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How to Build a Fanbase for Your Music

SUSTO at The Royal American. Photo: Joseph Nienstedt

When you’re just getting started as a band, the first thing on your mind, other than recording these great new songs you’ve written, is probably building a fanbase for your music and getting people to come out to your shows.

Building a fanbase from scratch is never easy, but nearly every musician who sells out arenas today once started out playing smaller gigs at less-than ideal venues in their local music scene. It’s part of the process, and you have to start at the bottom.

Before you can think about booking a tour and getting out of your hometown, it’s important to build a fanbase in the place where you live. That’s your support system, the people who will come out to see you every single time you play a show (unless you play too many local shows!).

Having a strong local following can not only give you some money to go on tour, record your music, and otherwise promote yourself, but it can also offer the psychological motivation to keep pushing and trying to make it in other cities, too.

Luckily for you, once you gain a following in your local music scene, when the time is right you can repeat this process in every new city you tour through to ensure that more and more people come to your shows every time you and the band stop in.

Get Involved in the Scene

The most important aspect of generating buzz for a new local band is to get involved in the music scene that you’re hoping will become your support system in due time. This means going to as many local shows as you can, checking out other local bands, and networking with people in the crowd, both musicians and fans. Common sense dictates that if somebody knows you personally, they are much more likely to come out and support your music when the time comes.

Remember, though, you aren’t going out to these shows just to build a fanbase. You’re going out to meet people and build relationships with people who regularly attend shows, and one of the benefits might be building a fanbase. If you go out with the sole intention of promoting your music, you are going to make a terrible impression on people.

Nobody wants to feel like they’re being used as a pawn in your quest for new fans, and if you open every conversation with something along the lines of, “Hey, check out my band,” I can promise you that nobody is going to check out your band. If they do, they’ll be going into it with a negative outlook on you as a person, and they’re much less likely to enjoy your music.

Spark up a genuine conversation with people between sets, and I’d bet good money that the conversation will naturally trend toward a place where you can mention the fact that you’re a musician and you have a band that’s new on the scene. Those are just the types of conversations that people have at music venues.

Meeting other musicians is key here, because those are the people who will invite you to hop on a bill with them, and if they know who you are and they like you, your name will pop into their head much more easily than if you were a complete stranger with a few cool songs. Even if another local band isn’t exactly in the same genre as you, they’ll still appreciate seeing you in the crowd at their show, and they’re likely to return the favor by coming out to see you perform when given the opportunity.

Establish a Social Media Presence

It’s no secret that social media, and especially Facebook and Instagram, have become some of the primary ways that people find out about things. As a musician trying to establish a fanbase, you should be all over both of these platforms. If you haven’t already, tab out of this article and go make both a Facebook page and an Instagram profile for your band. You can still post about your music on your personal accounts, but it’s essential to establish profiles that are completely dedicated to your music, and to keep those pages active and up-to-date with what you’ve got going on.

Since you’re building a fanbase from scratch, your new pages are obviously going to start with zero followers. Make a quick post from your personal pages encouraging your followers to go follow your artist page, and I’m sure that a handful of the more curious and engaged ones will go and do that right away, which will give you a little base layer to start from.

Other than the obvious postings when you release new music, or announce a new show, you should also be generating fun, non-promotional content that will keep your followers engaged. This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about networking without shoving your music in people’s faces. People don’t want to be bombarded with promotional content all the time — they want to be entertained. If they feel like you’re constantly bombarding them with “Hey, check me out!”, they are going to become bored or annoyed, and either unfollow or ignore your posts.

Your social media pages can convey your personality in a way that will make your followers want to come see you perform, in an indirect way. Post about music and non-music related things that you’re doing, offer a behind-the-scenes look at your recording process or a photo of another local band that impressed you earlier in the week. The goal is to keep people engaged and interested, so that when the time comes to promote your music, they’ll be more receptive to checking it out.

Book Smart Shows

When you’re just getting started with generating a local buzz, it can be tempting to play as many shows as possible with the idea that more is better. While yes, playing shows is a great way to get your name out there, and it’s essential to do so when you’re trying to build your fanbase, there are a few pitfalls to watch out for here.

The biggest mistake I’ve seen local bands make when they start gaining some momentum is playing too many shows. It’s easy to get overexcited about the hype that’s building behind your music, and when that starts to happen you’ll probably have lots of people trying to book you for things, and the natural temptation is to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way.

You need to be careful here, because it’s very possible (and common) to over saturate the scene with your name, and when that happens you start to lose some of your momentum. If people can expect to see your name on a bill every weekend, they’ll be less excited about each show and more likely to skip out in favor of something else, because you’re no longer a rarity.

A good rule of thumb for a new band trying to find their fans and establish a local presence is to limit themselves to one show every two weeks. As you get more popular, you should make yourself even more scarce by limiting your local shows to one per season, or one every three months or so. That will ensure that when you do announce a show, people will be excited and mark off their calendars immediately.

It’s also important to be conscious of the types of bills you end up on, and who you share the stage with. If an artist with a questionable reputation invites you to hop on their bill, and you say yes, congratulations, you are now associated with that artist’s poor reputation.

Do a bit of research on the bands you’ll be playing alongside so you can avoid the issue of having someone else’s mistakes reflect upon you when you’re in such a delicate early stage of finding your first fans.

To Conclude

If you follow all of the above advice, and your music is good, you can reasonably expect some buzz to start building around your music in your local scene. Once you’ve got a solid fanbase in your hometown, you can start to expand to building a regional buzz, and these same steps apply in other towns.

When you stop through a new city on tour and there are ten people in the crowd, you should hang around after your set and make an effort to build relationships with the people in the crowd. Next time around, they’ll probably come back, and they might even bring a few friends.

If your songs aren’t good, well, the only thing you can do is get back to the drawing board and write some new ones. Then try again. Whatever you do, don’t give up!