I entered the back patio and saw about 20 people at tables, drinking drinks, and talking amongst themselves. My date and I quickly grabbed a table and waited patiently for the show to start. We were very curious about this artist. We didn’t have a lot of information. We were simply told that he was ‘really interesting, but it will be fun.’ A few minutes later groups of people started pouring in and before I knew it, the patio was full. The artist appeared on stage and he looked very peculiar. Black curly hair, a white t-shirt with a hole in it with red marks that seemed to be blood stains, and black pants. He started his set. I’m not an expert music reviewer, but if I had to describe it, I would say it was dirty rap with a mix of electro punk. I was concerned for him that the people wouldn’t appreciate his style. If I’m being honest, I didn’t appreciate it myself. His music was not that great. However, I looked around and to my surprise people were rocking and singing along to his music. These were all fans of his. As I sat back in amazement at all the people around me cheering this artist on, I couldn’t help but question my own thinking about what success in the music business really is made of.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to have seen this artist live. I learned a lot that day. I was inspired and encouraged that you don’t have to be a great artist with a certain level of skill to be successful. What you do need though, is to have a strong connection with your fans. Music, especially when it is experienced live, is a visceral connection between the artist and the fan. It creates an escape for listeners to momentarily get away from their struggles even if it’s just for a fleeting second. This is what people want when they come to your show. They are looking for an experience. They want you to take them away to a happy, fun place. When they come to your merchandise table and buy your goods, they want to take that feeling home with them. The quality of your music then becomes second to the feeling it creates.
When it comes down to it, your fans are the embodiment of your success. While music reviews and quality of music can play a big role in achieving credibility, ultimately it is your fans who determine how successful you will be. The more fans you have, the more successful you become. Your fans are the ones who support you with their resources, attendance, and money. This is the meat of your career. Music blogs, music reviews, and what critics say is all extra stuff that you may or may not need. But the relationship with your fans is a necessity. By all means, be the best artist you can be, but don’t be ultra focused on quality so much that you forget (or don’t have time) to focus on building a strong connection with fans and creating memorable experiences for them. You want people to remember you. I wasn’t completely sold on the artist I mentioned earlier, but he had a patio full of people who were!
What do you do in a bar where most people are talking loud and not listening, but there are a few people who are listening? You play to the people who are listening. The same can be said when connecting with fans. Play to the people who relate to you. If someone doesn’t like your music, move on to someone who does. There are so many interests, hobbies and commonalities that bring different people groups together. I’m sure if you brainstormed you can find your own niche. It’s not about your technical abilities. Your music is about your brand and what you believe in. Use that to identify with your fans.
No mainstream artist is perfect and you shouldn’t have to be either. David Byrne from Talking Heads is not a terrific singer. He’s quoted as saying, “The better a singer’s voice, the harder it is to believe what they’re saying. So I use my faults as an advantage.” Shortcomings and vulnerability indicate authenticity. It makes you even more relatable.Shortcomings and vulnerability indicate authenticity. It makes you even more relatable. Click To Tweet
Having trouble getting fans? If you think you can’t get fans, tweak your marketing tactics and keep trying. I saw a patio full of fans who decided to support a not so great artist all because he knew how to make a real connection.
Here are some tips on how to build a strong connection with true fans:
1. Create memorable experiences as part of your live performances.
Listeners not only want to hear live music, they want a memorable experience. It’s your job to give that to them. If your live show is not memorable, you will have a very hard time winning fans. See my article here about winning over fans with your live show.
2. Collect e-mails at your live shows and keep in touch.
A well maintained e-mail list is your bread and butter. It’s the best way to communicate with your fans in a way that you fully control. It can help you make sales, get people to your shows, and raise money. Send e-mails sharing personal stories and asking questions to engage with your subscribers. Be sure to take good care of your subscribers by sending freebies and gifts. See my article here about how to get subscribers on your mailing list.
3. Invest time and execute strategic social media campaigns. A good business model includes some element of social media activity. For the independent artist, social media is a vital component to exposure. Some people might even say, if you’re not on social media, you’re not a serious artist. It’s free to use and your audience is more than likely already using it. Check out this series of articles on how to look good and gain fans on Social Media.
4. Send personalized messages, videos, cards to your fans unexpectedly. I started sending out personalized videos and they worked like a charm. I was able to connect with my fans on a completely different more intimate level. Now they know me by name and respond to my e-mails, tag me on social media and more. It only takes a few minutes to write a personal note to a fan. You can spend 10 minutes a day doing it and make a huge difference in your relationships with your fans. Here’s an article I wrote about one experiment I did with personalized videos.
5. Do a House Concert Series and repeat steps 1 and 2. If your music is suitable for house concerts, you should definitely look into playing house concerts. They are a grassroots way to gain exposure with real people face to face. A house concert is a show you put on in someone’s home, basement, backyard, bonus room, etc. You have to get people to host the house concert at their house. Once you get a host on board, they invite their friends/family and you do a live performance for them. This is can be a paid gig depending on how it’s promoted. There is no cap on how much you can earn but the average is $250. The beauty of house concerts is that they allow you to make long lasting connections with the people you meet because it’s just you and them for 2 hours with no distractions. Learn more about house concerts and how to book them here.