How Musicians Find Their First Fans In 2024

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What if I told you that there was one technique that most musicians skip, which is why they are stuck with under a thousand followers on every platform and never get a lot of fans or a manager, label, or really any attention at all? And then what if I told you this technique is what’s helped build most of the careers in the music business, unlike what other YouTubers sell you in Facebook ads, paying for botted playlists, and cheap answers musicians do that keep them stagnant for years by looking for vanity metrics forever and never gets you growth or real answers? This is the technique that helps get you out of algorithmic jam, all based on how I’ve seen popular major label and indie artists build their fanbases in my actual work that will also help you make friends with people who are just like you and will support you for years to come.

So in this video, I’m going to show you the time-tested way your favorite musicians have built their fanbase throughout the social media era and show you tons of secrets on how to do this that are all new and updated for 2024. So what we’re going to do in this video is first help you understand how all this fits together and why you need to be detail-orientated and really put the time in to investigate all these techniques. Since this is the crux of how you do everything that really moves the needle, whether that’s exciting the TikTok, Spotify, Instagram, or YouTube algorithms to promote you to finding the musicians you should be playing shows with, collaborating, making features with, remixes, split releases, and doing other cool things. As well as showing you the producers, managers, video directors, booking agents, mixers, mastering engineers, lawyers, photographers, labels, and other team members and music that you should have on your radar. So if one hears about you and follows you, you can recognize them and know to say what’s up and build that relationship.

As well, it will show you the fans who are most passionate in your genre, who are most likely to like you and spread the word about you, whether that’s YouTube reviewers or the TikTok accounts that recommend music in your microgenre, or the Facebook groups, Discord, subreddits, and other message boards where fans and influencers in your community hang out. And since so many of you are lost in the playlists, venues, YouTube creators, blogs, websites, and other places that will potentially give you placements, as well as what hashtags you should be using to market yourself on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, this will teach you exactly that. And the sooner you learn how to do this, the more you’re able to learn and take from what you observe each day.

This is kind of like how once you learn some music theory, you can observe music better, and well, this is really community theory, and how to observe what people are doing to promote their music properly. And honestly, this is more important than hiring the right publicist, or for that matter, anyone to promote your music since the artists that break today, not the ones from five or ten years ago, do it by doing this. The artists who break are the ones who are students of the game, and this is the game. I see this as how the musicians who built a fanbase actually got there.

I’ve been the person at a major label who talks to the artists right when they get signed, and helps them learn to tell their story coherently. And I’ve heard the story from the thousands of musicians of all sorts of sizes across every genre that I’ve talked to over the years. And frankly, and this is the best news for musicians these days, the fact is, after you pay for your song to be recorded, and produced as good as you can, there’s a lot of artists who understand this stuff, who spend literally zero dollars on publicity or content, who do it all themselves, really blow up and get a big fanbase these days.

The key is, when you see how to do your community work, you see the right work to be doing, and get more from everything you do, so it can enable you to blow up using less spending on unnecessary expenses. But so many of you are skeptical of how this work actually helps you. And to that, I point to the algorithmic jail. You know, where your posts only get a few hundred views. So many of you get on consulting calls with me from this prison, like I’m your one call that you get when you get thrown in jail. And what has got so many of you in there, is by using silly hashtags, and not following and interacting with any of the smaller artists you find doing this technique. So even when you’re making good content, you’re still stuck because you’ve given the algorithm absolutely no clues as to who to send you to that may like you on the platform, when if you just did this work for a few hours, you’d know who to go to.

So how does this get you out of algorithmic jail? Well, your community is who the algorithm sees it should be recommending you to, and when you haven’t taught it anything and the only people you’re interacting with is cousin Anthony, who makes videos about his framed autographed hockey jerseys, or your girlfriend who’s like mine and only watches videos of capybaras and dogs, well, that’s not helping the algorithm to get what to do with your music. But if you have a list of 25 smaller artists who have 10 to 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, who make music similar to you, where fans would also like you, well, the algorithm could try you out and what you do on those fans and often be successful.

