Everything you do should be centered around your fan base.
Without a fan base, it’s virtually impossible to build a profitable and sustainable music career.
Conversely, if you can create loyal, superfans within your tribe, you’ll be able to get your music out faster and keep growing as more and more people identify with your music and what you stand for.
To do that, however, you need to create a fan culture that’s awesome for all involved.
Here are the answers to all your questions connected to fan culture and how you can build one that both you and your fans can stand behind.
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What Is A Fan Culture?
In the business world, there’s something called “corporate culture.”
And, it’s basically a zoomed-out term to describe how a company acts and what it stands for, as well as how people behave at an individual level.
The individual level might be the most important piece, since little actions say a lot about the totality of the company as well as how leadership is steering the ship.
Good or bad is mostly a matter of opinion, but I believe a strong culture is one that’s supportive, generous and growth oriented. Every team member is invested in keeping the other in check.
A weak culture might be one where no one cares, people don’t show up on time and don’t keep to project deadlines.
Building a strong fan culture should be part of your overall strategy, as this will help you develop loyalty and even evangelists among your fan base.
Fan culture is something that’s going to develop as you release music, play gigs and develop a following. But it also takes some intentionality. I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
KISS has the KISS Army. Jimmy Buffet has Parrot Heads. Lady Gaga has Little Monsters. These artists either have fan clubs or a loose group of people that deeply resonate with their favorite artists to the extent that they adopt their style, attitude and demeanor as their own.
Effectively, fan culture is your tribe.
Where Does The Fan Culture Come From?
In a word, it comes from you. More specifically, it comes from your brand.
Sometimes, fan culture is built by “accident.” For instance, one fan shows up to one of your shows in pajamas. Next thing you know, all your superfans are showing up in pajamas. But this is rare.
Like many musicians, I used to think that a brand was merely logos, fonts, colors, clothing and so on. It turns out that’s just the surface layer.
The deeper, foundational layer is what you stand for. The impact you want to make. The change you want to cause in the world.
It’s possible you haven’t given much thought to your brand, and if you haven’t, now would be a good time to start fleshing it out.
It’s relatively clear what a band like Rage Against The Machine stands for – revolutionary political views. And, their aggressive musical approach fits the bill perfectly.
Their views might turn some people off, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people from tuning into their music. Take note, because I’ll be sharing more about going niche to build big later.
Does It Make Any Difference How I Conduct Myself?
Yes. Whether you’re a solo act or a member of a band, you are responsible for the movement you’re creating.
It’s dangerous to act as though you don’t play a part in fan behavior, because what you tolerate will persist. But I won’t be getting into how to handle difficult situations just yet.
It’s important to remember that your fans are watching you. This doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t have fun. You can even show your fans how to have fun.
But you must take responsibility for your own behavior. If the impact you say you’re making in the world is helping feed the poor and you don’t put any of your own money towards charitable causes, you’re living a lie.
Your brand and how you conduct yourself are deeply interlinked and shouldn’t be thought of as separate from each other.
How Do I Create A Fan Culture That Totally Rocks?
I know this guide got real o’ clock fast, but when it comes right down to it, building your fan culture is – and should be – a lot of fun.
The key is to proudly exclude people. It might seem risky, but in the end, it won’t make a difference – people who want to listen to your music will still listen to your music, even if they don’t identify as a member of your tribe.
The previously mentioned Rage Against The Machine is a good example.
Now, here are several steps you can take to create a fan culture you’ll love.
When in social situations, stop talking about yourself and listen to others. You’ll learn a lot, and people will be naturally drawn to you.
Invite your fans to hang out with the band after shows. I’m guessing you’re probably going to make a Denny’s run or hang out at the bar for a bit anyway.
Give away CDs and merch items. If it’s going to help you build your brand and spread your message, you’ll never lose anything by giving your fans something to hold onto.
Of course, you don’t need to give everything away – ensure you’re making some money to reinvest in your music too.
Write “thank you” notes to the people who help you in your career. This isn’t just best practice, which it is – it’s good marketing too.
Share Your Philosophy At Shows
There are artists that talk too much. Then there are artists that don’t talk at all.
Many artists that I love are the former, which honestly makes me want to learn more about them – who they are, what their songs are about, what they believe.
Notwithstanding, I would suggest striking up a happy middle here. If you talk too much, you’re going to leave fans waiting far too long in between songs. If you don’t talk at all, you’re going to leave your fans in the dark.
