If there’s anything a DIY musician should know in this day and age, is that connection is a key to success. We’re not just talking about industry connections, but also connection with your audience. Our culture craves connection more than ever, and the most successful musical artists are the ones who have found that connection with the people who love their music. In this piece adapted from The Developing Artist, we explore this concept more in detail.
In this changing musical landscape, never has there been a more critical time for musical artists to make a direct connection with their audience. This is especially true for DIY artists, but you also see bigger name acts moving this direction as well. This is one reason why social networks like Facebook and Twitter have become so much a part of the marketing strategy for bands.
Your fans are your bread and butter—they are the ones who are literally going to keep you in business. Most of us musicians don’t have the luxury of having a label or marketing machine behind us, but the good news is, if we’re willing to put in some effort ourselves, we don’t have to wait for that to happen. If you’re a good musician, or have a good act, there is an audience out there that wants to hear your music. You just have to identify and connect with that audience—find out who they are, and how to reach them.
Now, there are some who approach this from the standpoint of identifying their demographic first, then trying to tailor their music and public image to appeal to that target market. Unfortunately, we see this happening a lot with the major labels, and as a result, a lot of talented artists get sort of lost within a public persona that has been designed for them by their marketing team, all in an attempt to sell records to a specific group of people.
But I’d like to suggest a more organic approach—and if you’re a DIY musician, you really have a lot of freedom to explore this option. Instead of trying to tailor your music to a certain group—just be who you are. Put some stuff out there, play some shows, and see what kind of people your music initially attracts. Then you can make some adjustments and fine-tune, if need be. In other words, don’t define your music by your audience—define your audience by your music.
Identifying and connecting with your audience can take many forms, but it really boils down to those two words:
IDENTIFYING: Discovering who likes your music—how old they are, what their tastes are in clothes, food, musical styles, etc.
CONNECTING: Finding out where these people hang out (physically and virtually), so you can put yourself in front of them.
Let’s take a closer look at both of these elements.
IDENTIFYING YOUR AUDIENCE
How can you discover the people group who likes your music and are potential fans? Here are a few tips:
- Take a look at who is coming to your shows. If you can see them from the stage, really try to see who is out there. (You can even do that fun thing bands are doing nowadays, taking a picture or video of the audience from the stage.) Are they mostly male or female? How old would you say most of them are? How are they dressed?
- Talk with fans after the show. I mean have conversations with them. Ask about their interests, where they shop, what their hobbies are, where they work. Are they in school? Are they online? Don’t be probing or overly personal—just make conversation and show an interest. (Most people like to talk about themselves.) Making this (and the previous tip) a habit over time, you’ll start to see some trends, some common threads among the people coming out to see you.
- If you sell your music online or have a website (which you should), invite visitors to take an optional poll with general, non-personal information (e.g., age bracket, gender, zip code, and so forth). It’s not completely scientific, but you’ll get a better idea of who is visiting your website.
CONNECTING WITH YOUR AUDIENCE
One huge reason why you’re trying to get all this information from your current fans, besides just solidifying your connection with those fans, is that you’re trying to get new fans. If you discover, for example, that most of your fans are 18-25 and go to college, chances are that other college students between 18-25 will like your music, too! If your fans are mainly aged 35-50, female, and parents of teenagers, that’s going to tell you a few things about your potential fan base, as well. Here are just a few examples of some practical and creative ways to use this information:
- If you discover that most of your fans like to go to smaller venues, coffee shops or even house concerts, you’re probably wasting time (right now) trying to land the opening slot for the upcoming Mumford and Sons show. Try to get a show at one of those coffee shops, or see if one of your fans will sponsor a house concert! Not very glamorous, perhaps, but it will help you get to where your fans are.
- If your audience is younger and spends most of your concert texting on their SmartPhones, and you don’t have a Facebook Page and Twitter account, you’re wasting a huge opportunity. Get yourself an online presence, and do some fun stuff online (for example, do contests and giveaways on Facebook). Create a buzz online about your next show or your upcoming release, or whatever your next event is. (If, by contrast, your music appeals to an over-50 crowd, you probably aren’t going to connect with many fans online.)
- If you find out a lot of your fans like to shop at a certain mall, or a certain store, here’s where you can get creative. Arrange a meeting with the store manager and see if they’d be willing to host some sort of in-store event. If they aren’t tied up with corporate red tape, it’s a bit easier, especially if you can spin it so they can get more customers into their store. (The worst they can do is say no!) Make an event of it, give away merch, play a song or two. Always have a mailing list handy.
These are just a few of the creative ways you can identify and connect with your audience. The more you know about the kind of person your music attracts, the more you will be able to increase that audience, build your fan base (and fan loyalty), and work to get your career off the ground.