How to build your fanbase – and why the end of the traditional model is a good thing.

by Ian on August 15, 2010

Build your fanbase 300x225 How to build your fanbase   and why the end of the traditional model is a good thing.

You’ll probably know that I’m a great fan of the ramblings of Bob Lefsetz. I heartily recommend that you sign up to his newsletter.

In one of his posts this week he referred back to an interview with Jerry Greenberg on Bite Me! in which Jerry makes a major statement on how to build your fanbase.

It almost passed me by but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it is exactly the ideology that we now follow with our artists and which we suggest you should too.

The piece said, “Bud Prager—who managed Leslie West in the old days and Felix Pappalardi—he’s a great producer who I have the utmost respect for. One day we went for lunch…it was 1979/1980 and MTV had just started. Warner Communications funded MTV in the very beginning along with American Express.

Steve Ross had a vision of creating music on TV and having it be a marketing tool. Bud said to me as MTV progressed that he felt MTV hurt the record business. His whole philosophy and, I have to agree with him, was that we broke bands by them going out and getting a fanbase – a real fanbase. AC/DC started out in a little club called Max’s Kansas City then they worked their way up to the Fillmore then the Forum and then the stadiums. They built a fanbase, but so many of these artists just became these video stars and you could see them on video. The only way you could see AC/DC, before videos, was to wait until they went on tour.

Bud felt that in the long run it hurt the artist and hurt their career and then it also created a lot of what we call “The One Shot” video artist – who were really acts that people got because of the video but when they really had to go out and do it there was no substance.”

It’s obvious really isn’t it?

You need a fanbase

If you are hyped and leveraged into the national (or international) consciousness, you’re going to have to be spectacular to make it last. All the kids who get the big break on the TV talent shows cannot sustain the level that those shows give them.

Why not? They just aren’t actually talented enough, but, more importantly, they haven’t built a fanbase. They get instant recognition but it fades in the public interest when the next series comes along.

I can see that the same was true with MTV – and the same is still true for major label artists today that are over hyped and simply manufactured. Sign someone half pretty and get them a load of songs from the current writer / producer du jour. It all sounds good enough but 99 times out of 100, there isn’t anything to back it up. I’ll accept that there will occasionally be an exception.

BUT – if the right thing to do in order to build a career is build a fanbase, then how do you do it?

Look at Arcade Fire – how did they do it. Quality material, no bullshit, slow build of momentum, unreal live shows, true talent.

No-one wanted to sign them when they started, so they did it on their own!

The message is the same now as it was for AC/DC when Jerry Greenberg remembered how they started.

Get your material strong and go out and play it. Watch this video of legendary Island Records boss Chris Blackwell telling how a live show and word of mouth is all you need.

So now that the music industry has changed and everyone wants music for free, how do you build that fanbase and why is that change a good thing?

Well, you can still do what AC/DC did and go out and play. You must! You’ll improve, you’ll bond as a unit and you’ll find champions who will tell everyone how good you are.

BUT - you now have an advantage that outdoes MTV in it’s heyday and will allow you to build momentum slowly, reach a global audience, perfect your style and sound – all the while sticking two fingers up to the old music industry hegemony.

The internet. You must use the internet to build your fanbase.

10 steps to building your fanbase

Here’s what you do:

1. Get your act straight. Right people, right look, right sound and BRILLIANT material. Not ‘good enough’ – brilliant is what is required.

2. Buy a domain name for your band’s website (we use Namecheap – it is!), and then buy hosting for it. Use Hostgator. I know you have loads of choices, but, trust me, this works really well and I have never had a problem.

3. Build a website – Use WordPress, hosted on your own domain (that’s downloaded from wordpress.org not hosted at wordpress.com). Personally I always use Thesis as the theme for the site for a host of reasons that I won’t go into here. It is awesome. If you think you can’t build a site in WordPress and/or Thesis, you will be able to. Honestly – there are loads of videos on YouTube to talk you through it and if you get stuck, find someone at your school, college or even on Elance to do it for you.

