As a musician, you have a lot of things to juggle, both when it comes to creating music and dealing with the business side of things. In the midst of it all, it can be easy to forget about the most important aspect of your career -- your fans.
Notice the happy couple to the right. That's the kind of relationship that should exist between you and your fans.
Like a married couple, sometimes you and your fans are going to piss each other off. Maybe you release a lame album, for example. Or maybe you release a great album, but your fans don't buy it.
These kinds of things happen in relationships. At the end of the day though, if you've built your relationships with fans upon a good foundation, you'll be able to work through any problems and continue to move your career forward.
The connection you have to fans is more important than anything else you’re doing in the music business, including the music itself. Without fans, you have no career.
Most musicians go for the equivalent of "pickup lines" when it comes to their relationships with fans. They get caught up in "instant gratification" techniques that add numbers to their Facebook friend count, Twitter followers, or even sales figures, but little to do with building (and maintaining) the type of connection and rapport that, when done right, are more than just a passing fancy.
Long term strategy is how the music business game is won. If you want to be around 20 years from now, "superfans" who will buy everything you release (and more of it) are the way to go.
This is done through relationship building.
Here are a few ways you can build "superfan" relationships:
Reply to Messages – Fans of your music know you’re busy, so they don’t always expect you to reply to “fan mail” or other messages they send. Because of this, a reply is extra powerful when it comes to showing them how much they are valued.
For online fan communication, I recommend Twitter. Messages are limited to 140 characters, so communication can be short, without seeming like you're blowing anybody off.
Bonus with Purchase – If you’re selling music and other merchandise directly, include a bonus with every purchase. A small gift, such as a “Sampler Album” or a voucher that can be exchanged for show tickets, won’t cost much and will provide a high return on investment, since it will help you to sell more in the future. You'll also build trust and rapport with fans in a big way, since you're overdelivering on your end of the exchange.
Charity – In May 2010, a massive flood hit Nashville, causing about $1.6 Billion in damage and displacing thousands of people. Shortly thereafter, there were benefit conferences by acts like Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, and Carrie Underwood. Doing this not only raised a lot of money to help relief efforts, but also showed these artists valued the people in the city that had helped to put them on the map.
There are opportunities like this happening all the time. Show people that you’ll help take care of them in a time of need and they’ll take care of you.
Adjust Approach Based on Feedback – Fans, like all people, want to be heard. If they make suggestions, listen. You don't have to change everything you're doing based on fan feedback, but if you're hearing the same thing over and over again, a change may be worth considering.
Be Available – After your shows, stick around to sign albums and other merchandise, take photos, and show your appreciation to the people who came to see you. This changes the dynamics of a performance from "one-to-many" to a much more personable "one-to-one" and is the absolute best way to solidify relationships with new fans as well as set yourself apart from 99% of the other acts you're competing with.
Exclusive Releases / Products – Everybody wants to feel special. Create exclusive music releases and products for people who join your mailing list or purchase music and other merchandise from you.
Loyalty Rewards – Recognize your best customers by giving away free tickets to shows, creating exclusive music releases, and performing exclusive sets, such as “meet and greet” acoustic performances or "members only" soundchecks before shows.
Never neglect the partnership between you and your fans. Take good care of them and you will always have a career in the music business, regardless of trends in music or changes in technology.