7 Steps To Growing A Massive Die-Hard Fan Base
August 4th, 2021 by Graci Phillips
As an independent musician, ask yourself this question:
"What is the hardest part about creating a career with your music?"
If you ask your bandmates, other musicians, or even your mom, they’ll all have a similar answer. Building a fanbase is without a doubt the hardest part.
With decades of hype around innovations like Napster, mp3s, streaming, and now VR and AR, it’s no secret that shiny object syndrome is real in the music business.
However, the age old question always remains: "How do you create and sustain an ecosystem of fans that will support, purchase, and most importantly, last a long time?"
Read on to unpack 7 steps to growing a massive fan base that you can begin leveraging for your music career today!
Building awareness about your music is the first step to growing a massive fan base.
Throughout the history of the industry, musicians have sought out numerous ways to introduce themselves to new potential fans. Think touring (expensive/time-consuming), radio (controlled by gatekeepers and pay-to-play), and (relentless, time-consuming) social media.
Traditionally, only major acts with record label backing had the capital and influence to break into radio as an introduction and discovery platform.
Smaller acts hit the road and used social media to try and directly introduce themselves to new audiences.
But, research into the psychology of human interaction reveals a potential shift in the focus about what it means to introduce yourself to a new audience.
Success in marketing and sales requires us to look at the way that humans interact with one another. In his book Strategy, war historian Liddell Hart stresses the superiority of indirect approaches in everything from war and the proliferation of new ideas to marketing, sales, and building relationships.
Rather than making a direct appeal to a sale, a more successful approach to building trust, respect, and friendship starts with subtlety.
Simply put, the best introduction is an indirect introduction. On social media, a recommendation from a friend goes a lot further than a random cold message spamming your Soundcloud link.
With Facebook Ads, you can reach a large number of new potential fans quickly and affordably. More importantly, you can position your advertised content to blend in with the regular viral content being shared on Facebook already. The platform has put introduction power back in the hands of independent musicians.
Indirect introductions to your audiences can be powered online through seamless native advertising.
Compared to the disruptive banners and boxes of traditional digital advertising, native ads allow you to make introductions and build trust and engagement over time.
Native ads are designed to match the style of the platform (such as the Facebook Newsfeed) with a strategy that is subtle enough to not disrupt the user experience. In this way, you can bypass the "ad-detection" radar of the average social media audience and approach potential fans without being pushy or threatening.
In our agency, the main pathway to thousands of new listeners is our Fan Finder campaigns. Fan Finder(s) harness the power of native advertising and the ‘indirect introduction’ to subtly and indirectly introduce your music to new listeners in a way that makes them feel like they found you!
Educating Your Newly Introduced Fans
Once two people have been introduced, especially if indirectly, they’re off to a good start. But, before most relationships continue, it’s necessary to exchange information. Unfortunately, people don’t just give out their contact information to any person they meet. Often, people need to know about you before they will take that next step.
We call this “Education”, and it’s important because people need to know that they align with your present thoughts and past experiences before they can safely develop a friendship with you.
Education is a crucial step in building a massive fanbase. Education hones in further on the process of forming a tight bond with newly introduced fans (lightly) over the course of time.
Educating your fans simply means making them aware of who you are and what you’re doing. This is often handled through tweeting, Facebook posts, instagram, and YouTube, to name a few.
Having a solid social presence will aid listeners who are deciding to educate themselves. For those that don’t, you can get creative about education focused campaigns.
Ultimately, educating your fans creates an ongoing conversation to show ways that you are similar to them. It allows you to align yourself with your fanbase and sets the tone for a continued relationship.
Have you ever seen other artists or bands collecting email addresses at their merch tables?
Do you have an email newsletter signup form on your website?
Both of these tactics are aimed at getting permission to keep in contact with your fans, which is another step to building a massive fanbase.
As mentioned above, no listener wants to be spammed with random links, messages, or emails.
Instead, staying connected after getting explicit permission allows you to continue communicating with your fledgling fanbase over time.
Relationships of any kind are unlikely to go deeper until two people exchange contact information. There’s simply no way to keep in touch with someone in a personal way without a direct method of contact.
To confirm this, look no further than a real world equivalent: dating and asking someone for their phone number! Without a way to keep in contact with someone (texting) and make plans to hang out in the future, the relationship has little opportunity to grow.
