How could I not link to this? By Rohin Dhar:
If the traditional band business model is to generate hype through the media and radio airplay, and then monetize that hype through album sales and tours, Phish doesn’t fit the model at all. For a band of their stature, their album sales are miniscule and radio airplay non-existent. And so when the “music business” cratered in the 1990s because of file-sharing and radio’s importance declined because of the internet, Phish remained unaffected and profitable as ever.
What fascinates, puzzles, or annoys most non-fans about Phish is that their appeal doesn’t seem to make sense, and the fans who try to convince them to like the band often can’t make a very persuasive case. I’ve even tried to explain the appeal myself, but it rarely sticks.
Explaining Phish’s appeal in the context of mainstream music doesn’t make sense, because Phish doesn’t make mainstream music. When they’ve tried to condense their music into the mainstream formats of short, flawless, studio-recorded songs grouped into dozens and crammed into 50-minute albums every 18 months, most of their appeal and personality have been lost. The mainstream only sees these mediocre adaptations and, understandably, can’t figure out why so many people like the band.
If you’ll permit a pretty rough analogy, imagine a world in which the vast majority of published fiction was in the form of 3,000-word short stories, and most people had never read anything longer. Phish is the one outlier publishing novels, and they’re pretty weird, complex novels. No effort to condense such novels into bite-sized short stories will truly capture the appeal.
But if you’re one of just a handful of novel publishers in this rough metaphor, you’re going to slowly accumulate a hell of a fanbase from the people who actually like novels, even if yours get a bit too weird sometimes, because almost nobody else is creating what these fans want and love.