There was a discussion on the KinDIY Facebook page the other day about the difficulty of quantifying family musicians album sales. It seems like anecdotally everybody has a story or two about how sales and popularity is increasing, but with the prohibitive cost of Soundscan self-registration (i.e., self-reporting sales at concerts, own websites, etc.) for all but the most successful of artists, concrete data is scarce.
And I love myself some concrete data.
So I'm going to propose a proxy. This is by no means perfect, it's a poor proxy for album sales and possibly for concert attendance, and it's a single data source. But it does, I believe, put artists in context to each other and to the broader music world around them, and has publicly available and most non-manipulatable data.
I know, theoretically all but the very oldest fans of the oldest-skewing kindie rockers shouldn't be even on Facebook. But I think that the number of parents who are on Facebook is a reasonable proxy for how many people might be willing to buy a CD for their family or take them to a show. And while Twitter is also popular, I think folks who are popular on Twitter are folks who are on Twitter a lot, which doesn't correlate as well with broad popularity.
So what follows is a list of artists, covering the major stars of the genre, along with some less popular artists, all with the number of Facebook fans they have as of today. But before I begin, some context:
1) I know that the number of fans someone has on Facebook has nothing to with quality or talent or anything. Mostly.
2) I'm not trying to start any fights between artists.
3) As someone who considers how to bring artists in concert to a place that's not New York or DC where concerts happen weekly, the lack of hard data in evaluating an artist's popularity does not help. I can tell you exactly who I would bring in if attendance and cost were no object. But they are. So just this simple review was helpful for me...
-- Lady Gaga: 34,197,423 fans
-- Muse: 9,953,421
-- Kanye West: 6,788,280
-- Carrie Underwood: 4,961,883
(Wow, really? 34 million fans? Wow.)
Now perhaps it's not entirely fair to compare four of the biggest English-language music stars to folks in this genre, so here are some fan page totals for some randomly chosen folks on the undercard of the Austin City Limits Festival 2011 lineup:
Those are a little more representative of what we're looking at than Lady Gaga. So let's plunge into the kindie world and see how they compare...
-- They Might Be Giants: 180,161 -- not entirely fair perhaps because they have a whole 30-year career of which the kids' stuff is only part of ten years of that. But considering that they have more fans than, say, Broken Social Scene or Elbow, and almost as many as TV on the Radio, folks who are going to get really nice late-afternoon or evening-time slots at ACL, I've often wondered why they don't play more festivals.
-- Imagination Movers: 46,925 -- the power of TV, folks. It's why a whole bunch of family musicians have a pilot treatment in their back pocket (or the back of their mind). [But as a point of comparison, Yo Gabba Gabba! has more than 335,000 fans.]
-- The Laurie Berkner Band: 24,866 -- that's a huge number, considering that Berkner's time on TV is considerably less than it used to be.
-- Justin Roberts: 4,052 -- this is a number that's interesting to me, because it makes me think that there are some artists like Roberts who could legitimately play a music festival and not be assigned to a "kids'" stage and would actually draw a decent crowd.
-- Dan Zanes: 3,184 -- This is an example of where the Facebook methodology breaks down a bit. I think Dan's gone back and forth as to usage of his FB page, so I think this is pretty low compared to his "real" popularity. He has close to 1,900 actual friends for his personal Facebook page, so it seems like his fan number should be a lot higher.
-- Ralph's World: 1,619 -- Another case where I feel like the Facebook methodology fails a bit in this case.
Stars: What's interesting is how some of this data challenges my assumptions of who's a "superstar" and who's a "star." (I know, whether or not such distinctions matter is another question entirely.)
-- The Fresh Beat Band: 12,694 -- not entirely fair as they do virtually no touring
-- The Verve Pipe: 5,877 -- Not fair as I think they have a decent-sized schism between their "adult" fans and fans of their family stuff. But that's a lot of folks to be automatically interested in a project.
-- Choo-Choo Soul: 3,005 -- again, the power of TV (though they're clearly not as visible as the Movers).
-- Keller Williams: 2,860 -- this is just his KIDS page; his regular page has more than 28,000 fans.
-- Caspar Babypants: 2,602
-- Quinn Sullivan: 2,494 -- remember when I said I thought Sullivan's set might be the most crowded of the Austin Kiddie Limits stage in 2011? That's why.
-- Sara Hickman: 2,042 -- note: she has nearly 5,000 friends on Facebook, so this number's probably a bit low.
-- Elizabeth Mitchell: 1,839
-- Milkshake: 1,813
-- Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer: 1,723
-- Bill Harley: 1,722 -- dig how these two veterans are right next to each other on this list.
-- Rocknoceros: 1,545
-- Sugar Free Allstars: 1,535
-- Secret Agent 23 Skidoo: 1,519 -- I love how the two cooperators are right next to each other on this list
-- Brady Rymer: 1,501
-- Recess Monkey: 1,392
-- Lunch Money: 1,351
-- Rhythm Child: 1,214
-- Jim Cosgrove: 1,192
-- The Not-Its: 809
I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. If you're an artist, you probably also see where you need to get your fanbase to in order to have a viable national presence, if that's what you desire. And obviously if you're a promoter, if 95% of that artist's fans live a thousand miles away from your venue, well, then that's not necessarily a guarantee of good attendance.
And if you're a fan of one of these artists and you're on Facebook and you haven't "Like"d them, then you probably should...