5 secrets of the successful indie artist

by Brittany Cooper on October 29, 2013 · 5 comments

in Business Forum,Fast Forward,Promotion

Invite your fans behind the curtain and into your world as an indie artist if you really want to connect, grow your audience, and find success

Behind the indie artist curtain

Gone are the days when being an indie artist meant boldly throwing off the corporate structure and shaking your fist at “The Man.” While there is a certain freedom obtained in independence, being an independent artist is no longer the anomaly – even for larger acts. Going independent is the new reality for many successful music artists across the globe.

What does being an indie artist mean, exactly? For one thing, a new game requires a new set of skills. Those who got into this gig because they can master melodies and craft thoughtful lyrics now find themselves facing the world of social media, marketing engagement, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, pings, tweets, adds, and more.

But independent musicians are taking on the challenge, and some are doing better on their own than they ever could have imagined with traditional label backing. What’s their secret? It starts with great music, but when it comes to relating to your fans, here are five secrets to having success as an indie artist.

1. Have a compelling story and share it

If you write music or perform or breathe in and out on a regular basis, you have a story. The key is identifying it and effectively sharing it with your fans because, regardless of what you may think, they actually do want to hear it.

To find your story, ask yourself strategic questions: What drives me to create? How did I come to love writing music? What inspired the lyrics to the last song I wrote? What themes or issues in life really resonate with me or push me to be creative? What are some of my quirks? What hobbies do I have that might surprise my fans? The list goes on, but the point remains that you have a story and music fans in this day and age don’t just want to listen to your music – they want to know you as well.

How do you go about sharing that story? At PledgeMusic, this is the driving force behind everything we do. We see music artists sharing their stories with fans every day. Whether it’s an update giving special access to their Pledgers to listen to new demos, sharing photos from the studio, or giving an exclusive video tour of their bus (“Yes, I sleep in that tiny little bunk”), indie artists are sharing the details of their everyday experiences, and fans are responding.

2. Offer fans an experience

Once you understand that your fans want to know your story and the stories surrounding your music, it kind of goes without saying that they want to be invited in. Successful indie artists offer up something even greater than just their new music: they offer a new and personal experience not available anywhere else.

If you’re performing live, give your fans a way to respond immediately. Instead of offering a quick handshake and a “Get my new album next spring” (which may as well be, “I hope you remember this feeling in four months”), offer something immediate like “Pre-order my upcoming album on your phone right now, and you’ll get to be in on the process of making it.” Offering these personal and exclusive experiences can be a tremendous win/win.

3. Invite fans behind the curtain

Speaking of exclusive experiences, once you’ve decided to offer fans something beyond an opportunity to simply listen to your album when it releases, what are you going to do? Where do you start? Well, the only thing better than an “experience” is an exclusive experience – one only a limited number of people are in on. Who doesn’t love a little VIP access?

This is what we see working so well at PledgeMusic. An indie artist will invite fans into the making of a new project and keeps them in the loop with exclusive updates, merchandise, and experiences fans simply can’t get anywhere else. And what we’re seeing time and time again is that this is something that gets fans extremely excited.

For example, if you were to go to PledgeMusic right now and pre-order Lissie’s new album, Back To Forever, you could choose to spend a little more money to have that album come with a T-shirt and signed vinyl from Lissie herself. Or, you could Pledge to have Kate Miller-Heidke perform at your wedding, all while you support the making of her next album.

Fans want to be more than just listeners, they want to be involved, and the artists who have figured this out are rising to the top. And not only will fans get excited about these kind of experiences – they’ll pay for it, and they’ll pay significantly more than they would for a CD at Target.

To pull this out of the theoretical and down to statistics, here’s what we’re seeing on a regular basis at PledgeMusic:

  • 37% of Pledgers spend more than $250 per Pledge!
  • The average pledge is around $55
  • 17% of all platform traffic is driven through Pledgers-only updates via Facebook and Twitter
  • Another 12% is driven via email, which is also generated through these Pledgers-only updates
  • 22% of all site traffic comes from social referrals – fan-shared links of Pledgers-only updates and milestones

Notice what’s happening here: The average fan spends $55, roughly the price of four CDs, and almost 40% of Pledgers spend the price of something like 17 CDs per Pledge. The reason fans come back to PledgeMusic on a regular basis is to see the exclusive updates, and then as they share links to these updates, they bring even more fans to the campaign, and those fans become Pledgers. If you’re an indie artist, these statistics should excite you as much as they excite us because they mean that fans do care and they are willing to spend money when you offer them exclusive experiences.

4. Don’t be afraid of “new”

New can be intimidating, but new also ushers in a realm of possibilities and opportunities you never dreamed of before. You may have come into this business with a set understanding of how things should work – something like “write, record, release, tour, repeat” – but it’s vital not to let initial expectations keep you from adapting to current realities. It might not be enough to release an album on iTunes and hope for the best, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to be a successful indie artist.

Music artists who are making it in the new landscape are those who are able to look ahead and see where the future of music lies. The industry is changing, but some great things are cropping up as a result – fans are getting more involved in the release process, artists are experiencing a new freedom to do what they love, and new music is being released by the second, which is truly no small deal. The fan-artist dialogue is an extremely positive thing, and that conversation has flourished in the past few years.

5. Know your fan base

We’ve established the importance of your fans knowing you, but it’s also important to note that you need to reciprocate. After all, you’re writing songs for your fans and connecting with them through your music, so of course you’ll want to know something about who they are.

If you choose to take the direct-to-fan route on an album, you may get the chance to have dinner with a fan or visit a theme park with them or sing them Happy Birthday over the phone, so there’s one avenue for the relationship to develop.

Another very practical, essential, and often overlooked way to know your fans is to have a tangible email list with their names on it. That’s right, this one didn’t fade in importance with the advent of paperless trends. You don’t have to carry a clipboard (though we wouldn’t totally advise against it), but you absolutely must find a way to get your fans’ contact information.

This is another opportunity for you to show off your creative side. We love sharing the story of how Ben Folds approached this during his PledgeMusic campaign. From the stage at a show, he had everyone in the audience pull out their phones and email him at a specified email address in exchange for a free track. Boom. Within seconds he had their contact information so he could keep them updated, they had a previously unreleased track, and everyone was happy. He even snapped a photo from the stage to make it a bit more personal.

This is just one example of an artist thinking outside the box, embracing the new, and letting fans into his world. You absolutely can make it as an independent in today’s music industry, and fans are your most precious resource. Whether you make it or not depends on how well you know your story, share it with your fans, and invite them in.

PledgeMusic is a music company offering artists a new way to take control of their careers by helping artists fund, market, and release whatever music they want to make. PledgeMusic helps and encourages artists to participate with their fans in an exciting and unique way by creating an irresistible customized menu of exclusive content and experiences that integrates email databases, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and various other social networking sites. Learn more at PledgeMusic.com.

Behind the curtain image via ShutterStock.com.

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