No matter how tired they are or how introverted, every artist has to put on a happy face and shake hands with fans – but the question remains whether it makes a difference or if it’s just part of the job description.
Some artists like meet & greets and even insist upon them. But Pollstar has heard horror stories of the opposite – including one artist who is such a jackass he’s made people cry. Some are shy while others take a Barry Bonds-attitude and question the obligation. Still others just stand or sit there as the people shuffle through for the obligatory photo.
Does it make a difference? It may not be scientific but the answer – if non-participants like Bob Dylan are taken out of the mix – is probably yes.
No one can deny Garth Brooks’ success and he is considered a master of the meet & greet, which certainly couldn’t have hurt in the early days when he ran into country radio station execs. David Bowie was also known for his ability to schmooze with DJs. Then there are other folks who are naturals like – according to Paradigm’s Greg Janese – Chris Isaak, Huey Lewis and The Doobie Brothers.
One artist who has mastered the art – and likely turned it into a bestselling debut album and headlining shows – is only 17 years old. Country newcomer Taylor Swift amazes industry execs with her ability to recognize fans from past encounters.
Pollstar witnessed a Swift meet & greet last summer. At one point, she told a fan that she had just posted a comment on the girl’s MySpace page. Swift immediately turned to a group of local country radio station DJs and told them that, according to the latest reports, the station was playing her single more than any other station in the country.
And all of this took place after she had an early dinner with some fans.
"One of the things that Taylor is insistent upon is that they’re not rushed," Swift manager Rick Barker told Pollstar. "You know, they obviously can’t spend five or 10 minutes individually but she never wants to make them feel like it’s a cattle call."
Swift has been known to sign for three-and-a-half hours after a show.
"One time, they shut down the venue and we brought everyone outside. I held a flashlight to her face so people’s camera phones would work. There were 300 people lined up. If she starts something, she doesn’t stop until it’s completely finished," Barker said.
"Basically they leave there with that picture, that autograph, that memory and they share it with everybody that they know. If they have a bad experience with it, they share the same thing."
Marcee Rondan of publicity firm Mitch Schneider Organization told Pollstar a successful meet & greet includes orderliness.
"A photographer will be there. Person gets in, gets their item signed, takes the photo, moves out," Rondan said. "The word spreads and the artist becomes more of a person than just the artist you’re looking at up on stage. I think it just builds an artist in a different way than just a record review or a concert review."
In order to achieve that type of reaction from the fans, the artist’s attitude at a meet & greet is very important – the smile, the friendliness, the sense of time and place.
"I think the biggest difficulty for meet & greets are when they happen overseas with language barriers," Rondan said. "When you’re in Russia, it’s not so easy to do a meet & greet."
Other times, it’s the fans who can make the get-together awkward.
"I’ve seen women just open their shirts and say ‘sign my breasts’ and it’s just not appropriate in any way, shape or form," Rondan said. "It’s not like that’s happened once, it’s happened many times. Or other body parts that people want signed."