In 2013 we conducted the first ever wide scale survey of fans of The Airborne Toxic Event, inviting followers of the band to weigh in on their favorite songs, albums and lyrics, concert-going and listening habits, TATE merchandise and more. Two years later, with a pair of new albums added to the Airborne catalog, it was time to revisit the polls.
Nearly twice as many fans responded this time – 320 in all, making the data twice as meaningful. As with the 2013 edition, consensus is that completing the survey was a fun yet torturous experience, with some respondents reporting symptoms such as internal screaming, emotional turmoil, intense guilt and burning hatred for the author. To which I respond, I never claimed it would be easy.
In any case, a big thanks to all who took the challenge. Here’s what we learned.
The Airborne Toxic Event has a reputation of appealing to a wide age spectrum; that much can be seen simply by observing the crowd at any TATE show. The survey bears that out, with all age categories well represented. And though the average respondent to this year’s survey was slightly younger than in 2013, overall we still found that almost 60% of Airborne fans are over 30.
In terms of gender, we had about a 60/40 split in favor of the females, which seems to line up about right with what we’ve observed about the TATE fan community.
In a question that was asked for the first time this year, we found the band’s fan base to be heavily skewed towards the USA, with four Americans responding for every one from elsewhere in the world. This would seem to be a function of the amount of touring the group does in the U.S. relative to other areas, combined with sheer population volume.
Depth of Fandom
Survey respondents tended to be longtime fans, with 87% having climbed aboard the Airborne train sometime before the end of their second album cycle. This is both expected, and some cause for concern. Expected, because a poll of this nature naturally appeals to the hardcore fan, and hardcore fans take time to brew. Concerning, because The Airborne Toxic Event has released three albums since 2013, and it would appear that their core fan base has somewhat stagnated in that time. While that helps explain why the TATE community feels like such a close-knit family, perhaps we all need to work together to bring in some new blood – spread the Airborne gospel, so to speak.
In results that are most identical to two years ago, over three quarters of respondents listen to The Airborne Toxic Event almost every day, while 87% call TATE their favorite band. So, while the survey failed to get a good read on “the casuals,” we certainly seem to have our finger on the pulse of the diehards.
Things have changed in the past two years. In 2013, we asked three questions concerning use of the forum on the band’s website, which has since passed from existence. Though we regret its loss, it isn’t overly surprising, as the stats showed that the forum was running a distant second to social media as the primary means through which fans preferred to interact with one another.
Speaking of the TATE website, it’s worth a close look in its own right. Only a quarter of the band’s biggest fans feel the need to visit the site more than once a month, with a third of them dropping by “rarely” or “never.” It seems as though the ubiquity of social media has made the website something of an afterthought – not just for fans, but for the band themselves. A quick scan of the news section reveals that, 9+ months into the year, only a dozen updates have been posted thus far in 2015 – and this in a year when the band released two albums and numerous videos, and embarked on three separate tours. Even when news was deemed big enough for a website update, the same information was released simultaneously through social media and in e-mail blasts, either of which was sure to reach most fans before they stumbled upon it on the website. Aside from providing easy access to upcoming tour dates and the online merchandise store (which itself is rarely updated these days), it’s difficult to see what function the site is fulfilling at the moment.
While we at This Is Nowhere have been thrilled (and very pleasantly surprised) to see our number of followers and daily page visits steadily grow over the past couple of years, this was our first opportunity to get a sense of how often individual readers are swinging by the site. It’s gratifying to see almost half of you visiting at least weekly, and we thank you for it. We’ll keep pumping out the content if you keep reading!
