Your fans. The public. As a musician or music industry professional, reaching said fans was always the goal, always the end game.
In the past, there were many steps to get to the end goal of reaching one’s fans. Record in a proper studio, press physical product, ship the tangible goods out to press, hope that journalists would write about it. Publications pressed up magazines so the fans would read the journalists’ articles on the music and go buy their copy of the album, single, etc. Simultaneously, hopefully a programme director dug the music and would add a track to their playlist so the public would go out and buy the music. Quite the supply chain.
“Direct to fan” is now a common B2B term in multiple industries. And the artists that have been cultivating their direct to fan relationships over the past decade and even beyond that will continue to thrive forever. For example, I was a recipient of Phish’s newsletter in the 90’s, which was black and white typeface on physical paper. But in true direct to fan nature, I had never heard of the band and met them at a hotel pool while they were on tour and my family was on vacation. We bought their cassette tapes at the airport afterwards. I was 10 years old and watched the band grow its fan-base to-date as one of the largest and most loyal audiences in the world.
But bands like Phish or Radiohead (who went direct to fan with In Rainbows) are huge. What about the rest of artists? Let alone new acts?
How does one maintain their integrity, rights, and fan-base in an ever-evolving society without getting lost in the noise?
1. Do it because you love it
Giorgio Moroder‘s soliloquy on Daft Punk‘s new album gets me every time: “When I was 15, 16; when I really started to play the guitar, I definitely wanted to become a musician. It was almost impossible because the dream was so big. I didn’t see any chance because I was living in a little town; I was studying. And when I finally broke away from school and became a musician, I thought, ‘Well, now I may have a little bit of a chance,’ Because all I really wanted to do is music – and not only play music, but compose music.”
Unfortunately, I do not hear this from artists enough. It is refreshing when I do! And that is the nature of my job, to focus on everything that surrounds art to help support that art. But any artist that gets into music with financial goals being the priority will fail. Focus on your art. And create art consistently. That is the most important factor and is why we’re here.
2. Direct to Fan State of Mind
Every encounter, every relationship, all energy you give off affects not only your career, but your life. Be mindful of how you’re treating others at shows, and folks that work on your career. If you’re not happy about something, talk about it; don’t lash out. Those imprints can last a lifetime, so why not create positive relationships instead of opening up wounds that may affect you forever?
The same goes for how you treat your audience online. Not that any artist I can think of would not be positive to their fans; but acknowledge them! Cherish your relationship with your audience and continue to cultivate and grow the amount of people who support you. Too many artists take their audiences for granted, and it drives me crazy. It’s easy to get lost in the noise. Therefore what are you doing to take care of your fans, so they don’t go elsewhere?
3. Don’t Wait
“Setting up” a record is a term of the past. And although it is still relevant as I’m all about well-thought out plans and strategies, true success will be found by connecting with fans and delivering content consistently; not just in the lead-up to an album release (if that is the format you’re releasing music in). Too many artists (and definitely industry folks) have this mentality. I completely get and support how excited artists are about their new material and how everything needs to be executed on perfectly. But while you’re busy hovering over your masterpiece, your fans are turning elsewhere for content and engagement. I could almost see the light bulb go off while speaking to a consulting client last week while we suggested they put out teasers of their music, share content of themselves in the studio and when on the fence about a musician decision, feel free to ask their audience what they prefer.
On the industry side all too often, particularly with young and more often than not female solo artists, I see teams wait and wait and wait. For the right producer, for the right song, for the right label. Meanwhile, the artist flounders. If you’re an artist in that situation, please connect with your audience even if someone is not guiding you to do so! Those core fans will be that much more excited when the “right” pieces come together… And in the meantime you’ll have set a solid foundation for your fan-base that most likely consists of your most loyal fans who also tend to be strong evangelists. This is extra helpful should your newer, more fairweather fans not stick around for one reason or another. Diane Birch is an artist who tweets at her fans constantly on various musings; whether she has a release out or not. Those fans are going to be even more excited when her new music comes out (which I just received a preview of and it’s AMAZING.)
4. Be Your Authentic Self
There isn’t one strategy for everyone. Springtime Carnivore is a new project that has done almost no traditional promotion and was delivered to me with a very pure vision for the music, artwork, video and overall aesthetic. Springtime took it upon herself to email the music to some of her favourite bloggers because she was so excited about what she just created. Lo and behold, the content spread quickly because the artist created something that was true to herself. And in the meantime, 10 or so labels from around the world reached out. I don’t think that would have happened had I traditionally pitched them. The right music will find the right home when it is put out into the world with genuine intentions and with no “agenda” in mind.
5. Information is Queen
There is incredible information on an artists’ audiences, and its available for free. Much of it right now has to do with location, via Facebook and Google Analytics. This can help to set up tours and gig swaps that actually make sense instead of shooting in the dark.
Take advantage of all of the information that is out there that used to physically live in promo teams’ rolodexes. When your music gets airplay, show some appreciation by tweeting and thanking the DJ or station that is spinning your music. Same for bloggers and journalists. Most of their Twitter handles and E-mail addresses are publicly accessible. These folks aren’t acknowledged as much as you think and little touches of appreciative gestures can make a huge difference.
Technology will only continue to evolve throughout time and as we’re about 10 years into the new music industry, a lot of information has been collected that can now be utilised for the greater good of artists’ careers. This became obvious to me as a fan when Pandora emailed me as a user and said “We know you subscribe to the Portugal. The Man channel and would like to offer you a free ticket to a private Bowery Ballroom show.” I’m not a big enough Portugal. The Man fan that I’d go out of my way to source out when and where they are playing. However the personal touch of Pandora individually inviting me as a fan makes the user feel special. And they are. They’d opted in to listen to the band’s music; so why not go to a show at a great venue and meet other like-minded Portugal. The Man Pandora listeners? That personal touch goes a long way from how I’ve traditionally consumed music and attended events.
Streaming internet radio like Pandora as well as on-demand streaming platforms ala Rdio and Spotify know exactly what audiences are listening to. Although it’s a methodical process, I’m excited for this information to eventually come to light in a way that protects the user’s privacy while simultaneously helping artists to build and maintain more efficient careers than ever before. Information will continue to feed cool offerings if we as an industry embrace this data and know what to do with it. The data can be used to tailor tours and campaigns around fans’ preferred listening habits instead of just guesswork.
Collectively, society is clearly shifting to a more on-demand format across all mediums. Individuals have the choice, which turns into collective group power. And how exciting that it is our very own music industry leading the charge! This speaks to both the individual and collective powers of humanity. We want to feel special, but as our interests come together, suddenly a private Portugal. The Man concert exists that didn’t previously. It’s these individual preferences that will define modern society for the next decade while our collective voices help the best bubble up to the top.
It’s amazing that the music industry is at the forefront of these changes. Because our traditional structure was decimated first, we have taken lead by trying to solve problems for content and deliver music in a way that makes sense. I’m excited to watch the music industry continue to take lead and pave the way for the industries around TV, books, film and beyond.
Emily White manages (predominantly) DIY artists through her talent shop, Whitesmith Entertainment. She is a frequent contributor to midemblog: check out all her posts here! And be sure to follow her on Twitter, here.