Are You a Fan of More Bands Than You Think?

What’s the minimum percentage of a musician’s recordings you must really like to identify as a fan of that musician? (Let’s say you “really like” a piece of music if you ever desire to hear it because you like it—not just that you’d be okay with hearing it if it happened to be playing.)

When I first asked myself this question, I knew my answer was not 100%. I suspected it would be much lower, but I wasn’t sure by how much. So I looked at the recordings of a few of the rock/pop artists I consider myself a fan of and counted up how many of all their songs I really liked. (I excluded live recordings and compilations.)

This was an interesting exercise. I suggest you try it.

When I looked at rock/pop artists I consider myself a fan of, I found that for some of them, I “really liked” a surprisingly small percentage of their songs.

For example, I’m a fan of Stereolab and I’m a fan of The Sea and Cake, but for each I “really like” only about 25% of their songs. LCD Soundsystem and King Crimson fared better for me, at close to 50%. Those are all pretty well-established bands. What about newer acts? I’m a fan of Monsoon, but again I’d say I “really like” about a quarter of their songs (this perhaps may a bit misleading; I “really like” about half of their latest album but haven’t at all listened to their first one). For Finom (formerly Ohmme), it’s around 50%. What about more popular artists? OK, I’ll admit I’m a Billy Joel fan, and running the numbers on his tunes put me at around 40%.

What to take from this? The lesson is not that I’m not really a fan of Stereolab and these other acts. I am. I think they’re great. What’s interesting to me is just how little is needed to sustain this affiliation.

Of course, number-of-songs-you-really-like is just one quantitative metric relative to fandom. There are other aspects of musical affiliation.

Still, I take this to be good news. Taking oneself to be a fan of a musician is usually good for you. It gives you another thing in the world to pay attention to, something to appreciate and enjoy and get excited about, something to have in common with other people, and an avenue for learning about other good things.

If I discover that all I need in order to be a fan of a musician is to “really like” only about a quarter of their work, that probably means there are more musicians than I realized that I could be a fan of. That makes the world seem better to me.

Here’s another thing. I know that some bands I’m a fan of have made some music that I actively dislike. Despite that, and despite the relatively small number of songs of theirs I like, my fandom of them endures.

Previously, I had an abstract sense of what it means to be a fan of a musician that set the bar much higher than it is in practice. I’m happy to see the bar lowered in this case.

An interesting question all this raises is how generalizable it is to other affiliations besides music fandom. I think it probably can extend pretty easily to the other arts, and perhaps beyond that, too, but I will leave that for another time.

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