Do we really understand why and how our main focus should be having fans?
"I need a label; I need a manager; hey, can you book shows for me? Why is no one investing in my project?".
I'm sure these are some of the same questions you struggle or have struggled with. By studying artists' mentality, I noticed we tend to focus most of our time on the wrong things, because we don't have a clear understanding of what's making a music project survive and thrive or collapse.
Let's try to shift the focus, shall we?
"Don't even start talking about business and art: art should be completely untangled from any business dynamics". I myself shielded with this sentence for a very long time. I kept growing (unaware) frustrations for years until the day in which (I don't even remember how it happened) I could change the question: when I say that, what is it that I'm really projecting or believing?
I realized that, inherently, I was pissed off that no one ELSE made MY art valuable. That "no one else" included audience and fans (who apparently didn't magically stumbled upon my music) and industry professionals who weren't spreading the word, out of a burning sincere passion towards my art. On top of that, I spiced things up with an old-but-gold evergreen "well, music and art were so much better back in the day, they truly knew how to value things properly". Considering I'm 36 as I'm writing this article, if the "back in the day" is referred to the 60s, 70s, 80s, I wasn't even born! So, everything I think I know, I either heard it, read it or most of the time, idealized it.
Then the lightning finally struck: all I was saying was admitting I didn't want to accept the difficult job of CREATING VALUE around something that inherently hasn't (=art). I expected (well, arrogantly demanded sounds more appropriate) that somebody else would move manually my elevator to the top floors and eventually being presented as "one of those who made it" to multitudes of fans whose only task was to simply fall in love with me and make my name bigger and bigger so that I could feel artistically and personally fulfilled. Is it just me or I sense a bit of haughtiness in all this?
The fall from the pedestal of the professional frustrated disguised as a misunderstood genius was way loud and painful. Though, while slowly recovering from the mental injuries of this new awareness, I spotted that one part of that delirious thought cradled part of a truth: fans do develop a form of love towards an artist, although characterized in different forms. And each artist that wants to build a sustainable long term career needs to work tirelessly about this from day one. Why? Because you don't get to love something at first sight. Yea, I know some of us believe this but, let me explain. I think we all agree that infatuation, "first sight impact" and falling in love is completely different than being in love. For the same reason, in order to become a fan, one must first get in contact with you, getting to know, like (sometimes even trust you) and then eventually turn into a loving enthusiastic fan.
This is a process to be nurtured, understood but above all respected. In the social media era, we lost track of the difference between followers and those who are really interested in us. The latter won't happen in a day, for the same reasons you are not in love with somebody on the first date, you don't become best friend with somebody overnight etc.
Once this is accepted, then the real journey begins. As for any relationship, there always must be some sort of exchange in order to grant the duration of it. In other words, fans won't pile up on your profiles if your contents only scream "look at me, value me, please make me feel that I exist". How do you make somebody genuinely like you? You first give, before to expect something in return. And, guess what: as of today, your music can't be the only thing you put on the table. Right or wrong, that era is gone (and as for me, I genuinely say "thank God!).
Art and artists have a huge potential for creating emotional drives in people's lives. But that has to be delivered as ADDED VALUE. It's not the song that makes someone go crazy with who's behind that song: it'll be who you are, your persona, what you do and say when the music stops. Don't get me wrong; music is what we do and it will always be the alpha and the omega of everything. Though I'm sure you also understand this: while I'm writing this article, Hollywood's filth is being unraveled and I'm pretty positive we all are thinking: would I still admire that actor/ director/producer, pay to see his/her movies, if I knew the monstrous person he/she is? My answer is a vigorous and absolute HELL NO!
The separation between the artist and the person behind it is acceptable up to a certain point. It surely wasn't an issue in the past but it definitely will start to be now (or at least I strongly hope so). For this reason, I can't help but deeply believing that if I'm to attract someone with my music and persona is because I'm able to give something back, touching his/her soul somehow and I won't be forgiven if I'm a great singer but a very poor person. And social media truly kills this separation, as what's happening behind the curtains has become the artist's daily feed on your wall.
In this post, I didn't want to explore the kind of practical things one can do to establish and feed the connection with tomorrow's fans. Above all, I wanted to focus on the mindset, the awareness of the importance of this matter so that you won't waste years of your artistic career on a stagnating thought, waiting hopelessly for someone who'll come and build value on a project that is and will always be yours in the first place. The sooner you start to this, the faster you'll get to the following sweet spot. Let's make a simple calculation, shall we? Imagine yourself having a 1000 fans (real fans, not followers) willing to gladly spend an average of 100 $/year for your music and artistic activity.... Do the math!
It ain't that bad, isn't it? Well, this is far from immediate or easy, but it's definitely a realistic mid/long term goal, much more than "I wanna be a billionaire with millions of fans". In a world with nearly 8 billion people (today), if what you do is good and you do it passionately, there's definitely a thousand people that can become loving fans of yours!