One of the main reasons that independent musicians struggle to promote themselves is that they have no idea what fans actually want from them. In order to set you on the path to success, here are three essential things that music fans want from upcoming bands & artists:
Selflessness is a standout trait for music fans. If you adopt a selfless attitude to promoting your project, it’s likely that fans will start to flock to you.
Why? Because the vast majority of upcoming bands & artists repel fans with both an ego and a sense of entitlement.
This is because most musicians mistakenly believe that simply working hard on their music directly entitles them to an engaged audience. However, the fact is that you are owed nothing from an audience unless you’ve already added value to their lives on a consistent basis.
There are two primary methods of employing selflessness to attract an audience:
- Upfront value
- Outward focus
In order to provide upfront value, you must provide potential fans with a clear offer of immense value which doesn’t require them to give you anything in return.
Whilst many musicians believe that giving their music away for free consists of upfront value, it’s actually the direct opposite. By asking a complete stranger to check out your music, you’re asking them to provide you with upfront value (in the form of several minutes of their time) when there’s absolutely no guarantee they’ll derive any value from your work.
Instead, a more-effective approach is to offer consistent, short bursts of content that provide guaranteed, immense value. By doing this on a consistent basis, potential fans will start to see your project as a reputable resource for value. As a result, they’ll likely check out your music in their own time.
One of the best ways of providing upfront value to a potential audience is by creating relatable social media content. This might consist of a status, meme or a short video that your audience can quickly relate to. For example, if your target audience is based in New York, you could make a humorous status or video montage about the difficulties of commuting in New York. This can quickly spark a sense of relatability with your audience, encouraging them to check out what else you have to offer. We’ll dive deeper into relatable social media content a bit later on in this article.
When providing upfront value, it’s important that you don’t push your original material on potential fans too soon. Once you’ve built up a bit of trust and rapport with a potential fan, then you can promote your original material. However, trying to pitch someone music they haven’t asked for before they’ve warmed up to you is a sure-fire way of causing them to lose interest in your project.
Here’s an example of upfront value from my own band, where we offered to record birthday video messages for our Twitter followers. It received high levels of engagement and led to an influx of new followers:
All-too-often, upcoming musicians tend to focus inwardly by using statements such as:
“Check out our music, we worked really hard on it”
“It would mean a lot to us if you followed us on social media”
“We’re really excited to play this show and hope you can come along”
Whilst these may all be perfectly valid comments, they show complete disregard for your potential fans. Each of the above statements essentially reads as “I think you stop what you’re doing to invest your time and money into me, even though there might not be anything in it for you”. Whilst this might not be the message you intend to portray, this is exactly how it comes across to your potential fans.
As mentioned in the previous section, you are owed absolutely nothing for the work you’ve put into your music. You’re only entitled to engagement by actively benefitting your audience. By focussing outwardly, you’ll be keeping the attention and value entirely on your audience instead of on yourself. Here’s how you could re-word the above statements with outward focus:
“If you’re a fan of X band and have recently been through a breakup, you might be able to relate to this”
“If you live in the New York area, you might enjoy the montage of our singer’s morning commute on our Instagram Stories today”
“We’re offering a 50% discount on our merch for you at Saturday’s show, where we’ll be playing with four other bands we know you’ll love“
Another way to make use of outward focus is to initiate a conversation, then reply to every single comment/message you receive. Try posting a Tweet asking how everyone’s day at work/school is going, then carrying on a conversation with everyone who replies for however long they want. When replying to audience members, get them to tell you a little more about themselves and then follow up on what they tell you the next time they interact with you. This makes your audience feel accepted and valued within your community.
2. An Identity
An identity is one of the most essential components of attracting fans to your project. However, it’s something that’s all-too-commonly neglected by upcoming bands & artists. It’s key to understand that fans seek artists who share a similar set of cultural and personable traits to themselves. Therefore, it’s important to identify your key traits and channel them into a clear-cut identity.
Indie Panda breaks identity down into two categories:
- Sonic identity: The identity portrayed through the music itself
- Visual identity: The identity portrayed through the cultural and personable aspects of a musical project
Sonic identity is essentially a ‘signature sound’. If you’ve ever listened to a song that you weren’t familiar with, but instantly knew which band or artist was it was, this would’ve been the result of a fully-realized sonic identity. A fully-realized sonic identity comprises of the following two attributes:
- A consistent, identifiable genre
- A set of signature traits (such as a distinct vocal or guitar style)
Why Sonic Identity Is Important
A fully-realized sonic identity makes your project memorable, therefore setting you apart from the thousands of other independent bands & artists in your genre.
