How To Find and Keep Fans: Taking Note of Shakey GravesBy
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Often, communicating with fans is like walking a tightrope. If your balance tips ever so slightly to one side or the other—too frequent, too seldom, too polished, too sloppy—you lose them. They get annoyed, or forget you, or feel like they’re being spammed with smarmy marketing, or just don’t take you seriously. Finding that happy middle ground is a struggle.
So, when I saw an artist put out an amazing letter to his fans, I sat up and paid attention. Then, I decided to share it with you.
About the Artist
We’ll take a minute to introduce you to Alejandro Rose-Garcia, aka Shakey Graves. Understanding who he is as an artist makes it easier to understand where he’s coming from in his fan communication.
Shakey’s music is a fusion of folk, blues, and rock, at once familiar and distinct. His lyrics—packed with emotion and evocative imagery, and weaving fantastical stories—capture basic elements of humanity: love, lust, hope, despair, bitterness, folly, rage, regret. His voice is haunting and soft one moment, then rich and impassioned, then gravelly and road-weary.
The same shifts in his voice are reflected in his songs, which slip from one tempo and dynamic to another. He changes pace and volume, dropping off just when listeners think the song is about to peak, then building it all up again. What a way to keep listeners’ attention!
Most musicians sing or play an instrument, or do a little of both. But this guy? He takes it to a whole new level. Often playing as a one-man band—handling the guitar and vocals and a (likely homemade) kick drum/tambourine combo, conveniently packaged in an old-fashioned hard case suitcase—Shakey brings his music to life. He embodies it, far more than any other musician I’ve ever watched. As he carries out these four parts of his songs, his body sways, his hands slide, his fingers press, his head nods, his legs dance, and his feet tap. There’s not a single part of him that isn’t contributing to the performance. It’s mesmerizing to watch.
To recap: he’s young and talented, he’s pretty damn unique, he knows when to drive it home hard and when to gently caress with his music, and he can handle four parts at once. Impressive.
In July of this year (late July, appropriately), Shakey sent an email to his fans. Calling it a newsletter or press release doesn’t do it justice. “Love letter” might paint a better picture. EDIT: The letter is no longer present on his site, be we discuss the importance of it below.
Know Your Audience
There are two ways that Shakey does this.
First, the letter is intended for an audience already familiar with Shakey. He wasn’t trying to reach people who hadn’t heard of him, he wasn’t trying to impress the general public, and he wasn’t trying to make a pitch to a team of venture capitalists about the profit margins and sustainability of his career. He was simply reaching out to people who had supported him previously.
These are people who had attended his shows, people who had bought his music, people who likely listened to his songs until they knew every dip, crescendo, tambourine crash, guitar lick, and hushed lyric. Some are intimately familiar with his work; some are likely just casual listeners. But none are strangers, and all are supporters.
He addresses that audience with an appropriate degree of familiarity. By no means is it a formal letter or a lifeless sales pitch. Like a letter you’d get from an old friend (if people still sent letters, that is), it exudes personality, a sense of shared history, and camaraderie. Not only is his tone casual and friendly, but he directly acknowledges the role that the reader has played in supporting him.
Second, he actually knows his audience. He knows their names and email addresses, knows that they’ve purchased his music before, knows that they are likely more interested in updates from him than some random person on the street. They aren’t random likes or followers on some social media network (although many probably do like or follow him); they are actual contacts. At some point (likely the point of sale) he gained each fan’s contact information. That is extremely valuable data, and requesting it was an incredibly wise move for him to make. Putting that data to use (by sending this letter) was an even wiser move.