Stage banter is a skill, and it must be developed. If your stage banter sucks, either practice or limit how much you talk.
But otherwise, take it for granted that your fans want to hear from you.
And, while you don’t need to preach from the stage by any means, you should talk about what inspires your songs, that horrible experience you had at the dingy diner on the way to the venue, what a superfan did for you the other week and so on.
Basically, tell stories. Stories are memorable.
Many artists, in the moment, forget who they are. Sure, sometimes this is because they are inebriated or high. And, sometimes this is consistent with their brand and image.
But you can easily cause a bit of stir when you say you’re a Christian band and jump on stage only to drop a bunch of F bombs.
The point is that you need to ensure the way you conduct yourself is consistent with the impact you want to make. Yes, it all goes back to the impact.
If your fans are resonating with your brand, then stay consistent and just keep doing what you’re doing. There’s no need to change what you’re doing if it’s working.
Write Lyrics Your Fans Can Sing Along To
Even the brainiest of bands should have at least one song that encourages fans to sing along to.
This might go against the culture of certain genres, whether it’s thrash metal or instrumental music.
But if you go looking for the opportunities, you will find them. A thrash metal band could take a break in the middle of their set to play a hooky heavy rock tune. An instrumental band could play a familiar cover song and allow the fans to sing along to the melody.
Anthems better encapsulate the entire culture of a fandom than stuffy mission statements ever will.
Include Your Fans
Get your fans involved in the creative process. Have them vote on album artwork, contribute a lyric or even give them the stems from your album and encourage remixes.
Your fans should be a part of your journey, and the more interaction they have with you, the sooner they will pick up on your vibe and the culture you’re trying to create.
Ask your best fans to come to Denny’s with you after the show. Get them to make a video of the entire experience and share it on social media.
There’s plenty you can do to include your fans, and it’s a little-known fact that bands like Metallica, to this day, do a lot to keep their fans engaged and even interact with them personally.
Put On Killer Events
While you’re growing your fan base, you’re probably going to play a few dive bars. That’s fine, but in the long run, this is going to work against your strategy.
Once you’ve got 30 to 40 people showing up to every show, start picking better venues – places your fans would love to hang out in.
I can’t speak for others, but most bars, pubs and clubs I’ve been to weren’t my scene. I’ve been to plenty, because I’ve played over 300 shows in my career, and I developed a certain comfort level over time.
But I still prefer nicer venues like lounges, theaters, community halls, churches and so on. What do your fans like? It might be worth asking.
As an event organizer and curator, which is what you are now, you should go out of your way to find venues your fans will love. Ensure there’s plenty of parking, great food and drinks, and an atmosphere they will eat up.
This makes it easier for them to turn to their friends and go, “I’m going to see this awesome band Friday night at XYZ – do you want to come?”
Engage Your Tribe
Plan events for your fans.
You could do CD release and listening parties, signings, meet-and-greets and more.
Fan engagement is a big deal, even if it doesn’t get talked about all that much. There’s so much you can do to give back and create memorable experiences for your fans.
In the long run, this will build loyalty and you’ll keep your fans coming back, because every night will feel like a party to them!
What Do I Do When Something Bad Happens?
Your fans start a mosh pit, prompting an all-out fist fight. Your extreme political views inspire fans to light fire to the venue. A fan steals an expensive handbag from a store in response to your song about rampant consumerism.
Okay, now what?
As noted earlier, whatever you tolerate will persist.
If you have any opportunities to call people out from stage, do so. Make it clear that you aren’t about causing pain in the world.
If there’s anything you don’t agree with, you must be quick to address it. Don’t wait until things escalate or get out of control.
If bad things keep happening at your shows, hire security and have them trained to watch for outbreaks.
I am talking about extreme circumstances, of course, and in most instances, you shouldn’t run into many issues. But depending on what you stand for, you can’t underestimate the foolishness of groupthink.
Remember that you are the leader of the movement. That puts you in a position of power. You can address any issue that concerns you, in a blog post, email, video or otherwise. You can help shift the mentality of your fan culture if necessary.
Creating A Fan Culture For Musicians, Final Thoughts
Creating your fan culture can take time and it isn’t necessarily easy.
The good news is that if you’re at the point where you can begin instilling a sense of culture and connectedness among your fan base, you can also grow it more rapidly.
So, if you aren’t there yet, keep going. If you need to, go back to the drawing board and define your brand with exacting clarity. It takes effort but it’s totally worth it.