Wondering how to build a fanbase for your music?
In February 2011, Stephanie Pope in Northern Ireland flipped on her TV after a devastating breakup.
In a moment when she desperately needed hope, she found Adele singing “Someone Like You” at the Brits, and it helped her through that brutal night.
“All I needed was me and you, because you understood!” Pope wrote in a post sending her praises to Adele, a post that would eventually go viral.
“We connected that night…Thanks for helping me through it all. All my love, respect, and deepest thanks.”
Many musicians aspire to have that level of appreciation and acknowledgment from fans.
So how do you create that kind of supportive, authentic fanbase for yourself?
The answer is by creating a genuine human connection with your fans.
In previous sections, we discussed how your planning and branding will help you attract your audience, but now we want to help you focus on what you need to do to hold onto them.
Understanding the attention economy For Musicians
To successfully market yourself and your music, you need to understand that you’re working within what many experts call an attention economy. It affects everything we do. Jakob Nielson, a successful Danish web developer, put it this way:
“In the attention economy, anyone trying to connect with an audience must treat the user’s time as the ultimate resource.”
Whether we like it or not, the attention economy has altered song structure (shorter songs with shorter intros) and the way we promote our content.
If we’re treating human attention as a scarce commodity, we’re also acknowledging all the amazing musicians of all genres out there, competing for the attention of similar audiences.
For a prospective fan to hear you despite all the noise, you must understand your unique value proposition and aim to stand out from the crowd.
Attracting Your Fans and Keeping Them Engaged
To help you stand out, one of the most important things you need to identify as an emerging musician is how you’ll attract and nurture new fans.
However, keep in mind that not all fans are created equal.
Some fans will casually come and go while others will ride or die with you until the end. The ones who ride or die are considered your superfans.
You should do your best to create meaningful connections with all your fans, but it’s important to identify who your superfans are because they will be crucial to your success as an artist.
Superfans are the ones who obsess over all of your releases, attend every show, and buy all your merch.
These are the kinds of fans who can’t resist telling their friends and social networks how much they adore you. They’ll be your ambassadors and one of your greatest assets.
You might think it takes a lifetime to build these kinds of relationships, but a sustainable fanbase is closer than you think.
However, you must understand and internalize that fans will not stay fans forever unless you continue delivering and treating your relationship like it’s important.
Related Reading: How to Build a Brand As A Musician That People Will Love
Related Reading: Finding Your 1000 True Fans For Musicians – Build Your Tribe
Related Reading: Music Branding Tips: 4 Elements of a Strong Compelling Brand (Miley Cyrus Case Study)
Related Reading: The Importance of Branding Yourself as A Musician
Funnel vs. Flywheel Methods
It’s common for artists to focus all of their energy chasing new fans or lose sleep over someone who doesn’t care for their music. It’s human nature to want to be accepted, but we tend to neglect the people who already support us in our efforts to please everyone.
While this is a reminder to identify your target audience, this also relates to a concept thrown around in marketing a lot, which is the funnel method.
The Funnel Method
This is a traditional marketing term referring to the process of attaining new customers. It starts with your audiences being completely unfamiliar with you or your brand.
At the beginning of the Funnel, you promote yourself to reach more people with your marketing and raise awareness about your brand.
Out of that large group of people, a smaller group actually considers checking you out or following you on social media.
A smaller percentage is then turned into customers or fans who buy your merch or a ticket to your show.
The goal is to make the Funnel run smoothly, with the highest conversion rates possible.
However, there is a flaw in this concept.
Think of the companies you’ve been with for most of your life, like a TV provider or a cell phone company. When do you recall them trying to do whatever it took to get your business?
Exactly, when you weren’t a customer yet. They tried to sweeten the deal with that free TV or iPad just to get you to sign up, and you took the bait, but now what?
You show your loyalty to the company year after year, and suddenly it’s as if you’re forgotten—no more freebies or discounts, and that loyalty begins to waver.
