Since Facebook has introduced Promoted Posts, experts claim your post will only reach 1-2% of your fans unless you want to pay big money (potentially hundreds of dollars) to “boost” your post to reach your own list. For example, our design studio list, while small, was once able to reach 2500 unique people per post. When Facebook made this policy switch and monetized their fan pages by charging for views, our reach dropped down immediately to around 200-300 people (and sometimes as low as 148) – only 8% of what it was the month before.
That means that 2300 of our Facebook fans were no longer seeing our stuff.
Frustratingly, these were the dedicated fans who actually wanted to hear from us, and our Facebook fan list was something we’d laboured to build over the course of a couple years! Perhaps you’ve seen the same exact same thing happen to you. A list you put time and energy (and possibly money) into that you can’t even access without paying a hefty fee.
This is the problem with depending on one medium as a musician… especially a medium that you don’t own or have any say over.
I often hear from musicians all the time, “We don’t need a website…we have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Youtube… and regrettably a Snapchat.” While musicians should have a Facebook page, I don’t believe it’s smart for it to be your main or only tool to connect to your fans.
I’m going to date myself a bit. I remember when the best way to find new music was to browse for bands using Myspace, and having a sweet Myspace page immediately set a band apart from the rest. I knew musicians who were so good at using Myspace that they claimed they didn’t need a website (myself included), especially after countless hours spent trying to get their friends list up to 10,000 and beyond. Now every musician has moved onto Facebook and deleted their old MySpace accounts to cover up those mascara-laden days. (Sorry about Myspace by the way, JayTee.) I’m only in my mid-twenties, so that’s a testament for how fast things can change online. You and your fans may not even remember a time before the Internet.
Don’t get me wrong – Facebook is amazing. In fact, you may be getting by pretty good right now with just a Facebook page. But I’d argue you could do even better. Moreover, those results will only last until something else big comes along… and then you’re forced to restart from scratch.
I know you may not even remember Myspace but I’m drawing a parallel to Facebook and whatever else comes after it (or more likely what Facebook will buy). Some are pointing to the rise of the new social network ‘Ello‘ regardless of how it fares as a reminder to keep building your own list rather than focusing on Facebook. A lot of people talk about Facebook like it’s the greatest thing ever for musicians, and to be totally honest, it is useful and should be a part of your total marketing plan for your music.
But it shouldn’t be everything.
Even if Facebook sticks around, there’s a huge opportunity being missed when all you have for your fans are a few loosely connected social media accounts. Those who are successfully using Facebook to find new fans through their (incredible) targeted ad systems eventually want to direct those fans off of Facebook back to their site to continue providing value and keep building that relationship with their fans.
The hard truth is that many musicians are being crushed by all sides, only continuing on for their sheer love of the art and the hope of connecting with like-minded people. Before it was greedy record companies who took advantage of artists but now we feel the effects of widespread piracy and listener entitlement alongside of giant corporations like Google (including Youtube), Spotify, Pandora, Apple, etc who take a huge cut from the artist, don’t even bother to pay royalties, or even making direct money by selling ads that display on piracy sites.
(I realize this might be controversial to say especially if you think there are no victims when downloading music as I can understand the point of view. I grew up on Napster as a kid but as a musician I’ve seen the real hurt it causes first-hand. Musicians, like gas stations, are now begging for the money up front via Kickstarter or IndieGoGo because of illegal downloading. They need to make sure their hard costs are covered first because of piracy and we’re not even mentioning their livelihood. Similarly, artists need to get creative with the way they release music now because the old model has been destroyed by non-consensual downloading. Wu-Tang Clan made news because they made an album and are only selling it to one person like in the old days when King’s harvested rare art. At the moment no one has come up with a new sustainable model for artists, the best option right now is for us consumers to respect musicians and not take what they have not consented us to.)
But at the same time, with the Internet and today’s tools, this is truly the most level playing field ever for succeeding as an DIY musician. There are musicians who have become successful initially because they were able to build an audience online like through Youtube. They continued to cultivate that relationship online through various mediums and sometimes even through world tours after their fanbase was established and some have gotten to a point where they need a label to help them continue to grow and manage the business side of things. These are stories that simply would have never been possible in the past including musicians like Us The Duo, Jayesslee, Walk Off The Earth and…even Justin Bieber had humble beginnings on Youtube.
Because of the variety of niches, it’s possible for you to become a professional musician (i.e., paying all your bills, living well, setting aside money for retirement with the income generated by your music) without even needing to hit the #1 on the billboards. You just need to cultivate a strong relationship with your fans. The stronger the relationship, the fewer fans you need.
