Last week I spoke at The Hub’s OneDayer conference at Cecil Sharp House, which focuses on tech innovation and live music. My brief was to offer five tips for direct-to-fan communication, for artists just starting out. I used notes instead of a slideshow – and was quite rambling and informal – but here are the Top 5 Tips I shared. There is audio, which I’ll link here when they publish it…
Before you start, understand what kind of artist you are – and where you want to go. This is the exact point I started with, at my talk for May 2015 Great Escape Convention.
Imagine a line from ‘enigmatic’ at one end, to ‘social’ at the other. All artists exist somewhere along it. An artist like Burial, for example, is at one end where he is (or at least was for a long time) anonymous, offering almost solely music itself. Amanda Palmer, say, sits near the other end, where musical content feels secondary to her iconoclastic direct communication. It can be fluid with time (especially over a long career); so Prince may still be enigmatic but over time we’ve come to feel as if we know him well. Morrissey was enigmatic for many years, then wrote a huge warts’n’all autobiography. Laura Marling opens up in interviews, yet her social media is resolutely ‘HQ-voice’; in third person. Anyway, where do you want to live on that line, starting out? Think carefully about placing yourself. You cannot take back social once you’ve done it.
Even if you’re not ‘social’ it’s still essential to sign up for new apps and platforms to secure your artist name on there. Get registered everywhere, regardless. Remember you can choose to communicate in third person, so it feels more anonymous – or perhaps recruit others to do the social stuff. If you’re a band, share out roles. Whoever is good at social should cover that job.
Never under-estimate email. Always grab emails at gigs – they’re vastly more useful than, say, Facebook ‘likes’. After collecting emails, as soon as you can, send them something to welcome them onboard. Have a free exclusive MP3 or a decent welcome letter. After that, email regularly (once a month at roughly the same time, less if you’re quiet, more if you’re very busy) and try to keep a consistent style and tone. I usually recommend Mailchimp but there are lots of providers.
In the past I liked snazzy looking mailouts but recently I’ve enjoyed very basic emails, especially from comedians Dan Kitson and Louis CK, who write as if it’s just a normal email, stream-of-consciousness.
Prioritise your email list first – they’re the best fans you’ve got – after all, they showed up at a gig and actively let you contact them. They didn’t just press a button ‘liking’ you on a computer they were already sitting at. If you use crowdfunding later on, they’ll be the bedrock of that support, so give them the scoop whenever you can. Oh and never, ever buy or sell email addresses, it fucking sucks and with one quick click you’ll taste forever of spam.
Crucially with email addresses, unlike almost any social media activity – you own the data.
(it’s off-topic but I want to mention: however good social media gets, build and maintain your own artist website as best as you can, as early as you can. Platforms now enable many things a band site can do but with your own site you’ll own the data and control everything. If you can make e-commerce work, for example, you’re not giving a big percentage to a third party. The better your website is in the long run, the less you’ll need third parties. It’s still (and I think/hope will always be) the biggest single step to being a going concern in your own right. After all, what is Facebook but someone’s massive website we spend too much time on?)
Run a ‘two strand approach’ to social media. As you sign up to more platforms, it quickly gets overwhelming. To counter this, pick just the one or two platforms that you most love anyway and be ‘always on’ – as constant as you can, posting and responding in real time where possible. But with all the other platforms, schedule fixed times (twice a week is good), when you’ll go through, update pages and respond to people on there. Don’t get bogged down on those pages when you’re not meant to be on them. You have to accept a certain amount of mess with social media, simply because you need to be in so many places at once. But operating this two strand approach makes that a lot clearer and, if you’re consistent, your fanbase will get used to where you’re at.
Also be flexible: if you find loads of people are active on your Pinterest, even though you only check it weekly, swap it out with whichever of your ‘always-on’ platforms is getting the least positive results.
Be cool as fuck – party hard. This also translates to “don’t be a dick online”. Never forget that the Internet is both instant and permanent, so think before you reply.
This also connects to ‘corporate voice’ versus ‘personal voice’. If you’re a band, maybe keep your band-name accounts simple and promotional – but at the same time use your own individual accounts in a much more personal fun way – and find good moments to link from the band page to the individual pages. Meanwhile, look outward, engage on other topics and other artists; talk music rather than business.
Amidst all this business-minded communication fun, don’t forget the music. We only have an industry in order to enable ourselves to continue to make music. So don’t neglect the whole reason we’re here in the first place.
I hope that’s useful, feel free to add comments or suggestions.