Fans are the lifeblood of your music. Learn how to keep them happy, and you will profit from the relationship. Ignore them, or trust your fan relationship to someone else, and you will suffer. Simple, but true.
We have a few suggestions to help you work through how to do this, including a free iPad app that helps to make it easy—read on.
The Right Stuff For A Career in Music
Remember when you were a kid, daydreaming of being a rock star? If you were anything like us, you were singing your heart out while picking out your clothes for the day, or vacuuming the house with the stereo blasting your idol’s tunes, or going all Risky Business while jamming on your air guitar. As a kid, it was so easy to become what you wanted. You just pictured your dream and—BAM—you were livin’ it.
As an adult, you might have realized it’s not as easy as just imagining. You now know that, to be a rock star, you need to have some talent as a singer, songwriter, musician, or performer. Ideally, you’ll be talented in each of these fields, but being extremely talented in just one field might be enough to gain some traction. You may also have realized that not everyone with talent has a successful music career, which means it takes a bit more than talent to make things really happen. That “bit more” includes some pretty mundane—but important—things, like collecting and reviewing data.
When we were growing up, we didn’t know anyone who wanted to collect data or review statistics for a living. It wasn’t exciting or thrilling. It still might not be… but it’s important, even to rock stars. Actually, especially to rock stars. Boring things like collecting data can make the difference between success and failure in your music career. Just remember, in this case, boring equals profitable.
Data Collection and Your Music Career
Let’s explore just one of those boring things today: what are you doing to develop your fan base? You know, your fan base. The people who like your music, attend your performances, visit your webpage, purchase your CDs, download your music on iTunes, and hopefully do more than stream your music online for free. Those people. Do you know who your fans are? What are you doing to develop your connection with them? We hope your answer is more than “ummm…” or “nothing”, because fans are the lifeblood of your music.
We know that musicians can be funny about fans. Everyone seems to have his or her own take on the musician/fan relationship. Some performers prefer to operate in a higher circle than their fans, creating a sense of mystique about their persona; others are quite friendly and enjoy personally interacting with fans. Whichever method works for you is fine… as long as you establish and maintain connections with fans. Don’t be the performer that ignores fans and then wonders why their career is suffering.
Why Knowing Your Fan Base Matters
We had the opportunity to visit with a musician client recently. He noted that he was struggling to sell merch to fans at performances, and he had decided that the fans attending his gigs already owned most of what he had to sell. Since a significant part of his income was coming from merch sales, this presented a problem for him. He told us that he had not released any new music in over 20 months. When we asked him why, he confided that he had material ready, but the expenses associated with releasing a new album were high. He also wondered, given recent low sales, if he would recoup the investment in a new release, yet alone profit from it. Lastly, our client said that he wasn’t doing much beyond social media and the merch table to connect with fans that attended his shows.
His story, especially that last statement, really resonated with us. He noticed that sales were down, he assumed it was because of product saturation, and he struggled with investing in new material. All of that is understandable. But, without solid connections with fans, he couldn’t confirm product saturation, couldn’t reach out to those not attending shows or who didn’t have his existing merch, couldn’t advertise shows effectively, couldn’t test the waters on interest in a new project, and couldn’t use his existing fan base to help fund a new project. He was up to bat, but blindfolded, deaf, and dizzy.
Had he connected better with his fans and owned that relationship, his story could be quite different.
Social Media Does Not Cut It
Don’t get the wrong idea. Our musician does have fans. People come to his shows and buy his music—just not as much as he’d like or as they used to do. And he has followers all over social media. In fact, Facebook was his main source of communication with his fans. He’d post about a gig, and they’d like the status, or share, or comment. He even recognized a few of them at gigs from their profile pictures.
Despite that, he didn’t have a good connection with them. The fans were largely anonymous, his posts didn’t get the reach he hoped, and—most importantly—he did not have direct contact information for them.
Here’s the downfall to counting on social media (or any third party) for your fan connection: it will always let you down.
With social media, you cannot control the conversation or its reach. Sure, you write a post, but you can’t really control who sees it or how they respond. You become just another voice in a long list of voices trying to communicate with your fan. After a short while, your post drifts off to the bottom of the fan’s feed. Even on your own page, it is very hard to control the conversation.
Also, what happens if your fans do not get on Facebook very often or are no longer active at all on Facebook? Anybody remember MySpace? We know of another musician that had over 90,000 people following her on MySpace in the site’s early years; when MySpace fell out of favor, the fans stopped signing on, and she lost the ability to communicate with them. It is a bad idea to base your entire fan experience on a site that may not even be popular in 2 years.
So… what can artists do?
Start Capturing Contact Information From Your Fans
Remember our other articles, where we pointed out that iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, and other services wouldn’t tell you who downloaded or streamed your music? They know how valuable that information is, and they keep it for themselves. Social media is the same: no direct contact information, just an interface that is shared with everyone else trying to communicate with your fan.
