Build a real fanbase

Here’s a hard truth:

Your friends are not your fans.

Neither are your family or co-workers.

It’s important to know this early on, because you can’t count on these people to ALWAYS be there for your music.

Yes, you need them when you’re starting out; they’re the only ones who know you exist. You’ll have to galvanize that small community to fill venues, follow you on social, and listen to your early releases.



Remember, they’re doing YOU the favor. They won’t all stick around for that 20th gig or the 18th single this year.

And that doesn’t mean your music isn’t great. It just means your friends aren’t always true fans. As the saying goes, prophets aren’t welcome in their hometowns.

So as your friends fade from your music community, true fans should be replacing them in the audience, moving from what Dae Bogan calls the “Friend Support” phase to the “Fan Support” phase of your career.

The difference between friends and fans

Dae Bogan explains it this way:

In the beginning of your career — actually, before you even have a “career” — your friends are investing in you. They may not even be that big of a fan of your music. Besides, you’re still defining your sound and honing your craft.

Your friends have no more to gain from an association with you than you have to gain from an association with them. Essentially, you’re on an equal playing field as your future success is uncertain. It is your personality and shared interests that keeps them around.

They are your initial cheerleaders; your initial promotional force. They drive bodies to your unpaid shows when your band has no commercial value. And yes, their own bodies count. They make the difference between 20 people cheering you on and 10 people indifferently nodding through your set — representing nearly 50% of your energy factor.

When you grow, when you build a fan base — partially from the ripple effect of their early support — remember that they are your friend and not your fan. Don’t treat them like fans.

Fan-support is a kind of support that only strangers can bestow upon your career. Fan-support comes from strangers who’ve become fans of your music as a consequence of discovering and liking your music.

No matter the discovery, a fan has no initial intimacy with your being the way a friend does.

Over time, their support graduates from your music to the idea of your being, which is often defined by their experience of you as an artist and/or the interpretation of your music to their lives. But mostly by a combination of branding and publicity. This is your pseudo being–or your stage being–not your true being that your friends know and support.

They invest in your career as well, but from the perspective of a fan. They have no real tangible relationship to you to expect free music, free tickets, free merch or munchies with you after the show.

A fan’s purchase of your $5, $10, or $15 gig ticket is based on perceived value. They don’t see it as a donation, but rather the inherent cost of being a fan. And this is an important notion, because fans–not friends–fund your career.

The different levels of audience & fan support

Our friend Jon Ostrow wrote an article for Music Think Tank over a decade ago that still holds true.

In it, he says, Fan is a metric of measurement of a person’s dedication to your music.”

He then gives a detailed breakdown of each tier of engagement, including:

  • The friend
  • The bandwagon fan
  • The listener
  • The hobbyist
  • The committed
  • The super-fan

If that first tier is all you have right now, don’t stress. That’s where EVERY artist starts.

It’s just a matter of knowing “friends” are a finite resource. You have to harness the power of that group for what it truly is — not a foundation, but a jumping-off point.

Need help finding your first true fans?

Watch this episode of the DIY Musician Podcast (or listen further below):