In all you do as a DIY musician to spread the word about your music, there’s one key secret you need to remember: your fans want a piece of you. They want connection.
What does this mean, exactly? While your music is definitely art, in the music business (like it or not) you are marketing a product—a product that consumers want to own. It is this sense of ownership that causes music fans to come back and buy your music again and again.
But it’s even more than that: your fans don’t just want to own your music—in a sense, they want to own you. This doesn’t mean they literally own you, that you are somehow enslaved to your fans—obviously, nobody owns you. But your best and most loyal fans are the ones who somehow have been made to feel like they have a personal stake in your music, and consequently, in your success. This is the very dynamic that has made Kickstarter such a powerful tool for musicians (most recently demonstrated by Amanda Palmer raising over half a million dollars in a few days on Kickstarter). When fans feel they have a stake in your success, they’ll put their money into it. The stronger the sense of ownership and connection your fans feel with you, the better.
When I say, “Your fans want a piece of you”, the picture in my mind is of the teen heartthrob band or artist who can’t go out in public without getting mobbed. It’s a dangerous (yet somewhat funny) picture where fans are literally trying to tear the clothes off the celebrity. This is an extreme example, but it flows from the same dynamic: fans are literally trying to walk away with the piece of the artist. In a far more civilized setting, this dynamic is what fuels the fans’ obsession with autographs, or with special edition merchandise. It’s why a fan will spend $30 on a cheaply made tour t-shirt. All these things are ways in which people claim a tangible sense of ownership and connection with what you’re doing. Artists who find creative ways to form and maintain these connections with their audience are the ones who are making a living—even the ones who aren’t backed by a label.
One of the reasons that social networking has become such a critical part of the music business is that it forms a new layer of direct connection with fans that wasn’t there before. This is especially important for DIY musicians, but even major artists have tapped into this reality (Taylor Swift is approaching 14 million Twitter followers, for example). But in a recent article on Hypebot, artist Robin Davey warns that reducing social networking to a formula for distribution is missing the point:
“When music is channeled into a social tool, it immediately loses ownership…Bands now value their own and others worth on the amount of Facebook likes or video plays they have. But these are social engagements, not personal engagements, by which I mean they do not leave a lasting piece of the artist in the engager’s personal collection.”
Davey also points out in the article that Internet streaming, while certainly making it convenient for people to have access to music, somehow takes away the sense of ownership that comes from having a CD in one’s personal collection. He suggests that this need for ownership is the driving factor in the recent resurgence in vinyl record sales. I agree with his logic.
The point is not to avoid social media and streaming outlets; certainly you should make the most of them. But musicians who rely on these things simply to sell their music are making a mistake. Your fans don’t simply want to buy your music for its own sake: they want connection. They want a piece of you. That’s what your record represents to them. The more you keep this in mind, and the more you think in this direction, the more likely you are to make a good living in this business.
In part two of this series, we’ll talk about some practical ways to flesh this out.
(Photo credit: Libertinus/Flickr)