This week, Pearl Jam’s debut seminal Rock album Ten turned twenty. One of the highest selling rock records of all time, Ten has gone platinum 13 times. Pearl Jam’s musical influence continues to be heard in bands today but there's also a lot to be admired about the way they engage with their fans. Pearl Jam understands they are in a relationship with their fans and that relationship needs to be nourished. Yes, the content needs to be great, but that alone isn't everything.
In a time when new music's popularity is fleeting, the staying power of not just this album but Pearl Jam itself is something to recognize. The band has maintained its rabid fans and continues to gain new ones because they've built a community where people want to belong. As a fan, buying an album used to carry a lot more significance than it does today. It was a choice to add that band to a collection that had limited spaces in a CD player, bookshelf or crate and served as a visual affirmation of your values and ideals. Today, albums are downloaded, ripped, streamed and forgotten about so quickly there are hardly any ties between songs and your identity. Most consumers own hard drives full of music that is difficult to find and seldom played. That’s why the most successful artists have had to get creative to engage their fans.
Pearl Jam understands this. Eddie Vedder’s personal and politically charged lyrics need a connection and ask for a response. A quick Google Search turns up over 40 unofficial fan clubs for the band. The official fan club, Ten Club, is a model for how every other band should treat their fans. Members are rewarded for their loyalty with limited edition posters, free records, and show recordings. The result is that, Pearl Jam has built a fan base, known as it's "Jamily," that rivals that of the Grateful Dead, Phish or Dave Matthews. This is a band that listens to its fans and talks back.
All content creators - from musicians to artists to bloggers and even brands - could take a page from Pearl Jam’s set list. To build a successful community, creators need to acknowledge and validate the actions of their audience. Whether it’s through limited edition swag or responding to comments on a post, engaging in the dialogue around one’s work and creating experiences that live beyond the act of consumption will allow one’s brand (or band) to endure.
* Guest post by Sarah Stringfellow, Pearl Jam fan and media development manager at SAY