For the past few years I’ve been very active on the hard rock and metal scene, I have a blog, run a label, promote bands, book shows, all that jazz. There is one thing I’ve noticed though that allows bands, especially on the local scene, one thing that sets them a cut above the rest and allows them to become one of the definitive bands on the scene. The fans. That might seem silly at first, what is a band without it’s fans anyway? What I’m really talking about though is what I like to call “Superfans” people who buy every piece of merch, constantly message the singer on Facebook, and even do covers of the groups songs to post on Youtube. Getting this kind of connection organically is no easy task, but it is very rewarding and will allow your band to stand as one of the best on its scene, and connect with more fans across the globe, who doesn’t want that?
From what I have observed, fans really like it when a member of the band (usually the vocalist) is able to generate a sort of ‘cult of personality’. This may sound slightly intimidating at first, but consider a band like Nirvana, to a great extent, their whole shtick was Kurt Cobain and his weird personality as a ‘tortured artist’. Yet, to quote Waynes World “Kids can spot a phony, they’re very smart you know.” In other words, if you want to use the ‘tortured artist’ persona, you better not be going home to sleep in a nice house in a good neighborhood. Honesty is important, if you’re willing to lie to your fans in order to make a buck, why should they want to listen to your music? Most people don’t like dealing with liars, so why would you ever want to be one?
“But Matt,” you might be saying “How do I go about generating a personality or image for myself?” Well, in my view, the easiest, and perhaps best way is to have a story. For example, my friend Niloofar from Unscarred has perhaps what is the most metal backstory of all time. She was kicked out of her home country of Iran because the government thinks she is Satan. She has been able to use touches of this to help market her band. The notable thing is though, even though she has been offered some very major media opportunities she prefers to only divulge her tale with more underground publications. This allows her fanbase to grow organically and also admire her dedication to the underground. Remember, if you have been labeled as a part of a certain genre’s “Scene” it is important to stay loyal to it unless you want mass revulsion a la Metallica.
Now, the next logical follow up question might be “I don’t have a story!” Well, a lot of the time, that’s simple, you actually do. Think about what really drives your music forward, what raw emotions make you want to create? Dustin Schumacher of Inner Temple often says he is driven by sadness. The motivation behind his story has been a harsh breakup with a significant other and his parents breaking up. He uses ideas like this, ones that a lot of people can relate too. For example, on his bands debut EP there is a song called “Father” which is about having an alcoholic father, a topic that many of us can relate too. In other words, his music touches on something much more primal within all of us. This is not just limited to grunge music though, black metal bands like Drudkh can touch on something innately human as can a pop-rock group like the Killers. Yet, in every case, what makes the bands able to be in touch with our humanity is the fact that their music is driven by their story.
Another thing that I have found really gets fans into the music is having a wide variety of merchandise. This means going beyond your normal package of stickers, t-shirts and CD’s. When I was working with Unscarred, we decided to print cassettes, upon their introduction dozens of people ran up to buy one, it’s this kind of cool and quirky spin on merch that allows bands to succeed. Another band I was friends with when I lived in Paris, Thanatic Eyes decided to make bottle openers, something that went down very well with the alcoholic French crowds. While part of this idea of having unique merch is to make money, it’s also important to remember that unique merch gets people talking. It gives people something to recognize your band by. When I used to tell people I worked with Unscarred, after a point they wouldn’t say “Oh that’s the thrash band” but “Oh that’s the band with cassettes” or perhaps better yet “Oh that’s the band with the singer who was kicked out of Iran.”
A final idea for helping to generate superfans, is simply by glorifying the fans. A lot of the most successful bands I know make a conscious effort not just to take pictures with fans but also to make status updates honoring certain fans. Adding a picture of a fan wearing your merch at a show that is not your own helps to make it seem like your band is a lot bigger than it is. Once people buy into the illusion of your band being better known than they actually are they will start to feel honored that they too can be featured on your page. This idea of using a cult of personality and penetrative marketing to make your band seem bigger than they are is the type of thing that makes Babymetal so popular. They have been able to use pictures with heavy metal royalty to barter their way up to a tour with Lady Gaga. If that doesn’t motivate you to use these techniques I don’t know what will.
It’s actually surprisingly easy to get photographs like these, all you need is a few journalist friends who are willing to take some of your merch to their interviews and ask the bands to pose with it. The band Unscarred has managed to do this by giving several of their industry friends cassettes and CD’s and then getting returns with photos from bands like Soilwork and MOD. Another idea would be to give your bands shirt to a member of a larger group who you are opening for. This shows the larger groups support of the underground as well as providing an effective marketing technique for your own band.
Simply put, getting Superfans is a lot simpler than it might seem. Once you have a clear and defined sound, the next step is always making people care about you. By having these kinds of personal connections and taking time for the fans you are able to commence an initial level of communication with your fanbase. By generating a more significant look and personality for your group, people will really want to latch on to what you have created. Once the fans have latched on, it will be a lot easier to generate merchandise sales which in turn will create more money for your band to develop. Go out and craft a rock star personality, but be sure to stay humble and human. If you can get this volatile mix of elements right then you just might be able to make it.