Whilst it’s normal for your sonic identity to evolve over time, I’d highly recommend sticking to a consistent genre for each release. Many bands and artists make the mistake of jumping from genre to genre over the course of an EP or album, which severely limits its memorability. If you decide to re-invent your genre on a particular release, your signature traits will continue to set you apart from the crowd.
Tips For Developing A Strong Sonic Identity
- Decide on a set genre for each release: When writing for an EP or album, ensure you pick a consistent genre within which to operate. This’ll ensure your release is memorable and will ensure you appeal to a well-targeted audience.
- Identify your signature traits: The best way to do this is to ask audience members at your shows what they liked about your set. If you find you’re getting consistent, positive feedback on a specific aspect of your sound, you’ll know it’s one of your signature traits. When writing new material, it’s well-worth writing with your signature traits in mind. For example, if your lead guitarist has a very distinct style, you might make a point of including guitar solos in most of your songs.
Visual identity is all-too-often neglected by independent bands & artists, despite it being absolutely crucial to success in the music industry.
As previously mentioned, visual identity refers to the cultural and personable aspects of your project. These generally include:
- Your fashion sense
- Your personality
- Your lifestyle
- Causes or organizations you care strongly about
Whilst you certainly shouldn’t try to force your visual identity or pretend to be someone you’re not, you shouldn’t be afraid to showcase it through your marketing efforts. A strong visual identity can (and will) turn casual listeners into die-hard fans.
Why Visual Identity Is Important
Ultimately, fans want to connect with bands & artists who they can personally identify with. To demonstrate this, think about your own motivation for wearing a band’s merch in public. Whilst you’ll of course want to communicate your interest in the band’s music, it’s likely that you also wish to communicate a set of cultural and personable traits about yourself that the band represents.
Visual identity is also fantastic for engaging your audience via social media. Whilst you can’t release music multiple times a week, you can create content for social media that showcases your visual identity.
Tips For Developing A Strong Visual Identity
- Ensure your branding encapsulates the cultural and personable aspects of your project: When designing banners, logos or album art, think how the color, font & overall design can showcase who you are and what you stand for.
- Ensure your promo pictures convey your personality: Think how your dress, facial expressions and the setting of the pictures might convey your personality.
- Add a sense of flare to your social media content: Instead of composing robotic and boring social media posts, inject a sense of personality into what you have to say. Your audience want to know they’re connecting with a fellow human being and not a marketing machine. If you’re playing a show, speak to as many people as you can at the venue and let your personality shine. People buy people, not products.
3. A Diverse Range Of Social Media Content
As you likely know, social media is king when it comes to promoting your musical project. As previously mentioned, one of the best ways of engaging an audience is to create an engaging, valuable and diverse range of social media content.
If you aren’t familiar with Indie Panda’s social media content philosophy, here’s a quick overview:
- You are owed nothing upfront: Whilst we touched on this earlier on in the article, it’s worth re-enforcing here. Many independent musicians mistakenly believe that working hard on their music automatically entitles them to a legion of engaged fans. In reality, you are owed nothing unless you’ve consistently added value to other people’s lives. People simply won’t invest three minutes of their time listening to a song from an artist they’ve never heard of when there’s no guarantee of value. However, if they’ve already derived consistent value from your social media content, they’ll be much-more-likely to check out what else you have to offer.
- Keep the focus on your audience: It’s all-too-easy to take a self-centered approach to marketing your music. Whilst you’ll obviously care about the benefits an audience can provide you with, your fans won’t. Keep your focus on providing value to your audience rather than providing yourself with value.
- Keep it subtle: A potential fan is much-more-likely to listen to your music if their interest is first-peaked by valuable, engaging social media content. They probably won’t check it out if you’re constantly trying to force it down their neck.
- Consistency is key: In today’s throwaway social media culture, consumers expect a consistent stream of new, engaging content. In order to stay relevant and retain your audience’s attention, it’s important to post high-quality content on a consistent basis.
- Reflect & review on a regular basis: Social media platforms frequently experience significant changes; what works well today might not work at all tomorrow. You should consistently reflect on what’s working well (and why) as well as what needs to be improved or changed (and how).
Here are a few staple pieces of content you should be posting on your social media channels:
- Gig posters/flyers
- High-quality live shots
- High-quality promo pictures
Here are a few social media content ideas that are highly-effective, yet seldom used by independent musicians:
Spotify is (by quite a significant margin) the most popular streaming service on the market. Whilst many upcoming bands & artists are sceptical of the service, it’s actually a crucial component of engaging and monetizing an audience.
