Where Do You Fit In? The 12 Different Artist Types

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The direct-to-fan space is crowded, and that means more options for artists.

But it looks like a number of companies are just starting to specialize around different types of artists – an early sign of maturation among competitors.

For example, Topspin is only working with artists that have considerable traction or backing, while CD Baby welcomes any DIY.  Nimbit is currently dialed more towards professionals and serious musicians, according to CEO Bob Cramer.

But what are the different types of artists, exactly?  That is, beyond the genres and musical styles?  Most artists fall into more than one bucket, but here’s an attempt to describe the various levels.

(1) The Unsigned, DIY

Do-it-yourself (DIY), and totally direct-to-fan (DTF).  Not affiliated, this soloist or band is handling mostly everything themselves.  Typically very early stage, with very low levels of income but ample inspiration.

(2) The DTF With a Team

Still direct-to-fan, but with a team of supporters – compensated or otherwise – working the strings in a hopefully coordinated manner.  The beginning of a more serious marketing approach, and at a more advanced level, a great model for creating and controlling different distribution, marketing, DTF, and even label partnerships (like Arcade Fire).

(3) The Professional, Gigging Musician

A dolled-up boy band can skip the musical talent.  A tenor saxophonist playing jazz clubs in Chicago can’t.  The professional has the chops to play gigs and make money, and can use DTF platforms to create better fan relationships and even expand income.  But these are working folks, so f**k the fame.

(4) The Hobbyist

Maybe a serious musician in the past, now it’s just a recreational thing.  This sounds like a good market to tap – after all, proceeds are typically coming from a day job, and everything is sort of a toy – whether a new tuba, TuneCore account, or Disc Makers-pressed CD.

(5) The Hobbyist-In-Denial

Essentially, an artist with little chance of generating a serious audience or sales, but carrying lofty aspirations nonetheless.  Foolishly looking to quit the day job, if they haven’t already.

(6) The Signed Artist

Actually, DTF relationships matter for every tier of artist, but the signed artist has potentially serious resources to draw upon.  Depending on the relationship, that means money, creative connections, and access to a (hopefully) knowledgeable team.  This type of deal has traditionally been signed with a label, but can involve any company (gaming company, publisher, Live Nation, even an advertiser.)

(7) The Superstar Signed Artist

These are the ultra-elites actually selling out gigs, shifting hundreds-of-thousands of albums, and getting terrestrial radio play.  Still less money than before and a tricky terrain, but a lucky spot for any artist these days.

(8) The Songwriter

Sometimes a performer, oftentimes not, this breed of musician is putting songs and lyrics together and hopefully scoring some hits.  And, in the process, minting some serious publishing revenues.

(9) The Post-Label, DTF Artist

“Off label” can be a great category, depending on how successful the label was at building the artist in the past.  And, some have the luxury of leaving quite successful partnerships – a prime example being Radiohead.  Still, far smaller artists have ex-label equity to bank upon.

(10) The Producer

Typically behind the scenes, but oftentimes grabbing the spotlight – especially in hip-hop.  Either way, this is a different type of animal, based on lots of connections to a range of different artists.  That changes the contractual discussions dramatically, and also introduces a far broader range of revenue possibilities.

(11) The Legacy Artist

The glory days are over, but hopefully the revenues are not.  Or, if they are, reunion tours and remastered releases are always tricks to consider.  And, reawakening and recreating DTF relationships also makes sense.  We’re getting the band back together…

(12) The Celebrity-Turned-Artist

A category we could live without.  Is the musical world better because of Paris Hilton, Tila Tequila, or Shaq?  Exactly.

19 Responses

  1. spencer @ FanBridge

    Very interesting, and think your categories are pretty spot on.

    That said, would love to get your thoughts on the relative distribution across these cateogories (ie. what % of all the musicians out there fall into these respective segments)?

  2. presnikoff


    It’s a tough question, simply because I don’t have access to the subscriber details of the various DTF services. That said, some profiles are obvious – Topspin is a higher-end approach, for example, not a service geared towards early DIYers. But as this space matures, perhaps it makes sense for companies to start specializing a bit more – after all, it is such a congested space given the broader revenues.

  3. dcrownover

    Hey Paul,

    You missed one category of artist. The artist looking for an investor (which really could be a subcategory of the ones listed). As counsel in the music and tech biz, I hear, “If I just had an investor and someone who believed in me that would invest some money…”

    DM News is good stuff and am a long-time subscriber who doesn’t chime in much, but thanks for being an entrepreneur yourself. You and your staff do good work.

    derek crownover http://www.dcjtlaw.com

  4. paddlebro

    Thanks Paul. This is an excellent breakdown and should be very helpful for companies targeting their services to artists. The needs of each group are quite different. For example: Professional musicians (the category I know best) have traditionally stayed at arms length from the record business because their skills are diverse and they need to keep working. DIY tools can help pros with all the aspects of their careers but many need to be educated and motivated to jump in.

    Eric Jensen


  5. visitour

    you missed at least one category cuz i don’t fit in any of those

  6. @gigmaven

    Which type of artist are you? Pretty cool analysis from @digitalmusicnws

  7. Brandon Walker

    I agree–pretty spot on categories, but these days many of us have to fit into several of them. I wanted to be a songwriter, but I found out that nobody wants to listen to my songs unless they are recorded well–pretty much broadcast quality is what is expected. I didn’t have money to hire other people to make my songs sound great, so I had to become a singer/songwriter/producer. It’s been great to learn the ropes of recording, build up my home studio, and get better at singing, but at the same time it has really taken away from the creative process. I spend much less time writing and much more time recording, networking, and marketing. I wish it didn’t have to be like this but after going at this in earnest for the past 3 years I’ve learned that that’s just how it is these days, unless you have money or get a lucky break. As for me, I’m just trying to be as prepared as possible so that when my lucky break comes I’ll know exactly what to do with it.


  8. @artscope_music (Twitter)

    Artscope Music
    12 artist types…where do you fit? or do you fit at all?

  9. @JenRose77 (Twitter)

    Jen Rose Unger
    I hit a few of these, but labels can’t define me.

  10. @bandzoogle (Twitter)

    Let us know onfacebook.com/bandzoogle which one(s) you are.

  11. @MakeItInMusic (Twitter)

    What kind of artist are you ? Know your place –