Digital streaming platforms are bringing both huge benefits and challenges to musicians. Today, the idea of an unknown artist distributing their music online and resonating with audiences instantly is very much a real thing. But while more music is being made and listened to than ever before, building real connections with listeners is a major challenge for musicians working in an unprecedented era of music saturation and competition. You might have loads of streams and followers in today’s digitally driven music industry, but making real fans is a whole other story.
Posting music isn’t enough
Let’s assume you make great music. Unless you already have a large, interested audience, simply hitting the release button on your distribution platform isn’t enough to convert casual audiences into invested fans in 2020. This is because the music you make competes with an unfathomable amount of songs floating around out there in a time where attention spans are shorter than ever. When music exists only on playlists and music discovery platforms, it’s hard for it to make a lasting impression on listeners, even if it’s good. For most musicians, sharing music isn’t enough to earn real fans.
Make it physical
Whether it’s building audiences through touring or offering your work in the form of CDs or vinyl records, adding physical elements to your music helps make meaningful connections with listeners. Physicality was a built-in feature of the pre-digital music industry. Fans would see music live, buy physical records, and pour over the liner notes of their favorite artists. Today, many listeners listen to hours of playlists at a time without ever knowing what musicians they’re listening to. By showing up to play in a listener’s town and offering a form of your work they can take home, you’ll have the best shot at becoming an artist they’ll love and remember.
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Form a genuine identity around your music
Identity in music has never been more crucial for artists. Aside from the common sense ways of revealing who you are through things like your website and email list, there are other ways to carve out your identity online. Making the effort to present a compelling visual element alongside your music is a way to catch the attention of fans by presenting your identity as something much more than just a slot on a playlist. Videos, posters, digital banners, and art installations are all ways this can be done, but it’s not easy. Teaming up with a talented artist is something that can benefit bands today even more than launching costly PR and radio campaigns can in 2020. When music isn’t enough to get a listener interested and engaged, great visual elements can do the trick.
Music is and always will be the core interest of fans, but we’re not making music in a time like any other in history. The same digital assets that can turn unknown artists into mainstream successes are also bringing massive challenges that all musicians have to deal with when it comes to winning over fans and keeping their attention. If you extend the creative spirit and energy you bring to your music to the other aspects of your identity as an artist, you’ll have the best chance to convert casual listeners into avid fans.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.
Adam - February 17, 2020
Nice article. How do we get our music added to playlists on Spotify?
Simon - April 6, 2020
This article is so true! We HAD an amazing monthly listener count on Spotify when I was using promotions to raise awareness of the band. The second I stopped pumping money into it, the listeners dropped from the thousands to less than 100. Its hard and unfortunate, but attention spans are very limited these days and there is so much great music available on playlists. The moment you stop plugging yourself you become yesterdays news. Our true fans and supporters are the ones we have personally connected with. It was much easier before the world went into isolation, we gave out cds at shows and made a point of getting to know fans. Look forward to getting back out there and continuing to build a real fanbase. What I have learnt this year having focused on streaming so heavily is that its all well and good having 10,000 streams on a song, but if you don’t have loyal fans to play your music tomorrow, next week and so on, what’s the damn point!