We’re making music in an endlessly complex and brutally competitive climate, and things are only getting tougher for unestablished artists. Having great music that’s thoughtfully promoted is far from a guarantee that you’ll ever find an audience. It’s a tough pill to swallow. Yet, we’re all better off accepting it and letting this information shape our careers for the better. One of the best ways we can let the harsh realities of how hard it is to connect with audiences in 2020 is to break down the moonshot ambitions we have for our music into small manageable goals. If you’re set on connecting with the widest audience you can, the best place to start is by engaging with the fans you already have.
Big dreams vs inescapable realities
Having hope, ambition, and big plans for your music isn’t something you should ever feel ashamed of. Daring to believe your work could go on to connect with lots of people in a meaningful way isn’t just a beautiful thought; it’s an essential hope that gives many of us the drive we need to pursue serious music careers. Some musicians strive to tour the world, sell out arenas, and make music that becomes loved and remembered by millions. Others have the more humble goal of making a living purely through musical means. Unfortunately, these dreams are exceedingly difficult to transform into realities in today’s music industry.
Truthfully, the bands you’ve heard of and love aren’t always able to fund their lives through creating and performing music. And not every musician is cut out to be a beloved superstar. This doesn’t mean your dreams should shrink and that you should put music on the back burner. Instead, you need to build a sustainable career that thrives in small ways while paving the way for bigger victories. Engaging your existing fan base builds the momentum you need to move forward and access new opportunities for your music.
Access, appreciate, and engage your current fans
Whether you have thousands of fans all over the world or a dozen in your hometown, your fans matter. A recognized and energized audience will advocate for your music and share it with the world. An unrecognized and unappreciated audience might enjoy your music, but they’re far less likely to go to bat for it. We’re in an age where the extent of many listener’s fandoms doesn’t reach any further than saving songs from playlists. This is an issue all musicians should be paying attention to. It’s easy to have an attitude of expecting fans to materialize out of nowhere after putting out music. However, it almost always takes focused work for unestablished bands to earn fans.
Luckily, it’s never been easier to find out who and where your fans are. Analytic tools given away for free from the world’s largest streaming platforms can tell you information like what cities your fans are in, how old they are, and how they discovered your music. This is one of the methods you’ll use to recognize your existing fan base. Another is by paying attention to who interacts with you the most online.
Once you know who and where your fans are, you’ll have lots of options for energizing them. Localize your efforts as much as possible. Play regularly where the biggest groups of your fans live. Reach out to their local blogs, playlists, and radio stations. Try to get a feature in their local media outlets. The more chances your fans and their social groups have to learn about your music, the more your momentum will grow. So many unestablished bands fight to build momentum internationally without realizing how important it is to leverage interest and engagement on a local level. Sure, a lot of important musical engagement happens purely online today, but you’d be unwise not to make the most out of getting your local and regional fans excited by showing up in person to play.
The things that give everyone the chance to create and share music are the same factors that make catching listeners’ attention harder for everyone, but don’t despair. By playing the long game and engaging your fans at every opportunity, you’ll have the best shot at making big things happen for your music.
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.