The on-demand economy has come to define an era of abundance.

Streaming’s enormous contribution to industry hopes should not be understated, but the pressure on artists and their teams to prioritize and allocate substantial resources to DSPs can distract those looking to grow and retain an identifiable audience independent of any one platform. Millions of streams and millions of dollars don’t go hand-in-hand.

Diversifying income and prioritizing direct relationships matter most in the long run, regardless of an artist’s stature. To get you started, Stem assembled a list of suggestions to help build smart habits that can translate into loyal supporters over time.

Recognize Where Your Audience Isn’t

Artists with substantial play counts but minimal devotion beyond one or two DSPs represent the new normal. The struggle to convert passive listeners into longtime supporters has always existed, but the nature of streaming encourages fleeting engagement.

“A weird generation of artists now exists that can survive purely from streaming revenue, I mean really have successful numbers, but can’t sell a ticket on tour or a shirt online,” says Chris Cajoleas, an LA-based consultant and manager.

Considering the music ecosystem from a bird’s eye view can help paint a clear picture of where your audience exists today and where it could extend to tomorrow.

Qualitative and quantitative research can do wonders in identifying strategic steps forward. Leverage thoughtful Google searches, contacts and accessible resources (Spotify for Artists, Twitter Analytics, Stem) to light the way.

Spotify for Artists

Maximize Relationships & Margins

365 evangelists (one fan per day, as they say) can directly benefit your word-of-mouth presence and your wallet just as much as a playlist placement.

True, time is finite; you can’t interact with everyone. Forcing it is worse than doing nothing, and sometimes doing nothing actually increases your perceived value whenever you do engage with fans.

Caveats aside, nudging a prospective fan through the die-hard funnel can make or break a business’ core audience.

Growing and maintaining genuine relationships with fans then enables you to maximize margins. Say you have 3,000 followers on Instagram, 100 people regularly watch your stories and 30 of those 100 vote “Yes” to the question “Would you buy this hat I’m making?” That’s significant: Those ‘small’ numbers can snowball into a major revenue source.

Khary, a self-starter and longtime Stem user, stresses the importance of tangible goods to his business.

“Your fan base isn’t solid until they are willing to buy merch from you,” he told us last year. “Once you have a steady income and financial framework setup, you’ll be making money online while working on music.”

Khary’s Kousteau Brand

Turn your interests into talking points

Authenticity helps fans identify with you on a more personal level. Love your Nintendo Switch more than family? Can’t get enough of MoviePass? Embrace your passions (or oddities!) and your audience might do the same.

Consider Princess Nokia’s Smart Girl Club, which led to her The Voices In My Head show on Beats 1. Musician Nate Sloan and songwriter Charlie Harding’s Switched On Pop podcast went from a 2014 hobby to a 2018 job. Rising Chicago rapper Amir Tripp turned his website into a tracklist art gallery and ethereal guitarist Natalie Green hosted a private music school for his fans. If it’s thoughtful and makes sense for you, anything goes. 

A social media asset for Princess Nokia’s Beats 1 show

Pass your followers the mic (and music)

Long-lasting careers read like narratives. When you let the audience help write yours, difficult decisions simplify and their sense of investment in your journey grows. Everyday tools make it a breeze t o bring select groups of fans together. Boston rapper-singer Tre Michaels regularly turns to his listeners for creative input via Instagram polls (e.g. voting on alternate artworks), and rocketing alt-pop artist Roy Blair often answers his fans’ questions on Twitter rather than share the info himself.

Once you establish a safe space to engage with fans, it becomes much easier to treat them like VIPs. Sharing links to Dropbox, Google Drive, or private SoundCloud uploads is standard industry practice that often distracts from everyday listeners. Seeing fan outreach as on par with blog or DSP outreach has its upsides. Qveen Herby pairs seemingly trivial, lighthearted captions with legitimate audiovisual releases, and the approach works well for her.

Qveen Herby’s Facebook

Look where others don’t

Some social networks aren’t what they used to be, and certain DSPs catch the short end of the stick, but each offers a unique opportunity to reach a different segment.

Tim Larew, talent manager, repeatedly uses a tool as simple as Twitter search to gain invaluable insights about the artists he helps and their market standing.

There’s nothing more telling than social chatter when it comes to understanding how people really feel about an artist. I use the Twitter search function to see how anyone from the average listener/observer to the highbrow music writer is viewing the artists I manage.

I get true, real time feedback, and it’s feedback that isn’t prompted by a question or an interviewer… it’s just how someone feels, and the feeling was strong or unique enough to make them post it publicly to their own following.

If they’re talking about it, they care. If the chatter is dwindling, you’re losing interest. Art is about creating and in many ways controlling conversation—searching for those bits of convo on Twitter allows you to gauge how successful or unsuccessful you are in doing so.

While big ideas can break acts, everyday resourcefulness helps make the ride smoother. For more simple, valuable tech solutions, read our article about tools artists can use to run their team like a startup.

Treat local opportunities with national consequence

Last year, the sunny voice of Boston artist Latrell James leapt into public consciousness with his jingle for a nationwide Cheerios ad campaign. The commercial boosted his profile, offered more financial freedom to create and came together in his home city.

“We wanted to look local for the simple fact that Latrell already has a name in the city of Boston,” says Jessica Richards, co-manager. “I thought it would easier to pitch someone from the city to a licensing company in the area that works with local artists. We knew licensing pays pretty well and our goal is to always be profitable or breakeven to help Latrell focus more on creating.”

The story behind Swsh and her debut EP, Soup, offers another example of small-time looks turning into substantial wins. The LA-based hip-hop artist, an instrumentalist since age five, would routinely perform at local talent shows. Last year, unbeknownst to her, the performance swayed producer J.KELR of Blended Babies (Chance the Rapper; Anderson .Paak) to fully focus on her first project.

Granted, Boston and LA aren’t small towns in the middle of nowhere. Research is the first step to making local inroads that can have real results.

We hope this helps jumpstart creative brainstorms and provides useful tips. To read more articles made just for artists and their teams, visit Stem’s blog to learn about music distribution, the publishing industry and more.

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