The objective perspective is the idea of getting an unbiased perspective from someone who isn’t as close to your situation as you are. The objective perspective has many uses in music. We’ve all had problems with our significant others–if you go talk to a friend about it, you might gain a newfound sense of clarity on the situation. Even if they just reaffirm what you already think, sometimes you just need to hear from someone else. The same goes with your music: You may have gotten so deep into a project and worked so hard on it that you’ve become insensitive to the finer details.
If there is anything that can be traced to musicians’ antidepressant prescriptions, it’s the immense disappointment of playing to small crowds night after night. It even happens to arena-level acts. We’ve all seen great musicians play at decent-sized venues that are almost completely empty (whether due to a competing show, poor promotion or even a declining fanbase). Despite the lackluster turnout, smart musicians take the stage and play a great show regardless of the circumstances. This makes every concertgoer an even bigger fan. Here are a few scenarios where you can make a heartbreaking show into one that will grow your fanbase for years to come.
Socialize - While not always the case, many musicians get opportunities because they’re friends with another musician. The single best thing you can do at an empty show is to get together with other musicians and discuss real things. Are they on SoundCloud? How is it working for them? Which of the tools are they using? The guitarist has that new Dr. Z amp? How does it sound? You just read a fantastic book that they should read <cough> <cough>? Tell them what you think! Talk about what you have in common.
When you make friends with other musicians, they want to help you, play more shows with you and maybe even tour together.Whether this leads to them getting you on shows or playing your songs to their team member who you’d love to work with–it pays to be friendly in these situations. You never know which acts are going to get huge. And even when you think a musician sucks, they could get a whole lot better in two years and take you with them. If you haven’t figured this out by now, being an asshole doesn’t make you seem like a rock star–it just makes you seem like an asshole.
Audience - It’s not just musicians that you can socialize with. You can talk to the audience too. Something weird happens when you walk into a bar and it’s filled to the brim with people. It makes it a little harder to approach people, because the situation isn’t very exclusive or special. On the other hand, if you walk into the same size bar and it’s kind of empty, suddenly everyone starts talking to one another. This same thing happens at shows. It’s totally acceptable to hang out and make good friends with people and in an empty venue it’s more welcome than ever. No matter how big or small a show you play, meeting the attendees can turn them into fans and turn the fans you already have into super-fans.
Impress - Once, a long time ago, I was in a band. We rolled into a desolate town and played a show to a dozen people. There were more musicians in the bands that played than audience members in attendance. Despite this fact, we went on stage and did what we always did: We gave it 110%. After the set, 10 of the dozen people in attendance came up to us and said they had never seen a band go so crazy, despite no one being around. We were rewarded by everyone–and I mean everyone in the audience–buying tons of our merch to make up for their town being so lame that no one had come to see what ended up an amazing show.
It turned out that in attendance that night was a girl whose brother was A&R at one of the largest indie labels in the country–a label we dreamed of being on. After listening to our demo, the girl called her brother and said she’d just seen the second coming of Christ (aka our band) and that even though no one was there to see us, we destroyed the stage and had the most amazing demo ever. The next thing you know we’re on the phone with an A&R man being courted. You understand the point–you never know who’s watching, so always play shows as if the rooms are completely packed. While it is highly unlikely that there will be some connection to a powerful music business player at the show, you have zero chance of impressing anyone if you’re not trying your best.
Word Gets Around - When you give it your all in front of a small audience, it isn’t just about the sibling of a famous A&R person who might be in attendance. When I see musicians give amazing performances to small crowds, I tell everyone. The fewer people at a concert, the more powerful an amazing performance feels. Fans, especially tastemakers, bloggers and huge music fans, love to tell friends about an experience that was amazing–this is even more true if very few people experienced. If you play a great show, the eight people in attendance will tell 16 friends how great you are and the word will keep spreading. Trust me, I have heard my father talk about seeing Bruce Springsteen in front of a dozen people over a hundred times–and I’ve told almost everyone I know about seeing Refused in front of less than a hundred people. When this word of mouth happens, the next time you roll into town it’s likely the show won’t be so empty.
Keep It Clean - I’m not going to be unrealistic and tell you to play every show sober. Some great musicians play their best sets intoxicated out of their minds. What I will say is this: Don’t use the show when no one is there as the time to test if you can actually drink a whole bottle of absinthe and still get through the set. As stated above, this is an opportunity to blow potential fans away, not become Internet famous after the picture of your vomit all over the drum set gets turned into a .gif by Hipster Runoff (on second thought, this may help you). This is the night to get eight people telling every one of their friends, “I saw ____ and even though no one was there, they blew me away with how amazing they were.” Save the drinking contest for practice or the next time you play a party.
Take Requests! - If you’re playing a show and the eight people there are actually fans of your music, make it fun and engaging for them. Bribe your fans by offering them what they want. I once saw one of my favorite major label bands play to a quarter-packed room and they made it one of the best shows I have ever seen. They had a tambourine and said that if we rocked out hard on the next song, whoever danced the hardest got to play it in the chorus. The crowd went crazy!
After taking requests they even attempted to play a song they’d never played live. The crowd was so psyched and we told everyone we knew about how great it was. Because of me going on and on about them, some of my friends got into their music and they made new fans. Don’t look at an empty room as a let down, look at it as an opportunity to get your fanbase talking.
After four years of research and writing, we are proud to announce the release of Get More Fans: The DIY Guide To The New Music Business. Todd and I set out to make the most comprehensive guide to the techniques, tools, ideas and methods that go into building a fanbase and came up with the 700+ page guide you see here. We wrote a book that leaves no stone unturned when bands wonder what they could be doing to get more fans. We couldn’t be more proud to put this book out and would love for you to take a look at it. Lots of famous musicians and music business people have already said insanely nice things about it.
