November 1, 2013
Your fan base wants a relationship - Mouthzoff column
This is my fourth column for Mouthzoff magazine. It was published in July. The topic is one of vital importance to anyone building a career using new music models - because in this environment, he who dies with the largest email database wins.
Last edition's column was about fan funding and how it can help propel a career. It finished with the note that you can't get funds from fans if you don't have fans. Duh! This time, let's take a closer look at fans and what the fan-artist relationship is all about.
To be honest, no-one really knows a whole lot about this kind of relationship. Fans are not friends, though they can behave like friends. They're a lot like customers but an artist's work invites them into the artist's life, so they're closer than customers. An artist's peers and collaborators should be fans, but not all fans can be peers, colleagues nor collaborators.
See? It's complicated. The artist-fan relationship is a new kind of beast that often looks like other relationships but has to be treated differently.
The key to a successful independent music careers is True Fans. A true fan is a person who will spend $100 a year on an artist. That means buying a CD (or equivalent), a show ticket and T-shirt. Maybe 2 of each, depending on the act.
But apart from the cash, the great thing about true fans is that they will do all sorts of things to help out in non-monetary ways. They might help sell tickets; or merchandise; or put up posters; or edit video footage from a show.
They do this because they believe in the artist and want to support the art. They might relate to the artist's perspective on life. They might have locked onto a song that rang true about a broken heart or classic moment in life. They might just aspire the attitude the artist shows to the world. There's no single reason for the fandom - it just is.
Kevin Kelly wrote about the need for 1000 true fans. He reasoned that if a band has 1000 people who will give them $100 each, then they have enough income to build a business on. Of course, if there's 1000 who will spend $100 a year, then there's probably another 2000 who might spend $50. And another 5000 who might spend $20. NOW there's an income to build on.
Now, there's not a lot of musicians out there who can count on 8000 fans, so it's important to get out there and make fans. This is NOT as simple as creating a Facebook page and spamming people until you get that many likes. Wracking up those sorts of numbers is easy - machines do that for you - but actually building a fan base means that you have to touch that many lives through your art.
The best way to do that is to actually meet people and the best time to meet people who like your art is right after you've put in a kick-ass show. They are inspired, energized and keen to get to know more about you. So when you've turned the amps off and packed up the gear - that's when the real work begins! You've had your fun, now it's time to earn the right to do it again. Your main goal is to get out into the crowd and sign autographs, sell merch, and collect email addresses but many people find that fake and uncomfortable. So if it doesn't don't do it! Just go out and meet people. Some of them will ask you where they can get more of you and your stuff - and that's your opportunity to convert them into fans. Just make sure you have everything you need to answer their questions nearby.
The lesson? Making your music career sustainable requires that you win lots of fans, who will support you in all sorts of ways. If you want to manage the artist-fan relationship in a way that works for your business but don't want to feel like a used-car salesman, don't. Just get out there and meet people and give them what they ask for. Of course, once you've won lots of fans, you need a system in place for managing to stay in touch with them. But that's a topic for another column.