One Direction fans have been able to rejoice over their favorite artists releasing their solo material in the wake of the hiatus. Aside from Harry Styles’ eponymous LP release, Niall Horan released his second single and has been performing both his own material as well as covers. Liam Payne was the last member to successfully release solo material, with single Strip That Down dropping mere weeks ago, which remains in the UK Top 5. In fact, it seems that he is already gearing up towards a second release – this time a collaboration with German DJ Zedd.
As such, it shouldn’t be surprising that fans are (im)patiently waiting for the fourth member of One Direction to step back into the limelight after a couple of months of silence. Louis Tomlinson was second in releasing solo material during the hiatus, when Just Hold On – a collaboration with DJ Steve Aoki – came out in December 2016. Yet, one would almost forget about it, as out of all remaining members, Tomlinson’s professional career seems to be the least commercialized. While there is a distinct lack of all-round coverage on the professional front, this does not mean there is no development in his musical career, nor does it equal a lack of interest on the consumers i.e. fans’ behalf. On the contrary, there is a lot of evidence straight from the horse’s mouth that LT1 – as the LP has been dubbed by fans – is coming, and it’s coming soon:
The disparity between industry coverage and fan knowledge is extraordinary, and it is incredibly strange that this continues to exist - especially when the facts lean themselves in support of the fans. Just Hold On did incredibly well on the charts, despite the understandable initial lack of promotion due to the reason behind its rushed release - reaching #2 on the Christmas UK Charts. Moreover, any solo material released by a member of arguably the biggest boyband since the Beatles, should warrant industry interest - especially from the member that was most involved in the musical development of said boyband.
Louis Tomlinson is by far the most prolific writer of the group, with a staggering 40 (of which 2 unreleased tracks) 1D writing credits to his name – something that was recently reiterated by bandmate Liam Payne who co-wrote 34 of those songs. His vocals bring a unique sound as his voice is incredibly emotive - it’s what makes him versatile, something he’s also showcased on One Direction albums. Compare songs like ‘No Control’, ‘Clouds’ and ‘Where do Broken Hearts Go’ to songs like ‘If I Could Fly’ and ‘I Want to Write You a Song’, and you’ll see how easily he switches gears from punk, to pop, to rock - from ballads to anthemic songs. This versatility was again showcased when he chose to veer off-path and create an atypical EDM song - a genre people did not expect.
He is the only member who launched his own imprint label - Triple Strings Ltd., where he is director and owns 50% of the shares - compared to 37,5% owned by Sony (25% directly, 12,5% indirectly through Syco) and 12,5% owned by Syco. Additionally, Louis has two other companies registered to his name. ’78 Productions’ was registered under the same Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) as bandmate Liam Payne’s ‘Hampton Music’; “support activities to performing arts”. He also owns ‘LT Publishing’ - which was registered under the category “Artistic Creation” – similar to Harry Styles’ company ‘Erskine Records’. Both Payne and Styles have used their companies to set up distribution deals as to maintain more control on their business dealings, and as such it would follow logically that Tomlinson would abide by a similar structure.
But aside from the musical and business perspective, it should be noted that the brand value of Louis Tomlinson is enormous - thanks to his fans. In fact, he currently has the highest level of engagement on Instagram and is the world’s male musician with the highest average number of likes per post.
And let’s not forget to mention that on Twitter, Louis Tomlinson currently has 24,7 million followers. As such, it is safe to say that Louis Tomlinson’s fanbase is enormous, and incredibly willing to support any of his activities - whether that’s music or philanthropy. Projects have been set up in the past to support the songs of which Louis was the main writer - No Control, Home and Just Hold On saw big sales boosts thanks to the collective effort of fans. The charities of which Louis is a patron have received thousands of dollars in donations from individual fans, as well as collective fan-made platforms like 1DFansGive, and the smaller Change4Charity.
It’s clear that there is both a product to be sold, and a very willing consumer audience - yet the music industry and press are yet to jump aboard Team Tommo. In fact, when Googling news articles on Louis Tomlinson, it is safe to say that most focus on his private life, rather than his professional achievements. The only tabloid that discussed Tomlinson’s filming of a video and inking a record deal is The Sun UK - hardly a serious music industry heavy-hitter.
The result of that discrepancy, aside from dissatisfaction among fans? An unprecedented level of artist research and subsequent vigilante marketing, “unpaid advertising and marketing efforts, including one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many commercially oriented communications, undertaken by brand loyalists on behalf of the brand.”
