Monday, 4 April 2016

In Praise of "Part-Time Fans."

Hello, everyone.  Today I would like to share what might be an unpopular opinion.  I would like to sing the praises of the part-time fan.  At this point, every obsessive (possibly teen) person reading this is in the process of throwing their phone/laptop/iPad out of the window in disgust, so I'm not likely to reach the people who need to read this blog, but here goes, anyway...

Look, I'm an unashamed fangirl.  I belong to many different fandoms, but for the purpose of this blog, we'll use the Manics as my main example.  I've been a Manic Street Preachers fan for over half my life.  I've seen them so many times it runs into double digits (I think it's 13 or 14 times, but I've lost count), I've met them (at least, I've met Nicky and James; Sean is elusive and Richey's... well, that's a whole other blog) and I own every album they've ever released, plus books about them, signed postcards, signed setlists, badges and goodness knows what else.  I even have their lyrics tattooed on me.  It's fair to say I'm a big fan.

I had this poster on my wall for years, until I kissed Richey's face off.  Literally.

Now, in every fandom, you get the hardcore group who own everything the artist has ever produced, go to multiple tour dates, hang around outside TV/radio studios to catch a glimpse of their idols etc.  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, necessarily (although I've talked about when fandom crosses a line before), but there's an ugly sense of superiority that can creep into the situation when you talk to some of those hardcore fans.  I've been queuing for a Manics gig before and had fans sneer: "Oh, so you never saw them with Richey?  Not really a fan then, are you?"  Um, Richey disappeared when I was twelve.  My bedroom walls were plastered with Take That posters at that age.  Does that mean I'm not a "proper" fan, now?  Of course not.  

I can usually prove that I'm a "proper" fan, by showing off my lyric tattoo, talking in detail about my favourite album tracks, or reminiscing over past tours.  But the point is, I shouldn't have to.

Recently, I've seen a few bands who've been under the radar for a while come back into the limelight.  As is to be expected, people start talking excitedly about new music, or tours etc.  But then they spoil it with the ugly superiority again.  "I bet loads of people will pretend they like them, now.  I bet all the part-time fans who weren't around when the band weren't doing anything will come creeping out of the woodwork when new stuff is released."

Here's the thing:  I'm a part-time fan of loads of bands. There are plenty of bands that I go through phases of listening to every now and then, rather than obsessively.  There are bands I like, who I only own one or two singles from.  Or I'll like a band, but only to the point where I own the Greatest Hits.  None of those things makes me unworthy of listening to that music.  None of it means that I'm not allowed to go to a gig, if I choose to.

For example, I like Muse a lot, but I've not got their two most recent albums and I've never seen them live.  I own all their music up until a certain point and then, whilst I never went off them, I just stopped being quite as in love with them as I had previously been.  The other day, a Muse album track came on in the car (I had my iPad on shuffle) and it was quite literally the first time I'd heard it in a couple of years.  I did the biggest grin and indulged in some quite serious in-car dancing and some Bellamy-esque dramatic singing.  It was fabulous.  But you can bet your ass that if I went to see Muse live, there'd be that hardcore group in the queue that thought I didn't have as much right to be there, because I don't own everything they've ever recorded and I can't tell you Matt Bellamy's birth date.  And that, my friends, is utter rubbish.

You see, fandom isn't a competitive sport.  There's not supposed to be a hierarchy, with the people who've met the band the most often and who own that limited edition CD sitting at the top.  This isn't YouNow and you can't just buy your way to being "top fan" (don't get me started on my love/hate relationship with YouNow, because that's a whole other blog).  Music - or films, TV shows, YouTubers, musical theatre or anything else that a culture of fandom builds up around - is there for everyone.  That's the brilliant thing about it.  You don't have to obsessively collect everything an artist has ever created in order to say you like them.  You can dip in and out of music, choosing to listen to something because you like the sound of it, without feeling an urge to rush out and buy every album the band has ever made.  You can go to a see a band live, based on the fact that you know "a lot of their singles," rather than because you're hoping that that hidden song between tracks six and seven on their debut album might get played.  Being a "part-time" fan of any band just simply means liking them, but not devoting yourself to them.  And that's fine.  You don't have to listen to the same stuff religiously.  And if a band you've decided you quite like takes a break, you don't have to keep listening to them for the whole time they're gone.  You're allowed to find other stuff to sing along to and you're still allowed to be intrigued or even excited when the band returns from their hiatus.  IT'S FINE.

