Making records gets expensive; anyone in the music business will tell you that. With the modern stat that less that 1% of albums breakeven on sales alone, many independent artists are left asking themselves “how the heck will I make my money back?” The answer is to have fans to sell it to.
I’ve been reading the work of and listening to a lot of big thought leaders who’ve built courses and written books to help independent artists succeed (my goal is to someday be listed off in the same breath as them): Bree Noble, Rick Barker, Ari Herstand… They’re all singing the same song: it’s called “don’t step into the big studio until you’ve got a loyal fanbase.” Demos and songs meant to be given for free (with an email list subscription) are the exception, but you get the point, right? It hurts to think of 16-year-old country girls or boys who rap working a crappy part-time job, in order to save up enough money for the big studio, even though they have no fans yet. They’re so talented, but this multi-thousand dollar masterpiece won’t move units.
I touched upon this in a previous article, but I find this story fascinating, so here it is again: singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has an actress friend who didn’t get chosen for a movie role, because the one they did choose had more Twitter followers, therefore more fans who would go see the movie when it premiered. Now, this doesn’t mean that social media numbers are the only metric of gauging if you’re popular or not. There are different ways of measuring, such as the all-important email subscriber list or people who regularly come out to your shows. As long as you are actively engaging and growing your circle, that’s a fanbase. Okay Clarence, but where are you going with this seed launch idea?
To start with, what is a seed launch? It’s basically the idea of selling a flower while it’s still in seed-form. Picture this classic example: a fitness instructor is creating a six-month paying online course. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Now, as he creates the weekly curriculum, he’s leaving some places blank on purpose. Before the curriculum is even finished, the fitness instructor announces, advertises, and starts getting customers signing up for his course.
What?! That’s crazy! Here’s a beauty of it, though: as people sign up for his program, he connects with them one-on-one to ask them what their personal goals are, and what they hope to achieve from this program. Then, he quickly fills in the rest of the curriculum with skills and lessons tailored to his customers. These paying customers eager to learn will feel that this course was literally made for them. They then become enormous fans, and get pushed in just the right way to achieve their fitness goals. This instructor might have had the perfect complete curriculum in mind, but by leaving room to customized the course to paying customers, he created loyalty.
But have musicians ever actually done this? Well, I can give you the first chapter of the story about a young girl who moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue her goal of being a country singer-songwriter… Miss Taylor Swift. While to the general public, it seems like she came out of nowhere, Taylor had been working hard for years to build up a fanbase before that debut album. In the early-to-mid 2000s, MySpace was the ultimate (and pretty much the only) social media platform, and Taylor would log in every day, and build relationships with her fans. I imagine the conversations went something like this…
“…And that’s what I like about boys. What do you like about boys?” (Our Song)
“He cheated on you? Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry to hear that!” (Should’ve Said No)
“So, you have a crush on Drew, but he doesn’t know you exist…” (Teardrops On My Guitar)
Those back-and-forth’s turned into songs on that self-titled debut. Taylor made every MySpace connection feel special and listened to, which not only gave her writing material, but created fans whom you can bet paid full-price for that album the day it came out. It was a stroke of brilliance.
Now, on to you. I’m not saying to have to only write songs about your fans’ life stories. However, what are you doing to make them feel closer to you and special? Here is a list of ideas for us all to try, from the most inconsequential to major actions. Depending on your style, some might be more applicable than others.
Liking/Retweeting what fans have to say
Following them back and taking an active interest in them
Setting up a personal newsletter, and answering their emails
Calling fans on Skype to ask them how they’re doing
Giving fans first looks at new songs
Sending fans birthday cards in the mail
Inviting them to meet up with you in person if you are ever in the same city (buy them a drink before the concert?)
In the new digital age, it’s connections that influence purchases and form fans. As music fans ourselves, we want to feel closer to these artists, like we matter in their eyes. If a seed launch can win over fans to make your studio money back (and then some), grow for it.