If you recall in one of my more important videos, I talked about how everyone I know at Big Indies and major labels agrees that one of the best marketing opportunities in the history of music is artist page visibility, aka doing features, collaborations, remixes, co-writes, and split releases with other artists. Since it not only gets you on the artist page of another artist, it gets you on the release radar of all their fans, and that’s the best real estate ever available in the history of music marketing. Since you’ll be on a song, the fan will potentially like that artist, and then they already like that song so they get the hint to check you out. But you’ll also get tagged on social media together with that artist. So this teaches TikTok, Instagram, Spotify, Twitter, and YouTube, along with tons of other algorithms to recommend you, along with this artist, and allow algorithms to build your fan base while you sleep. And if you haven’t watched that video, it’s linked below or on the screen now.

But anyway, you can’t be effective at doing that work unless you have a vast understanding of your community. And since we got on the subject of TikTok, I have to say, the thing that I see every time someone blows up on there is they understood their community well enough to know who to target and collaborate with, and the language to use, and the hashtags to use to make them blow up. It’s a detail, not the top line thing a lot of people focus on, and so many articles about it and how-to videos are so wrong. But I can tell you, it’s actually what matters.

And there’s a thing so few people understand about algorithms that I’m going to go deep on soon on this channel, which is they can only see the connections users and music genomes make. There’s a marketer who I really respect named Coco MoCo on TikTok, who says the more niche you go, the more you grow. And she makes a great point that by the time you see a lot of the more famous people, you don’t realize this person started off by making really huge gains in a small niche. But that niche lifted them up to where they are now. And they understood their niche and the smallest corners of the internet talking about it, and then grew outwards from there. And that’s where you need to start. And so many of you try to build without a niche.

So when you’re a part of a community, the algorithm is looking to see the fans of other similar artists and see if they should recommend you to them, because that’s how they keep people glued to their platform. But so often, many artists I know doing great work aren’t making those connections, because they undervalue community. But there’s another reason I find the community work to be some of the most important work you will do, as it gets you to the right people. And as I’ve said a million times, I absolutely hate Facebook ads. And much of my hatred towards them is they don’t bring you to the best fans to build a fan base, the fans who are actively consuming a genre daily and telling everyone what to listen to, because those fans don’t click on those ads. It also often pollutes your algorithm by giving you connections to musicians you have little in common with, and instead connects you to the ones who run Facebook ads.

Instead, the musician Spotify sees you connected to in their genome and to other artists who are starting to grow in your genre. And when you build with community work, it gives you the best algorithm possible, which will build your fan base for you for free for years to come and is not dependent on when you stop having money to run ads. Because one of the things people who doubt me about this often discount is not all algorithmic connections are created equal. And I’m sorry, I’ve been doing this enough years to know that if you’re doing what I talk about here, you create a much healthier algorithm to grow than the polluted cesspool ads and all the artificial bot bulk brings.

And it keeps becoming more and more true that if you simply associate and make connections with small artists and show the algorithm that you’re similar to the other ones who are up and coming by genuine interactions, collaboration, and there being a common bond since you researched that you’re similar to this artist, then that other artist’s audience often vibes with you and well, the algorithm will build your audience for you for free while you do other things like create music.

But there’s one more hidden part of why I think this is important, and it’s a hard pill to swallow. Most of you aren’t making exceptional music, yet at least. But the nerds in your community really love your genre music and are addicted to the mood that your genre brings to them and need a fix all the time and frankly are willing to accept a lot of music that’s a little more rough around the edges with a lot of potential. So when you find your community, they are the most likely people to be your early fans and most easily persuadable while you grow and get better. This is why you need to find the small artists who make music similar to you, who have some traction going already since their fans are likely to be the same ones who will welcome you into their regular music listening playlists.

But there’s more. When your head is in your community, part of how you grow is you meet the fans who will forgive you when you have potential, but it isn’t quite realized yet, and you learn who’s doing similar things to you and see the details that make them good and learn from them and level up. The musicians you love and their team understand the dynamics of their scene, genre, and community and have probably done this in years before. They’ve been students of this community and they’re obsessed with it, which is why you see your favorite artists acutely aware of the other artists around them and this gives them that distinct advantage over everyone else.