Even though the current prospects of getting enough people to pay for your music is soul-crushing, this is even more evidence that musicians really need to connect with their fans on a deeper level and offer even more of themselves than just music.
You may have heard of the infamous 1,000 fan theory, where all you need to be successful is a very motivated but small niche. The idea is that with a 1000 fully dedicated fans, you would have enough to make a living as an artist. There are rebuttals to that theory, but I personally believe this model could work and we’ve developed a couple businesses already catering to extremely small niches. These are niches we naturally belong to, and they’re made of a group of like-minded people that we truly connect with. By providing value to these small niches we’re able to pay our bills by doing what we love for the types of people we get along with best. It’s amazing.
You can do the same thing with your niche. What group of people do you totally get? Who do you know inside and out? A website is one of the best tools to cultivate that relationship of people just like you across this massive digital world.
Developing a strong connection and relationship with your fans is where you get to be creative, unique, and find those like-minded fans. Taylor Swift’s success is credited by her genuine relationship with her fans. She started her career by humbly replying back to messages on Myspace because she wanted to. (Meanwhile I am still waiting years later for a band with less than 20k fans to reply back to me about why my digital download code that should have been included with my vinyl was missing…)
The best way to start on this relationship is to create a brand and image of yourself as a musician to make it clear who you are so you can attract those people. Create a website that becomes an extension of you as a brand, that can collect your fans emails, give them tons of value for visiting (recordings, videos, blogging, insights into your music/process, etc.), stay in touch with them, give-give-give in creative ways, and link all your social media together so your fans can jump easily across the mediums of their choice.
In the next few posts on this column I’ll be talking about defining what true musician branding is and how to start, how to build your own website from scratch, basic marketing just for musicians including fan-funneling, and various free tools for musicians to make more money while developing a stronger connection to your fans. Sign up for our mailing list in the footer to get a notice when they’re out (and get a free downloadable gift for joining).
So, what should we be doing on Facebook to maximize our time there?
- Always include a piece of media with your post. There are two reasons for this. First, Facebook shares media-posts to a greater percentage of your fans (and friends of your fans) since people prefer it over plain text. Second, people notice it more and it’s more visually engaging. You’ve got a greater chance of the people seeing it engaging with it. So always include a video, photo, link, etc. in every single post!
- Encourage conversation. How can you encourage conversation between your fans (and their friends)? People want to feel connected to people like themselves, so they’ll usually embrace the opportunity for a feeling of community. Controversial questions can work well, since they’ll spark debate, but even questions like, “Do you guys like slow or fast songs better?” or, “What’s our best song?” to get the conversation going.
- Be consistent, even if that means making a schedule. Don’t post once every 4 months when you have something big to share, or four times in a day because you’re trying to make up for lost time. Share too infrequently and your fans might forget about you, share too often and they’ll get annoyed and hide your posts. Once a week is a good place to start, and then just see if a slightly greater or lower frequency results in more or less engagement with your posts and “likes.” And put it on the calendar to remind yourself.
- Post at appropriate times. This is something you can do deeper research into as the best times to post ultimately depends on your niche of followers. Are your fans night-owls? Maybe you post at 11 p.m. to cut through the noise. Are your fans 28 years old and stuck at work? Give them relief from their job by posting on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. (you know, after all that hard work is done from the morning).
- Look at what works for other people and emulate it. Go to a more popular musician’s Facebook page. Look at their posts and see which ones get the most engagement (likes, comments, shares). Try and notice what it is about these posts that is working, then emulate it. Also, pay attention to what gets no attention at all (posting at 1 a.m. about being hungry for pizza?). Look at this example below from Queens of the Stone age, it has over 33,000 likes and over 1200 comments/shares. Most of their other posts about buying merch/tickets are around 3000-5000 likes. Another big hit was Josh Homme’s ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell people to buy your stuff but to balance it in between lots of other great content your fans love.
- Be on brand. If you write beautiful music, think about how you can make your posts beautiful. You wouldn’t expect someone writing happy poppy music to always be posting negative messages. This doesn’t mean don’t be genuine – always be genuine – but also giving your fans consistency will allow them something consistent to be loyal to. All of us feel bummed out sometimes, but if someone listens to your music to help them feel happy, that’s a gift you have and should try to extend that idea out from your brand in every way you can.
Questions, comments or stories to share? Leave ’em below!