Make Conscious Connections

As you build your set list, rehearse, and play your gigs, do so with the conscious intention of building and maintaining your fan base. Make the commitment to keep people informed of your doings at every step. Create opportunities for your supporters and potential clients to interact with you. Plan small and intentional acts of gratitude; respond when they make contact, and follow up on any leads they give you. Carry your cards or publicity materials everywhere you go. (Musicians always have a few bumper stickers in their cases and backpacks. Always.) Be available to people; answer e-mails and messages. If you really want to make an impression, send the occasional handwritten thank you note.

Whatever strategy your band creates to maintain communication with your fans, make sure it is a conscious strategy. Be consistent about it. Listen to your fans and make alterations as necessary. Never let it fall by the wayside.

Do You have a Set List?

Every band has collection of songs they play. That’s true whether they write their own stuff, use material someone wrote for them, or stick to covers. Those songs may be in various stages of development; before the band records or heads to a gig, they need to decide which are ready for public consumption and which need more work. The ones that are deemed ready, or at least ready for a test drive and feedback, are placed on a set list. There is often a serious discussion of the order in which to play songs, so that stronger material is interspersed with “iffier” stuff in a way that seems likely to get and hold the audience’s attention. This list is the reference point for the band’s performing activities. The set list is under constant revision as the band learns from their experiences. If one song bombs, it gets moved or removed. If another song does surprisingly well, the band puts it in an advantageous slot.

These conversations work best when they are open, honest, analytical, and cordial. If someone is having trouble learning a chord change, he should speak up. If the vocal is flat on that tune, the singer should be told. If the bass player noticed audience members dozing off during songs 3 and 4, everyone ought to talk about what that means. People can be very vulnerable during these conversations, so a healthy band has to balance frankness with appropriate vocabulary and tone.

You should do the same with your own products, services, or ideas. Which ones are your strongest? Which need more development? Which ones should be removed from your repertoire? You and your band should have intentional, serious discussions about these things. If you are running for public office, you have to talk about your message and ideas. If you are selling hard drives for small electronics, you have to discuss everything from the products themselves to how you are marketing them. If you don’t take the time to get on the same page, you won’t know what you are going to play when you get on stage. (Incidentally, that’s when embarrassing public arguments tend to occur.) Share information, point out problems, and discuss solutions and new ideas. This should be done on a regular basis and is especially important after any “gig,” that is, any significant event or activity that you undertake.

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How Fans Sustain Bands (and Brands)

Rock ‘n’ roll stardom, much like any other business, is built on brand loyalty. Why does the One Hit Wonder fade into obscurity? Because people like the initial product/song, but do not care enough for the brand to come back for more. Whatever interest might have driven the momentary success, subsequent songs do not create a strong connection between listeners and the band. Consequently, airplay decreases, album sales dwindle, and concert attendance drops. If musicians cannot build brand loyalty and repeat business, it does not matter how talented or dedicated they are. Eventually, their band will fizzle out. A solid fan base makes all the difference.To build a fan base, it isn’t enough that people like you and what you do. People don’t drive across three states in a station wagon with eight friends for something that they just like. A fan is someone devoted; someone who not only enjoys your work, but cares deeply about it. It has value; it adds meaning and pleasure to her life. A fan’s enthusiasm goes well beyond occasionally buying your product off the shelf or mentioning you at a party. A fan understands what your work is about (maybe even better than you), knows your band inside and out, and loves telling other people about you. He wants to share his enthusiasm, encourage other people to check you out, and help promote your success.Why? Because the more opportunities you get, the more of your product will be out there for him to enjoy. If you are truly good at fan relations, promoting you makes him feel a part of something, and he will celebrate your growth as if it were his own.It’s true for music, it’s true for business, and it’s true for your homeowner’s association. The people who believe passionately in Brand You are the people who are going to refer you. They invest their money in your products or services. They stay informed about your activities. They help you get elected and win awards. They are the people who post pictures of you on their social media sites, tweet and post updates on what you’re doing, carry copies of your business card in their bags, and generally get your message out to the world. Not only do you need them to survive, it is through them that you thrive.

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Your Band’s Greatest Hits

Get the members of your band together (your staff, your department or team, your family). Spend a few moments talking about the things you do well as a group. Then ask them what they consider your “greatest hits” to be. What have your greatest successes been? Your most memorable moments? What are the things the people are going to remember you for (the songs that will be played on classic rock stations for years to come)? Next, ask them about what they think your “new songs” should be.

What would they like to try doing as a team? Are there new technologies, methods, or markets? Are there new “instruments” they would like to learn to play or a new medium to explore? What skills does your band have to bring to a new song? What will you have to learn? Your band should not only be unafraid of change, but excited about the possibility of making change. If you are functioning well as a group, and everyone is on the same page about your vision and your commitment to pursuing it in the long-term, then the odds are good that the excitement will happen naturally. You’ll sound tight when you play your current hits, and you will be ready to write the new music, too.

Bands, like other successful organizations, function best if they master the balance between stability and flexibility. The ideal mix is: a stable line up (a core of competent members who stick with you through the years) a single and compelling idea that drives the whole group’s efforts a collective ability to produce appealing and high quality work in new situations as well as familiar territory A band can keep rockin’ for 30 years as long as it maintains its vision, stays focused on the long-term, and creates its own change. Your band will still face challenges, go through rough patches, and experience some strife. But in the end you will be much more satisfied and fulfilled individually and as a group. You will be a lot happier. And, you will be better positioned to keep your fans happy. Rock stars live and die by their fans, you know.