But don’t take it from me. Here’s IglooGhost, who’s one of the most influential producers making music today. I think he’s one of the sickest producers in the game and he explains here how he got signed as an unknown artist with no fanbase who was just making sick music with no following. And yet, he gets signed to Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, which led to huge things for him. Before I got signed, I was just like, kind of mucking about on the internet and I had a lot of friends who also make music like I’m sure a lot of other producers do. It kind of happened just through a degree of separation, how people say everyone knows someone who knows someone who knows someone. So just somebody I knew kind of eventually knew the right people, Flying Lotus and the Brainfeeder people. I didn’t really go and try and beg it and really go out looking for it, but it definitely helps to create, not have it contrived, but definitely have a big circle of friends who you actually think are cool. And yeah, if there’s a bigger sort of gene pool of the amount of people who your stuff can reach, that definitely helps. So I didn’t have a manager or anything, it wasn’t some creepy industry.

So what is the work? As you can see on the screen now, I have a spreadsheet for my fictitious band, Incel Hypebeast, which is a hyperpop act and that microgenre will be what we focus on. And I have good news for you. The spreadsheet you’re going to see throughout this section, I made available so you have a place to start for free. 

With this spreadsheet, we’re going to write down every artist who’s similar to you musically. In fact, I don’t care if they have 100 monthly listeners; that’s helpful if you only have a few hundred yourself. If they have 100,000, that’s much better. And if they have 10 million, cool, but I really want you to keep this list mostly with artists who are similar to you in size or a little bit bigger than you. Really, around 30,000 to 60,000 are some of the most helpful artists you can find here, but all the way up to a couple hundred thousand is still really helpful.

If you have 100 monthly listeners, this list should only have 10 artists with 10 million or more listeners and have 90 on it that have thousands to tens of thousands of monthly listeners. This is why.

What we’re going to be doing here is trying to understand every part of your community from the artist to the mix engineers, video directors, and who they use for a lawyer or booking agent to who writes about them and playlists them. You need to understand where the fans of these artists are and how to find the people who work with those artists since they’re more likely to work with you.

So let’s fill out this list. What we’re looking for is artists or what I like to call targets since these will also be microgenre names, which we will fill in under the tab called terms. We need to figure out what your microgenre community is. If you don’t understand how to do that, I made a whole video on it, which I’m not going to go over again, so you should watch that video that’s linked in the description below.

You’re going to want to put in some of the acts in your microgenre. You can find these by going down a breadcrumb trail, by clicking on an artist who’s similar to you, then go to their Spotify fans also like section. Another helpful site is EveryNoiseAtOnce, where you can look up your favorite artists and then see these tags under their name. Those are often good microgenres and hashtags you could then put in your spreadsheet and look up on TikTok and Instagram to see if you can get a good audience by using those hashtags.

But you could also use this to be a detective. If you click on those genre names, you get a whole list of artists who are a part of that genre and you could investigate it and see if they should be on your sheet. Then you should go to those artists’ Spotify page. If they’re a good match, investigate their Spotify fans also like even more. In fact, if you have a fans also like on your profile already, that’s a great place to start.

A good time saver during this is also as you find those artists, go down to the section that says discovered on on their Spotify page. If you look at the screen now, you can see this tab that I have in the spreadsheet I made, and you should enter those playlists into that tab because we’re going to scour those and try to find targets to get to know those playlists even more. All these sections are great leads to be filling out the spreadsheet in a place you could continually come back to to keep filling it out since it changes all the time who’s on these playlists and these fans also like lists.

Now, a lot of you are probably wondering how big this list should be. Honestly, at first, hundreds of artists can be helpful. Because if you do this work each day, eventually you’ll find what is helpful and what is not. We can retire a bunch of artists to the bottom of the list and unfollow them. But I want you to lean into this at first. Having a hundred or so artists on this list is more helpful than 10. Whittling this list down over time and getting to who really helps you and gives you good information is important. But casting a wide net at first that you continually whittle down is what makes it effective.

