Why you should ignore thousands of music consultants...
...also known as your fans.
While this will sound a little contradictory coming from the guy that wrote two books about audience engagement (with a third on the way), think about the qualities that drew your fans to you in the first place.
There's a huge difference between understanding your perfect audience and catering to their whims.
There's even a danger to taking too much feedback from current fans who aren't in your definition of your perfect audience.
Paul Ford wrote an essay on an attitude he calls "Why Wasn't I Consulted?" Here in the United States, our interpretation of democracy sometimes leads us to believe that all ideas have validity and that we, as consumers, have the right to dictate what gets served to us. As a result, we end up with lots of yelling on YouTube comment pages. Everybody wants to be right, everybody wants what they think they want, and yet, everybody remarks how much they like it when they're surprised by something unexpected and delightful.
That's how we end up with artists who take a huge leap with their first few recordings, then dial themselves back when they return to the studio. It's easy to write it off as a "sophomore slump." I've written about it in the past: as your music career grows, your success impacts your creative process. Not only does your perspective change, but you'll also start hearing chatter from fans who want more of the same.
In fact, the most successful artists have consistently been the professionals able to filter out the suggestions of even their truest fans in the interest of the work. Ford's essay cites some of the strongest web communities as products of "intense moderation," and that reminds me of the work I did as a public radio producer. That ten minute piece you hear on NPR really resulted from days of research, hours of live recording, and lots of tedious editing.
Strong music writing and recording requires the same commitment to ruthless editing.
It's not always a sure-fire success, artistically or commercially. However, it's a good time to take stock of your current work. If you're limiting yourself to making the kind of music that will please just the fans who already come to your gigs, are you limiting yourself from growing beyond your current audience? Are you settling for the status quo?
We live in a great time for experimental creativity. Want to explore something you think your current fans won't love? Spin off a side project, or collaborate with someone new. You no longer have to make a total break from your fans to explore some of your new ideas. If they don't work, you won't have alienated your audience. But if you come up with something bigger, something that adds a new dimension to your work, your audience may just follow you there.
They'd never have asked for that if they saw it on the menu, but they might just love it when you serve it to them.