Instead, you have to actively work at gathering information from fans. Fortunately, there are steps you can take that make the gathering part easier.
At gigs, you should have a sign-up sheet for fan names and email addresses. Better yet, save yourself a step and have fans sign up electronically. If you have an iPad and a MailChimp* account (which we recommend), we suggest using their free app, Chimpadeedoo, for in-person mailing list signup. We tested this software, and it performs well. We’ve even written a guide to walk you through the setup process, including a link to stands that prevent iPads from being loss or damage.
Having a signup list sitting on the merch table probably isn’t enough, though. You need to make its presence and importance known; point out the merch table and your must-have items, and ask people to sign up. Be witty and humorous. Play around with it to see what works.
If this still isn’t enough, you might offer an incentive. You’d be surprised how many people will give you their email address if you give away a t-shirt, CD, or signed mug at every gig. Our musician friend tried this the other night and got 106 people to give him their contact information. Not bad for one night.
Outside of gigs, you should add a signup form to your band’s website and social media profiles. While social media sites are not good for direct, consistent communication, they can be a great place to let fans know about your mailing list. Again, MailChimp makes this easy. If you need help with this, let us know and we will send instructions.
Of course, you don’t want a stack of sign-up sheets sitting in a corner. You’ll need to find a system to keep track of the data on them, and then you can put that data to use. Use your emailing service to help set this up.
As you collect names and email addresses from fans, you should begin communicating with them on a regular basis… but only when you have something to say. You don’t want to spam them by filling their inbox with repetitive information or meaningless ramblings. Don’t be like so many people on Facebook who have nothing to say but say it quite often.
Instead, you want your fans to feel special, like they are part of an exclusive club. The communication can and should share your current schedule, especially if you make it feel like a personal invitation to those shows, but it can also offer more. Share something revealing about your career, pictures from behind the scenes, or funny stories from performances. Post a “teaser video”; it doesn’t have to be anything complicated, either. One artist we know posts a 20 second video weekly; all he does is play his guitar off-camera for 15 seconds, then ask the fans to guess which guitar it is. The response to these videos is pretty impressive. Be creative and get your readers to respond.
In short, you should focus on communicating with fans regularly and with quality content. If this means you email once a week instead of daily, that’s fine. Just be consistent and be active. Your ability to communicate with your fans on a regular basis develops the relationship. You have to reach out to them.
Also, if you have the cell phone number of your fans, then texting can be a great way to communicate as well. (Hint One: get their permission first. Hint Two: this method might work best for specific messages, such as reminders about a show, instead of every message.) Although not as flexible in format as email, it puts your message right in front of your fan. They don’t have to sign in to an email account or social network to see what you have to say.
Does It Really Work?
Let us share our business experience with you. If fans have a relationship with you and have purchased your music in the past, they are over 30 times more likely to purchase your music in the future. This means existing fans are the biggest supporters of your music career, which in turn means you want to connect with them.
As with any form of marketing, not all recipients will read your material. However, email is one of the more personal and flexible forms of communication you can have. Some email programs allow you to thank fans for signing up or sharing your email by offering a free download, or you could tailor emails to each recipient by including their name in the subject line or message. You could (should) separate your list into groups, emailing grouped fans only about shows in their area (instead of shows elsewhere that aren’t relevant to them) or about product they don’t have yet (if you’ve tracked that). Short of receiving a hand-written letter, emails tailored to each fan is about as personal as marketing gets.
You should also be tracking fan data. When fans sign up for your email list, be certain to include details like the date and event information. Over time, as you interact with your fans, you can develop more detailed fan profiles. Don’t pass up an opportunity to capture more information about your individual fans. In addition to an email address, sign up forms can request or require a fan’s address (or at least a zip code), phone number, age, gender, how they found out about you, and more.
Ideally, some of your fans will become “super fans”. These are the people that absolutely love what you do. When organized effectively, super fans can form a network or street team that drives your success. They bring people to your events, help you promote your merch products, even volunteer to do some of the boring things that you might otherwise have to let slide by. Do not miss the opportunity to engage them.
Back To Our Musician
His past lack of data collection is hurting him, but it’s not too late for his story to change.
He needs to engage his fans in the markets where he is well known. While he thought that those fans were his least valuable audience (because they already have his merchandise), in fact the exact opposite is true. Because they already know him well, they represent a great opportunity for him. If he releases new music, these are the fans that will buy it. They might even fund the project. They just have to know about it first.
Taking action now can turn things around for him. It can work for you, too.
* This post is in no way sponsored by MailChimp. We simply think that it’s a valuable tool for musicians to consider when managing their fan databases and communicating with fans. And in some cases it is free, so it fits almost any budget.