One note is there’s something I like to target aside from those who sound musically similar to you. I call these local targets. Since we’re putting these targets into a spreadsheet, I have a separate sheet for targets that are not as similar to you musically but are from the area you’re from. If you have an element of hip-hop, anybody with an element of hip-hop is acceptable here. If you’re a rock band, this is helpful because you’ll see where rock bands play and other things culturally around rock music.

The reason we do this is we want to identify artists who may not be that close to you, but because they’re in your local area, they may show you some leads that only apply to your local area. This could be a venue to play, a place that will do an article about you. Hell, you may follow them and see a new music store or rehearsal space you may utilize, or a place to bring a date for that matter. Anything’s possible. I would put any artist of any size that’s local, as long as they have something similar to you by location in this list.

Also, on a local level, why I like to make local targets is those can be really helpful as they teach you so much. Let’s remember, you can find local acts by searching your local area, even if it’s a small town on Bandcamp or SoundCloud. Who knows, you may find your new best friend. True story, I found one of my best friends by searching AOL IM profiles for the small town I grew up in and the word “punk.” It’s often shocking what you find in these searches.

So after you have a bunch of targets in this spreadsheet, it’s now time to do some research. What I want you to do each day is pick one of the artists and poke around. Get into their socials and start observing. Are they friends with other artists you see them collaborating with? Should you add those artists to your targets? Hit their Instagram bio, website, contact page, YouTube About page, and Facebook About section, and look for if they have a publicist or a lawyer or a manager listed and get them into the sheet.

In Bandcamp and SoundCloud descriptions, you can often find producer, mixing, and mastering engineer credits, as well as which studio they recorded at. You can also find credits oftentimes on Spotify by clicking where I’m showing on the screen right now. On Spotify, you can see if they’re on a label on the bottom of their page. You can even do a YouTube search for these targets and find people who do reaction videos, video essays, reviews, or video channel curators who may premiere your video to their audience just like we talked about in the last video.

But do more than just take in their contacts. Observe what they’re doing that’s smart and take note of it. We want to even look at their Spotify bio and see if there’s something smart they do that you should be doing something similar to. This is going to be what makes you a better version of yourself. With every bit of this community work you do, you’ll get more inspired and become a more authentic artist. This is what a lot of artist development is, and this is why you can’t hire someone else to do it.

Let’s remember, you can also enter all these targets into Reddit and see the subreddits where these artists are discussed. The same goes with the Facebook groups, and you can do the same on Discord in their search. Many of you think this is all about posting your music in the group when it’s really about learning the community and talking to people but also learning what happens in your community.

Here’s a good example. Let’s say you’re great at flipping samples and you hear about Kenny Beats, one of the top producers, randomly doing beat battles on Twitch. Well, this story Kenny has about him doing just that and what happened to one of the participants he told on Rick Rubin’s podcast, Tetragrammaton, could be you if you wisen up, chief. Totally. A kid got signed to XL Records who was 17 years old, had four t-shirts to his name, got the demo version of Ableton, and learned to make beats from watching my stream, signed to XL Records. His name’s DVR. A kid named Not Charles got a publishing deal after he won a beat battle, and there was an A&R watching the stream and hit him up. He got a publishing deal.

If the big picture isn’t clear, I’m making a bunch of videos that make all this more clear, so you should really put your notifications on for every single video I make after you subscribe so you don’t miss them.

While you’re doing this, you should also follow all these targets on socials as you find them. Now, if you’re like me, you don’t want to read a bunch of desperate musicians begging for pre-saves all day. I know, I got in the wrong business, right? So make a separate account just to follow the musicians that you target and flick over there once a day and do a little homework. I have one of those burner accounts on every social media app where I just follow smart and savvy musicians and observe them. On Twitter, you don’t even need to make a separate account since you can make lists. I love doing this on TweetDeck because I can also make multiple lanes for different types of artists I follow.

By doing this, I can observe so much of where the targets play, who they’re friends with, what they do to market and promote themselves, and how often they’re posting. It’s just great research, particularly since this is where we’re going to populate the other sheets. As you can see here, we have sheets for venues, playlists, press, and communities. In time, you’re going to find tons of cool stuff.

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