From Garage to Tour: A Fan-Building Strategy for the Rest of Us (Part 5)

Originally published on Babetalk

Part 5: Turning Casual Fans into Devoted Fans

I am an incredibly disorganized person. If you have followed anything I’ve written so far you can thank my editors. Despite this, I’ve somehow managed to book tours of up to one month in length and have managed each of my bands. I owe much of that to keeping a content schedule. You can find great examples of these all over the Internet but, once again, they tend to skew towards bands that are already well established. These schedules tend to assume that there are cities full of fans awaiting the band’s next tour and just dying to see a new video or hear a new song. When you’re still getting established, most of the content you create will fall on deaf ears.

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Now is the point where I contradict myself. Even if you are still getting established, you should create a content schedule, but modify it for a band of your size. For example, if you have specific cities that you know you can draw in due to interest that fans from that city have expressed online, then book weekend tours in just those cities. If you’re based out of Florida and have a ton of fans in Richmond, you’d be better off driving up and spending three days in Richmond as opposed to forcing a tour and playing potentially unsuccessful shows in South Carolina and Georgia. For a second example, let’s say you’ve had an EP out for about six months and you’re thinking of sinking a chunk of money into making a video for one of the songs. Has there been any real interest in one of the songs that would justify making a video? If not, that money might be better spend recording a new song or two, or even doing an acoustic version of your EP, or maybe doing a genre-bending cover of a popular song and releasing that as a video. Choose your content wisely.

For a band at this stage, you most likely have amassed a moderate local fan base, a small regional fan base, and have made online connections with touring bands and smaller media outlets in your genre. Most importantly, your name should be somewhat well known by now, even if most of the people who have heard of you haven’t listened to your music yet. How many times have you heard the phrase, “I’ve heard of that band, but never listened to them?” People even say that about famous bands. It’s much more common to know of a band’s existence than actually listen to that band. Your goal in this stage is to convert those who know of you, into actual fans of your band.

Here is an example of a content schedule. Feel free to adjust it to fit your band.

Every six months, put out a major release. This should typically be a record of some sort, even if it’s as small as a cover or acoustic EP, but it can also be something bigger like a full album or a large tour, assuming you have the fan interest or a larger band wants to take you on the road.

Every three months, put out a minor release. This should typically be a large local show with something to promote. Having a ticketed local show four times a year is a great way to keep current fans interested without wearing them out, and it can generate some excitement for whatever you’re releasing. This is where cliché individuals (I believe the scientific term is “basic bitches”) would tell you, “don’t make it a show… make it an event.” As cringe inducing as that was to type, it’s true. Rent the venue out yourself and book local bands you know can draw. Shell out some money to book a mid-level touring band or two so your show can have more notoriety online even with people who don’t live near the show. This is great way to get your name associated with established bands. Lastly, release a new song or a cover video to go along with the show. If you have a local or large college radio station in your area, book an interview a few days before the show. Again, this isn’t a strategy to get new people to come to the show as terrestrial radio isn’t the best medium for that, but it can help turn a lot of maybe’s into yes’s. Also, pay the 5-25 bucks to Facebook to promote the show. I know, I know, principles and all that stuff. Just pay the money so your current fans know it’s happening and hopefully this extra push will make it feel like your band’s name is everywhere.

*A quick aside about Facebook- Yes, they have been screwing bands out of ways to communicate with the people who like their band page. The way I found around that was to send each person who liked my band a Facebook message thanking them soon after they liked the page. Most of these people sent me friend requests or accepted mine. Now, I can communicate with this network of people much better from my personal page than I ever could from the band page.

Your band’s genre has an established, interconnected social circle on the Internet. Hardcore, punk, ska, and metal communities have been extremely well connected over the years and I’m sure the indie rock crowd has a bunch of Morse Code machines hooked up so they can talk about a Chief Keef and Wilco mash up. Just like the way you joined your local scene in person, become an authentic part of the online community as well.

