by Mike Venti
If you regularly visit any music industry blogs you likely read this all the time. It’s important advice, but there’s another step that’s just as important: helping the people in your fan base connect to each other.
Once you start to have any sort of success, you won’t be able to create meaningful relationships with each fan. There simply isn’t enough time in the day. Connecting them to each other, however is the next best thing: it uses your music and personality as a foundation for meaningful relationships, which further enhances the meaning of your music amongst your fan base.
This is not a new concept. In fact, major label bands have been doing this rather effectively for years.
When to Start
You should start connecting with your fans the second that you release your first song, but you may want to wait until your following has grown large enough to constitute a community before you really focus on bringing people together.
A fan club is an exclusive membership that can create a great sense of community among your fan base if properly maintained. It should not only give fans access to the artist and free goodies, but it should also be an opportunity to connect fans with one another. People who buy into exclusive clubs are already part of your group of super fans. Help establish connections by holding meet-ups, not just at shows, but during touring downtime as well.
For example, the Dave Matthews Band not only gives fan club members access to direct presales, exclusive music and chances to meet the band, but they’ve also created a members-only message board to help super fans connect with each other.
Through the process of keeping things exclusive, the DMB can be sure that their hardcore fans have their very own place to congregate.
A healthy message board is yet another avenue for dedicated fans to gather and discuss the latest news. Your own branded forums give fans a place to get together and debate lyrics, album releases, and more. Not to mention that it constantly drives more traffic back to your website.
Unlike the DMB’s members-only forum, the benefit of an open forum is that anyone can lurk and explore the community before signing up. Many casual fans can be eventually converted into super fans if they end up engaging on the message boards in any kind of consistent basis.
Other super fans are your greatest influencers for bringing even more people into your fan community. Handpick your most reliable fans to moderate the boards and keep the peace. And make sure to visit the boards yourself, answering questions from fans, and announcing big news from time to time.
One major label act that does this fairly well is the band Billy Talent. Members of the group will post without warning, answering a fan’s question, or giving updates on their next release. By making personal connections with fans and giving them a place to come together, the band is able to build a stronger fan-base as a result.
Have dedicated fans get involved in different aspects of your career. You can have them vote on merch they’d like to see manufactured and sold on the next tour, or even help you promote and book gigs in towns you don’t usually stop at.
Why not open source your shows and allow fans to come together and create their own DVD?
Trent Reznor used this concept to great success when he “leaked” 400 gigabytes of concert footage to his fan-base. The end result was a concert DVD, made by the fans themselves, that rivals any professionally produced concert film. It proved to be both a great way to connect with some super fans, and gave every other fan (casual or not) the opportunity to enjoy the end result.
Social networks usually contain a mix of hardcore fans, casual ones, and the occasional hater, making them great places for sharing updates, yet slightly more difficult to connect with your fan-base. But don’t let that stop you.
A social network can still be a great place to introduce individual fans to the rest of the fan-base. To connect fans, have them email their info and a picture to you with details about their forum name, favourite song, album, show etc. Pick a new person every few days and feature them on your network. Besides being thrilled that they’ve been selected, this is also a great way for fans to get to know each other, and perhaps even recognize each other at shows.
In the late ’90s, before social networks existed, Green Day was already doing this on their website. Every month a new fan would be named “Idiot of the Month” and their picture would be featured on the site.
If you have the means, try to own your social network.
The San Francisco Symphony went the route of creating their own social network in an effort to connect with their fan-base, and more importantly, give people a place to congregate and connect with each other. Besides seeing updates and videos from the musicians, the fans can also create their own posts, upload photos, and connect with other registered members.
By creating spaces where your most dedicated fans can congregate, it is easier to get them involved in different aspects of your career. You can have them vote on merch they’d like to see manufactured and sold on the next tour, or even help you promote and book gigs in towns you don’t usually stop at.
Connecting your fans together is a great way to forge lasting relationships between people who already have common interests… your music.