“…love, ageless and ever…ever…green…” The Barbra Streisand classic, Evergreen, is one of the songs I grew up loving. I won’t lie, it was sort of the (main) reason I wanted to read that Noah Fleming book of the same name I stumbled upon in the business section at my local big box bookstore.
I ended up reading it on my bus ride down to Canadian Music Week last Spring, and was very impressed with and inspired by Fleming’s theories and ideas (though they had nothing to do with Barbra). This article isn’t a book review, but rather my thoughts on how some of the philosophies Noah Fleming presents can apply to independent musicians.
To begin, what is an evergreen? It’s a type of tree whose leaves never fall off. In Christian cultures, the reason a pine tree is used for Christmas is because it’s one of the only types of outdoor plants that still look beautiful (AKA not dead) in the snowy winter.
In business, an evergreen company is one who, instead of chasing down new customers and begging ones leaving to stay (like a seasonal tree to its leaves), cultivates a loyal fanbase and grows strong, even during harsh weather conditions. As artists building a career and a brand, that sounds like something we’d want, right? In Evergreen, the author boils it down to the three Cs: Character, Community and Content. I’m going to draw out how they work in the music business.
To start, character refers to who you are as a brand and organization. If you write your own songs, then you already know the importance of storytelling in a four-minute melody. Now, can you do it to your entire self or your band?
One of the ideas Fleming brings up in the chapter is to have a memorable origin story. So, if I told you these two out loud, can you guess which real-life company and which fictional character I’m talking about?
Two teenage boys are tinkering around with computers in their parents’ garages in California. They end up building one of the biggest electronics companies in the world.
An orphan boy on a school trip gets bitten by a radioactive spider. He can now climb buildings and swing from the spider webs he shoots from his hands.
If you guessed Apple and Spiderman, you are correct. You don’t need to be a superstar or a superhero to have a cool, true origin story. Your turn: in around three lines, what brought you to who you are in your artistic career?
Once you have an origin story, you need to stay true to it. If Apple began selling home-baked pastries or Spiderman robbed a jewellery store, that would be out of character and leave everyone confused. Every decision you make, from artistic to business to interpersonal, needs to make sense with who you are portraying yourself to be. Having an origin story makes your elevator pitches easier to come up with, flow more naturally, and stick in people’s minds longer.
You/your band’s character doesn’t need to please everyone either. That doesn’t necessarily mean going out of your way to offend or scare off everyone, but just like in TV shows where you can relate to and root for some on-screen personalities more, you will always have people who like you better than others, and those who are more lukewarm to your journey. Following the Evergreen philosophy, go pay attention to those that relate to you the most.
A sign of good character in a brand is for customers to feel loyal and at home before even spending a dime.
The community would be how you connect to your fans, and them to each other. Many artists have the lifelong dream of two strangers becoming best friends when they discover they’re both fans of that same band. The main sticking point from this chapter was differentiating a tribe for a community. A tribe is exclusive, a community is inclusive.
So, for example, a high-end clothing store whose size XL in any other store is an XXS would be a tribe. Apple is also a tribe; the whole us against them mentality. On the other end of the spectrum, a children’s sports summer camp is a community. As artists, we need to decide who we want our fanbase to be. Both are acceptable, but knowing where you are at and what you want to be will make your brand clearer.
Content is not just your recorded music, but the entire experience you provide. By knowing your community well, you can tailor your content to what they would love, providing value to them. Fleming explains that a lot of companies mistake valuable content for stuff. You know those clothing stores at the mall that send you way too many coupons? Or an online course you attended once that emails you every day with free e-books, free templates and blog posts? In the company’s eyes, they are building your loyalty to them by giving you bonuses; in your eyes, they are overwhelming you. In Evergreen, the author argues that value is instead the feeling customers get when doing business with you, and that can be done by keeping it simple with perks offered. These kind of follow-up extras that keep customers thinking about you should be thing they’ll really appreciate, spaced out as to not overwhelm them. While artists need to be open to multiple revenue streams, they should never sacrifice their character and commitment to their community in the process.
As a musician, you are not a one-stop transaction with a customer, nor do you want to be. You don’t want all your fans (from casual to super) to purchase a physical EP on your website and leave it at that. You are in the business of selling your character and creating emotionally engaging experiences while doing so. This kind of relationship with your fans is what will make them come out to more than one show, follow you on social media, sign up for your mailing list and so on.
“Every time you engage in a transaction with a customer your business has an opportunity to go beyond the transaction. Your goal should not be to simply sell your content in exchange for money. Your goal should be to look at every transaction with a customer as a way of creating a long term relationship with a tremendous amount of long term value.”
How To Act Like The Magnificent Pine Tree You Are:
1. Have a character origin story. Work that origin story into an engaging elevator pitch that flows naturally.
2. Take a look at your fanbase, and see whether they are more of a tribe or a community. Decide if that is where you want to be
3. Put into words the kind of experience fans get when they see you perform live. Does that translate to your online presence?
4. Take a moment to think up the follow-up perks or bonuses you know your fans would love.
5. How often should you send them to keep them thinking about you without being overwhelmed?
6. Put into words the kind of long-term relationship-building strategies you are currently using with your fans. How could you improve?