Ingrid Michaelson On The Music Industry's New Breed Of Fan

Photo: Mark Iantosca.
Ingrid Michaelson's been in the music biz for about 10 years now. That may not seem like a very long time, but it's a unique window for this particular industry. She started out her career during the old regime: major labels were king, artists worried about selling out, and full albums were the gold standard. Then, about halfway through, things began to change. Now, she's navigating a world in which singles trump records, licensing is the moneymaker, and the Internet's overwhelming the ears of the world.

"When I really got my break  — as they say — a few of my songs got on Grey’s Anatomy and another song was on a commercial," Michaelson told Refinery29 at her Palladia Epic Awesome performance at SXSW. "It was kind of the beginning of artists being able to finance their own way through placements." Before 2007, Michaelson said it was a practice frowned upon within the industry. "It was like you were a sellout." But, that quickly changed when people started buying fewer records, opting instead for downloading — sometimes illegally —singles, or streaming. "Every year there was less and less money to be made off of selling your music [the traditional way.] So, a lot of artists turned to licensing."

Now, Michaelson says, it's not only acceptable for artists to license their music, but desired — especially to have your songs in a commercial, movie, or TV show. "I’ve seen so many artists bypass the major label route. (Not that there’s anything wrong with going to a major.) You’re able to sustain a career through that much easier than you used to be able to," she told us. Regardless of industry trends, she's committed to making full records. "Yes, I still enjoy making them, but I feel like the record — the 10-to-15 song record — is dwindling a bit. Or at least the desire for it is. It’s a singles-driven world. I’m always going to make full records." She chalks it up to an information overload, courtesy of the Internet. "People physically can’t metabolize full records. You don’t have that much room in your brain."

For Michaelson, though, it's not just about a new way artists are making money. It's also about the new breed of fan. "It’s becoming very obvious that people are calling themselves a huge fan of yours and they’ve got two songs of yours on their iPod," she said. And, with the heavy hand having a social media presence plays in an artist's career, she's also seeing fans who expect her to be available to them all the time. "There’s been a lot of growth in terms of fan interaction with things like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter," she said.  "When I was growing up, if I was able to reach out to one of my favorite musicians and possibly have them write me back, that would’ve been ridiculously crazy and absurd," she said. "Now, people are almost a little entitled. They’re like, 'Why won’t you write me back?' or 'Why don’t you follow me?'"

Blame it on the access fans feel by peering at artists' lives on Instagram, or reading their thoughts directly on Twitter. It can make you feel like you really know the celebrity at hand. But, that's not enough for Michaelson to feel a pressure to follow back every fan who demands it. "It's because I don't know them. I mean, thank you, but I don’t know you."

Ingrid Michaelson will launch a 20-city tour on June 3 in Vienna, VA. You can find out more info here.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story implied that Michaelson was once on a major label. That was incorrect and has since been amended. Michaelson has always released albums through her label Cabin 24 Records.


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