I wrote this article a while ago to feature on my other website, Music Is Love, which was part of a university project. Since graduating MIL isn’t something I’ve continued with, as I already had this blog for three years by that point, so I thought it’d be cool to share the pieces, on this site, from time to time.
In recent years technology like social media has been a big help in allowing musicians build a fan-base without the help of a record label.
In the music industry today, alongside the mega-stars like soulful crooner Adele and the extremely over-rated Rihanna, there are the smaller artists who have yet to get the superstar break, but work extremely hard making chart-worthy music and networking to build a fan-base. Yet these acts are constantly overlooked in the eyes of the mainstream. Unless you actively seek out these lesser known artists you may never get the chance to hear them, yet if you do you’d be floored by the camaraderie and sense of community among their fans.
There is an endearing quality in artists who remain grounded and humble, that don’t put themselves above their fans, and refuse to compromise their artistic integrity to fit somebody else’s vision.
This genuine attitude seems to elicit a loveable fierceness among fans who take these bands to their hearts, and want to help them succeed simply because they deserve it. Many take to popular social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook, to create online communities for fans whether it be geographically specific or general.
For example, Versaemerge fan Gita helps to run the Twitter team for the band in Indonesia where she is from. After being approached by a friend who set up the profile, Gita has been helping to run the site for just over a year. They also have a Tumblr page and physically pass out flyers at shows, which has led to band member Blake Harnage offering to supply them with official flyers from their record label. Gita says, “pop-punk and alternative rock bands aren’t as famous as other mainstream pop bands and singers in my country and they are so overrated. We want people out there realize that there is loads of great music instead of mainstream music.” She says specifically of the street team, “we made this street team for Indonesian VersaEmerge fans so we could talk as fan-base, share new updates and promote them.” She goes on to say that, “social media really helps us keep in touch and interact with the band… Blake and Sierra love to talk with fans via messages, and often also help if we need life advice or just someone to talk to.”
When asked why she feels so strongly about the band Gita replies, “they deserve loads of fans because they have such a great music.” She also says that part of the appeal is because they are so friendly, “it feels really good to know that the band we support is grateful and appreciate their fans, and if they do it just makes us love them more than ever. We are lucky, because Blake and Sierra appreciate us and treat us like friends.”
When asked how the band feel about these fan groups, one half of the Versaemerge duo, Blake Harnage answers, “it still amazes us to see our music reaching around the world to places like Brazil, Indonesia, Argentina and the Philippines to name a few, and we still have not been there.” Harnage continues, “I remember my friends always turning me onto new artists. Word-of-mouth, as well as social network sites, are both massive in helping new artists gain recognition. Both are driven by the fans.” Harnage says of their Versa Vultures – the affectionate pet name for Versaemerge fans – “Sierra and I are so privileged to have such a ridiculously amazing fan base. We’ve always tried the best that we can to connect with them by taking time to talk. It’s not always easy, but we know that going the extra mile helps to creates loyal, long-lasting fans. Also, we enjoy making so many new friends.” He concludes, “the fans will always be the most important part of the equation. Without them, we simply wouldn’t be able to do what we do on such a scale.”
Sierra Kusterbeck and Blake Harnage are Versaemerge
Technology like social media has been a huge helping hand in allowing musicians get their work out there and build a fan-base without the help, or often disheartening hassle, of appealing to record labels and managers, even going back to the days of MySpace. This way of networking has become a lifeline for many aspiring or emerging talents, so much so that the fans have almost replaced the A&R division (the side of the record label that is responsible for sourcing new artists.) Though it could be said that this is part of the appeal, because a record label is not going to want to sign a band that isn’t generating any interest, however, if an artist already has an extensive and loyal fan-base they are seen as a valuable asset rather than a risk.
One of the bands that know all too well the importance and power of the internet, are upcoming Vancouver based pop-rockers Marianas Trench. Manager Jonathan Simkin says of their online presence, “this is one of the first bands that I have ever seen break first via online media.” He explains, “We built a fan base worldwide because of the band’s ability to connect with fans via social media; they were very good at creating funny clips and posting them online.” Simkin concludes, “social media and internet has been crucial to this band’s success.”
