The Internet Age has revolutionized the music industry and made things a lot easier for the independent musician. Record companies used to offer distribution, recording, tour planning, etc. and that’s what made many artists want a deal so much. Now that you can do all of those things on your own and distribute digitally, a record company has to do a whole lot more to convince an independent artist to sign with a label…most major labels also expect that you’ve already done this for yourself before they’ll even look at you.
Another benefit of using the internet as an independent artist is that you can foster a direct connection with your fans and supporters without any middleman.
Recently, I was reading 1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly. It’s about how the long tail benefits the modern day artist, showing that you don’t really need that smash hit to be successful. All you really need are 1,000 true fans (who will buy all your music and t-shirts and drive 200 miles to see you play) to sustain yourself. The nice thing is all this focus on your true fans can keep you true to yourself and inspired.
It got me thinking about my own fans. I’m a musician, and I use a combination of Twitter, Blogging, Facebook, and MailChimp to stay in touch with them all. Here’s how I do it.
- Twitter: Ok, I’ll admit it. I didn’t "get" Twitter at first. I thought it was just a bunch of "status updates," and who really wants to know that I’m currently brushing my teeth or eating a bowl of curry or walking the dog? As it turns out, lots of folks do. Musicians who "tweet" well know that a lot of fans want to be your friends, too. They also know that true fans want to be the first to know when you’re making an appearance somewhere, selling pre-orders for a new project, or giving away personalized merchandise. Twitter can be an awesome resource for meeting other musicians and finding new places to play or publications to review you. (@amandapalmer is amazing at using Twitter as a career booster, so check her out if you’re looking for tips)
- Facebook: Little things like commenting on a fan’s wall on Facebook to thank them for coming to a show, announcing in your status where you’re playing that night, and creating an event for people to RSVP to can be the difference between playing to the barista and playing to a packed coffeehouse. Fans want to be able to have direct contact with you, so making yourself accessible and your profile public is a great way to nurture your True Fans.
- Blogging: I have a blog about songwriting that I maintain. While it started as a mostly self-indulgent project to help me explore my own writing, I quickly realized it was a great way to keep in touch with other musicians and to share tricks and tips about the process. Just as staying in touch with fans is important, networking and sharing with other musicians can help you improve your craft, find similar acts to co-bill with, and help you find out where the best places to play in a town you’ve never been to are. A blog is also another great way to get your name "out there" and establish you as a professional in online communities. I often end a blog post with a question for my readers, which gets a conversation going and helps me get to know them. Again, this is all about connection and focusing on the people who support you.
- MailChimp: Last but not least… I use MailChimp in tons of ways, and I feel like I’m always finding new ways to stay in touch with fans through it. If you are an independent musician, your mailing list is the single most important resource available to you. Where CD sales at a show equal a quick buck and some gas money, your mailing list is a long-term investment in the people who support you. In addition to their first name and email address, I always make "city" and "state" required fields on my MailChimp signup form. That way, when I am planning a tour, I know which cities I have the most supporters in, and where it would benefit me to play the most. I can also segment a campaign to people in a specific location to let them know I’m coming back to see them. It’s also a great ego-boost to get an email notification every time someone new signs up via my website!
Recently I tweaked a MailChimp form and used it for pre-orders for my new recording project. As further incentive, I put the folks who ordered on a special mailing list, where they’ll be getting updates from my studio experience. They will also get the album before anyone else does and have personalized thank you notes from me. It’s the least I can do for the people who allow me to keep doing what I love.