4. Build a list of fans using serious email software. You can use Fanbridge – it works fine – but if you are really serious, there is only one choice – Aweber. It will do more than any competing mailing list software and it will last you your whole career.

5. Give people something really valuable in return for joining your mailing list. Sure, give them mp3′s of a few tracks. But, you can do so much more. Give them a whole album and ask them to get their friends to come and sign up for it.

I love Pretty Lights and what he does – 3 albums, 2 EP’s and some live material. All FOR FREE. How does he make a living? He sells merch and has a massive live following. If he hadn’t given this music away he would not have gotten anywhere. The free music gave him the momentum. Now he makes more money from his music career than if he had signed to a major – by a factor of 20 or more. Plus he gets to be a true artist and do exactly what he wants, when he wants with his art.

6. Put the sign-up box for the free stuff on the top right of every page of your site – what designers call ‘above-the fold’. Why? Because it works. Also – have a dedicated ‘squeeze page’ on the site or even on another domain that you can send people to. He doesn’t do this, but Pretty Lights could have a squeeze page at freeprettylights.com. It’s easy to remember and you just put a single page site there with just a small pitch and a sign up box for your Aweber list.

7. Build a quality profile (and interact – don’t ignore any of them) at MySpace (yep, still – it is the music directory and you need to be there), Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. This is the minimum – there are others that you might wish to add.

8. Shoot LOADS of video of your band. Writing, rehearsing, gigging, in the van – goofing off. It doesn’t matter. Send emails to your list at least once a week telling them to check out something that you have posted somewhere online. DO NOT just email them the week of a show asking them to come. Be in regular content. Put those videos on your YouTube channel and all over the place.

9. Post on Twitter and Facebook all the time. Not inane stuff but things that your fans will want to know.

10. Develop a healthy interest in music blogs. Find ones that might support you and start to build rapport with the bloggers. This is a key way to spread your name when you have material being released. Chris Bracco has the best guide to this currently available – which is free – get it here.

11. Don’t neglect the art! Keep writing. Write much more than you record and rehearse as much as you write. Recording is important and you need tracks to give away, but it is having great material that is going to make your fans talk about you to their friends and build that fanbase. Writing is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing.

12. Play live. Anywhere for anyone. Not to the extent that your fans can’t keep up. But spread wider, cross genres, make new fans. Obviously, collect every name and email address that you can at gigs. Go to other band’s gigs – hand out cards with your site address on them at those gigs. Hang out, meet other bands and meet their manager, agent, sound guy….whatever.

13. Be tired. No, really. If you’re working a full time job and you’re doing enough to succeed, you are going to be exhausted. The people who can keep going when they are exhausted will win.

There you have it – I think that’s a blueprint on how to build your fanbase. I’ve just read it over and, in essence, that is all there is to it.

Of course, I can and will expand on many of those points and go further another day – how do you move from this point to selling records, how to go up a level etc.

But, right now, that’s not important. It’s not important since you MUST build a fanbase to get started and to achieve anything – whether that is DIY and Direct-to-Fan success or the aim of getting signed. Either route will happen much more easily if you have built the fanbase yourself – that’s what other fans will see so they will want to be in the in-crowd – and it’s what agents. managers and record label A&R will see that will help take you to the next level.

One last thing. This is not ‘selling out’. This is ‘selling’. It does not cheapen the art. It gives you a chance.

It will only happen if you do it – start now.

Step one is critical! But as soon as you have something ready for the world to hear, build your website at the heart of your efforts. Go and get a domain (Namecheap) and hosting (Hostgator) right now if you don’t have that sorted yet!

Image credit – by wonker

Related Posts:

ten steps you must take to succeed in the music industry

Enter your name and email to get our free guide to succeeding in music. You'll also get our regular newsletter with music success tips that you can't find here on the blog.