Then, another company comes along, offering you a better deal in exchange for your business, and without thinking twice, you jump ship.
This is the issue with the Funnel method because it doesn’t account for making sure the audience you already have is well cared for.
The Flywheel Method
However, an alternate school of thought on this is the flywheel method–invented by James Watt. With the Flywheel method, you use the momentum of the people you’ve already converted into fans to attract new supporters. However, you still focus on keeping the current fanbase happy.
In essence, the Funnel method is incomplete because it doesn’t account for continuing to nurture that fan who has already shown their loyalty to your brand.
Instead of stopping at the bottom of the Funnel, the Flywheel method shoots loyal fans back to the top and works to continue strengthening the relationship. After all, it’s a lot easier to get support from someone who is already a fan than someone who isn’t yet.
By this logic, the most challenging part will be getting from zero fans to a hundred or a thousand fans, but your efforts will continue to compound as you go.
We urge you to keep this in mind as you move forward in your music career, but the big question then becomes, how do you add value and strengthen your relationships with fans?
As a musician, it’s important to remember that your music is not the only value you can provide. Although it’s a huge part of it, your value will also come from other elements we’ve discussed in previous sections, such as your aesthetic, fan interactions, and unique visual content. Below are our suggestions for how you can add true value with your audience:
Creating amazing content
In previous sections, we discussed the kinds of content that attract fans. You learned that a significant contributor to growing your fanbase and brand recognition is sparking conversations, being genuine, unique, and consistent with your content.
Fostering authentic relationships
A key element of nurturing fan relationships is through adding value and depth to the relationship. Like in the dating world, you start out by exchanging contact info with someone you like. Then you spend time together, find out about shared values, hobbies, and passions.
That’s exactly how it will go with fans. After you get that initial email address or social follow, you should be thinking of ways to keep in touch with your fans and keep them engaged.
Asking for permission & feedback
Asking for fans’ permission to contact them or share their photos and other content is a best practice for two reasons.
One: There are many reasons a fan would want to stay out of the limelight, and it’s important to respect that. Two: if they’re enthusiastic fans, they will be happy to give their permission and have a chat with you about it.
An underused tool takes this a step further and asks fans to participate in a survey or focus group about a recent release or performance.
An excellent tool for creating simple yet professional surveys is SurveyMonkey. Ask fans what they liked? Or what they didn’t like? What did they come to your event hoping for, and what did they leave with?
We highly recommend tapping into this feedback because the people who love your content and know it well will be able to provide you with excellent ideas for improvement.
This works well whether you’re wondering about your sound, venue choices, or merch design ideas.
Furthermore, these are great excuses to maintain an open and consistent dialogue with your fanbase.
Sharing more about yourself
Creating connections with others sometimes requires you to share personal information about yourself. This is no different with your fans.
Even though being more transparent can be nerve-wracking in the scheme of your music career, a huge part of authentic connections with fans is letting them into your world.
You should view this as an opportunity to educate your audience about you, what you love, and what drives your art.
Some ways to do this include hosting a Q&A in your Instagram stories, sharing personal backstories to your songs, or even live-streaming from a meaningful location.
Building awareness and advocacy
If you think back to the flywheel method, you should be focused on creating an incredible experience for your loyal fans in hopes that they help advocate for you and build awareness around your brand.
Once you’ve built a reliable tribe of even a few dozen superfans, you will be able to rely on them to naturally spread the word about how much they love your music. Word of mouth is, still to this day, one of the most powerful forms of marketing. You have to earn it, though, and you do this by creating meaningful relationships with your current fans.
Leveraging Your Network
People with success leverage their network, meaning they lean on the collective resources of their friends, family, fans, and whoever else they can think of to help them.
The old cliche “it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know” is prevalent throughout the music industry.
When it comes to nurturing your fans and creating strong relationships that help further your music career, leveraging your network can be quite powerful.
When you ask people for help, they ultimately feel more connected to you and whatever you are trying to accomplish.
