building fan lifetime value
by Denisha Kuhlor
Taylor Swift is the woman of the hour. The Swifties are the fans of a lifetime.
There have been numerous breakdowns on the events leading up to and after the Ticketmaster fiasco, but what remains most impressive is the demand in the first place. While many are debating what it takes to create an equitable ticketing system, let’s explore the factors (both macro and unique to Taylor) that allowed her to create this touring demand in the first place.
Since her 2009 Fearless Tour, the average resale price for Taylor’s concert tickets has nearly doubled, even as she now performs in venues that are four times the capacity.
As fans old and new tried their luck securing tickets, the spending power of a grown-up fan base became immediately apparent. It is particularly hard to build and maintain an engaged fanbase over a decade, something Taylor seems to just be getting better at and her strategy and mastery of fandom provide the perfect landscape for her audience to thrive.
the macro: years of pent-up demand
Post-lockdown touring has been thriving. Ticketmaster’s parent company, Live Nation, has posted record quarters and many major artists have hit the road. The inability to travel and see live shows left a void (and disposable income) for many fans who reveled in the opportunity to see their favorite acts once again.
There were many factors leading up to Taylor’s pent-up demand. Her last tour, Reputation, was five years ago. Since then she has released four albums in addition to her album re-recordings. Fans have not only been unable to see her perform her new albums live but during the period of her re-recordings, she did not publicly perform any of her old music.
Many artists go on tour following the release of just one album so when you quadruple that along with the macro factors that occurred last year it becomes easy to see why people were so excited. Lover Fest, her two-city festival, would have satiated some of her fans but was unfortunately canceled in 2020, extending the gap between her last performance. The combined demand from an increased catalog, extended time since her last tour, and desire for people to experience live music propelled her already engaged fan base to new heights.
the big business of nostalgia
One of the fascinating phenomenons about pent-up demand is the noticeable segmentation of Taylor’s fanbase. While social media and streaming have introduced her to a myriad of new fans, it has only made her initial core fanbase even more loyal, many of whom first started patronizing Taylor when they had the limited agency to make decisions themselves and needed their parent’s permission to buy tickets.
Taylor’s ability to engage this fanbase through the last decade has resulted in a rare moment where their nostalgia has also coincided with peak agency and spending power. These fans are not only empowered to patronize this tour given the role that her music has played in their development. This loyalty has largely been won because of her ability to be transparent and share the behind-the-scenes of the business of music.
From advocating for artists when Apple Music wasn’t going to pay them during their free music trial, going up against Scooter Braun after he bought her masters, and sharing her disappointment when she felt like she was snubbed for a Grammy, she has always been clear about what she stands for.
Fans crave a lot more authenticity and visibility into their favorite artists’ lives than ever before. With the ability to share, document, and create in the palm of our hands many artists have risen to the occasion giving candid real-time views into every aspect of being an artist.
What is interesting about Taylor Swift is that she has strategically combined her fan’s desire for authenticity with creating very powerful leverage that makes her a force to be reckoned with when negotiating. Through the use of documentaries, handwritten letters, and even one on ones with fans, she has continued to build on the deep affinity these fans have for her and even equipping them with information to feel empowered to positively influence her career.
While the decade in which she has risen to fame has allowed for this, new artists attempting to so selectively curate their authenticity will not be met with the same fanfare as consumers will easily be able to feel the curation.
the power of an engaged fanbase still has more potential
Streaming and social media have ushered in a new era of fandom for which long-term value is being created in real-time. As a result of how parasocial relationships are now formed and cultivated, the sky’s the limit for the depths of fandom that can be sustained over time through individual artists.
If done right, artists can use these tools to effectively maintain a relationship with their fans during the different cycles in their career allowing them to unlock their patronage at the precise time that they are ready regardless of how long that time is. While it can appear that the tools are doing the heavy lifting, building and maintaining this fandom is quite nuanced. It involves an artist prioritizing the big picture and avoiding over-saturation, especially in an industry where not seizing the moment is difficult as they are always focused on the next best thing.
Denisha Kuhlor is the founder of Stan, where artists learn how to find, grow, and engage a global fanbase.