So, turning attention back to your music, how do you get explicit consent and build a list of your new fans?
You start by developing a campaign that offers high perceived value upfront.
Think about the dating equivalent mentioned above. In the real world, you might get to know someone after being introduced by a mutual friend. After a nice chat, you may exchange phone numbers so that you can hang out again.
Exchanging numbers feels more natural when there is a legitimate reason to do so, when an offer has been made.
Which of these scenarios sounds more enticing to you?
“Hey, let me get your phone number so we can hang out sometime.”
“Get this! I’ve got two tickets to see [insert band name] next week. I know you were talking about how much you like the band’s new music... I’d love if you’d join me, can I have your number so we can figure out a plan?”
You likely chose option two... but why? Well, because the permission stage is way more successful when there is some type of ethical bribe involved.
Taking this concept back to your music, one strategy that we recommend is the How To Profit From A Launch Campaign. This release strategy brings people deeper into the the fold of your music.
In it, you build a retargeting campaign to reach out directly to fans that have been introduced to you and educated on what your music is all about.
Then, rather than releasing your album on a streaming platform like Spotify, you offer fans direct access to your new music for free in an interactive launch that takes place over the course of a few days.
The launch includes more than just your music as you interweave bonus content into the release for extra value.
All of this is your ethical bribe, as fans can get access to your new record by opting in with their email address! Need help putting your bribe together? How To Grow Your Permission List takes all these concepts and lays them out simply. Learn how to consistently and reliably grow your email list by crafting the perfect offer for your fans!
Nurturing Your Relationships
Nurturing the relationships that you build with fans is key not only to growing, but also sustaining a large following.
What do we mean by nurturing?
The real world equivalent to nurturing your fanbase is “hanging out”. To deepen any relationship, people need to spend time together and do things that they enjoy. This adds value and depth to the relationship.
Nurturing, or “doing cool stuff” with your fans, is a way to continually keep the value scale of fan relationships on an even playing field.
From a psychological perspective, there is always some element of “what’s in it for me?” in every relationship. Relationships with fans need to include a healthy dose of give and take to be perceived as valuable.
Imagine, for a second, a “goodwill vault”.
This vault is filled with positive experiences and value that is built up over time as you build a relationship with each fan.
The nurturing stage is like a deposit into this vault, while making offers (for instance, asking someone to subscribe to your list or buy a product) is akin to a withdrawal. You want to always strive to have a positive balance in the “goodwill vault” with your fans.
With that in mind, the equation is simple. Every offer you make whether it’s a new album, merch, or a tour (each “withdrawal”) needs to have value freely given afterwards (nurturing) to keep a positive balance and the “goodwill vault” full!
Making an Offer
Speaking of offers, the types of products that you offer to your fans are equally as important as the nurturing that you enables you to ask your fans to purchase.
It’s helpful to think about your offers in context of the relationship building steps covered throughout this article so far.
Rather than viewing purchases as purely transactional exchanges of product and currency, think about them instead in terms of real life human relationships.
Each offer is akin to a “favor” between friends. When you’re at the point where you’re ready to make an offer to a fan, you should have accumulated so much value in their mind that taking you up on your offer just seems like a simple favor.
Just how a good friend will be open to lending you $10, you want to be in a place where your fans are ready to affirm your relationship by picking up a copy of your new album, a t-shirt, or whatever it is you’re offering.
This concept of mutually beneficial exchanges between two people is known as reciprocity and it is a key puzzle piece to successful digital marketing.
The crucial part of this step to building a massive fanbase is to pay close attention to the positioning of your offer.
Rather than making a basic offer, such as a CD or a download on iTunes, focus on positioning your offer to be unique and personalized.
Doing so allows fans to think critically about whether they want to purchase and take into consideration all the value that you’ve built up over time (remember the “goodwill vault”?).
Think about special pre-order or merch bundles, exclusive signed copies of your new album, and limited edition all-access tickets. Or, maybe you even have a box of old EPs lying around that you never sold? Those may not feel super sexy to you, but they can be a great asset to convert fans into customers through a Free + Shipping & Handling funnel. In this strategy, we use existing merch to create a low barrier offer for our fans--"Just pay the shipping, and I'll send you an autographed copy of my CD for FREE!"