Marketing student Tracey also runs an online fan group; the UK online Street team for Las Vegas based band The Cab. She says of the platform, “it does help the fans connect with bands easier. Twitter is an amazing tool which helps us connect with fans and the band themselves. Without these platforms, it would be more difficult to communicate with people and getting the word out.” She explains, “social media is a given when it comes to promotion of bands. Free promotion is the best way of getting your message across; you can say what you want, give out the message you want and hopefully, it gets heard, people take note and listen.” Along with her friend Steph, they consider themselves two of the biggest fans in the UK. “We spend time, going into our own pockets to see, support and promote the band, we don’t get paid for running the Street Team – it’s completely voluntary. We do this out of our spare time and love and I would not change it for anything else in the world.”
And these girls are dedicated, both having travelled overseas to see and meet the band. “Personally, if you have so much love and passion for a band, it should be well known.” Tracey continues, “plus, having been lucky and met both Alex’s, they appreciate the work, effort and everything you do to promote them.” Speaking of appreciation, Tracey also says that she thinks mutuality is vital. “It gives a band their meaning, whether it’s a tweet saying Thank You or when meeting them a physical hug or photo – it doesn’t matter, if there is mutual love there it’s really worthwhile.” She concludes, “with The Cab, they are the most humble, nicest human beings on the planet and they deserve more recognition and that is why we are here.”
However, not all fans are as lucky when it comes to gratitude, as there are bands out there that forget where they started. Charlotte and Janine, who run a Twitter profile for You Me At Six fans, have experienced being taken for granted and say that it can affect a band’s appeal. “We think it’s extremely important that the bands are grateful and appreciative of their fans as without us they wouldn’t be where they are today. We’ve met bands who don’t really even look at you when you meet them and have no interest, it really put me off.” But luckily they’ve never received the same treatment from their idols. “We’ve met You Me At Six a few times, they’ve always been extremely grateful, talkative and genuinely interested in what we and other fans have to say.” So even though there are some rotten apples with delusions of grandeur, they’re not all bad.
You Me At Six
Another way that fans can support musicians, particularly regarding the production of their albums, are fan-funding schemes like Pledge Music and Slicethepie. “We don’t see the fans as venture capitalists, who are investing in our records,” says Benji Rogers, founder of London-based Pledge Music. Instead, he wants listeners to feel “part of the process that gets a record into their hands.”
Pledge Music is an online platform, which helps artists fund their work, through fans pledging money towards the funding of an album or EP, in exchange for certain rewards decided by the band. In the past these have been known to include private living room gigs, song-writing sessions, and dinner-dates. “I believe, in their hearts, the fans want to do the right thing,” says Rogers. “We can’t convince teenagers to buy CDs. The quest for me is to give meaning to it, so they don’t want to steal it.”
Whether it’s due to being an emerging group, financial strain, lack of freedom or absence of a record label, many people join sites like these, including acts like rock group Madina lake, The Blackout and more recently, popular folk group The Lumineers. After parting ways with their record label, Welsh rockers The Blackout used Pledge to fund their third album Hope.
Welsh rockers The Blackout
Guitarist James Davies says of this, “it definitely gave us a newfound drive, belief and momentum. The phenomenal response we had to the Pledge initiative really showed us how many people still cared about us.” He concludes, “without the people who pledged, this album literally would not have happened, so we can only thank everyone involved for helping us keep this band going.”
But it could be said that schemes like Pledge may not work for bands who are just starting out, true, bands like The Blackout are far from mainstream but they already had a solid fan-base who would follow them, would it work for an emerging artist? Elissa Franceschi is living proof of the answer, having surpassed her goal in just three months. When asked her thoughts on the idea behind Pledge and how it helps emerging artists like herself she responds, “it’s a fantastic platform and possibly the future of music making for under the radar artists, or those in-between deals.”
Rising talent Austin Nivarel also agrees, and says that he would consider doing a fan-funded campaign himself. “It’s a good alternative when you’re not on a label, and it’s a great way to get the fans involved in the process.” He also says that while he thinks it’s “really cool” that fans increasingly appear to be the propellant behind most musicians nowadays, he knows how dedicated the fans have to be to make an impact. “It’s very expensive for bands to tour and record,” he says, “so without a label backing them financially it’s important that the fans be extremely supportive and can go to the shows and/or buy merch/CDs.”
Judging by the passion and dedication shown by just the fans I’ve mentioned, support is never in doubt; if you look close enough you’ll always find it. And even if they’re not necessarily big mainstream artists with the help of all the behind-the-scenes forces, these bands are big to the people that know and love them, and even though it might take a little longer to break through that’s okay, because it’s more than just fans and bands, It’s a family.
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