Gone are the days when unsigned artists would perform at countless music showcases to build some sort of loyal fan base that would eventually form a street team. That involved endless networking, both publicly and privately — sending demos to record labels, magazines, blogs and sharing music on internet forums.
Things have now changed thanks to social media, it’s now more straightforward to build a global fan base and generate a buzz with your music. Once it’s uploaded online, anyone in the world can stream it or buy it. However, there’s many talented artists and bands out there who are unfortunately still clueless. Some of these artists expect fans to gravitate towards them because they either have great music or sadly; thousands of followers on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc. Sigh.
Here’s a little secret, I’ve organised hundreds of music shows in and around London in the past 10 years and the acts/bands with the least following on social media have either sold out their shows or brought in more people than those who have a huge following online. This still puzzles me. I did a little research on two acts for a week in January: Artist A is signed to a record label, has a decent following on social media and has already accumulated over 500,000 streams on Spotify. Artist B is unsigned, has less than 1,000 followers on all their socials and their most popular single has just under 10,000 streams on Spotify. Below is what I learnt from both artists:
Artist A rarely posts on their socials, they do occasionally post on Instagram stories but it’s either; them smoking or miming their music. I know everyone is different and has their own taste, but for a passionate music lover like myself that’s an instant disconnect. I secretly attended Artist A’s gig, the venue was empty. Artist A promoted the show too late and somehow expected the busy people of London to change their plans and go to watch them perform. It doesn’t work like that.
Artist B was super active on their socials, posting once a day on Instagram using hash tags, Tweeting at least five times a day, getting involved with the trending topic, they kept their Facebook page updated and in that week they also did an Instagram Live of them talking to fans, answering questions and teasing new music. Artist B also had a gig which I secretly attended too and I was surprised to see the venue almost packed, and people were singing their songs out loud despite them not having any “clout” online.
I know there’s a lot of great unsigned artists out there creating great music, but due to their social media following they are often overlooked by certain major record labels A&R’s, some potential fans and sadly some music tastemakers too.
There’s a lot of guides online on how to build a fan base, many of those guides are unrealistic in my opinion. Below is a guide I’ve made for unsigned artists to build a solid loyal fan base after years of testing with artists I manage and doing research on a few artists I admire:
1. If your music is quite similar or in a particular genre as a certain artist you want to surpass, then make sure you’re following this artist on all your socials. Like and comment on all their posts (be genuine though) and make sure you follow their super fans too. Most of them will check your music out.
2. Share your music on Reddit forums. I did this for my SoundCloud mixes as a test and I’ve managed to amass over 65,000 plays since 2016. Once again be genuine, check out the other artists music, and comment on their music too.
3. Post on your socials every single day. Being active means you will never be forgotten. Go missing for a few days, then your potential super fans will find another artist to listen to, and you’d have to play catch up. Many artists say they don’t have enough content to post, well, there’s Instagram stories and Instagram live. Use them. Just make sure most of the posts are about you or anything associated with you.
4. Interact with your fans. If they leave a comment on your post, reply. If they ask you a question, reply. Don’t act like you’re too much of a superstar to reply to them.
5. Perform at gigs at least once a month. In my opinion, gigging is still the best way to gain new fans, if your gig goes well the venue booker or promoter could book you for bigger gigs. The more gigs you do the more chance you have to attract new fans AND potentially open up for a bigger artist. After every gig, make sure you hang around to talk to people, exchange socials and take photos. It works.
6. Promote your music. Make sure you’re promoting your music every single day. It could be on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram etc. If you don’t promote your music on a daily basis, some people will not take you seriously as a musician.
7. Turn your friends/doubters into fans. This links with number 6, for instance if you go quiet or post something that’s not associated with you (for example; a stupid meme) some friends will still see you as a friend and not as an artist. So make sure you’re talking about your music to friends, play them snippets, put them on guest lists for gigs, invite them to studio sessions etc.
8. Get a website. On the website you could have an option that allows people to subscribe to your mailing list. Make sure everyone that has subscribed to your mailing list gets exclusive news, for example: behind the scenes exclusives at a studio session, video shoot, competitions, blog posts etc.
9. Share your thoughts and stories. You can instantly connect with someone by being open and honest at all times. Talk about a topic you’re passionate about, for example: wildlife, depression, society etc. Don’t be afraid to express your opinion as long as it’s not offensive.
10. Videos. This could be music videos, acoustic sessions, short videos on Instagram or Snapchat. Share as many videos as you can. For music video shoots, invite your fans to be extras or participate somehow. You can also do live streams on Facebook too. So many options.
As an unsigned artist if you haven’t got a manager, then I’d highly recommend you to find one. Not just anyone, but someone who loves your music and wants you to succeed. Your manager could help you with PR, getting you the right shows to help you grow, connecting you with the right producers to develop your sound and so much more.
Building a relationship with music bloggers and tastemakers is important too. Communicate with them, like and read their posts, and share any exclusive music with them.
One last advice for any unsigned artist out there: avoid following then unfollowing any potential fans on your socials. People talk, and chances are a lot of these people will block you and never check out your music.