So, has anyone else ever noticed that Jimmy Buffett is like one of the most relevant and important artists of all time? The thing that kills me though is that he did it in a way that is both widely ridiculed and also incredibly brilliant. I mean when it comes down to it no other artist has multiple radio stations named after a song they recorded, multiple bar and restaurant chains, a retirement community, casinos, hotels, resorts, cruise ships and more. Like, you think that KISS has branded themselves out to shit? Look at Jimmy Buffett, he has become one of the most licensed and almost religiously followed musicians of all time. His legions of fans, the Parrotheads buy thousands of dollars of merch a day and his records still reign supreme. Not bad for a guy whose breakout hit was originally supposed to be for Elvis and who then somehow made a career based on sitting in yachts and then getting ridiculously fucking drunk.
There’s a few key lessons to take away from Jimmy Buffett’s career and the weirdly huge influence he has had on the music business as one of the single most eduringly profitable figures to emerge from seventies rock. These are the same lessons that you see bands like KISS carrying forward, but again, KISS don’t have quite as many major licenses as Buffett and there’s a reason for that. First and foremost, Jimmy Buffett was never a ‘serious artist’, sure he has darker and more reflective songs but there has to be a sense of fun if you’re going to write a song like “Cheeseburger In Paradise” and this means that Buffett has historically been able to go after people who just want to have a good time. Rather than trying to unite his fans under a “Buffett Army” if you will, Jimmy Buffett and his (obviously) incredible management team have given people what they want, good times, strong drinks and long days on the beach.
This ties into the ultimate key with all that Jimmy Buffett and the Margaritaville – they are selling a fantasy. Even the mournful tracks like “Coast Of Marseille” are a part of a fantasy of boating around and reflecting on life. Sure it’s about a lost woman, but that doesn’t really matter, because Buffett is just so goddamn cool while doing it, and making sure that people feel like this weird dream is accessible. And the thing is he turns around and finds ways to sell that fantasy, which is the truly exceptional part. Convincing people to buy into the illusion of being a ‘son of a son of a sailor’ is easy but getting them to then spend money so that they too can be a chilled out partying yacht owner is brilliant. Now while this might not seem accessible to your average indie band, think about that on a smaller level. Maybe you sing about how much fun it is to get drunk at a bar like Buffett, well if you’re a drinking band, why not do shot glasses or something? These are the fantasies we need to sell.
The other key is that from the beginning of his Margaritaville period Jimmy Buffett has always made a point to market himself to people who have money. Now I know that sounds really lame and I get it. But he’s also is worth $550 million so sometimes it’s worth thinking about that when you want to be a major musician. That doesn’t mean you have to be targetting wealthy vacationers, but it can mean that maybe your brand of death metal is a little more old school so the dudes in their early 50s turn up for it and get invested. Tied into marketing to people that have money Jimmy Buffett has always made it very clear that his superfans can get literally anything they want branded to him and furthermore that there are some very high ticket products, like your own goddamn condo, that mean that he can get the most bang for his buck out of every possible fan, a huge boon for his career and a major step that any artist needs to make if they’re trying to get truly huge.
When it comes down to it though Buffett reigns supreme because he has always made a heavy emphasis on catering to his super fans. The Parrotheads may have their own charity and convention, but they also dedicate their lives to what Buffett has created and you find them all at every single on of his shows, rocking and rolling and falling in love with the magic of the Margaritaville lifestyle all over again. No other musician, outside of possibly KISS has ever made such an emphasis on fan retention and making sure that the fans feel curated too. The best part is that rather than being sort of gimmicky like KISS, Jimmy Buffett has always just pushed a pretty mundane brand of island rock. As great as his music is I think that a lot of people are just drawn to the marketing and then find themselves falling in love with the music after the fact. I know that that was certainly the case for me and many Parrotheads of my generation.
In some ways Jimmy Buffett was pointing towards the future of the industry with how his career has been shaped. Just as today the biggest pop stars tend to focus on marketing first and then music second Buffett always made sure to keep his brand out there and make it blatantly clear how dedicated he was to his fans. He has always been very accessible, showing up at his various resorts, greeting fans and making sure that his live concerts are strong enough to mean that people want to keep coming back. He is creating an experience that is unforgettable and we will always come back to it, no matter what our peers might say.
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