In a perfect world, this should be easy, following a natural course of events. You get the gigs, people hear and love your music, and they become fans. You take their names, addresses, and e-mail info, build a fan mailing list, and soon you’re a popular, in-demand act whom everyone is clamouring for. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy and it doesn’t always follow a natural order. Artists lose momentum, have to drop out of performing for awhile, change styles of music, change groups-a thousand things can affect the upward trajectory of a career. In my line of music, which is performing for children and families, it’s an unfortunate fact that my audience keeps outgrowing me, making it extremely hard to build up fans. Even though the kids and their parents love my work, sooner or later they abandon my music to listen to the latest pop music for the young teen set. I have learned to accept this. The good thing is, there is always a new crop of fresh talent coming up the pike a fresh new audience waiting to be turned on to quality music.
long as you But my situation is fairly unusual and peculiar to the children’s music genre For the most part, your fans hopefully will stay loyal to you as don’t do anything really radical like switch from classical to rap, although Yo Yo Ma has experimented with other genres to no ill effect. Moving from pop to classical standards or musical theatre seems to work well, however witness the fans of Paul McCartney, Elton John, Linda Ronstadt, Rod Stewart, and Billy Joel enjoying those artists’ forays into other styles.
Anyway, the key to building a fan base is to be consistent, let your fans know when and where you playing, perform as often as you can, and offer them some thing new mixed in with the old. Most people like to hear the familiar pieces that attracted them in the first place, and they won’t mind-indeed, they’ll prefer if you continue to play your older stuff. Some great examples of this are the Rolling Stones or Yes. Their fans would be sorely disappointed if they didn’t get to hear and sing along with “Satisfaction” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Justin Timberlake of ‘N Sync confirms this and says the group won’t skimp on performing its older hits. “We know the fans want to see it, even if we’re singing them for the thousandth time. I know if I see the Stones, I want to see them do “Satisfaction” (italics mine). But by the same token, you do want to offer your fans your newest material. You should never rest on your laurels, because you need to grow and stretch. Again, ‘N Sync’s Lance Bass says, “We’re lucky we get to keep doing new things. You can only do so much before it starts getting repetitive.” Of course, there are plenty of acts that just do their old stuff on the oldies circuit, and they make a darn good living at it, too. But we are talking about you, an emerging artist who wants to build a new fan base. Fans who come to your shows again and again deserve to hear something new, as well as your old stuff. This goes for cover bands, classical artists, and every musician, really.
Your fans will not be able to support you if they don’t know when and where you are playing. Read the Marketing and Promotion chapter you don’t want to market yourself just to industry wonks, but also to your fans, of course. Be sure to compile a mailing list and then be faithful about sending out notices of your gigs regularly. To cut costs, you can compile an e-mail list. And remind people to visit your Web site often (you do have one, don’t you?), where your performance schedule should be updated regularly.
It goes without saying that the more you perform in public, the faster your fan mailing list will grow. If you only go out once a month, you won’t be get ting as many names as someone gigging every day. But even so, you can ask your fans to bring their friends to the next gig, to spread the word, or to give you the name and addresses of people they think would also like your music and want to be notified when you’re playing. I also know artists who share their fan list with other musicians whose music is similar to theirs. The reasoning here is that if you like Mary Smith’s music, you’re going to love me, too, because we are in the same bag.
Don’t forget to use your media mailing list (see chapter 7) to send out press releases regularly, especially if something unusual or newsworthy is happening with you. You won’t always get press, but the law of averages sug gests that you eventually will get into a publication’s calendar of gig listings, a highlight, or maybe even an interview or article about your work. The more people hear of you and see your name, the more “buzz” there will be about you, and hopefully your career will start its upward climb. As Michael Dunne, promotions marketing manager for the club Mulcahy’s on Long Island, says, “We’re in business, too. What happens a lot is that the artists are very good but no one knows them yet. It’s expensive to open for the night, and it’s a big undertaking to do promotion and marketing for an unproven [band]…. We’ll let bands develop first, and if we see there’s a steady crowd seeing them every week, we’ll try them.”
A wonderful opportunity to build your fan base is to open for a better known but similar act. You can figure that if you are a talented jazz musician like Pat Metheny, then his fans will also love you if you have the good fortune to appear on the same bill. This can happen especially at festivals geared toward a particular style. It’s amazing how quickly word can spread and how many musicians get their big break this way.
And lastly, always be nice to your fans. That sounds like it’s a given, but you know when you are tired, it’s late, you just want to pack up and go home, you have a splitting headache, and an audience member wants to come up and tell you all about the time he went to buy his guitar that looks just like yours and the salesperson tried to rip him off and where did you get yours and how much was it blah blah blah? The temptation is to blow him off because he’s weird or whatever, but everyone, especially those who love your music, deserves to be treated with respect and to be given some of your time. These are your admirers, or maybe they’re lonely. Whatever the case may be, you won’t be building anything if you treat your listeners disrespectfully or with indifference. We all know of divas, both male and female, who won’t autograph for fans, want to keep their distance, do the show, take the money, and run. The artists I admire most are those who take the time to talk with the people who wait for them after the show, and make each person feel special. Those are the artists who deserve my loyalty and money. I don’t care how awesomely talented an artist is, how great her music-if she is not a decent person, I won’t support the music. So, treat your fans well, and they will return it to you.