I read a post on the Sellaband forum recently in which an aspiring artist asked for advice in ways to increase their fan base, specifically, how to increase attendance at live gigs. The Sellaband community, always eager to contribute to the success of its own, responded with suggestions ranging from traditional methods of sending flyers and posting placards to employing the internet in reaching the eyes and ears of prospective fans.
One very simple method of increasing the fan base was conspicuous by its absence from the discussion however. But first a word about the environment in which aspiring artists find themselves today.
There have been many changes in the dynamics between artist and audience with the advent of inexpensive digital recording methods. The line between audience and artist has become blurred by the ability of non-musicians or amateurs of limited experience to create sound recordings which, in the ears of the creator, have the characteristics of actual music. User-friendly multi-track sequencing and massive loop libraries have created a cottage music industry wherein musical chops have been replaced by mouse technique and terms like "cut and paste" make studying counterpoint...well, pointless.
I find it of interest that the number and variety of live music venues has decreased in correspondence with the explosion of massive musical equipment outlets. There are more tools for the making of music and less places to use them every day. Professional recording studios are dying faster than family run restaurants. If one were to look at this trend with a pessimistic eye, embarking on a career in music would seem like a foolish ambition indeed.
Yes, everything has changed, and yet, nothing has really changed at all. The environment has generated a flood of uninspired creativity in all things. We eat food that isn't food, we watch reality television that isn't real and we listen to music that isn't really music every day. But somewhere, a chef is preparing a work of culinary art and and a writer is creating drama from his heart. Optimism dictates that the same holds true for the art of music and that quality will not succumb to compositional methods defined as being "user-friendly."
How does this apply to the question of increasing a fan base? I would suggest that people go to concerts when there is something to go for. That "something" must consist of an experience that they cannot provide for themselves. If an aspiring artist wants an audience, he must set the table and provide a real meal. It isn't a question of getting people to the gig. What is missing in so many live shows is the X-factor...which I define as "Being so goddamned good that they can't stay away." That which an artist provides for his audience must be better than whatever is on television that evening.
There has always been a sense of entitlement in the ranks of the less experienced. It is usually only after years of struggle that experienced artists can appreciate their own responsibility in providing a product that justifies a lasting relationship with their fan base. Many musical acts have "all the tricks of the trade...but no trade" as the old saying goes. Modern methods make recording a great sounding demo almost effortless. When an artist appears on the live stage however, the audience should not be expected to accept any less than that which he hears on a recording. Indeed, the experience should be enhanced by the immediacy of live performance...the "X-factor."
Recordings and live performances have a unique relationship in that each generates interest in the other. Good recordings will move listeners to want to witness the artist perform live, and great live performances will move an audience to buy the recordings which bring back the experience. An artist can insure that his recorded music finds an audience by making the very best recordings possible. And the simplest way an artist can increase his live audience is by shouldering the responsibility of being so goddamned good that they can't find it in themselves to stay away.