Fans and Dunbar’s Number

The quantity of fans that an artist has is often an indicator for success. Facebook likes are social currency for musicians: anything and everything is done to move this number up. But how much does this number matter?

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposed that humans can cognitively maintain about 150 stable social relationships. This quantity is known as Dunbar’s Number. When the quantity of relationships goes past this threshold the quality of relationships will suffer.

But it would seem that popular acts laugh in the face of Dunbar’s Number. They play to venues in one night which exceed more than 150 people. Dunbar’s Number still applies. Most people at these shows know more about the band than the band of them. Dave Grohl is not collaborating on a split EP with the guitarist down the street.

That’s as far as famous musicians are concerned. Personal relationships take the sideline when the fan base grows larger and larger. That’s not to say that these acts are terrible to their fans. It is just that these people are more often than not addressed collectively, not personally. The trade off of course is making one’s music spread along with the reputation and money (however much) that come with it.

Then there’s everyone else.

Maybe we won’t play stadiums but we can choose our fans and collaborators in music. Maybe we won’t reach out to millions but we can reach out to those around us and develop sincere relationships that deal with music and beyond.

Quality over quantity.


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