I had a conversation recently with a fellow artist manager which took the usual meandering path of mutual bemoanings of the industry, changes to IG, agents wanting to take a cut of a pot that hadn’t much in it, the usual racket over a coffee in an empty venue at the start of play. But things got interesting when we began to talk about some of the artists here in Munich, the excitement I was feeling at seemingly unearthing talent that, for whatever reason, weren’t receiving the lavish playlists and endless festival invites I felt they deserved. I asked the question to my excellent friend with regards to his artist whether he’d prefer 100 new fans in week one of a single release or 100,000 streams. And it was the pause for thought that told you a lot about where we are in this scene, and it belies some questions that I think artists need to be asking themselves.
Independent creators are bombarded by numbers. This is a numbers game. Decisions are made, investment from labels arrives, bigger shows are booked and playlists are curated on that one word. But at some point the DIY and indie troubadours need to start justifying the madness of show business by looking more at one number that – understandably – they’re convinced is the least important. And it’s that of their bottom line: making some money.
So the elephant in the room of artists I’m meeting in this city is a lack of fanbase, and to refine that, a lack of confidence in directly marketing towards them. Merchandise and ticketing is going to make you money, it’s the first thing I’m fighting on a weekly basis to take off the table in negotiating with circling sharks of indie labels and bean counters masquerading as publishers. But here’s the issue: artists are so utterly obsessed with the numbers that make other people money that they overlook the ones that actually bring a return.
Streaming numbers are important, incredibly important, but even when the jackpot is hit by a quick raid on a new release triggering the Gods of Radar, Discovery Weekly and then editorial playlists, they’re not gonna pay you. Not till you sign with Universal. But worse than that, most of the Spotify junkies flowing over your glorious two-minutes-thirty of a post-punk banger aren’t moving to your pages and following you, not to mention giving you engagement. So it’s time to look at your number of followers – another false number – and put some work into finding how many of those are actually fans. And that means doing something most musicians forget about: talking to them. Directly.
The most underrated function on your instagram is direct messaging. I recently consulted a copy writer for various mega corporate / pseudo satanic enterprises on how to write to a follower with the objective of completing a call to action. A long story short and a week later, I was beta testing two different messages with a band I manage, with the request of either an email address or a phone number – we were building a secret fan whatsapp group for exclusive content and early bird ticket links. Of fans that read the message over 75% of them engaged with it. And with the leg work of replying to every single message, we saw our engagement skyrocket, quadrupled our mailing list, and sold-out half a venue without even announcing the show publically.
Artists have been sold a lot of lies about the revolutionary implications of social media, and in my opinion have a greater burden to bring several new skill sets that are a world away from focussing on writing hooks and tightening-up a rhythm section. But they are often great communicators; it’s a desire to sublimate frustration into art that keeps people writing songs and thankfully, that communication of emotion means people will always want to listen. Talk to your followers, engage them on events that they can take ownership in, and have the confidence to say you need them to make something special. To return to the opening question, I’d rather 100 fans than 100,000 streams. Fans that buy a ticket, a piece of merch and maybe later two versions of limited edition vinyl. Because, whisper it, you’ll get paid. But to find them you’ve gotta do more than hit post on a gig poster followed by a couple of insta stories. You have to engage them. Because the definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different outcome. Conversation leads to community and community – around an artist – is a fanbase.
You don’t need to move to Berlin to find people that create hype in a sweaty venue, though you do have to have something to say…….