Five Decades on, Jimmy Buffett Is Still Cultivating His Audience

Katie Gibson
December 17, 2019

The “Margaritaville” singer talked about the pitfalls of signing a record deal and the importance of connecting with fans.  

Jimmy Buffett spoke to students at the Berklee Performance Center.
Image by Ben Pu

The students who showed up to the Berklee Performance Center on a recent afternoon weren’t searching for a lost shaker of salt. But what they found, as they listened to “Margaritaville” singer Jimmy Buffett, was a (sometimes) salty take on the recording industry, peppered with anecdotes about Buffett’s life and career. 

Buffett talked briefly about his childhood on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, and the fraternity party at Auburn University that piqued his interest in guitar. “There was a guy playing guitar and all the girls were gathered around him,” Buffett recalled. “He turned out to be my roommate—his name was Johnny Youngblood. I walked up to him and asked him to teach me how to play the guitar. He said, ‘I only know three chords.’ I said, ‘Teach me those chords.’”

"Don’t worry about finding huge numbers of fans when you start out. Find your audience one happy person at a time."

—Jimmy Buffett

In a conversation with Livingston Taylor, a professor in the Voice Department, Buffett discussed recent (and slightly less recent) changes in the music industry. He remembered the 2001 introduction of Apple's original iPod and the pricing structure the company set for downloadable music. He also noted that further changes, such as the recent rise of streaming services, have shifted record companies' approach to deal-making. "I'm not saying they'll cheat you," he told the students. "But make sure you know what you're getting into when you sign a record deal."

Recalling his early days busking in New Orleans and Nashville and playing at open mic nights, Buffett emphasized the importance of connecting with his audience. “You want to make sure the person in the last row is having as much fun as the person in the front row,” he said. “Don’t worry about finding huge numbers of fans when you start out. Find your audience one happy person at a time.”

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