Every month, go on a weekend tour or weekend promotional trip. If you have the funds and time to do this every week, you should. However, assuming you don’t have a trust fund and limitless energy, make sure to do it at least once a month. If you can’t set up a weekend tour in the way I described in Part 4 and just really want to play, travel to a city that you have some connection to – even if it’s just a friend who can give you a place to sleep. Try to find a bar that will let you drop in and play or an open mic night, or even an acoustic night at a coffee shop or something. Busk on the street if you have to. However, if performing is not a necessity, it’s smart to follow a national in-genre tour for a few stops. Hang out near the venue during the daytime and meet people who come to the show early. These are usually people who are very into the music (they came early) and have nothing else to do (they’re waiting in line). This can be a great opportunity to make authentic connections and give your music out. And while you’re there, you can also pass out hundreds of demos and download cards as more people arrive. One other tip – most bands give out their music as the crowd is leaving the show. If you’re giving out demos in the form of CDs then I can understand this as they may put your music into their car stereo on the way home, but the truth is they probably won’t. This promotion tactic is far better for getting people familiar with your band name (and logo, if you keep it consistent) than it is for getting them to actually listen to your music. This is why I would recommend giving out download cards to people on their way into the show. Doors tend to open an hour before the show starts and venues can quickly become too loud to have consistent conversation, which may lead to people actually reading the card that you gave them.

*An aside about download cards. This might actually be the best piece of advice I can give. Don’t get download cards. Go to VistaPrint.com and order business cards with designs/logos for your band on both sides. Make them look like a band flyer as opposed to someone’s business card. Include links to where you can get your music for free (at least stream for free). I would recommend Bandcamp due to their statistics page and ability to show up very high on a Google search. These cards will be unbelievably inexpensive (we’re talking 5000 for about $75) and look far better than a burned CD or an “official” download card that also requires putting in a code. For every additional click you make a new user go through, the drop off rate is about half. “Official” download cards require about four clicks. Ideally, you want a potential new fan to type in the site, click the download button, and have the music. In general make your music easily accessible; include direct links to your music in your social media bios, embed streaming links onto your Facebook, Tumblr, etc.

Also, you’ll want to release some kind of media each month, even if it’s just a webcam video of a cover song.

Every week, release a podcast. This is just a personal preference of mine, but your band should have a podcast. In this day and age, you can set up a webcam and broadcast directly to Youtube with such ease that it’s practically irresponsible not to use that medium to your advantage. This doesn’t even have to be a direct promotion of your band. Just talk to other people or yourself about whatever you want, then throw your music at the start and end of it, and call it “The (Your Band Name Here) Podcast.” It’s a great way to let anyone interested really get to know the members of your band in an authentic way. While musicians who aren’t named Matt Pryor have not been utilizing this, stand up comedians have been breaking out left and right due to the content that they put out through this medium. Comics may be more naturally entertaining, but that doesn’t negate the fact that connection and authenticity are major factors in obtaining invested fans. At the very least, set up your webcam and talk about something for fifteen minutes each week.

Every day, post something mildly interesting on your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. If doesn’t have to be groundbreaking. Make a joke, put up an interesting link or picture, or ask a question. Basically, treat your band page like you would treat your personal page. Be an actual person. Just don’t force a post if it’s not there. I’ve seen many band posts that sound like something an overly enthusiastic camp counsellor would say to get a group of children excited.

That is the general outline I would use for promoting a band that is growing but not yet ready to tour. The goal of this content should be use the buzz you created during your time in the trenches to turn those who have “heard of you guys” into invested fans. Invested fans are the ones retweeting your posts, sharing your videos, tumblr-ing (that’s a verb, right?) pictures of your band with lyrics on them, and bringing their friends to your show. Having 1,000 invested fans is miles better than having 10,000 people who have only heard of you.

Continue Reading: From Garage to Tour: A Fan-Building Strategy for the Rest of Us (Part 6)

Miss Part 4?: From Garage to Tour: A Fan-Building Strategy for the Rest of Us (Part 4)

Eric hosts the Eric Tries Too Hard Podcast
Subscribe to his YouTube channel for videos and music
Follow him on Twitter @erictries

P.S. Eric wrote this article, but Ryan posted it. Clearly, Eric’s not trying hard enough.

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