As an artist, building an audience is one of the hardest and most important things to do, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Here we look at helpful comprehensive beginner's guide to successfully growing an audience from the ground up.
Guest post from the TuneCore Blog
[Editors Note:The following is an installment in our series of a partnership between TuneCore and students at Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business at Belmont University. In an attempt to offer new insight and educational content for independent artists, we’re excited to give these music industry professionals of the future a journalistic platform.]
Branding is the process of clarifying who you are as an artist and what your goals are. A strong brand can capture a potential fan’s attention and make it so they remember you and connect with your work. Aspects of a brand that resonates strongly with listeners and fans include image, style, likeability, and what the artist stands for on and off stage.
Branding finds ways to market the artist that differentiates them from others since audiences typically want something similar to what they’re used to, but also unique at the same time. Artists, along with songs, speak for people who can’t.
Ultimately, the goal of branding is to have a listener go and search for the artist’s website or social media after they hear the artist’s music. Once discovered, the story and the visuals should match up to that specific artist. You want the listener to be able to understand and/or relate.
Networking is the process of developing mutually beneficial relationships with other business people. In an industry founded on “not what you know, but who you know”, it is imperative to build relationships and establish contacts whether as an artist, artist manager, or other industry professional. Imagine you’re an artist or their manager and you need a new producer or a photographer to shoot the album cover. Without a lengthy contact list full of people who can help or people who know someone who can help, your goal of success could become stagnate.
Historically, the only way to make connections was to find your way to one of the entertainment hot spots in the U.S., mainly Nashville, Los Angeles, or New York. With the rise, however, of social media and other professional networking websites you can start building those relationships from wherever your nearest opportunities may be. While Facebook is great for reading unwanted political arguments and watching dogs fail to catch tennis balls, it’s also one of the strongest tools an up and coming artist has to be introduced to the marketplace.
Facebook’s “Groups” feature opens up an otherwise isolated individual to a large network of like-minded entertainment professionals looking for opportunities to further their careers. There are all sorts of regional music groups for just about every little back road in America and it’s here where you can find potential bandmates, potential gigs, graphic designers, or maybe even studios – all of which probably won’t turn you into a megastar, but may help you lay the foundations necessary to further your career.
Networking becomes even more powerful when you’re able to grow these relationships in person. While establishing these connections online has become extremely simple, the music industry is a social industry and therefore, it isn’t until you connect face-to-face that people will be more willing to help you out or connect you with their own network. When networking, always remember to be yourself; try not to make it obvious that you are networking. Look for an authentic conversation that can bring value to a potential relationship. When reaching out or beginning a conversation with someone in the business, make sure you’re relaxed, do your homework on the individual and be open to connecting with as many people as possible
When you are reaching out to ask to meet with someone, the easiest way to do it is to simply ask them to coffee. Most people love (and need) coffee so it’s unlikely that won’t respond. Another option may be to drop by their office to chat for a few minutes. This can be more intimidating, but it may be more convenient for the person you want to meet. Aside from the more formal ways of setting up a time to meet, networking happens at industry events, parties, at grocery stores, on the street, and everywhere in between. Wherever you decide to meet up, your goal is to walk away having built a positive relationship with someone. Get to know them on a more personal level. Ask them about their experiences in the industry, what did they enjoy and dislike about the industry, ask for tips, and share your own goals.
Collaboration is essential in building your musical career. It helps you broaden your network, grow creatively, exercise your artistic muscles, and gives you a contributing role in the community. You’re probably not starting out with a wide network of artists that you can consistently write or play with so it’s important to get comfortable reaching out and asking people to collaborate. It may seem awkward or intimidating at the beginning, but remember that other serious artists would also jump at the opportunity to gain experience and stretch their musicianship.
To begin collaborating, look for artists in your genre who have a similarly sized following and then began to build those relationships. Invite them to write or perform with you. Suggest opening for one another or sharing a writer’s round. This will get you comfortable with approaching people and developing these collaborative relationships. Look into joining organizations designed to help you make these connections.
In addition to gaining experience playing with other talented musicians, there are several benefits of collaborating with an up-and-coming artist. Writing and/or performing with an artist outside your circle can help introduce you to other musicians, industry professionals, and potential fans. Through networking, you increase your chances of getting record deals, more collaborative opportunities, and aid in building your reputation in the music industry.
Below are steps necessary to book your own live shows:
- Having a professional email is essential, even if it’s just a Gmail account with your artist name.
- Compile a list of small venues in your area that includes an email, phone number and contact name.
- Look for potential opening slots on shows that are already on a venue’s schedule.
- Create a pitch about yourself for the venue that includes your name, social media sites (use hyperlinks in the email), links to your music (i.e. Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube, BandCamp, etc), stats such as top streams of your songs or the number of video views and finally, include any artist names or producers they would recognize who you previously have opened for or worked with.
- Send an email to the venue including information and a selection of dates you are available to play.
- Be persistent. Venues receive tons of emails a day and they can easily be lost and overlooked. Don’t be afraid to follow up.
- Be realistic! If you would pull a crowd of 30 people for a venue that holds 200, you’re unlikely to be given a weekend show date. Ask for a mid-week night for your first show or look around for coffee shop and bars.
- When the venue gets back to you, they will most likely ask what price you want for a guarantee. If you are unsure of what to offer it’s acceptable to ask what the they have in mind and go from there. Don’t undersell yourself.
- Once a deal has been made make sure there is a contract drafted up and the agreement is set in stone. Read every word of a contract and ask questions to make sure you are clear on what you are signing. Is the venue taking a percentage of your merch sales? Are you getting a flat guaranteed amount to play or are you splitting the profits?
- Finally, create promotional flyers/photos and promote your show to send to friends, family and the surrounding community. You can find a co-headliner or opener as well, which is a great way to expose yourself to the other artist’s audience.
One of the most impactful ways of forming an audience in today’s industry is through the use of social media. An instant link to individual fans is such a powerful tool that the industry has just begun to understand over the last few years. Some of the best ways to utilize this powerful technology, include, as follows:
Know How Much to Post:
Content is what keeps the fans engaged and the numbers growing. However, particularly with Instagram, some platforms’ algorithms punish the user for spamming their followers with constant posts. A safe number to maintain high engagement and satisfy the algorithms on
Instagram is posting roughly two times per week. With this in mind, artists should try their best to mix up content with various ideas
Target Your Demographic and Create Good Consistent Content:
Utilize social media analytics to learn more about your demographics and don’t underestimate the power of data. Develop content that is interesting to the artist, but also create content that your audience wants to see and hear.
Engaging with audiences on social media is crucial in all stages of your career. A simple like, retweet, or reply comment thanking a fan for their support will go a long way to developing a following. Make fans feel special, because they are. Another great way to engage with fans is to do live streams and allow them to ask questions in real time. Fans will truly feel like they have a special connection with you, the artist. That will get them more excited to share your journey as an artist.