (I'm making that up) would/could they?

True belief gives you the tools to go beyond your current hardcore, often at the risk of disappointing your current hardcore (imagine the delight of long-haired Bowie rock fans when They got Young Americans home).

Bowie's hardcore was not in his glam rock musical genre or in the style of his hair or clothes. It was in the permission to be different, to experiment and innovate that he gave fans.

And that attracted more people than sticking with what he knew was succeeding, ever could.

The DNA is in the belief - not in its latest expression

NMA's DNA is not in the music or the dress code of the fans. Nor is the DNA of any belief-based business wrapped up in its latest trappings.

Cling on to the DNA at all costs, but lose the trappings whenever you feel right - no matter how many of your current fans look at you as if you are drowning kittens.

Oh, and for the record NMA were great last night. And so were their fans.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?