Seriously.  Screw those guys.

The thing is, even if you truly, desperately believe that you somehow are a superior fan, because you own every album and you've seen the band ninety six times and you've met the drummer's dad, there is still literally no excuse to hate on those people who casually like the group that you obsess over.  Sure, it's annoying when someone goes "oh my GOD, I love them, their debut single is so awesome" and then they namecheck a song that was released years after the band formed (as a Manics fan, if I had a pound for every time someone referred to Design For Life as the band's debut single, I'd own a freaking mansion by now), but it's not impacting you in any way.  It's irritating to hear someone make out like your favourite band is also their favourite band, when they seem to know much less about them and they haven't appeared interested in them for ages.  But that's all it is; a bit irritating.  It's not stopping you from buying their singles, or from going to a concert.  It's something that should be easy to ignore.

What shouldn't be so easily ignored is the fact that, whether you like it or not, without the "part-time fans," the band you love so much might not even exist at all.

Think about it: if only the most hardcore fans bought singles, then those singles wouldn't chart as highly.  I know I've bought plenty of singles on iTunes, not because I'm a massive, obsessive fan of the artists who released them, but because the songs were good.  Simple as that.  That's what happens - people buy singles based on what they like at that moment.  That's how songs get to number one; if enough people think "ooh, I like that" and buy the single, it rises up the charts.  Those people doing the buying might never even have heard of the band before they made that purchase, but that one song got under their skin and they figured "it's only 99p, why not?"

And if only the hardcore fans bought albums, sales would drop.  Because, like it or lump it, some of the sales that bands achieve come from people who buy music on a whim, just because it makes their ears happy.  Some of those sales come from people who've heard one single, liked it and fancied checking out the band's other stuff.  So, if those casual listeners, or part-time fans all unanimously stopped buying albums, sales would drop.  A drop in sales could lead to another form of drop; the band being dropped by their record label.  The music biz is a cruel world.

It's the same deal with concert tickets.  Those part-time fans, who own maybe one album and mainly like the singles from it, might choose to go to a concert for a fun night out.  So, they fork out for a couple of tickets.

what I'm trying to say here, is that the revenue created by casual listeners, or part-time fans, contributes towards keeping the band or artist you obsess over going.  Without them, you might not have a band to obsess over at all.

Most of us are pretty well-rounded people.  We don't just like one band, or one TV show, or one genre of film.  We have multiple likes and dislikes and that's what makes life interesting.  Essentially, we're probably all part-time fans of someone or something and that's okay. And, though we may not realise it at the time, when we download a single on a whim, or buy a ticket for a tour just because we think it'll be fun, we're helping to keep a band, artist or celebrity afloat for the people who adore them.

Part-time fans and casual listeners aren't people to be mocked.  They're people to be thanked.

Bringing this back to me and my Manics-love, I can put my hand on my heart and say I love to see casual fans at Manics gigs.  Because so often, their reaction is to smile and jump around and say "wow, this band are brilliant."  

Maybe they'll go home and buy the whole back catalogue and the next time the band tour, they'll be down at the front, singing along to every word.

Maybe they'll go home and go back to dipping in and out of the band's music and never love them the way I do.

It really doesn't matter.  

What matters is that they stuck their hands in their pockets and bought tour tickets.  They might have bought an album.  And in doing so they're helping to keep the band going.  That is what matters to me.  

So, next time you decide to hate on part-time fans, remind yourself that you are probably a part-time fan of someone or something, too.  And remember that without those casual fans, the very thing you love wouldn't necessarily stay around for as long as you'd like.  

Let the hate go.  

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