Fans & Musicians

So a musician friend and I were chatting today about what makes a good fan, and more importantly, what makes a good musician. Beyond the nuts and bolts of playing music, there is something else that has to go into playing music in today’s music environment – fan interaction.

I know it sounds like a given, but I think there are a lot of musicians out there that aren’t getting it. Who know they are talented and think they deserve their fans’ dollars for delivering a great product. And they do…but fan interaction is a lot like customer service. You can provide a quality service/product and not do that little bit extra that will make me a raving fan of your good product. The same goes for music.

Every fan is different. A hardcore music follower, like me, is going to have a different set of standards than average Joe listener hearing a cover band at a local bar. But when it comes down to it, I think there are a few things that today’s musicians must deliver on in the fan experience – whether diehard or casual – that can make or break them.

There are a MILLION bands out there vying for my attention, my dollars, my attendance at shows, and my word-spreading. I am not the greatest fan on the planet, but I’m a good fan. I buy records. I understand that you need to make money. I know traveling is hard. I get that this is your job. I don’t mean to sound cocky – but seriously, you should want me as your fan. So how do you make me a fan? Here’s my formula for delivering the ultimate fan experience – to me or the undiscerning casual listener.

Make great music. Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to be a phenomenal musician. Everyone has to start somewhere. But love what you’re doing. Write good songs. Don’t half-ass it. Your fans know when you put a clinker out there to fill up a record. Trust me.

Have an awesome live performance. Okay, we all know that everyone has bad days, even musicians. But do not ever take the stage and not give it 100% of whatever you’ve got that day. Just because only two fans showed up to see you doesn’t give you the right to slack off on stage. Those fans paid their money and deserve a good show. Make your shows memorable for the fans. Take the time to notice people in the audience. Call them out. Listen to their requests. Don’t be too stuck on yourself or your talents to appreciate those who see the same talent in you. That doesn’t mean you have to play your cover of “Single Ladies” every time someone requests it – because we know you get sick of playing it. But if you’re not up for that one that night, ask the fan what else they want to hear and make sure you give them something that makes them feel special. We all understand that you can’t make everyone happy all of the time…but try your darndest.

A great example of this happened recently when I went to see one of my favorite bands, The Influence. They know I love one song of theirs in particular. It’s a number that requires an acoustic guitar. They didn’t have a lot of time to sound check and skipped checking the acoustic. The lead singer called me out saying, “Krissie, I know you love ‘Corpse Song,’ but we can’t play it tonight, so I’m going to play this one for you instead.” Was it one of my favorites? Not necessarily. But did it make me feel special? You got it. And even if I hadn’t known them and had asked a new band to play a song and they had denied me, if they had said, “I know you asked for X song, but so and so doesn’t know it yet…hope this will suffice for you,” I would have been happy.

Be genuinely interested in your fans. Talk to them before and after the show. If they take the time to come out to see you, sing along to all of your songs and buy a CD or a t-shirt, they DESERVE to have two seconds of your time for you to say “Thank you” and ask them a question or two about how they heard you, if they live in town, etc. If you’re paying attention to the audience during your set, you’ll naturally have questions to ask about them individually or at the very least, about the show itself (“How’d you like the new song? I’m interested to see what fans think of it…”). All it takes is one personal question to let someone know that you really are interested in hearing about them. Yes, there are hangers on and people that don’t know when to shut up or let the next fan approach – but you’re a professional musician. This is going to happen. Be honest and just say, “I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you, but this young lady/man over here has been waiting to talk to me and I want to make sure I thank everyone for coming to my show. I hope you don’t mind if I say hi to them.” They’ll get it…because, after all, they’ve probably been the one waiting in line before. Oh and P.S. I can tell when you could care less. Don’t let me figure that out. There’s nothing worse than someone who is being fake.

Be genuinely interested in making new fans – of all types. I know it sounds silly, but this is key. If a guy with piercings and tats hanging at the back of the room doesn’t look like your “typical” fan but stuck around for your whole show, dude, make an effort to approach him. You never know when the “new person” in the crowd is going to be one of those rare finds who can get you in the door with a whole new audience. If a long time fan brings friends to a show, pay special attention to them. A few minutes with them will gain you a handful of new fans at the next show. And while we know that looks sell, don’t forget about your less attractive fans. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a musician make a beeline for a bottle blonde Playboy model lookalike at the back of the room (who, by the way, was talking during your whole set) when someone who had just seen you for the first time and was genuinely interested in buying a CD was hanging out at the merch table for 10 minutes and eventually walked away. This goes for female musicians, too. Don’t just talk to the guys. Talk to the girlfriends and the wives.

Remember me. Now, this is of particular interest to indie bands whose audiences are still small, but damn it, remember me. If I’ve come to see you every time you come to my city, try your damndest to remember me. I know you meet a zillion people. I don’t expect you to remember my name. But if I’ve consistently come to see you as your audience grows, a smile and a “Thanks for coming out to see us again” will win you a billion bonus points with me.

Make it easy for me to see you live. Play in my city more often than once every six years. Let me know when you’re going to be in town (or even close by – I will travel!) – send e-mails, tweets, Facebook and MySpace bulletins. Hang posters. Hire someone to run your social networking sites. Ask your wife or your girlfriend to do it. Use your fans (this requires having a good relationship with your fans – which goes back to some of the above points). Train your pet monkey…I don’t care how you do it, but don’t make me work to find out about your shows. If you want people to come to your shows, you need to put the effort into making sure we know about them. Don’t expect that I’ll go to your social networking pages or the venue websites of the 10 clubs in town to check to see when you’re coming. Because 50% of fans aren’t that dedicated.

Anything you do above and beyond these things is bonus, really. And let me give you a clue: it’s not too hard to go above and beyond this. That kid who has been to see you the last 20 times you’ve been in town? Give him a free t-shirt. It’s a $10 loss for you which you’ll get back 50 fold in him telling his friends and bringing them all to the next show. Got a fan who has done an insane job of promoting your music or your shows? Guest list them at the show. Nothing makes a fan – especially a loyal one that you aren’t “friends” with – feel more important than walking up to the door with a friend and being able to say, “I’m on the guest list.” Make your college buddy who you haven’t seen in six years who didn’t care about you for squat until he found out that you were a musician pay the cover charge. Notice that a fan bought six CDs on pre-order? Take two seconds to send them a thank you note via e-mail (yes, you can use the “junk mail” account to do it so they don’t have your real address). Sending out the orders of new CDs yourself? Watch the mailing addresses and if you recognize a name, put a sticky note on the CD with “Hi”, a smiley face and your name on it. Thank a long time fan on a website, Twitter or other networking site or in the liner notes of your CD – unprompted. Mention a crazy fan’s antics in a video blog. It’s the little things, gang…those little extras…that make fans for life.

Words of wisdom? Probably not. But they could help make me a fan.

What makes YOU a fan?

(Thanks to all of the amazing artists and their management teams in my life who “get” it and gave me the background for writing this – Shane and Thumbs, Wil, Josh, Mr. Hoge, Sammy and the guys, Gareth, Honor By August, The Influence guys, Swifty from Georgia, Matty…you know who you are!)

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