We respect your privacy and will never trade, sell or spam your email address.

Comments

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Atul Rana August 15, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Fantastic! This is pretty much the essence of it! I’m going to print this out and make sure this is one of the articles I keep coming back to if things stray a bit out. Thanks man :-)

Reply

Ivan the Music Guy August 17, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Awesome, that’s just what I was shooting for! You just spared me alot of digging around

Reply

Admin August 17, 2010 at 2:12 pm

Glad you like it. We’ll go into each part in more depth over the next few months.

Ian

Reply

sly nova August 17, 2010 at 3:35 pm

truth!!!! if u want a free download. of one of MY tracks.. sign up for my mailinglist ! http://www.sleepingkillsthedream.com :$

Reply

Carol September 12, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Hi Ian,
It’s very nice to see that you take the time to reply comments. So far, makeitinmusic has been very helpful to me. But I have one doubt that is killing me. I’m not originally from the US, but I’m moving there and I’ve been given two options: LA or New York. Comparing both cities, which one do you think would make it easier to get a record deal? LA or New York?
Thank you.

Reply

Admin September 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm

Hi Carol

Thanks for your thanks! We do our best to make sure that we do reply to everyone who comments or emails us – and we hope to provide a HUGE amount more help when we launch the new version of the site in less than a month (hopefully!).

As for your question, I think neither city is better than the other in terms of opportunity. The US is a massive market, so all the major record companies run twin operations and if you are making a name for yourself in either city, you will come to their attention. All the infrastructure also exists in both cities (and in many more besides) – promoters, agents, press, pr companies, online pr etc. That said, you can have some serious local success in the States and still not get a deal. It’s not uncommon for people to sell 10′s of 1,000′s of records on their own before geting signed.

Given the nature of the busines these days with ever more people going ‘Direct-to-Fan’ that’s even more the case. On the plus side, there are more forward thinking companies in the US to help you than there are anywhere else. They are at the forefornt of the new indie movement.

I’d say that there is a little bit more of that internet savvy new school thinking on the West Coast – particularly in San Francisco where Facebook and Topspin are both based, for example – but it wouldn’t be enough to sway me one way or the other.

The most relevant factor for me would be attitude and lifestyle of the cities. I love them both but they are very different.

New York is truly all hustle and bustle and feels fairly European (with hot and cold weather and plenty of rain!), whereas LA is a constant temperature and, to me, feels truly slacker – I often wonder how they ever get anything done. To be fair, LA is the heart of the entertainment industry as a whole – obviously the global film industry is there, and the majority of TV – but music success is evenly spread.

It may be that your particular genre might suit one city more than the other. If not, I’d go with how you live your life. If you are all ‘get up and go’ and love the big city intensity, try New York, but if you like perfect weather and a relaxed attitude (in some things – not all!) then LA is hard to beat.

Hope that helps.

I’d also love to know what any other readers feel – I’ll tweet and see if we can get any other opinions.

Reply

drhill November 20, 2010 at 1:59 am

Good article, another article, different emphasis – but also has some good ideas!

http://addisonrd.com/WordPress/2007/07/20-things-to-do-while-youre-sitting-around-waiting-for/

Reply

Ian January 11, 2011 at 10:45 am

Thanks drhill. There’s some great stuff in that article – some is old and out of date, but others are great. I love point 15 – a great idea.

Reply

Alice January 25, 2011 at 11:07 am

Thanks for an excellent post!
I’d like to know more about how to set up the sign-up box.
Is there a wordpress plugin that you can easily use, or have you had that custom made?

Reply

Ian January 25, 2011 at 11:15 am

If you’re using Aweber (or most other mailing list software) they make it easy to create the sign-up box in their system. You then usually cut and paste the code and drop it into your site – easy to do if you are using Wordpress.

