Bruce Springsteen

The Slow-Building of a Fanbase

Most singer-songwriters want to build a fanbase, and the speed with which that base grows is usually seen as an indicator of general success. If you’re putting good music out there, of consistently excellent quality, your base will grow, and should do so quickly.

If, however, your fanbase is growing slowly, don’t automatically assume that you’re doing something wrong.

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There are many singer-songwriters who built their following slowly, and it wasn’t even clear when they started out in the business that they had anything beyond the mundane they could offer.

Townes Van ZandtBruce Springsteen, Townes Van Zandt, Bill Withers, even Leonard Cohen, who recorded his first album at the age of 33 — almost akin to being a dinosaur in the music business; these are musicians whose start was anything but momentous, and who built their following slowly.

The slow-building of a fanbase may mean that you’re doing something wrong, but that usually has to be coupled with other things. If you can’t seem to get fans, and:

  1. …the sound quality of your recordings is flawed; and/or…
  2. …your performances are weak; and/or…
  3. …you’re not hitting your target audience; and/or…
  4. …the general quality of your songwriting is weak…

… then the slow-build of your following is likely due to weaknesses on your part, and that’s something (hopefully) you can address and fix.

But the slow-build of fans may be attributable to another less objectionable circumstance: your music is on the cutting edge of artistic endeavour, and that is always going to be a lonely place.

The problem with that is that it’s difficult to know if your lack of fans is due to weakness or genius. Writing innovative music that startles people and perhaps turns them off initially can look a lot like missing your target audience. Queen’s first demo recording, for example, was turned down by every record company they pitched it to.

So if your fanbase is building too slowly for your liking, how do you know what the problem is? Here is probably the main indicator that you should be looking for ways to improve your songwriting and/or production/performances:

Despite your efforts to expand it, your fanbase doesn’t seem to expand beyond family and close friends.

Conversely, how you might know that your on the right track, but it’s simply taking a bit of time to build the kind of following you’re hoping for might involve any of the following:

  1. You get praised by other songwriters for the quality of your writing.
  2. Your music is compared to that other well-known songwriters.
  3. Good musicians and songwriters focus on small details that could make your music even better. (Yes, this kind of criticism is generally a good sign.)
  4. Your production and performances are generally praised for their quality.

Popularity tends to have a snowball effect. As your base grows, the pace of that build gathers momentum — the so-called breakthrough. Besides consistent good quality of music, the process requires two things:

  1. Patience
  2. Courage

The patience part of the equation is obvious. Stay on track, keep writing good music and performing it well, and you should eventually see a payoff.

The courage part comes from the nerve it takes to stay the course and have faith in what you’re doing. You may not see an immediate payoff, but those who build audiences and fans slowly generally rise to the top of the industry if the quality of the music is there.

One of the best ways to ensure that you’re on the right track, even if it’s a slow track, is to work with professionals in the industry, and particularly by using an experienced producer. It’s in their best interest to let you know where your weaknesses are, and to be honest with you about your chances.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter 

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