Our next question should lay to rest any doubt as to the importance of social media to the marketing of the group in 2015, with a majority of fans citing The Airborne Toxic Event’s social feeds (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) as their primary source of band news. Add in This Is Nowhere’s social media arm, and we’re up to three quarters of fans. For our part, we aim to be complementary to what the band is doing online. When it comes to “hard news” – tour dates, upcoming releases, etc. – there’s clearly no better source than to get it directly from the horse’s mouth. We try to fill in the gaps by sharing everything else that’s out there, which the band tends not to share – articles that others have written about the band, album and show reviews, photos and videos, and of course our own original content. Between the band’s social media accounts and ours, we’re pretty confident that there isn’t much Airborne content on the Internet that’s slipping by unnoticed.
Over the past two years, engagement with The Airborne Toxic Event on Facebook has stayed steady around 90%. The real growth areas have been Twitter (up from 70% to 76%) and, especially, Instagram (44% to 61%). This is consistent with the overall growth of these platforms in that time period.
Individually, only Anna Bulbrook operates a Facebook fan page, and it’s a little surprising to see that just 59% of fans are currently plugged into it. Her page is very active, what with the addition of her new band, The Bulls, to her resume this year, and we certainly recommend that you give her a follow if you haven’t already.
On both Twitter and Instagram, the results are fairly predictable. As the face of the band, Mikel Jollett has the highest followership, with the other band members following more or less in proportion to their frequency of posting. As the new kid on the TATE block, Adrian Rodriguez’ 42% following on both outlets is impressive.
Now, if we could just get Daren Taylor on Twitter…
Next time we do this survey, you can count on a Periscope question. A mere six weeks ago when we were preparing the questions, Periscope really wasn’t a thing in the Airborne community. Adrian posted a couple videos several months ago, but since then, nada. Now, though, we suddenly have fans scoping gigs, and both the band and two more of its members (Steven Chen and Anna) have dipped their toes into the Periscope pool. Definitely something to watch going forward.
General TATE Fandom
This brings us to the section of the survey that is something of a grab bag of questions that touch on various aspects of being a fan of The Airborne Toxic Event.
Thus far, TATE has chosen not to go down the road of establishing an official fan club. Many other bands offer annual memberships that include exclusive web content, early bird access to concert ticket on-sales, and unique recordings and/or merchandise. Should Airborne ever decide to test the waters in this area, they are likely to find a receptive audience, with over 80% of respondents prepared to spend $10 or more, and a third willing to pay upwards of $30.
The Airborne Toxic Event is a literary band; with a little digging you can still find their old “Books of the Week” recommendations on their website. Every fan knows they owe their name to DeLillo’s White Noise, and that’s enough to have motivated 35% of fans to read the classic. It’s not the world’s easiest read, but it’s a bit like a TATE treasure hunt. Look closely, and you’ll find many recognizable references – not just the band’s name, but themes and lines that have found their way into all sorts of Airborne songs, from “The Lines of the Cars” to “The Graveyard Near the House,” amongst others.
Speaking of literary references, Mikel’s own short story “The Crack” is essentially the song “This is Nowhere” in longer form. Or maybe it’s the other way around? Either way, if you’re in the 48% of fans who haven’t yet read the story, we recommend that you do. You may even find yourself hoping Mikel somehow finds time to finish that novel one of these days…
The Airborne Toxic Event is well known for their accessibility to fans. Whether it’s Mikel hopping down from the stage to spend an hour greeting fans on the floor at the end of a show, or various band members patiently posing for selfies with tongue tied fans outside the venue, all five of them are extremely generous with their time. 56% of fans have met at least one of them, and if the other 44% desire to do so, they will likely have little trouble if they’re willing to hang around for a bit next time the band comes through town.
Not surprisingly, TATE’s devoted followers tend to amass collections of goodies connected to the band, with less than 10% of respondents eschewing memorabilia entirely. The standard concert t-shirt leads the way at 71%. The musicians’ generosity with the guitar picks, strings and drumsticks that they toss out by the boatload means that almost half the fans surveyed have at least one of these prized items in their possession.
Meanwhile, if the band is in the market for some new product ideas, a live performance DVD would be wildly popular. Fans are also eager to snap up special edition cd’s, vinyl and lithographs.
The Airborne Toxic Event’s members tend to be fairly low key about their charitable involvement, but it’s well known that Amnesty International and the Wounded Warrior Project are close to their hearts. A third of fans have followed their lead in giving back to these important causes in some way.
Mikel loves to cite all the TATE tattoos that fill the front row every night, and while that may be a slight overstatement, the TATE-oo is definitely a thing. 24 of 320 respondents already have one (up from 7 in 2013), which is a pretty impressive number given the level of commitment required. Incredibly, of those fans who haven’t yet taken the plunge, fully half of them have given it serious consideration. Watch for a TATE-oo gallery coming soon to This Is Nowhere – and if you’ve got one, send us a pic!
Confession: I have not yet succeeded in converting my wife into a TATE fan (though my 11-year-old daughter is well on her way!). Here I find myself in the minority, as among those with a significant other, two thirds of fans share this passion with their husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend. I’m jealous of you all.
Songs and Albums
Okay, before we get into this section, let’s clear this up: Yes, as many of you protested, these are impossibly difficult questions. For me, as for many of you, it’s like being asked to choose my favorite child – except instead of choosing among four, I’m choosing among 10 or 20 or 50. My answers would undoubtedly be different tomorrow, and are always dependent on my circumstances and mood.
Still, I think there’s value to be found in playing along with a “gun to my head” scenario. Ask me off the cuff to name my favorite Airborne song and I may tell you that there’s 10 I can’t choose between, but faced with a question that doesn’t allow for a second choice, my gut guides me. And when we aggregate 320 fans’ gut reactions, we can begin to draw at least some provisional conclusions – not just as to which songs are at the very top of the heap, but also some that may even be underrated by the band themselves.
So… let’s get into it.
We’ll start with album ownership and listening habits. No surprise that our sampling of hardcores reveals that most own all six albums, and just a handful own fewer than five.
The fact that our survey catered to the biggest fans no doubt contributed to the next results, with 84% primarily listening to owned copies of the albums, be it digital files, cd or vinyl. No doubt a poll of more casual Airborne listeners would reveal a greater reliance on streaming services.
Two albums have been released since the 2013 survey, but that wasn’t enough to move the needle much when it comes to favorite TATE album. The debut album won comfortably then, and it did so again this time. It’s a bit disappointing to see Dope Machines and Songs of God and Whiskey combine for just 10% of the vote, but keep in mind that we’re ranking our favorite children here – they are all very well loved. It is interesting that SOGAW outpaced Dope Machines at a rate of 4:1; again I’m in the minority here, as I would tentatively say that Dope Machines is my second favorite Airborne record. Well, maybe third. I don’t know. Ask me again tomorrow.
Airborne is unique in that each of their six records exhibits a distinct musical style; an identifiable sonic flavor. Of all the delicacies on offer, fans love the largely acoustic, strings-fortified stylings of All I Ever Wanted best of all. And though the core fanbase by and large embraced the electronic direction of Dope Machines, there is still a preference for the orchestral rock that is TATE’s bread and butter.
Lyrically, one third of fans point to All at Once as their favorite, a choice that is no doubt solidified by the presence of the runaway winner of the “favorite song lyrics” category (see below). It was a strong showing for Songs of God and Whiskey, which many see as a throwback to Mikel’s songwriting in the early days of the band.
Turning now to the four albums that were covered in the previous survey, not a lot has changed. “Sometime Around Midnight,” “The Graveyard Near the House” and “Bride and Groom” all remain atop their respective albums. The one major change comes from All I Ever Wanted, where the title track rose from fourth place in 2013 (behind “Duet,” “Innocence” and “The Book of Love”) all the way to number one this time around.
The new albums are where the greatest interest lies. The mantle of favorite song from Dope Machines was the most hotly contested of any album. With the exception of “Time to be a Man,” every other track was clustered between 8-16% of the vote. In the end, current single “One Time Thing” barely edged out the ethereal ballad “The Thing About Dreams.”