Reply

Ben Cooper January 27, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Thanks for all the helpful information! I’m a professional songwriter in Nashville and I’d be interested in writing articles for you.

Thanks!

Ben
thesongbirdproject.com

Reply

Ian January 28, 2011 at 9:47 am

Ben.

Thanks. I’ll email you. We’re always looking for people to write for us.

Ian

Reply

Sally Romero March 24, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I would also be interested in writing for you. Please email me.

Thanks,
Sally

Reply

Dee March 27, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Awesome article! Very informative. I’m an aspiring DJ/Producer who wants to tour, release original tracks, and reach out to people. Hopefully this same info can apply to any aspiring DJ who wishes to develop a following.

Reply

Admin March 27, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Definitely can – In Dance music it’s all about getting tracks and DJ mixes out. Get on Soundcloud and find ways to release tracks and get them to DJ’s.

Ian

Reply

The New LoFi June 26, 2011 at 2:02 am

Amazing article and great site. We’re glad to see musicians value the role of music blogs. Most of us don’t get paid for blogging; we do it for the love of music. Keep up the great work with this site. We’re going to check out more of your article for sure. Cheers.

Reply

Dboy August 11, 2011 at 6:20 am

TWO THUMBS WAY THE FCK UP.

Reply

Ian August 11, 2011 at 10:22 am

Thanks!

Reply

indiemusicfan October 31, 2011 at 2:39 am

I would also like to personally add that busking is another good way of getting noticed. That’s right, I’m talking about getting your music out there by playing on the streets. Talk to your local city hall and ask them about a busking permit, and find a good spot in town that allows people to play on the streets! (If you have about 3 to 4 members in your band, it’s cheaper to pay for the permit when you all chip in)

For all you bands, you can now get those rad portable battery-powered speakers, so you can plug in your guitar, vocal microphone, bass, and other instruments that have a quarter-inch cable input. Add a decent mike stand and you’re all set to go!

Reply

Ian October 31, 2011 at 9:03 am

Thanks indiemusicfan

Can’t argue with your suggestion. You never know what will bring you new fans or an opportunity and setting up in the street develops your balls!

I’d try doing it to promote forthcoming shows as well.

Ian

Reply

J Watkins February 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm

“Now he makes more money from his music career than if he had signed to a major – by a factor of 20 or more”

How do you know???

This is a good article with some common sense advice but to claim you know how much money, or more money an artist makes is both inaccurate and immature..you’ve reviewed there contracts? there bank statments? lol..there are alot of variables in an artist’s income.. both indie and those signed to majors..to throw out an inane number as 20 times more is pretty lame.. learn alittle more about music business before giving advice.

Reply

Ian February 19, 2012 at 10:01 pm

Hi J

I know because I know people who work at his management company and having been a music lawyer for 20 years I have seen hundreds of deals of every description which is what qualifies me to make the statements I make. If I knew any more about the music business than I already do, my head would explode.

To be fair to your comment, what I hoped to convey was that, in that particular case, Pretty Lights retains all his rights and thereby is not giving up. in real terms 95% of the gross income on record sales, which is a ballpark evaluation of the true cost of a record deal including mechanical royalty provisions. In other words, he makes 20 times what he would under a record deal if he were signed to a major. You can argue that it can be as little as 10 times but the real range of income share given up in a record deal is somewhere between 9/10 and 19/20, if you follow my logic.

That he actually gives his music away for free and monetizes the experience is, however, the real story and one that NO record comapny would have allowed. In truth he owes ALL his success and money to NOT being signed to a label as it is that freedom that has allowed him to make any money at all from his live work.

Reply

Christopher May 28, 2012 at 5:29 pm

WOW! Thanks for all this information. Your bound to get some wicked Karma out of this!
:)

Reply

davtheelectronicmusicproducer.wordpress.com August 1, 2013 at 6:40 am

Hi there, just wanted to say, I loved this blog
post. It was funny. Keep on posting!

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 32 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: