Written By JJ Ong Falling Feathers (TSMC Lecturer, Musician, Digital Communications Specialist)
Woah Woah Woah, very controversial title, I know. For many musicians, the end goal is often to be “Signed to a Major Label”, “Have Millions of Fans and Views”, “Endorsed and Sponsored by Renowned Brands” and “Become Rich and Famous”. These parameters seem to be the only measure of success in the eyes of most musicians, which is one of the key reasons why so many talented artists and bands get jaded and give up long before they can even carve out a semblance of a sustainable music career as a “Full-Time Original Artist”.
What do you think are the chances of you becoming the next Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, Kanye West or even The Beatles or The Foo Fighters? I hate to break it to you but your chances are close to 0%. The truth is, only about 0.000002% of musicians become “successful”. According to most people’s definition anyway. Yes you read that right, 0.000002% and that is already being generous. This is the main reason why musicians who possess an insane amount of skill and talent don’t become “successful”. It’s mainly because the goal is wrong from the get go. The odds of becoming rich and famous are probably higher if you started buying the lottery today instead of trying to become a “successful” musician. The key take away here is that, musicians like us, should really aim to become sustainable instead of “successful”. It is entirely possible to make a full-time living by being an original music artist without being well known. The odds of being sustainable is way way way wayyyy higher than becoming “successful”.
So what even is being sustainable and where do we even begin? I first conceptualised this perspective after being introduced to a wonderful theory by my friend Dr Wee, that went on to shape my view of music, marketing, business and life. This theory is none other than the “1000 True Fans” theory coined by Kevin Kelly. The theory states that: “A creator, such as an artist, musician, photographer, craftsperson, performer, animator, designer, videomaker, or author—in other words, anyone producing works of art—needs to acquire only 1000 True Fans to make a living. A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the superdeluxe reissued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the T-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans. ” According to Kelly.
To put this into perspective for you, imagine you have 1000 super fans who absolutely love and adore your creations to death. Do you think they would be willing to contribute $5 per month to you, for you to continue creating art that they love? Probably right? Think about it, if 1000 people pay you $5 per month, that amounts to a whopping $5000 revenue per month. Probably way way higher than what most of you are making from your music as of today.
So how do you start creating super fans to build your 1000 fan army?
Below are some ways you can put this into action IMMEDIATELY:
1. Lose The Ego
Yes yes yes, we all know you are an amazing musician la di da. But who really cares when you are starving and broke? Get down from your rockstar throne and start interacting with potential audiences! If someone comments on your post, reply them and thank them. If some sends you a DM, reply them and strike a conversation. Don’t expect people to fall head over heels for you because you are “such a great musician” or “so good looking”. You want to be relatable and you want to build meaningful relationships with these people that find you or your craft relatable. If you start to communicate with the people around you and already interacting, trust me, you will discover so much more about you and your music, which will not only allow you to improve as a musician, but connect with potential fans who will go on to support you for life.
2. Collaborate with Others
Probably the oldest trick in the book! But many of us still fail to get past our own ego and work together because we are “more experienced”, “more popular” or “just a better musician”. Always remember that no one is better than anyone. Everyone is on a journey of their own so don’t think you are better just because you can “shred faster” or “belt higher”. Collaboration can bring about endless magic and miracles. Collaboration allows you to share resources, ideas, share common fans and most importantly, it allows you to build a tight knit community of your own, something far greater than you alone. We’re not just talking about collaborating with musicians here. Expand your mind! Every creative on this planet is searching for opportunities to create a sustainable career for themselves. Collaborate with Musicians, Visual Artists, Dancers or anyone you can think of that can help you create a coherent art from greater than what you have. Think of mutually beneficial ways to collaborate with people that will benefit all parties in the long run! Be creative and don’t pull that “I’m offering you exposure” line on others if you don’t want others to pull it out on you (Unless you are offering REAL exposure of course). As the old saying goes “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships”.
3. Make It Easy for the Fans
You want to give potential fans a way to support you. Don’t expect them to ask you for you bank account details or paypal link. If that happens great, but you are the one in need of their support here, so be proactive and TELL THEM HOW they can support you financially. Sites like Patreon, print on demand sites for Merch and such are fantastic ways to start.
4. Use Social Media A LOT
One of the key enablers of this theory is social media and the internet. More than ever, it is so much easier to converse with and convert a prospective fan because social media literally breaks geographical boundaries and allow someone on the other side of the planet to discover your music. Be proactive on social media and consistently upload new quality material or content. If you’re not uploading, potential fans ain’t gonna be able to find you. There are many social media strategies you can employ as a musician (Which I will probably share in another article), but the idea is you want to put out content as much as you possibly can and interact with the people that are already interacting with your content. Consistency and Quality is key here.
5. Make your Music Readily Available
Someone doesn’t become a super fan right off the bat. Super fans take nurturing, care and most importantly, they gotta know where they can enjoy your music. Not on YouTube? Get On it. Not on Spotify? Get On It. Not on Apple Music? Get on it. Not on IGTV? Get on it. In fact, get your music available on as many relevant platforms as you can! Read more about digital music distribution here.
6. Start Finding more Income Streams
While you are on your journey to world domination by searching the globe for your 1000 true fans, it’s important that you feed yourself as well. Click here to read about the 5 easy ways you can start making some money with your music TODAY.
7. Interact! Communicate! Engage!
If you are performing live, stay behind after the show to chat with the audience. The fact that they stayed to watch you perform is already an indicator that they are probably somewhat into your music. Don’t let this opportunity go to waste! Communicate with them and win them over. Get them to follow you on your socials, buy your merch, support you and come to your next gig. Find out more about them and what makes them tick. By getting to know current audiences, their likes, dislikes and habits, will not only allow you to interact better with them, it will also help you gain insights on where and even how to find more potential listeners with similar tastes to your existing audiences.
If this article sounds all too good to be true, below are some examples of musicians with a small following, that are making a significant amount of money from their music alone:
– Chroma Key (1.1K subs on YouTube, 481 Patrons, Making more than $2500USD Per Video) (Patreon Here)
– Wookiefoot (4k subs on YouTube, 262 Patrons, Making more than $1300USD Monthly) (Patreon here)
– Two Minutes to Late Night (21K subs on YouTube, 240 Patrons, making more than $1500USD Monthly) (Patreon Here)
I can continue to list more because there are literally hundreds of thousands of musicians you’ve probably never heard of already becoming sustainable with this concept.
So what are you waiting for? Start your journey toward sustainability TODAY!
This article has been reposted with permission from JJ Ong Falling Feathers.
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