May/June 2021

by Vanessa McGowan

Road Rules: How To Attract Your (First 1000) True Fans

by Vanessa McGowan

Road Rules: How To Attract Your (First 1000) True Fans

Growing your audience as a musician is all about attracting the right people to you, sharing your story to engage them, and then getting them to stick around with consistent content that inspires, informs, or entertains.

Artists sometimes make the mistake of thinking that their fanbase is out there somewhere hiding – waiting to be discovered and captured. Sure, opening for a band that plays similar music to you can be a quick way for a big group of people to discover you and become fans, but generally your true fanbase is going to grow one person at a time, slowly and steadily, over a long period of time.

What is a true fan? Writer and founding executive editor of Wired magazine Kevin Kelly coined the concept ‘1000 True Fans’ back in 2008, positing that if you can get 1000 people to spend $100 on you each year, you’ll be making $100,000 a year and be sitting pretty.

True fans are the people who will stick around for the long haul, love your music, and spend money on it every year. Because these fans need to be willing to pony up with their hard-earned cash, that doesn’t mean 1000 instagram followers, or even 1000 people on your email list. A true fan is harder to make, but once you have them you generally have them for the long haul (unless you mess it up or start making lame music).

Knowing Who You Are

Before you can start attracting your true fans you really have to know who you are. Great content that will attract the right people into your world is all about sharing your story, but you can’t tell your story if you don’t know yourself. A good way to get into the nitty gritty of you and define who you are as a musician or band is to ask yourself these questions:

  • How would you describe the characteristics of your sound?
  • What inspires you to write or create music?
  • How do you want your music to make people feel?
  • Are you an activist? An educator? A comedian?
  • What’s most important to you in life and your career?

Getting clear about exactly who you are and what’s important to you is at the core of the effective storytelling necessary to grow your audience.

Positive Exclusion

If you’re talking to everybody, you’re talking to nobody.

You might think that if you market your music to everyone you will have better odds of getting more fans, but basic maths proves this to be a mistake. People become true fans of something when they connect with it, and there are certain people who are more likely to connect with you, your message, and your music.

Let’s break it down…

Some age groups are more likely to dig hip hop and some are more likely to enjoy folk. People who relate to you personally are more likely to identify with the lyrics you write. People from some cultures might be predisposed to the subject material in your songs, while others might not be.

It doesn’t mean people outside these parameters definitely WON’T become fans, just that some people are more likely to. If you figured out your most likely fans are made up of 10% of the population, but you still try to market to absolutely everyone, the result is that you’re actually NOT talking to your most likely fans 90% of the time.

That means in 9 out of every 10 posts you make, you’re not using the language, style, vibe, and colours that are most likely to attract the people MOST likely to like your music. And that is a huge mistake.

Figuring out who your true fans are most likely to be, and then talking to them 100% of the time, is the BEST way to attract and grow an audience.

  • So, who is your ideal audience?
  • How old are they?
  • What are their interests?
  • Where do they live?
  • What other bands do they like?

Sometimes it can even help to give this ideal fan a name and find an image to represent them. It may sound silly, but it becomes a whole lot easier to write content aimed at your ideal audience when you just say, “I’m talking to Cassidy, she’s 29, lives in Wellington, and loves Beyonce and Janelle Monae.”

Sharing Your Story

The WHO and WHY get people to care about the WHAT, so the best way to attract people into becoming fans and get them to care about your gigs, releases, and announcements, is to share who you are and why you make the music you do.

Remember: there’s a basic rule in marketing called the 80:20 rule. It states that you should be sharing and giving to your audience 80% of the time, and only asking them to do things for your benefit 20% of the time. That means that 4 out of 5 posts need to be giving value to your audience, and 1 of 5 posts can be you asking them to do something, i.e. listening to a song, coming to a gig, or watching a new video.

Help People Find You

Hashtags are a great way to increase the reach of your posts on Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok. You’re unlikely to cut through the noise if you use the really huge hashtags, and there’s also no point using hashtags that have too few posts because people aren’t likely to be following them. A good guide is to use hashtags that have between 10K and 2 million posts.

You can brainstorm on your own, check out popular posts from content similar to yours and lift any additional hashtags they use, or check out hashtag generators for suggestions you might not have thought of.

It’s a good idea to create a hashtag bank (group) you use repeatedly and save them on a note or document on your phone or computer. Then you can copy and paste them each time you post and you don’t have to manually remember what you were using.

Instagram tip: Hashtags posted in the first comment are still attached to the post and work to increase reach without making your caption look messy.

Go Fishing

A lead magnet is something you dangle in front of people to bait them into checking out your page, joining your group, or subscribing to your email list. The bait needs to be something of real value to your potential new fans, but something you can give away for free without too much cost to you.

A good lead magnet for musicians is always an MP3, but you can be creative too; an ebook of your lyrics, an acoustic performance video, a coupon code for a discount off your merch, or an exclusive digital EP of songs from a variety of previous albums are all great options.

Set up your lead magnet in a newsletter form, or in the membership questions for your group, like this:

  1. Person wants lead magnet (bait)
  2. Person joins list, page or group to get lead magnet
  3. Person is granted freebie (only after they’ve joined)

Note: In some countries it needs to be explicitly clear in the text used that by downloading the freebie people are joining your list for legal reasons. You can do this by describing your offer like, ‘Join our mailing list and get a FREE MP3 download of our new single (we promise not to spam you!)’

Paid Fishing

If you want to really drive traffic to your list, page, or group you can pay to get your bait (lead magnet) in front of more eyes by using ad targeting. On Facebook and Instagram you can either boost an existing post and put your lead magnet as the link in the new ad or create an ad specifically.

To create a new ad take a short section of one of your songs (15-30 seconds) and sync it with some immediately eye-catching video content, whether your own B-roll footage, live performance footage, or stock video from free-usage sites.

The caption should be a short description of your band’s sound written for someone who has never heard of you plus your lead magnet. Then you use the demographic targeting function to get the ad shown to fans of an artist who creates similar music to you and who, therefore, would probably like your music too.

Keep Them Around

Once you’ve caught these new fans, make sure you encourage them to stick around! Send regular updates to your email list. Create engaging content that tells them who you are, why you make music, and makes them want to learn more about you.

Ask questions and put polls in your stories, but most importantly – don’t ignore them if they do actually comment or message you! Reply with a short acknowledgement or even just some emojis if you’re dealing with a lot of comments. Nothing will put people off engaging in the future than being ignored when they do!

Make sure your website and socials are cohesive and feel professional. They don’t have to be corporate or stuffy – but consistency is key and people feel more confident buying merch through stores and sites that seem legit. You might be the most trustworthy band around, but if your website looks like a janky geocities site from 1999 (or worse, you don’t even have one) customers will become suspicious about whether you’ll actually mail that $30 t-shirt you’re selling, and venue bookers will wonder if the fact that you can’t get your online world in order means you’ll also mess up your tour organisation and miss the gig they want to offer you.

Ultimately, if you figure out who you are, figure out who you’re talking to, and create engaging content and conversation around your music, you’ll be well on your way to those 1000 true fans.

Vanessa McGowan is a Fender and Aguilar endorsee originally from NZ, currently based in Nashville, TN. She plays bass and sings backing vocals for a wide range of touring artists including Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles, Brandy Clark, and Tattletale Saints, and is the founder of – Simple strategies for powerful DIY music marketing.

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