Songs of God and Whiskey, on the other hand, had a clear winner: “The Fall of Rome.” My personal choice, “Change and Change and Change and Change,” squeaked its way to second place over another strong contender, “Strangers.”
The difficulty of the task reached its apex when we asked fans to name their favorite song from across the entire TATE catalog. “Sometime Around Midnight” remains the undisputed king of the castle, but as you can sense from the combined dominance of the “Other” category, a ton of songs received votes – 47 different tracks, in fact. One that caught my eye is “The Way Home,” which came in tied for sixth, despite being a relatively obscure b-side that isn’t even available for purchase in North America, apart from buying the European version of Such Hot Blood through the TATE merch store.
Musically speaking, “Midnight” again is the top choice of the masses, with album-mate “Innocence” coming on strong in second. Underrated Such Hot Blood gems like “The Fifth Day,” “Safe” and “The Storm” rise to prominence in this category.
No surprise when it comes to favorite lyrics, as “The Graveyard Near the House” remains the most cherished among all the words Mikel has penned. “Midnight” and “All At Once” scored strongly in both music and lyrics, earning their place among the most powerful songs the band has created. “Something You Lost” placed highest among new songs.
B-sides/non-album tracks proved to be an interesting battle ground. Though “The Way Home” registered strongly when it came to favorite song overall, it was beaten out in this category by “This Losing.” Fellow oldies “The Winning Side” and “The Girls in Their Summer Dresses” remain as popular as ever.
When it comes to our TATE wishlist, a studio version of the punk arrangement of “The Kids Are Ready to Die” remains the most wanted recording. The original longer version of “The Secret” made a rare appearance at last month’s fan-choice show in Philadelphia, and according to this survey, we’d love to see more of it. The mysterious lost title track from Such Hot Blood comes in a solid third.
When it comes to covers, “The Book of Love” maintains its grip on top spot, garnering 30% of the vote – more than double the closest contender. But watch out for “Pursuit of Happiness.” The Airborne Toxic Event played the song regularly throughout the summer and fall, and that was enough to vault it straight into third place. Should they release a studio recording or even a YouTube rendition, it’s sure to rise even further.
There is definitely a streak of traditionalism running through the Airborne fanbase. Despite the band’s success in opening many of us up to electronica through the release of Dope Machines, a slim majority of fans would still prefer the band resist the urge to dabble in remixes of their songs. The message: there’s no improving upon perfection!
The next three questions remove all doubt that we are dealing with the hardcore Airborne fan with this survey. 45% of respondents have attended six or more TATE shows, with 5% having seen more than 25 gigs. Over 60% have left their state or province for a concert, with 12% going to a show in another country. And over 60% have spent two or more hours in line to stake out the perfect spot at the barrier, with a quarter saying they’ve lined up for 4+ hours. All in all, it appears we have a serious addiction on our hands.
The Airborne fan community is a tight-knit bunch, no doubt aided by the fact that we spend so much time in line with the same faces at so many shows. Significantly, almost 40% of TATE fans have made lasting friendships with people they’ve met through their shared passion for the band. It’s a big part of what makes going to lots of shows so much fun.
A solid 65% of fans follow Airborne’s setlists online when the band is on tour. TIN’s setlist database is a true group effort, with dozens of fans having contributed to the collection. With your help, we usually get the setlist posted before show night ends, and we are missing only two setlists from the past two years of touring. Thank you to each and every reader who has helped make this possible.
Airborne shows come in many different flavors, and fans are pretty divided on which is their favorite. While the high energy rock show came out on top (narrowly), there are tons of fans who are dying to see them perform with the Calder Quartet or a full orchestra.
It’s tough to say what the future holds in this regard. It’s been over two years since the band played with the Calders or a symphony. Dope Machines is less of a natural fit for that style of performance – not that they couldn’t do something spectacular with it, I’m sure. It remains to be seen whether they’ll go down that road again in the future… but one can hope!
