By, Wendy Day
Every artist or product needs rabid fans. These are the die hard fans who believe in you or your product, and support you unconditionally. They engage with you on social media, they pay for your music, they come see your live shows, they buy and wear your t-shirts and hats, and most importantly, they talk about you to other people.
I am from the school of thought that word of mouth is very, very important. It’s the #1 sales tool that we have. If someone I know and trust has a good experience with a product, chances are good that I will too. That’s word of mouth, and that sells more products and builds more loyal fans than anything else. I’ll even go so far as to say that advertising is meant to build and expand word of mouth. I try a restaurant, I love it, so I tell all my friends how good it is. Ditto with music. My goal as a marketer is to get people to notice my artist, listen to the music, and then tell everyone they know while they support the artist.
I want the fans to sign up for email blasts, join the fan club, follow and interact with the artist on social media, attend the shows, buy and listen to the music, make their own videos of the songs, and tell everyone they know about the artist. If you can find a fan and turn them into a rabid fan, you might have a fan forever.
I read a great article in 2008 by Kevin Kelly, a founding editor of Wired Magazine (here it is: http://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/ ). He believes that an artist can survive and build a foundation with 1,000 True Fans (read the article to understand his point). And while my goal is always to build more than a thousand rabid fans for my clients, the tipping point for most of my rapper clients has been around 1,000 rabid fans in any one area. That’s the number where shows begin to sell out (most rabid fans bring a friend with them to a show), feedback on music starts to become beneficial (meaning you can get a decent consensus about which songs are favored over others), and the artist begins to feel the love often inspiring him or her to work even harder. Obviously, only a percentage of fans will interact with the artist at any given time. But once the artist reaches that point, the fans seem to multiply exponentially, provided the music is exceptional. [If you aren’t familiar with the “Long Tail” theory mentioned in Kelly’s article, this explains it: http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_anderson_of_wired_on_tech_s_long_tail?language=en ]
I’m headed to Kansas City. I’m taking a friend out to meet Tech N9ne and Travis O’ Guin, and tour the Strange Music compound. Tech N9ne has rabid fans. He has built his following since 1997, one fan at a time, into a $32 million a year empire ( http://www.forbes.com/sites/zackomalleygreenburg/2013/09/24/tech-n9ne-hip-hops-secret-mogul/ ). Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift, and Drake have rabid fans. If you insult any of them on social media, out pop the fans to shred you alive with words–thousands of them like Pirhanas. Some artists even organize their rabid fans into cult-like groups: Nicki Minaj calls her rabid fans her “Barbz,” Justin Beiber has “Beliebers,” Lady Gaga has “Little Monsters,” Chris Brown has “Team Breezy,” etc, making being a fan seem cool while offering a sense of belonging. Whether rabid fans help build a financial empire or a gang, they are the key to success for an artist. (Insane Clown Posse’s fans were deemed a “gang” by law enforcement as the Jugaloos began to create their own following and events. Enlighten yourself here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/juggalos-gang/ ).
The amazing thing about Tech N9ne and the Strange Music Team, is that they have built up their own companies all as off shoots of Tech N9ne’s music and the record label. The Strange Music compound consists of a studio, a warehouse to store the merchandise from China that they sell to fans, a printer to print everything affiliated with Strange Music, all of their own touring vehicles–23 buses, vans, boxed trucks, and RVs, and of course the record label offices. For a company generating over $32 million a year, they sure know how to reduce expenses. Instead of farming out work to vendors, they become their own vendor. Then, when they aren’t producing for Strange Music, they can outsource to others in need of their services. Mo’ money!
As an artist, this is a wonderful goal, but until you get to that point, you need to begin building your own rabid fans. You do so by offering exceptional music with great sound quality, surrounded by quality graphics and marketing and promotions that best express who you are as an artist. You need to stand out. This industry is VERY oversaturated. You need to stand apart from everyone else. And most importantly you need to outwork everyone else. This means meeting fans, attending events, hanging promotional posters, distributing music hand to hand, signing autographs, doing meet and greets, networking, going to clubs and college campuses, doing interviews, befriending DJs and tastemakers, shooting videos, touring regionally, securing radio spins, getting blog placements and media attention, performing as much as possible, and interacting with potential fans on social media–ALL social media. And then you wake up the next day and do it all over again in the next town until you’ve saturated a 5-7 state area (depending on your budget).
As a consultant, I have clients who want to build their careers and their fan bases. I plan out a marketing plan (what we want to do to market and promote the artist), a budget (how much will we spend and on what), and a calendar (when we plan to do everything). Do we plan on releasing a song a week? Or an album a month? Or a video every other week? Once we figure out the music release schedule (music is our product), we also figure out the cost for everything it will take to keep up this release schedule. Plus, we figure out who we want to reach and in what area (the target market).
A great place to start, if you are doing this yourself, is to make a list of everything you want to accomplish in order to market and promote yourself. I always plan everything out on paper so I have a list of what needs to be implemented. I then also have a to-do list to price out. I figure out the quantities of everything that I need and find the places to obtain everything. After I get the prices of the stuff I need for my campaign, I know how much money I will need. This tells me the budget that I need in order to succeed. If I can’t live without anything on the list, I go get the proper funding via an investor. Sometimes an investor tells me a budget maximum before I start, and then I figure out what’s affordable within that budget, and I plan around that.
My goal is to help artists make money while building fame, so I monetize everything we do. I put a budget together that tells me when we can expect money to come back in to the company. This is very challenging because it’s hard to predict when a song will catch on, if it catches on. The bulk of my value isn’t just knowing how to work a successful project and whom to hire to accomplish that, but what to do if things don’t go as planned–how long to work a single before moving on to another one, which songs to take to radio if it even makes sense to go to radio. What to do next if the radio record doesn’t react. It’s a delicate balance to build a career because you need to worry about the short term income to keep the project afloat and the investor happy, AND the long term plans that most benefit an artist’s career. It’s a thankless job: when it works well my clients think it’s because the artist is so talented, and when it’s a struggle it seems to be all my fault. LoL
Once you have the plan on paper and begin implementing it, you can tweak it here and there, as you go along, to make it even better. But you will notice as fans increase along the way, both on the Internet and in real life, building a fan base is really a process of building one fan at a time. Just like a politician, there’s a lot of shaking hands and kissing babies, not to mention taking pictures with fans and signing autographs. Fans have to like you. And after they really get to know you and your music, some will turn into rabid fans. THEY are the focus. Treat them well, give them extra access and extra perks, and they will follow your career the entire way. And that destination is up to you. You can do this as long as you want–remain passionate, humble, grateful, and kind, and it will last as long as you stay relevant. And again, that’s all up to you and how badly you want this. Now, go get it!!