How to beat the competition & build a fanbase
If you’ve been producing for a while or even if you’re just getting started, you might have realized that there are a LOT of producers out there releasing music. This obviously makes for a pretty noisy environment out there when you are trying to get noticed yourself.
You know that if you had the audience that some of these veterans had, you’d be making bigger sales and getting all the great gigs too. It seems like everywhere you turn, someone you know is releasing tunes on Spotify, Beatport, Bandcamp, Amazon or one of the other digital outlets for artists, and let’s be honest, some of it is really good.
Then there are those giving away their music for free. With all this going on, getting noticed and making some small living from your music seems like a distant concept that now feels largely obsolete. Well, that is definitely one way to look at it but it’s not going to help you at all with your goals.
The way to get noticed is largely the same as it was in the past. You can’t look at the other producer’s audience with envy.
Do you think all those fans came out of nowhere? Do you think they were just handed this fanbase?
Nope, they had to earn each & every one. Of course getting your first 1000 fans will always be harder than the next 10,000 & so on.
There is no competition
Ok yes, you are competing for attention, just like everyone else. Luckily, most of the major attention platforms are free. That of course is great news & bad news. When everyone can promote themselves for free, no one stands out, right?
Well, I don’t know about that.
When I am out at a club with 1000 or more people, many people fade into the background, but then again some people stand out more than others. Some people seem to have something the others don’t, that grabs your attention. These days you have to get really clear about something or you’ll get nowhere fast.
People aren’t buying your music anymore. They are buying YOU.
You are the thing that needs to shine. Your personality is going to draw people in or repel them. Having a personality that people are able to connect with & having decent music will likely get you much further than having great music but no personality for people to interact & relate to.
If you make yourself public & share more of who you are, people will be more interested in anything you produce, whether it be music, art, books or anything else you can create.
Don’t envy the big guy
When I was younger I was in a band that wanted to be the next Depeche Mode or Cure(and we had the hair to prove it). We felt that if we were put in front of their crowd, we would sell a lot of records & a lot of tickets. We also knew that wasn’t possible. Instead we had to make a noise from scratch & develop a fan base 1 person at a time.
Our strategy was to look good & go out as a group just having fun & meeting people. We ALWAYS had flyers with us, whether we were at a nightclub, a party, or out at a restaurant. If we saw someone that looked cool, we would introduce ourselves, maybe have a quick chat & leave them with a flyer to remember us by.
With this method we grew from playing our first gig to 15 people (mostly family) at a dumpy club called the Green Door, to selling out The Roxy in Hollywood within about a year. It turns out, when you build your own tribe, instead of trying to put yourself in front of someone else’s tribe, there isn’t nearly the amount of noise & people will be more inclined to give you their attention & tell others about you.
Once you have built a real fan base of people who are not just sold on your music, but on the people behind it (no, not facebook likes, but people who will actually go to your shows & buy your music), many of the shortcuts that the bigger artists always seem to get will start showing up for you as well. The thing we understood is that we had to be small before we could be big.
A lot of producer’s don’t have the right work ethic & some assume that you either get lucky or you don’t. In the real world, luck only happens for a very few number of people. The percentage is so small as to not be worth aiming for. Instead make your own luck.
If we keep with the Hollywood theme to fame, Motley Crue & Guns & Roses started that same way. Getting 100 people to their first few shows & growing from there. Obviously, once you have the attention of the people, you have to show them you are deserving of it.
I think a combination of great music & a strong personality helps. Make sure you actually put the work in where it counts. In the online world you don’t gain fans by spamming people to death. It’s not very rock n roll to use such desperate measures like that.
You don’t want to just send people to Spotify or Bandcamp to find you. I mean, it’s better than nothing, but it’s like someone trying to pick you out from a crowd of 50,000 people. It can be a distracting environment.
You’re much better starting people off on your Facebook fan page (since this is where so many people congregate), then as you build relationships & trust, you can invite people to your Bandcamp page (highly recommended), which allows you to create a more personal experience with your music, & even more intimate with live posts or zoom chats. You can even have meetups at clubs or a good dive bar.
In business marketing there is something known as the “Funnel”. This is where you lead a customer to the sale in a certain way so as to not lose their interest or scare them off. The better the funnel, the better chance to get people to invest in you happily, while telling their friends how great you are in the process.
This is because you gave value in a comfortable environment before you asked them to invest their time or money. In the eyes of the general public these days, you start off at a disadvantage. They most likely are in the frame of mind that “Your band probably sucks & isn’t worth the time to even click on a free link”.
This is why the “funnel” is so important. You need to have a plan for how to lead people to buying your albums & coming to your shows without looking like a used car salesman. It’s not about the sale, it’s about the relationship.
If you use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube & TikTok, you were lead to their sites because they were free & offered something of value without asking anything in return. They all learned that the longer they could sustain a free model, the bigger the trust in the relationship becomes.
In the case of the musician, this can be sneak peaks at songs in progress, the artwork, behind the scenes jam sessions, blogging, sharing pictures & even sharing some of your music free.
If you look at the model used by Trent Reznor & wife Mariqueen with How To Destroy Angels, they gave their first 4 song EP away for free, and this wasn’t some throwaway songs, it was great stuff. When they released their next EP, the sales came rushing in.
I know that might be a bad example because of Trent’s iconic reputation, but it shows that even the big guys understand the power of this model. The longer you can sustain this, the more likely they are to act when you ask for their support. You’ve earned it & have built a relationship.
Ask someone you haven’t build a relationship with for $10 & you’re a bum. Ask a good friend & he’ll insist you take $20.
Next check out Living off your music – My Story
Happy music making,
ps – At the moment, I am brainstorming a course that will go deeper into this subject. I’d love to hear your comments below on what more you would like me to share.