Like I said in an earlier article, the fans of One Direction are often mistakenly characterized as naive, young girls who care about aesthetics rather than musical content, when in reality - their fans are diverse in background and incredibly smart and tech-savvy. They are aware of PR campaigns, of ‘talking points’, of the fact that public images aren’t always organic, but are meticulously crafted and polished. They also know that a lot of information can be found online nowadays by using public open data. The lack of transparency and the knowledge of an existing vast amount of publicly available documents, is what brought one fan to launch a webpage dedicated to documenting the business dealings of One Direction and speculating about the potential meaning of those business dealings with regards to One Direction and its members. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they miss the mark:
"I spent hours upon hours looking into Harry's connection to the Azoff's (before him joining Jeff at Full Stop Management was confirmed) and theorizing that Full Stop was a division of Azoff Music Management. I was sort of right, in that after a year, AMM merged with Full Stop, so Irving and Jeff are now partners instead of Jeff being a competitor […] There are plenty of [other] business-direction posts from a couple of years ago where I later realized I had missed the forest for the trees.” - Business Direction
It’s incredibly unique, however, to see such a level of engagement at all from fans with not just their artist’s output, but also the input and industry itself. Cris, the individual who runs the website alone, says that the website used to get up to almost 3000 hits per day, but that this number has considerably gone down since the members announced their solo projects as there’s, with the exception of Louis, “not that much to say”.
But Cris is just one of many examples in which fans have taken over the tracking of professional achievements made by One Direction. A Twitter account called ‘1DonChart’ informs its followers of the sales/streams/radio performance of releases by One Direction and its members - again, oftentimes prior to the artist or labels tweeting about such accolades.
Especially Tomlinson’s fans have professionalized to an extent where they sometimes outperform ‘the professionals’ in increasing and maintaining fan engagement. The platform LouisT91Updates - the largest ‘update account’ for Tomlinson with over 79K followers, including Tomlinson himself - was created on Twitter in June 2015 by three fans, but has since grown to a team of nine that has now branched out onto Instagram and Tumblr as well.
“People are often surprised that we have so many team members, however as we all balance work, study, family, children and other aspects of our personal lives, it’s necessary to have sufficient resourcing to provide appropriate coverage [...] We have built the team's technical acumen over time and have strategically recruited people that fill identified skill-gaps [...]” - LouisT91Updates
It is clear that they’ve put a lot of thought into the way in which they’ve structured their organization, as well as the output they create on each separate platform. When speaking of the differences, they state that “Twitter concentrates primarily on updates, Instagram on aesthetically pleasing images, video clips and fan generated artworks, and Tumblr on blogging good quality content from other users and providing a reference point for archived posts."
While social media accounts are time-consuming, they are at least free to create and maintain. However, LouisT91Updates recently decided to launch a website as well - all paid for by their own team member, and it easily rivals Louis Tomlinson’s own official site. Where Tomlinson’s website does not (yet) contain any original content or any embedded Twitter profiles or Spotify playlists, the fan-made site is filled with original content that addresses a multitude of aspects that fans might be interested in.
As is evident from the high level of professionalism displayed by these fans, an enormous amount of work goes into making sure everything runs smoothly and is in fact, up-to-date; on average 1-8 hours per person per day, about 300+ hours across the board per week - unpaid. In fact, it costs fans money to go to these lengths - industry subscriptions, web hosting, and proper editing software are all paid for by the individuals themselves. The pay-off? Only a lot of positive feedback from other fans, a steadily increasing number of visitors on their page - since its launch just a month ago, the site has been visited over 7000 times already, and hopefully a happy and successful Louis Tomlinson.
Steve Aoki’s team recognized the power of such an institutionalized fanbase, and harnessed it appropriately, saying “they’re the definition of what a fan is […] [T]hey rally around what’s important [...] They’re just like the army of bees going around and doing the amazing work that I think any artist would dream to have to help push the song.”
"[...] they [Steve’s team] would regularly post videos/images with clearly visible logos of the radio stations they were visiting to pre-tape interviews or ensuring they said the names of the radio DJs. This enabled accounts such as ours to locate all social and digital media accounts for those stations and DJs and source content as it was being posted" - LouisT91Updates
But as much as these fans have institutionalized and professionalized their support efforts, they want to act as an accelerator, not as real vigilantes. They don’t want to be the replacement of the real deal, they just want to elevate that real deal to the next level - as to give their favourite artist the visibility and recognition that is still lacking in their view. Cris says:
“[P]eople like to root for "the underdog" [...] and in some ways they [i.e. the One Direction members] were, the industry never took them seriously till they went solo. So the fans take that personally and push harder than would be expected to get them the respect and recognition we feel they deserve.”
Another fan said this was a main reason when supporting fan-made projects pushing for certain songs on the radio:
“A lot of the 1D singles were, in my opinion, not necessarily the best songs on the album. No Control was special to me, because it was not just written by Louis (and Liam), but he also carries the entire song from beginning to end [...] I helped getting JHO to #1 as soon as possible, given the circumstances. However, when promo resumed in January, I felt that the focus of the official PR seemed to be on his private life, rather than the actual song and its meaning, which is a shame.” - Rosie
The music industry needs to recognize as much as any other industry, that the digital information age requires producers to cater to their consumers more than ever. When professional efforts are either unsatisfactory, insufficient or both, fans will take over. Fans of Louis Tomlinson seem to have already reached that point of institutionalization, and really - his team should be making use of it, and the press should accordingly be taking note of him, because Louis Tomlinson is definitely one to watch this year – not just for his own musical skills, or business savvy, but even more so for his army of fans.