... but your fans can become your friends! Haha I had to throw that one in real quick in case any of you started getting angry with me before even reading this.
I'm just sitting here up late again and thinking about the whole 'being a musician in LA' thing, and it occurred to me that I might be able to help others by explaining my outlook on this particular phenomenon. Maybe I'll help some people get more effective at finding fans, or waste less time, or maybe even understand why they're not going anywhere. Anyway, if you're a musician, comedian, artist, etc etc, then maybe this blog is for you.
I know it sucks
You guys, I know it sucks. There are too many musicians, competing for too little "high profile" venues. I get that. It sucks, but I know its true. Lots of musicians still dream of "getting discovered" (aka: Lotto Scratchers), so they'll play for free and bend over backwards to please a venue to get the gigs they want, and the supply and demand of it all jacks everything up.
Also, I know it sucks to play to an empty room, where even the bartenders aren't paying attention. I know you feel like a loser if you don't have screaming enthusiastic audience members, especially when that cute waitress is watching poor ole' lonely you, playing all by yourself, staring at the floor or the wall (haha). I've totally done that before, many times.
It is so tempting to make your family and friends come watch you play. You think "If only I could fill the room... then regular fans will magically appear!". Your friends and family cheer for you, support you, bring their friends to come buy your CDs and give you compliments. It's addicting, and believe me I've been there too. You want to feel like a success so dearly, and avoid that awful feeling of loneliness so badly, that you'd rather have people you already know
come support you than to admit the cold, harsh reality that without your friends, no one is listening.
But one day, while talking to a fellow musician between my set and his set, it hit me. I was complimenting him on all the fans he had when he looked at me and explained, "Oh these are just all my friends from work! Did you bring people, too?". I had thought I was the only farce in the room, and I had brought in my fam friends to not look like a loser to him and his awesome fan base. But we were both liars that night. We both brought in our own friends, so we could both look cool, and so the venue wouldn't get pissed off at an empty room. I looked around and thought "How many people are actually here? You know ... people we don't
know. How many fans are we actually going to gain tonight?". After only a minute of mentally blocking out people from his group or mine, I realized, the room was actually empty. We were gaining no fans that night. We were essentially practicing in front of people we already knew. We might as well have been doing this at home.
I realized, your friends are not your fans
Sure, it's tempting to think of them that way. As humans, we have a tendency to believe what we wish to be true, and it's much easier to fill up a show with people you already know, than it would be to admit you don't have any fans (or at least ones who come to your local shows). We listen to them say our music is great, and we believe them because we want to. We enjoy having a room full of people hang on our every melody, because doing so to a blank floor would just be sad.
Some people even use the excuse that most bands had to start out with just family and friends in the audience. While this is in many cases true, it leaves out a major, major point - that bands who become successful do so not because of their family and friends, but because of a sustained and well executed promotional strategy that builds fans on its own.
I had a buddy once who summed it up nicely for me. He used to fill huge rooms with real fans, who would get drunk, cheer, and sing along to all his band's songs. He had actual groupies follow him home after shows to do god knows what (ha!). People would come up to me asking if I knew him. After picking his brain once, he explained that friends and family are just there for emotional support and room-filler. That can be a psychological help to other potential fans, but friends and family can't on their own fall in love with your music the way you need them to, nor can you sustain your career on their purchases, nor will they promote your music in a way that builds a real following. The secret to his success was really that he spent his entire day, every day, emailing fans, calling fans, advertising to fans, postering areas his fans were, playing festivals and less prestigious (and downright shady) venues that he knew had built in audiences, and on and on and on. He did real promotional work, and without it, he wouldn't have real fans.
Every band since then that I've talked to has followed this same basic pattern. If they rely on family and friends to fill their shows - they never go anywhere. Year after year, they still struggle to find a legitimate fan base. Yet the ones who focus more on people they don't already know
- by playing festivals, marketing, promoting, and so forth - are the ones who succeed, or who seem to have more apparent progress in that direction.
Take even me for example. I am by no means a success now, but I am worlds
further than I was 10 years ago. Back then I wrote, recorded, and forced my family and friends to listen to all my songs, and come to all my shows. I used to go around with a walkman (tape, CD, or minidisc depending on what year we're referring too, lol), forcing the people I worked with to put on a pair of headphones and listen to my latest track.
And it got me nowhere!
Sure, it was fun though. I love my family and friends, but after almost 10 years of the same thing, I had nothing to show for it. Then one day I started focusing on people I didn't already know
. Only once I started marketing to complete strangers, did I actually get anywhere at all. The difference between then and now is literally thousands of fans, thousands and thousands of Mp3s and CDs in their hands/PCs, tons of feedback, online friendships, and actual purchases! I have amazing fans-who-have-become-friends (not to be confused with friends-who-are-not-fans) who have purchased CDs, T-Shirts, Mp3s, merch, participated in contests, sent me fan videos, fan art, helped me out with things, helped find me paying gigs, and even stalked me (lol)! I've even been able to secure a few sponsored appearances, where freaking dudes pay me large sums of money just to show up on their website or talk about their product or something. Well, a large sum of money is a very very relative term in this context, but still!
And this is not to mention just the overwhelmingly awesome support I get from my real fans on a daily basis. Just today alone I replied to so many messages from twitter fans, that I got sent to "Twitter Jail", which basically means I wrote too many messages and have to wait 3 hours before I'm even allowed to use the site again. Seriously, my fans rock! They're all over the damn place, and when I'm feeling like a huge nerd or loser, they're always there with a message about how they used my CD to make their kid fall asleep, or they listened to one of my songs to soothe the pain of an injured knee, or they blasted "Fuck You, I've Got a New Girlfriend" on their car stereo, and on and on. (Okay maybe I should stop now before this becomes the Mike-Peralta-Gushes-Over-His-Fans-Post).
Anyway, this is all in stark contrast to my 'before' situation, where I essentially played music alone in my room to a god damn wall, in between pretending to have fans at some venue.
And all this is happening for me because I stopped relying on people I already knew. I stopped pressuring my friends to pretend to be my fans. They can come if they want, but I would rather now play to a room completely devoid of any form of life, than to artificially inflate it with friends and family. If that happens, its real, its reality, and it lets me know I need to promote more for the next show, and ends up helping me better myself.
Turning people you don't know into fans, is like going to the gym 3 times a week, while making your family and friends come to your shows is like ... like, getting a staple in your stomach... and not even a good one. A gross rusty one that other people know you have because it keeps falling out and gives you infections.
Haha okay I think maybe I've gone too far and I'm afraid I'm already ranting like a mofo. Sorry, I'm tired as hell tonight and I just wanted to throw out this little tidbit. Do what you will with it, but if this situation applies to you, I hope it helps you.
So remember dudes - your friends are not your fans. Stop making them pretend to be. Enjoy your friends and family as
friends and family.
Go out there and find real
fans. If I can do it, so can you!