Scott Kirsner’s “Fans, Friends, and Followers”: How Artists are Using the Internet to Build an Audience

fff-cover.jpgIn his new book, Fans, Friends, and Followers, Variety columnist and CinemaTech blogger Scott Kirsner tackles one of the key issues facing contemporary creative artists: how to build an audience and generate revenue to support their work.

The means of artistic expression, even in media previously inaccessible to most (like the equipment to make a motion picture), are now readily available. New distribution channels have emerged that bypass the traditional gatekeepers between artist and audience — the A&R rep, the book publisher, the film distributor. But these changes have created new problems. The flood of content and the proliferation of distribution channels make it increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. Since many of the current distribution methods provide exposure but not significant revenue, finding a business model to fund artistic development is even more challenging.

Kirsner’s Fans, Friends, and Followers explores these issues from two perspectives.

The majority of the book consists of interviews with creative professionals who describe how they use the Internet to connect with fans and distribute their work. The artists profiled cover a wide range of endeavors — film, music, writing, and even comedy and magic.

The book’s set of thirty interviews is framed by sections offering practical advice for creative artists. The opening chapter, “The New Rules,” is a mini-handbook for creative professionals looking to grow an audience. As is often the case, many of these ideas seem like common-sense notions. But given how often they are overlooked in practice, this collection of tips provides artists with a valuable checklist by which to assess what they are doing right and what techniques they may be missing.

The final sections — “Exploring the New Business Models,” “Power Tools for Audience Building,” and “Supplemental Reading” — provide additional suggestions and pointers to resources.

Of the interviews and anecdotes that comprise the body of the work, of particular interest are those that describe effective (and often not-so-obvious) monetization schemes. Using email, MySpace, and Twitter to reach out to fans is fairly routine these days. Less commonplace are the techniques to make fans active participants in the creative process in a way that provides artists with significant monetary backing. Many of the examples cited are both surprising and, in least in these instances, effective.

To help fund her 2009 record, California Years, singer/songwriter Jill Sobule reportedly raised nearly $90,000 by offering fans a tiered set of options for contributing to the effort, from receiving a digital download of the recording for a donation of $10 to the opportunity to sing on the record for a $10,000 contribution. Incredible as it may seem, one fan ponied up the $10,000 and, after a voice lesson, performed on the record.

To support his 2009 movie, Objectified, filmmaker Gary Hustwit offered fans who donated $500 a sneak preview screening of the picture and acknowledgment in the film’s credits.

These nuggets on ways to leverage a fanbase to financially support creative efforts are of particular relevance to independent artists.  After all,  building a fan base is one thing; establishing one that generates enough revenue to sustain your work is a more difficult challenge.

For creative artists Fans, Friends, and Followers provides insightful case studies and valuable techniques for growing an audience and finding ways to make a sustainable business from artistic expression.

Fans, Friends, and Followers is available in paperback from or CreateSpace, or as a digital ebook from Kirsner’s Web site. The digital version is an unrestricted PDF file, so you’re free to print the document or add your own annotations and bookmarks.

For additional information or to read a preview chapter, see the book’s Web site at


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