Playlists are the go-to method of consumption for most Spotify users. In addition, Spotify relies on data from user-generated playlists in order to create algorithmic playlists (‘Discover Weekly’ and ‘Release Radar’). Algorithmic playlists can introduce your music to new users on a weekly basis. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to create playlists as frequently as possible so you can engage your current audience (via your social media channels) and attract new listeners (via algorithmic playlists).
Here are some playlists I’d recommend making for your artist page:
- Ultimate *Your Project*: A playlist comprised of your standout tracks.
- Influences: A playlist made up of tracks from popular bands & artists you’re influenced by, with some of your own material thrown in for comparison.
- Unsigned *Your Genre*: A playlist featuring unsigned bands and artists who play a similar style of music to you. When featuring other unsigned artists, it’s likely they’ll share the playlist across their social media channels; this allows everyone featured on the playlist to take advantage of each other’s audiences. Additionally, it strengthens your reputation within the unsigned scene and establishes strong relationships with other independent musicians.
- Unsigned Scene *Your City*: A playlist comprised of unsigned bands & artists from your local area. Once again, this strengthens your reputation within the unsigned scene and allows everyone to take advantage of each other’s audiences.
- Pre-Gig: Have you got a playlist you listen to whilst commuting to a venue or hanging out backstage? If so, make it available to your audience! You can also prompt high levels of engagement by asking fans to suggest new songs for the playlist.
- Post-Gig: If you’ve recently played a well-attended show, consider making a playlist consisting of music from everyone on the lineup. This serves as a great follow-up for those who attended the show and once again strengthens your relationships with other unsigned bands & artists.
A video diary is a great way of showcasing your visual identity and taking your audience behind the scenes. Here are a few video diary ideas to get you started:
- ‘Day in the life’: If you’re in a band, get each member make their own ‘day in the life’ video diary. This is essentially a vlog that showcases what you get up to on a day-to-day basis. This might include your day job, downtime and the time you spend working on the band (writing new songs, practicing your instrument etc). This builds trust between you and your audience, allowing fans to warm up to you on a personal level.
- Studio diary: Many music fans would love to know how their favorite songs were put together. Producing a studio diary is a great way of showcasing the creative process behind the music. It’s also a fantastic way of using engaging, valuable content to promote your latest release.
- Tour diary: Next time you’re playing out of town, film everything from travelling to the venue, to soundchecking, to actually playing the show. After the show, take the most entertaining footage and create a short tour diary. Tour diaries often receive strong engagement from those who attended the show (in the form of comments and ‘likes’). This strengthens your relationships with those who attended the show, whilst also prompting newer fans to attend a show themselves.
It’s worth stressing that you don’t have to invest in expensive equipment to produce video diaries; a smartphone will do just fine. That said, something I would recommend buying is a cheap selfie stick such as this one on Amazon. They keep the camera steady and allow for much smoother movement, which adds a significant level of professionalism to the footage. When it comes to editing the footage, the stock software on your computer will do just fine.
Memes serve as one of the most popular and attention-grabbing forms of social media content. As a musician, memes have two clear advantages over more conservative forms of content:
- They’re relatable: Relatable musicians are successful musicians. Whilst your music might be highly-relatable to your target audience, you’ll likely struggle to get a complete stranger to invest three minutes of their time listening to it. However, a meme can spark a strong sense of relatability in a split-second. Once you’ve captured that initial sense of relatability, a potential fan will have a valid reason to check out what else you have to offer.
- They’re sharable: Whenever someone sees a witty and relatable meme, the first thing they do is share/repost it on their own feed. A high-quality meme stands a strong chance of going viral, which could market your project to thousands of new people for free(!!!)
When creating memes for your social media channels, it’s imperative that they effectively represent your visual identity. If you’re a Californian skate punk band, consider making memes about something such as skateboarding laws in California. In order to maximize a meme’s chances of going viral, make sure it doesn’t contain anything that could cause offence or be misinterpreted.
Here’s a great example from chart-topping artist Lewis Capaldi, who has built a massive social media following from this type of content:
When creating this type of content, many musicians worry about being perceived as a ‘gimmick’. However, I firmly believe this type of content is far more effective at attracting attention to your project than relentlessly plugging your music is. Lewis Capaldi serves as perfect proof, having previously spent two consecutive months at the top of the UK charts off the back of his social media content.
A fantastic way of getting engagement with your memes is to let your audience make them for you. Try posting a funny picture (preferably of you or another band member) and asking your audience to create a caption for it. When doing this, make sure you reply to each comment and use it to start a conversation with each person. This enables you to build rapport with individual members of your audience and enable them to form a personal connection with you.
So, there you have it! 3 things that music fans desperately want from upcoming bands & artists. If you have any further questions, leave a comment down below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.