We all have our live TATE bucket lists, though anyone who was lucky enough to attend last fall’s Fillmore residency had theirs largely obliterated. Still, there are rarely played gems that we all ache to see performed, whether or not it would be our first time seeing them.
Leading the list are a pair of All I Ever Wanted ballads: “A Letter to Georgia” and “Duet.” The good news is, “Georgia” was played at the two most recent TATE shows, likely owing to the fact that it was part of the fan request list for the Shazam private show in Philadelphia. We’ll see if it continues to be played as the current tour winds down. In all, seven of the top 15 songs in our ranking were played at the private gig.
Such Hot Blood also features heavily on this list, with four of the top eight songs coming from Airborne’s underrated third album (if you count b-side “The Way Home”).
When it comes to favorite live songs, the top of the list is littered with selections that are Airborne standards – songs from the first two albums that you’ll see at 90% of Airborne gigs, with “Innocence” being the one major exception. Moving further down the list, the highest ranking new song is “Wrong,” which is positively electric on stage. “A Letter to Georgia” is the one true rarity to crack the top 15.
If the band is looking at ways to pad their concert revenues, one area that they may want to explore is selling audio recordings of their gigs. 83% of fans would be happy to pay for a clean recording of a show they attended.
TATE on Video
Funny thing about this category: two years ago I had a total brain cramp. I fully intended to ask a bunch of questions about TATE videos, but when I sat down to prepare the survey, I completely forgot, not realizing that I had left out an entire category until it was much too late. So this is the first time we’ve asked Airborne fans to weigh in on their favorite videos.
Speaking of brain cramps, I had a minor one this time, too – somehow failing to include “Numb” as an option in the favorite official music video category. It was especially dumb as it’s one of my personal favorites. So, with apologies for that oversight, here are the results.
“Sometime Around Midnight” wins another category, with the second video produced for the hit song taking top spot. Next up was “All I Ever Wanted,” followed by the beautiful living portrait that is “Timeless.” The two new songs to spawn videos, “Wrong” and “California,” both finished middle of the pack.
Turning to the ever popular bombastic acoustic videos, our findings mirrored those of the band when they conducted their own poll last year, with “Half of Something Else” being the clear winner. Apart from that, opinion varies widely, with all the other videos bunched between 1-8% of the vote; “The Graveyard Near the House” placing at the top of that logjam. Among new songs, “The Fall of Rome” had the highest rating, finishing in a tie for fourth. “One Time Thing” and “California” were also in the mix.
After spoiling us with acoustic videos for every song from their first two albums, The Airborne Toxic Event scaled back and started getting more selective about which songs they release in this fashion. “Bride and Groom” is the fans’ choice for the song we’d most like a Bombastic video for, followed by “A Letter to Georgia.” Unfortunately, it’s pretty unlikely that the band will go back in time to tackle those. Among new songs, the top picks were “Strangers,” “Why Why Why,” “Wrong,” “Dope Machines” and “Change and Change and Change and Change.” Personally, I’d love to see the electronic compositions from Dope Machines reimagined as acoustic pieces. “One Time Thing” is spectacular, and I’m sure songs like “Wrong” and “Dope Machines” would be no less so.
In 2009, The Airborne Toxic Event filmed a full length gig in London, England. Featuring the entire first album, the ultra-rare “Echo Park,” an early version of “A Letter to Georgia” and the first ever live performance of “All I Ever Wanted,” the concert film Does This Mean You’re Moving On: Live from Koko, London is an absolute treasure. Unfortunately, it’s a hidden treasure, currently available only on Google Play and Quello. As a result, only 10% of fans have seen it; many have likely not even heard of it. With three quarters of fans saying they would buy it if it were released on DVD/Blu-Ray, it would behoove the band to look at making this special video more widely available. (Read our review.)
