How to… build your fan base

TGE2014: Adam Cardew (head of digital, Absolute Marketing & Distribution), Joe Porn (squadron leader, Music Glue) and moderator Andy Malt (CMU’s news editor) discuss how artists can build their fan base.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 10 May 2014
  • min read
We're all familiar with the social media platforms that have fuelled this trend, including Facebook and Twitter, but there are new services such as Music Glue and State 51 that allow you to sell directly to your fans too.

So, which ones work best and is there a knack to creating engaging content that will encourage people listen to your music and buy your records?

At the TGE-DIY: Building & Capturing Fanbase panel, held on the final day of The Great Escape 2014, Adam Cardew (head of digital, Absolute Marketing & Distribution), Joe Porn (squadron leader, Music Glue) and moderator Andy Malt (CMU’s news editor) unpicked the key threads of this new DIY trend.

Here are their top tips on how to successfully communicate with fans and mobilise them to buy your music, gig tickets or merchandise directly from you…

AM: As a new and developing artist, at what point should you try to develop an online fan base?

JP: The very first thing we tell people to do is start capturing their fan data. It’s incredibly important from day one that somehow, someone can find you online, download something from you, and then you can know who they are.

AC: I back this up. You should start capturing your fans email addresses from the off. The main reason is that when you come to have music to sell further down the line, nothing beats email to get fans engaged.

AM: What services should artists use to create those touch points and build that fan base?

AC: You’ve got your traditional social networking sites – Twitter, YouTube, Instagram – but one thing we tell our artists is that not every social network comes naturally to every artist. Some artists are really good at Twitter and some aren’t. You don’t need to be across every platform. It’s much better for artists to focus on a few key ones and really engage in a positive way with fans on those. If they are on Twitter and they really don’t want to be on Twitter, people can really tell and it’s not very good for the artist long-term.

AM: OK, so you’ve found the platform you’re good on; how do you keep the fans engaged?

JP: Obviously you need to keep uploading content, whether its tweets on Twitter, pictures on Instagram. Whatever it is, I do think you have to be really careful because no one wants to go to a website that has six ‘likes’ and not much seemingly going on. Unless you’ve got something to update on every couple of days or every week you’re going to have an outdated feed.

AM: What sort of things should you be posting?

AC: The main thing I tell our emerging artists is, ‘It doesn’t all have to be about you’. It’s really easy to see when fans won’t engage with something because the band is only posting about themselves and they’re not yet at the point in their career where that’s interesting enough for their fans. So I always suggest they talk about other music they like. Your fans are your fans because they have expressed a like in your music. What I want to see is artists who talk about what they’re listening to. I want to know what influences them, so it’s a really good thing to talk about. For example, you can get on Spotify and build playlists in there – basically, start pulling in content that isn’t just all about you.

AM: What other forms of content should people be posting?

AC: Videos are really good because they’re really shareable. We see that videos and pictures are far more likely to get shared, liked and engaged with than just a static post with a link in it.

AM: So, as an artist, you've got all these social networking platforms – do you need a website too?

JP: I think a website is the most critical. Our philosophy at Music Glue is that the website is the thing you control – it looks how you want it to look, it does the things you want it to do and it's the place you want to pool all your fans and traffic. Yes, use iTunes, Spotify, Twitter, YouTube etc, but always have them coming back to your website so people are engaging with you in a space that you control and with products you want to sell.The worst case scenario is that people come to your site and are then directed to YouTube or iTunes or Ticketmaster or wherever. Then you’ve lost them. Half the internet battle is getting anyone to come to visit you. The worst thing you can do is send them somewhere else – especially to a big corporation that sticks adverts all over the place.

AC: I’d add to that and say that the website shouldn’t be expensive for an emerging artist. The website is not a promotional tool – it’s where you take your existing fans and try to interact with them. There are loads of tools out there, like Music Glue, which will help you do this.

JP: Websites have now become your retail space so it’s your shop front.

AM: How do you go about collecting email addresses from fans and potential fans?

JP: Live, you can get your notepad out at the back of the gig and get people’s names. Via our platform, whenever you make a sale or give something away you can capture the email address and the location of your fan and, if they transact commercially as well, we can capture the first and last name too. So when you give a free download away, it’s not really free because you’re getting an email address in return, which is crucial data.

AC: I like working with bands who aren’t afraid to walk round after a gig and grab email addresses. You’ve just made a really positive impression on them by playing live so it’s easier to do.

JP: I’d rather have 500 email addresses from fans than 5,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook. It’s far more important to contact people directly.

AM: Once you’ve got their email addresses, what should you be doing?

JP: Definitely don’t spam people! And don’t let your fan base know every little gig you play and every single thought you’ve ever had. Use your email to communicate very specific things, such as tour information or album pre-order news. You don’t want to email people every week, or even every month, you want it to be targeted and you need to have a very clear reason why you’re contacting them.

AC: I’d back that up. One thing we focus on is making sure every email has something useful for people. It might be that it’s tour information or a free track – you’ve can’t have every email with the ‘Buy this’ as the biggest story. People will switch off quickly to that.

JP: Think about what you want from your fans – don’t invite them to every single gig you play in the early days. You really want to work out when you want to get your fan base behind you for that important show, so work that out before you send the email.