Think about that one friend you have that knows you make music but isn’t exactly your number one fan. They don’t share your music, come to shows or spread the word about you.
However, let’s say you ask them to come by and be in your next music video because you think they’d be perfect for a specific scene.
Suddenly their whole energy changes.
They start paying more attention to your platforms and what you’re doing with your music. They randomly hit you up, asking when the music videos dropping.
Then you drop the teaser for the video, and guess who’s suddenly sharing your posts on their own socials?
Why is that?
Well, you brought them in and made them feel more apart of the process. People are selfish creatures and typically want to feel like they’re important.
Once we give them that feeling of importance, chances are their support for your music will also start to grow. The compound effect of this is that they will begin to share your content with their own network as well.
Certain people will resonate more with your music or your creative videos. Some can’t get enough of your merch, while others tune in because of your uncanny ability to make them laugh.
Whatever the reason, you’ll want to ensure that people’s needs are being met when they come across your platform.
You can do this by mixing up the different kinds of content you create and the things you offer your fans.
Now don’t stretch yourself too thin by trying to do too much as an emerging artist, especially if you don’t have help. However, realize that you can connect with your audience in more ways than just putting out your music.
If a good chunk of your fans are asking you to release shirts with a specific lyric on them or to create videos of you doing cover songs, it might make sense to give the people what they want.
Knowing that you listened to their suggestions will help them once again feel more connected to you because they know that what they say matters to you.
Whenever someone mentions you online, be sure to repost their content. You’ll be surprised how far a story-mention with a “Thanks for the support!” caption will take you in creating a network of loyal online followers.
You can share and commission fanart or even feature a “fan of the month/year” for going above and beyond.
These efforts help build your reputation for being friendly, down to earth, and community-minded.
It’s not difficult to think up a gesture fans would love. One heartwarming example was when Lady Gaga ordered $1,000 of pizza for hungry fans who spent all night outside of Best Buy waiting to meet her.
Another great way to show your appreciation for an ‘inner club’ of superfans is by giving them private access to some content or make them VIPs at shows.
Fans love feeling like they get to see something no one else gets to see; it makes them feel important to your music career.
Asking for business
By the time you’ve gone through all these other steps, you should have relationships with fans so secure that asking them to buy a tour tee or a new album is like asking an old friend to borrow ten bucks.
They know you’re good for it.
Unfortunately, when it comes to growing your fanbase, knowing that rejection might be right around the corner sucks and can create fear for artists.
Sometimes you feel guilty or uncomfortable asking someone to buy a ticket to your show, your merch, or even just to check out your music.
However, you can’t be afraid to sell yourself. Think about it like this: if you don’t do it, who else will?
Your goal is to first build trust and give value through your content. The better do this, the easier it is to then ask for the sale.
Furthermore, when someone is willing to check out your music, buy a ticket to a show or buy your merch, chances are they’ll be glad to do it again and again. Because they trust you now and the experience you are creating for them.
Don’t be spammy or annoying, but there’s no harm in asking for the sale. Realize that a “no” only means “no right now.” Don’t take it personally. Just be polite, learn from it, and move on to the next person or opportunity.
Final Thoughts On how to build a fanbase for your music Through Branding
Focus on how you will build trust and create valuable experiences with your audience. This is how you will both attract new fans and keep your current fans happy.
The goal should be to build genuine connections with your fans and keep them coming back for more.
This will be an essential step in helping you build your brand, and ultimately your tribe of superfans.
Kevin is the founder of Music With Flavor, which joined Whipped Cream Sounds in 2023. He is a seasoned musician turned industry expert. His passion for music goes beyond melodies; he delves deep into the intricate world of music marketing, striving to unearth the most effective strategies for indie musicians. However, Music With Flavor isn’t just about Kevin’s knowledge; it’s a network of industry experts handpicked to provide the most trusted advice. Kevin’s role is to pose the right questions, not just answer them, as he and his team tirelessly research trends, connect with artists, and gather valuable insights.