While this can be at low or no cost to you (though many artists are actual able to make a profit from this strategy), it reads to your fans like a generous transaction in the "goodwill vault" while also moving your back stock of inventory! Win-win.😎
As mentioned above, remember that each offer will lead you right back to the nurturing process to build upon your relationship with your fans and provide them more value.
Increase Purchases And Build Catalog
In addition to your core offers, having a diverse set of products in your catalog is another building block of a successful career and a dedicated fanbase.
This allows fans that have purchased from you once to ascend to higher levels of involvement with you and your music.
Think back to the real-world example of exchanging a favor with a friend. Some friends would be more than happy to pick up the tab at a coffee shop, but your best friends would stick their necks out to post bail and get you out of jail after a wild night in Vegas!
The difference between those favors is immense.
With that in mind, you can see that what we call ascension is actually a two-step process.
The first step is building up products that can serve as small follow up purchases. Consider smaller transactional support products such as a new t-shirts, a unique merch line, or ticket sales.
The second ascension step for a diverse product catalog includes product offerings that deepen the relationship with your fans.
For people that are heavily invested in you, product types such as VIP experiences, behind the scenes events, and other means of direct access are a good place to start.
The possibilities for these higher ticket offerings are only limited by your creativity - just don’t ask your fans to bail you out of jail! Or do. Might turn out great!
Leveraging Your Network (It’s Not What You Think)
From the time that you began your music career, well-meaning people have probably urged you to get out there and network.
For building your fanbase, leveraging your network doesn’t mean what conventional wisdom suggests.
You’re probably already familiar with this step from daily life and relationships with other people.
Popularity compounds and accumulates quickly. Insanely popular people attract more people to themselves.
This step demonstrates the Matthew Effect outlined by sociologist Robert K. Merton and Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. This principle is lifted as social law taken from the Gospel of Matthew (don't worry, we're not religious. This is just a good example🙃) which says:
The process of leveraging your network opens a positive feedback loop.
As you introduce yourself to fans and build deep relationships with them, you’ll find that more fans become aware of you as a result.
Think back to the first step covered in this article: awareness/introduction. Every step after it covers a systematic and natural approach to building relationships.
With that in mind, you can begin to see how the referral process (and the feedback loop it opens) connects each step as part of an end-to-end system.
Consider referrals as a means to introduce yourself to new fans once again. Fans that refer you are the ones that are deeply passionate about your music, the experience you create, your journey together, and the relationship you’ve built.
To add serious value to these fans, work to engineer offers and incentives that naturally orchestrate referrals and introduce you to new people. This can amplify the results of your existing campaigns - for every x number of fans you generate, y number of fans will refer in z number of fans. In this way, your entire music marketing system can grow exponentially.
Target your messaging to be pointed directly to friends of your fans. Two examples of this are two-for-one ticket sales or offering opportunities for fans to bring a friend to a show for free.
Fans that are passionate and willing to refer you to friends are also likely to advocate for you on higher levels, as long as there’s value in doing so.
Think about it this way: A friend in your network might let you know that there are job openings at his or her company. That’s a great start.
A friend willing to go the extra mile to advocate for you will get you an application, drop your resume on their bosses desk, and make sure that you get in for an interview and get the job.
When someone advocates for you, they put their reputation and status on the line because they believe in you.
Building brand advocacy is the next step that allows you to build upon the relationships with your fans.
Businesses of all kinds have brand advocates online and in the real world. Think about major organizations like Starbucks, Make-A-Wish, and Nike.
Musicians have been leveraging advocacy for years by organizing street teams and fan clubs.
The biggest key of setting up programs and campaigns that facilitate advocacy is focusing on rewarding fans that believe in you so much that they’re willing to go to bat for you.
You’ll need to create something for your fanbase that is overflowing with value, not a “take what you can and give nothing back scheme”.
So, how Does Your Process Stack Up?
These 7 steps are the building blocks to growing a massive fanbase and building a business around your music.
Now, ask yourself:
Which of these steps have you been tackling?
Maybe you’ve been taking some of these steps unknowingly.
Where could you improve?
Consider how you can leverage these steps sequentially, digitally, and on autopilot to build real relationships with a growing number of fans every day.
To tackle this feat, you need to focus on bringing your fans along a listener journey.
In our Buddy System Workbook, we cover each of these steps in further depth and give you a step-by-step process to guide you along the way. Get it for FREE and start building the fanbase you’ve always dreamed of!
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