The amount of strategic planning and rollouts which goes into branding established acts like Wizkid, or Davido, is immense. Isn’t it amazing how you see people attacking each other because of their membership to communities like Wizkid FC and Marlians? Sometimes it feels like without ’staning’ your fave artist on that level your fan experience is incomplete. This happens because people with the understanding of the art and science of building a music fanbase have been working on branding your superstars to win you over.

To build a fanbase, your fave artists go to extra length for creative ideas, which are sold to you with the sublimity that makes signing up appear as an event of nature. Whether by creating a club of dapper looking, bearded young men who the women desire like the Sweet Boys Association, or by making rebellion look cool like Naira Marley is doing with the Marlians, the goal is to connect to your psyche and get you to love their brand.

This idea is hinged on the insight that building a dedicated fan base is key to achieving commercial success and longevity as an artist. American Rapper, Russ, who is believed to have “one of the hardest core fans in Hip-Hop”, explained that “building ones career on the fans is the only way to build it correctly. If you build it off anything else, you are not going to be here that long.”

Essentially, your favorite artist needs to make appealing music to have a chance at being successful but to be guaranteed a career full of wins typically means having a dedicated fan base which consists of people who will stream his/her music upon release, buy tickets to his/her shows, fly his/her merch, and talk about his/her music passionately — both online and offline. This is the structure successful artists use in building their music business model.

Russ invested 4 years and 11 albums to build a vibrant fan base. 50 Cent built his brand on the narrative of a death-cheating gangster who got shot 9 times and lives to tell the tale. Simi is made in the mold of the sweet girl who lives next door. It is this same concept of developing a brand story that is responsible for the growing population of the Marlians, as more and more people buy into the idea of a rebel with a cause.

How much importance fans attach to this is evident in the level of passion invested in the biggest music rivalry on the continent — the rivalry between fans of Davido and members of Wizkid FC. This passion is at the root of the street debates and the twitter wars in which fans take it upon themselves to defend their favorite artist. In extreme cases, it leads to fans blocking people with opposing views on Twitter and physical combats on the streets. It is amazing how the same chord which binds us together as music lovers, separates us and leads us to pick sides.

The case of the Marlians is an interesting one. They love the shit out of ”Soapy” and defend Naira Marley’s most uncouth statement. They go as far as likening him to Fela. You can guess why — the archetype of Naira Marley. I mean, he turned a potential indictment into the heroics of speaking uncomfortable societal truths, while making music that is entertaining. He treats the law with amusing sarcasm, his music is interestingly uncensored and he tweets to stir the waters, often sparking conversations you love to see but won’t dare to start. All this has helped him create the feel of a movement that Marlians find exciting to be part of.

Your favorite artist probably pulls from the same playbook to keep you fond of him/her. The archetype might differ though. It could be the selective association of Asa, the philosophical rebellion of Burna Boy, or the personality of Naira Marley as an outlier that you are sold to. One way or another, we are buying into the same market. The only difference is that we get to choose which brands we will ride for, which ones we casually associate with, and which ones we want nothing to do with at all.

Written by Oluwatobi Ibironke

Twitter: @ibironketweets

Writer. Critic. Journalist. Reader.