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Rock’n\A friend of mine has a band. They are great musicians and fun people — the consumate performers. They are busily working their contacts in the music industry and in discussions with record labels for contracts. They have a lot going for them, but when it comes to gigs… Disappointingly few people turn up. Why is that?

The band has a page on Myspace, which as been running for about 18 months. It holds about 1,500 friends, which, given how many people these guys have performed for and how many friends those audience members all have… It’s a fraction of the number it could be, and still doesn’t explain why less than 1% of them are coming out to gigs. Their events should be mobbed. So what can the band do?

1) Expand the fan base with everyone you already know. They’ll do the work for you.

This is a concerted effort, a planned attack. Make a list of every musician you’ve ever worked with, every girl who’s ever batted her eyelashes (this band is fronted by cute boys, so there should be plenty), every family member you’ve got, community members (including old teachers, parents of friends, friends of parents, etc. etc. etc.), music execs, people you chat to after gigs… You want to engage everyone you’ve ever met — and then some.

Generally, when you’re starting a band, the whole world wants to see you succeed. You just need to tap into that enthusiasm. They feel special to be involved, and you’re doing something they probably wouldn’t have the courage to. All you need to do is to make them feel involved, and they’ll rush to support you.

2) Give your supporters something to do.

Keep reminding yourself: They WANT to help. So you want them to stay engaged. When you first tell them, “Hey, we’re starting a band” (or “Things are going well, we’ve got a gig next week”, wherever you are in the process) and they say “That’s great! Well done!” (which is usually accompanied by the thought, “I’m really impressed. And so glad it’s not me! I wouldn’t have a clue how sing/play/perform!”) , JUMP ON IT. Capitalise on the fact that they’re feeling both in awe and a little inadequate by giving them the chance to get involved and help where they can.

Production in the studio - behind the scenesStart with a little status update that doesn’t have to mean much but feels “behind the scenes” (explain that you are doing your best with the recording/the rehearsing/the chasing up new drummer), but that you’d love to keep them posted on your activities. (And/or will want to let them know the second the album is released or the new video goes into production, etc.) Point them to your social networking site and tell them to become your friend… This is the ultimate WATCH THIS SPACE move. They’re now watching.

3) Give them a reason to stay involved.

They love you; show that somebody’s home at your end of the conversation. This means new content on your site every 3-4 days. Something, anything. Thoughts, plans, a silly story from rehearsal, a “this week we worked on X” rundown, frustrations with production, anything. Blogs are particularly good for this kind of chit-chat. It doesn’t have to say

anything detailed about any person or song; just that you’re still there, and you care enough about these people to keep this conversation going.

Remind them REGULARLY (once every week or two) that you’re busy working on all this. These reminders should find them (bulletins, emails — anything that lands in their lap, as opposed to them having to come to your page to find it). Create hype. Be consistent about it.

This will keep these guys engaged while you keep adding new ones to the list. And your numbers will grow!

4) Translate it into ticket and album sales.

Concert ticketsYour final goal is that by the time you release the date of your next gig, every last person on your now doubled friends list will be chomping at the bit to be there to support you. They’re going to care enough that even if they can’t go, they’ll send someone on their behalf.

The same should be true with album sales. Because they feel like they “got in at the ground level” and helped you along the way, they’re emotionally invested. They’re going to cry more than you will when you get your Mercury prize.

5) Recognise how easy this is.

Social networking sites work because you establish instant access to all the people you’d want to be talking to anyway, in the real world. You have their attention, and are giving them an easy way to showcase your efforts to everyone they know. 99% of it is just a method of keeping track of, and keeping involved, the people that your music touches in reality.

Nobody’s loyal to a band they run into online — we respond to hype. We explore suggestions from friends, we try not to get left out of a trend, and we follow through on a strong desire to help “real people” try to make it. So give your fan base a way to hype you and to introduce their friends to your music. Let them work FOR you.

And while you’ve got their attention — don’t forget to tell them how much you love them and how grateful you are. In the same way that you’d thank a friend who drove for miles to be there and cheer you on, let these people know you care. With a good effort on a social networking site, you can do that for all of them at once. You’ll quickly build a huge group who feel personally connected to you and your music.

Now that they’re listening, the rest is up to you. Give them something fabulous to listen to!

Goin to town

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My old friend Erika once said to me, ‘If life had a soundtrack, what would be on it?’

Though my answer to her continually changes, responding to my mood and interests, I do have one thing figured out: It would be played on an iPod.

dancing girlSteve Jobs let slip this week that Apple has sold 90 million iPods to date. That’s quite a lot, for a technology that wasn’t a functional pioneer in the field. We’ve had digital music for quite a while, and the iPod was far from the first portable player. I’ve grown up with Sony Walkmen, stereos, computers that play my CDs… Why the craze?

iPods are successful because they bring music into areas of life that would otherwise be without-soundtrack. My slim, elegant, convenient holds-all-my-music-and-then-some player adds a dimension to what might otherwise be boring chores. On the tube, when I’d otherwise be re-reading the ads for the hundredth time or trying not to make eye contact with fellow commuters… I now get to eye them with a sense of irony and the Bangles’ Manic Monday in my ears. Popping out to get lunch… I can clear my head of the morning’s meetings with a Sting tune. Breaking free of the office at the end of a Friday afternoon… I can kick-start my weekend with a little Jimmy Buffett. The music makes me feel good at times when otherwise, I’d be trudging along with the rest of London in February.

McGill University’s Daniel Levitin has an physiological explanation for this. Levitin heads McGill’s Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise, and his research demonstrates how music is hard-wired into the emotional areas of the brain.

brain scanIn a recent New York Times article, he explains that first the brain analyses the structure and meaning of the music, then it releases dopamine, which produces a sense of pleasure and reward. At the same time, the cerebullum (which generally controls movement) reacts every time the song creates tension, by producing unresolved chords or changing tempo. (This appears to be, by the way, why we have to tap our toes or dance to a good song.)

When I was growing up, I had songs that were the soundtracks to high school and college. Now when I hear Breakfast at Tiffany’s (by Deep Blue Something), I’m transported back to learning how to drive. The old classic Oh What a Night takes me back to dancing around my dorm room at university. These sounds pull up the emotions, the thoughts and the context of those moments because they helped define them.

Now, as a professional in a public-transport city, I don’t have the luxury of long hours in a dorm full of friends or a car stereo. For this, I now have an iPod. I can’t tell you yet what will be on the 2007 soundtrack of my life, but I can tell you this: It will come out of the 1,334 songs in my pocket.

ipod nano

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