I was a member of a panel last Monday at an event that was part of the London Jazz Festival organised by the Musicians' Union. The topic was Marketing and Promoting Your Music and it turned out to be a very interesting and lively discussion. Other panel members were David Jones (Promoter, Serious), Kit Downes (Musician, Kit Downes Trio), Steve Rubie (606 Club owner), Rick Finlay (Musician, Just East) and the panel was chaired very successfully by Dave Webster from the MU. (If you're not a member of the MU, I'd urge you to become one. They run lots of interesting free events like these.)
One of the ideas I brought up was the concept of "1,000 true fans" which I think is especially important in the niche genre of jazz. Everybody has been talking about "the long tail" - the ability of music outlets to increase sales in the digital age because they have an endless catalogue with a huge amount of sales although most individual items are selling in very small amounts.
The 1,000 True Fans idea argues that an artist only has to acquire one thousand real fans to make a living. A "true fan" is someone who will buy every album you produce, go to as many gigs as possible even if it means travelling over long distances, buy any merchandise you produce and tell everyone they know (by word of mouth and online through social networking etc) just how fantastic you are! Perhaps you have some of these wonderful people already but increasing that number to one thousand would ensure that you could make a reasonable living from your music.
But how do we attract these fans? For me, the only answer is one by one. I don't have the money or support of a record label to launch a PR and marketing campaign. This means that I need to connect to every fan individually and directly. If you show your fans that they are important to you and that their support and opinions count, eventually you will convert casual fans into "true fans". Of course the downside of this is that you'll have less time to devote to your music. Nurturing fans takes quite a bit of time. It means staying engaged by responding quickly to all emails sent to you by fans through your website, setting up and monitoring accounts on myspace, facebook and twitter etc. Most importantly, it means giving your time and energy at gigs by chatting to the audience members and signing CDs both during the intervals and at the end of the night (when really all you might feel like doing is collapsing in a heap somewhere with a large glass of something). But I think it's worth it. Do you?
More in-depth analysis of the concept here.