One thing we’ve been asked a lot recently is how long will it take to build a fan base. Will it be weeks, months or years? Why do other bands seem to get big much faster?
Ariel Hyatt (the online publicist) recently said she thought it would take about 7 years for a band to build a following using social media. How fast your fan base grows depends on how big your potential audience is and how quickly and easily you can connect to this audience. Being great live and having great songs has to be a given (and if you haven’t get back to rehearsing for 6 months). Who you know in the industry and how much money is being spent on marketing and PR will make a big difference, as will putting in lots of hard work across social media.
One of the quickest ways to gain an audience is to replace an artist who is not currently touring or releasing records, like Justin Timberlake did when Michael Jackson disappeared in the early 2000′s. Timberlake came along and took Jackson’s sound and inherited his audience. Phish did the same with the Grateful Dead when Jerry Garcia passed away, there was an audience of Deadheads already there looking for someone new to follow. This makes it easy for this audience to move on to another act, the community is already there. How much did Nirvana benefit from The Pixies splitting up? How many punk bands inherited the Sex Pistols audience in 77?
If you are building a new scene it can take longer. Think about who your audience are (they are probably into a lot of the same things you are). You build it one person at a time. Every time you shake a hand, say thank you or reply to a fan email you are building your career. If you know exactly who your audience are (online and offline) and where they hang out you can be part of their community. Its interesting that the slower you build your audience the more loyal it often is, this is how you have these cult bands with a small loyal following having a longer career than the “next big thing” band that burns out when their audience moves on.
Keep an eye on technology if you want to keep your career going in the long term – its changing and online communities are constantly on the move. Building a career in music requires you to keep up with what is happening, sometimes as a musician you can feel more like a tech start up company, but this is essential in building an online following. Good press gives you credibility and works to build a following in combination with gigs (listed on Live Unsigned) and social media. Its about a long term strategy, built over years rather than months (and only then if you are doing great music).
Its worth investing in press and PR over new shiny musical equipment. Bill Gates once said “If I had 2 dollars I would spend one of them on marketing” – marketing money spent on appealing to your key niche audience will pay off, bands touring now are benefiting from money spent on advertising 30 years ago. Be careful where you spend money on marketing, always think about who your audience are and what magazines/forums/blogs they are reading.
If you are serious about having a career in music you sometimes need to consider if an investment in musical equipment or PR/advertising is better? Do you want to do music as a hobby or for a living? If you know the answer to that question you’ll be happier in the long run.