Here’s what we suggest you do.
- Check out the Table of Contents and read the synopsis. We have a list of ten reasons you should buy it.
- We also have half of the book available for free on our website here.
- It’s for sale on Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble and Google Play. It is available in every format of eBook and in physical book form.
If you are really feeling generous, here is how you can help.
- We would love for you to help spread the word. Over the years I know we gave many of you advice and free time and have tried to help you promote your music without asking for anything in exchange. Right now, we need all the help we can get and you can help me by taking 60 seconds of your time. Any Facebook post, Tweet, Tumblr post, Instagram picture, or email to friends wo would be interested in this book really helps.
- If you are really feeling giving, we desperately need Amazon Book Reviews. Two sentences and a 5 star review does us a world of good helping us to promote the book. It is greatly appreciated.
Lastly, we would love to hear from you, if you know someone who we should get this book to, are curious about it, just want to say hello, give comments on it, point us to writers, reviewers or whatever, please write us. We put four years into this book and need to get it everywhere we can.
Thank you for your help and for listening.
Jesse and Todd
Before I get started, I know that many people will say we shouldn’t talk about politics on this blog, but this election is too important to musicians and their ability to promote their music. Our blog is about promoting your music and there is a stance that one candidate has taken in this race that makes voting for them, a vote against your music career. I will not be discussing all the other issues that come with each candidate, you can find that on other sites from many people who are far more qualified to discuss these subjects. My expertise is in musician issues and there is one stance, on an important issue, that these candidates have taken that could damn your music career. If your music career is not a major factor in who you vote for, move on to another article. If it is keep reading.
Net Neutrality is the single most important issue that will affect your ability to promote your music and keep the music world full of opportunity for unknown musicians. If you are not familiar with the issue, the above video gives a great description of it. In short, Net Neutrality keeps the Internet how it is – allowing musicians to promote their music and continues to allow unknown musicians to build their own career without getting permission from the gatekeepers like labels, radio and large corporations. It allows fans to choose who they want to hear, instead of corporations allowing them to hear who can afford to pay them a bribe. When we hear stories of independent musicians being able to promote themselves without major label backing and make the gains many DIY & indie artists have made over the past few years, it is because the Internet is presently neutral.
If Net Neutrality is not upheld, large corporations will ask you to pay to have your content be seen by their subscribers. This means if you want fans to be able to see your website, you may need to pay ISPs like Comcast, Optimum, Cablevision, etc. a fee just to allow your own fans to check in on your website or other content. Obviously this would help return the power to big, corporate funded, major label musicians who can afford this fee and away from fans deciding who gets popular and who does not.
This will have a catastrophic effect on anyone trying to grow their fanbase that doesn’t have large corporate backing and music fans looking for good music, not music that can afford to pay a bribe. It would also help return the music world to one where major labels have all of the power to shove crappy musicians down your throat, as opposed to the democracy of music popularity we are seeing emerge on the Internet. You can pretend to be an economist and decide whose solutions you believe will be better for the economy etc. At the end of it all, there is no single issue that will determine what promoting your music will look like more than Net Neutrality.
Here is where the candidates stand:
Gary Johnson - Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, is a fierce supporter of Net Neutrality. He goes a step further and would like the government to be even less involved in the Internet.
Mitt Romney – Sadly, Mitt Romney is the one presidential candidate who is firmly against Net Neutrality and will look to allow the Internet providers to bill you for access to your fans. While Mitt has taken stands on both sides of many issues and flip-flopped all over the place throughout this campaign, this is one issue he always stands by. In my opinion and everyone else I have seen who consistently cover this issue all agree – Mitt Romney would be a catastrophe for Net Neutrality.
I will be voting for Obama. Todd will be voting for Johnson. Both of which will continue to help musicians get a fair shake. Sadly, a vote for Mitt Romney will make things harder for everyone looking for an equal playing field on the Internet.
- Ira Glass via 37 Signals from the Code Academy handbook, designed by Sawyer Hollenshead.
If you are looking for some great lectures on the music business and creating music, Red Bull Music Academy has some amazing lectures that deal with everything from making music to strategies in the new music business. With interviews with wise people like Modeselektor, Howie Weinberg, Adrian Sherwoord and countless others. A great resources with countless lectures to inject, for when you need some new inspiration. Check out Red Bull Music Academy.
Recently, we came across a comment on one of our posts that asked “What do you do when the rest of your band trusts you too much and thinks everything you say or do is gold?” While this is a rare instance it is an issue that can be detrimental to your music reaching its full potential. One of the best things about music is everyone is able to have an opinion. If everyone involved in a project is humble and reasonable, everyone’s opinions can be discussed and an easy consensus can be reached.
The world for musicians and songwriters just got so much brighter. In the AppStore you will now find a version of Garageband similar to the iPad version, waiting for you to make some great music with…. or um… At least sketches on a tiny keyboard that you can later use to make great music with! Get it here!
Hey! Long time no see! I know, you probably assumed we dropped off the face of the planet but really, we were just gearing up for something even more amazing. As you can see this blog has a great new look, that we are very proud of. We have also moved the blog from Movable Type to WordPress (word to the wise, if you aren’t an ultra-coding geek, stick with WordPress as your CMS). You will now see more than one post from us every weekday consistently (if not more), just like we used to do. The other exciting news is that we launched this site to gear up for the Musformation Book! It is finally, almost complete. To welcome us back if you can spread the word by clicking all those share buttons and let people know we are back we would REALLY appreciate it. Stay tuned for some GREAT content, we already have almost 100 new articles written, and waiting to go out and show you some great new things in the world of music. So much cool stuff to come and please let us know if you see anything funny going on in the new website. Thanks!
PS Thanks to Jackie and Matt for doing an amazing job and making this new design what it is!