Community is one of those buzz words, isn’t it? You know that it’s important, and when you’re part of a community you can feel it (and it feels amazing), but as for actually building your own? Where do you start?!
It can feel overwhelming to go from planning your daily tasks of social media upkeep, booking the next show, designing the next graphic, and trying to come up with the next song, that it’s easy to lose sight of some of the more arguably abstract things like building your community. But make no mistake about it, the ability to both build, nurture, and continue to foster a sense of community with your fans and those who support and follow you, is the difference between a band that gets stuck in the hamster wheel vs the one that goes on to play festival stages.
So where do you start?
Online: Social Media
You knew this was coming. One of the most effective ways to communicate with your fans right now, without ever having to leave your home, is through your social media channels. There’s a reason you hear experts and industry harp on so much about keeping your social media up to date and building engagement. It’s because an engaged social media following means that people are interested in what you have to say, they’re paying attention and they’re doing it because they feel like they’re a part of something and they like that feeling. That’s community.
The more people are paying attention and the more they’re engaging, will usually mean they’re also telling their friends about you, going to your shows, and buying your merch. Not only does a higher engagement rate and stronger community mean you’re making a positive impact in people’s lives, it’s something the industry—everyone from managers to booking agents to labels—pay attention to. What I’m saying is, there’s really only an upside to this.
As for how to foster engagement on social media, pay attention to where your audience is most responsive, and try to spend as much time as possible on that platform. Make sure you’re updating regularly, using proper hashtags, photos, and making use of each platforms strengths (Ex: On IG you should be posting to Stories a lot, on FB maybe you do live videos).
If you’re struggling with what to post, check out other indie artists you look up to and see what they’re doing and how their audience is responding. Find a little inspiration in those around you and then make it your own.
It’s a given that at your own shows you should be making an effort to connect with the audience both on stage (addressing them, getting them involved with a song, etc) as well as off stage (talking to them at the merch table, mingling with the other bands to get to know them and their fans), but it can be tempting to stay in the rest of the week and only go to your own shows. This is a mistake—to truly build relationships and get involved in your community as well as others, you need to actually be in the community.
You’ll notice if you go to the same open mics or the same Indie Night at the same venue, it tends to be the same crowd. This is how you end up meeting and making connections with people from outside your computer screen. It’s how you get invited to more events and opportunities within the community that you otherwise wouldn’t have known about. It’s how you grow your career.
Online: Facebook Groups
Facebook groups are one of my favorite hidden gems of the music industry. When you find the right ones, they can be a thriving mecca of artists and industry creatives who are willing and eager to help you succeed, and if you’re the right person for that group, your goal is the same.
What makes these groups work and truthfully, what makes the community building work, is that the people involved are a little selfless. Even if your long term strategy is to build relationships, find new fans, and expand your reach so you can further your own career goals, community only works if the people involved are interested in growing together and that means wanting to help other artists succeed, rather than viewing them as competition and operating from a place of “if they get this opportunity, that means I don’t.” That line of thinking has no place in community building, and it has no place in the best Facebook groups.
Remember to give more than you take here. Participate regularly so people start to know who you are, answer questions and offer advice when you can, share personal anecdotes, and don’t be afraid to get a little vulnerable. This is such a strong source of community and when you find the right one, you’ll know instantly that you have a group that has your back, and that kind of support is irreplaceable.
Meetups have hands down been the best and fastest way for me personally to grow my career. They’ve also served as some of the most fulfilling, exciting moments in my career because when I’ve found the right ones, I felt like I belonged in a way that I never had before. Similar to the right Facebook group, the right in-person meetup can change everything and give you a sense of belonging and a support system that can be difficult to replicate.
There’s a ton of different options for how to do this. You could go to random meetups as they pass through, like small panels or listening parties, or you could join or create a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly meetup for industry and musicians to hang out and talk shop.
One of my personal favorites, and the one that helped launch my career is called Balanced Breakfast, which operates in 30+ cities across the world, but if there’s not one in your city, I say start your own meetup! It can just be you and a few friends getting dinner every few weeks, and maybe after a while you start inviting more friends, and so on and so forth. Whatever leaves you feeling supported.
Online: Get your fans involved
One of the best ways to make your fans feel like they’re part of something special is to get them involved in something you’re working on. This can mean running a contest where the winner’s art is chosen for your new album, or merch design. It can mean asking fans to make their own fan-made videos of a song that’s either brand new or coming up on an anniversary, and then choosing the best to make and promote as the official music video. It could be having them record quick 5-10 second videos of what your band has meant to them or how they came across you, or a funny story, and then compiling those to celebrate your 5-year anniversary as a band.
Get them involved, let them know they’re appreciated, and they’ll remember it forever.
Offline: House shows
There’s something kind of amazing about house shows isn’t there? A small roomful of people all crammed in together, experiencing the music they love in intimate quarters for a short hour—it’s just really special.
When you’re really trying to build up that community either in your hometown or on tour, house shows are a great way to connect with fans on a personal level, and offer them an experience that they simply wouldn’t have inside a regular venue.
Not only are house shows a great way for you to connect with your fans before and after your set, it’s a great way for the fans to connect with each other, which is really very special.