Next we turn to the subject of live-streaming of concerts. Through the years, The Airborne Toxic Event have played a number of festivals that are streamed online, including Austin City Limits, Coachella and Lollapalooza. Last fall, the second night of the band’s Fillmore residency was broadcast through Yahoo! Live, allowing fans around the world to experience All at Once night in San Francisco. Overall, 65% of fans have watched one or more TATE live-streams, and an impressive 60% say they’d be prepared to pay to do so – another revenue opportunity for band management to consider.
And now we come to our final questions – the ones that didn’t really fit anywhere else, but that we wanted to pick your brains on nonetheless.
We’ll start with Shazam – a word that has appeared in our pages with increasing frequency of late. With the growing importance of this song identification mobile app within the music industry, The Airborne Toxic Event is strongly encouraging fans to Shazam their latest single, “One Time Thing” – even offering up some amazing prizes as incentive, including a private show, the opportunity to pick the setlist for said show, and the latest: dinner with the band in Denver. As a result, loyal fans have Shazamed “One Time Thing” tens of thousands of times in the past couple of months – though, unfortunately, the app only counts one Shazam per person per day towards its totals.
Anyway, we wanted to dig into the Shazam habits of TATE’s most dedicated supporters, and here’s what we found: exactly 50% of Airborne fans use Shazam; the other 50% probably think I’m speaking Greek. Furthermore, only a third of TATE fans have ever Shazammed a TATE song. This means that a sizable portion of big time Airborne fans who are on Shazam are not using the app in relation to their favorite band.
This isn’t surprising, as people use Shazam to discover new music, not to identify songs that they already know and love. But with industry executives using Shazam counts to determine everything from radio play to which bands to bring to town for live shows, it is a real problem – especially for a band like The Airborne Toxic Event, which has a relatively small but rabid fan base that skews a little older than the typical Shazam user.
On the plus side, over 80% of respondents claim that they would Shazam TATE daily if they knew it would help the band. So let me just say: it does help the band, immensely. Shazam “One Time Thing” daily, whether or not there’s a contest running in your area.
Last year, Anna Bulbrook struck out on her own, forming a new band for which she is the frontwoman: The Bulls. Though The Airborne Toxic Event clearly remains our first love and priority here at This Is Nowhere, we’ve expanded our coverage to include The Bulls, as we would for any Airborne band member who had a significant side project on the go. Of course, we do so with fingers crossed hard that The Bulls and Airborne will happily co-exist forever and ever.
According to the polls, almost three quarters of TATE fans are following Anna along in this new journey. A built-in fanbase is a luxury that few new bands enjoy, and it has no doubt contributed to The Bulls’ strong start. Much more to come in this regard, I’m sure.
Finally, we wrap up the survey on a slightly selfish note (sorry about that). We’re a year into writing Toxic History, a carefully researched biography of the band that traces the origins of The Airborne Toxic Event from those first dark days in Mikel Jollett’s apartment right up to the present day. We’re just over halfway done, and it’s already book-length… which got us thinking: maybe this should be a book?
We’re so glad you agree. 85% say you would purchase it – that’s 272 copies! We thank each and every one of you.
It looks like the vast majority of you are most interested in a printed version, so that’s where we’ll focus our efforts. If we have to go the self-publishing route, we’re fully prepared to do so, but in that case we would probably hold a pre-sale to ensure that I don’t end up with a garage full of unsold copies.
In terms of the timeline, we’re on pace to finish writing it by the end of next summer. We will likely refrain from posting the last few chapters online; gotta save something new for the finished product! We’ll explore our publishing options before we get to the end of the writing process, so hopefully we can get it out fairly quickly once we finish. Ideally, I’d love to have it available before Christmas 2016, but we’ll see what’s possible. Stay tuned for more information – and thank you for your support!
This brings us to the end of The Airborne Toxic Event Fan Survey 2015. Did any of the results surprise you? Leave your comments below!
Thank you very much to all who took the time to respond. Look for the next edition of the survey to come sometime after album number six.
Note: TIN reader Kelly Milligan turned the survey results into a gorgeous infographic poster. Check it out and download a free copy here.
Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.