In this blog post and podcast episode, you’re going to learn why finding your tribe as an artist will determine your success. The concept of “Tribes” is based on a book by Seth Godin. I’m going to use his ideas to help you identify, lead, and grow your tribe as an electronic music artist.
Why it matters to find your tribe as an artist
In the last episode, you’ve learned about Kevin Kelly’s 1000 true fans concept. While this is a great goal to have, it doesn’t answer the question of who these fans are and how they’ve found you. Moreover, we don’t know why you matter to them and what turns them into “true fans”. This is where Seth Godin’s “Tribes” concept bridges the gap between the “1000 true fans” idea and your struggle to build a fanbase in real life.
A brief overview of Seth Godin’s Tribes concept
Seth Godin, to me, is one of the greatest thinkers of today. The name of this podcast, Pick Yourself, is a tribute to him. Much of my recent success has come based on years of refining my mindset based on his ideas. I’m now more than happy to share one of his strongest concepts with you: Tribes.
According to Seth Godin, we are all members of various tribes in society. You can be part of the fan tribe of your favorite football team or a supporter of a certain political campaign.
Tribes are defined by three components:
- They are a group of people
- Which identifies with a common goal or idea
- And has a leader who represents and organizes the tribe around that idea
The role of leadership in the Tribes concept
The leadership aspect is crucial here. It doesn’t imply a top-down perspective. A leader is a visionary who challenges the status quo and inspires the tribe with new ideas. These ideas spread organically through traditional word-of-mouth but also thanks to social media.
But what does that mean for finding your tribe as an artist? Well, it used to be like this in the music industry (before the digital revolution): In order to be successful, you had to get “picked” by some gatekeeper. Be it a record label or an influential management company. Stars could be born out of thin air and pushed to the masses, thanks to traditional media campaigns.
A paradigm shift in the music industry
Today, you have the power to “pick yourself” (which is why I’ve chosen this name for the podcast). You can create a movement, a tribe, around your music and your ideas. All you need is the courage to be different and challenge the status quo. You don’t need a big marketing budget let alone some gatekeeper’s permission. It all starts with something unique or fresh about you and your music. From there, all you need is patience, a great work ethic, and a systematic approach to building your brand (see episode 11).
The big advantages of the “Tribes” concept are:
- It helps you differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace
- It connects people around a certain topic or idea
- It deepens the connection between your audience and you as an artist
But how can you find your tribe, identify the right people, lead them, and finally grow your tribe?
1. Identifying your tribe
How do you find your tribe? Or how does the tribe find you? This is a difficult question because there’s no fixed formula. It simply happens when you start to put out something meaningful and different. So different that people notice the difference at first glance.
It all starts with your offer. Something about your music and your artist-personality has to be unique or at least fresh enough to be seen as special. If you want to dig deeper about how to achieve this, go back to episode 7 on how to stand out as an upcoming artist.
Moreover, people have to perceive this special aspect of you with as many senses as possible. Packaging matters. Your artwork, your photos, your artist bio, the vinyl sleeve of your first album. Everything should feel like a labor of love and dedication.
A lot of this stuff might come later in your career, but I wanted to help you understand what I mean with packaging here. With everything you do, there comes a certain add-on that lets your audience understand what makes you different from all the other artists out there.
So how can you get started? The best way to find your tribe is to put something out for free. Something as valuable and special as possible. Keep in mind the go-giver mentality which I’ve explained in episode 10 on networking. If you focus on giving first and add meaningful value to people’s lives, great things will happen.
An example of finding your tribe
Let’s say you put out an EP that reflects your unique take on a genre, based on a visual concept that tells a story and reflects your artist-personality. You publish a personal note with it that emphasizes what this work means to you. And you offer it to the world for free. What do you think will happen?
Most likely it will drown in the noise of new releases. But that’s not a problem. If you can build a tribe of only 10 new “true fans” with this free EP, you’ve made it. This is the starting point of something bigger. From there on, you have to focus on leading and nurturing your tribe so it grows organically.
With every new release and every show you play, your tribe will grow. The word will spread automatically, as long as you keep nurturing your tribe.
After this initial sign of interest, you have to analyze what type of people are drawn to you and your music. Are you attracting the cool kids or the misfits? The spiritual people or the rationalists? The loud activists or the silent passives? The techno heads or the house fans? You get the idea.
2. Leading your tribe
Finding your tribe is probably the hardest part. Leading it is a little bit easier because it will feel natural to you. Storytelling is an essential ingredient for this. According to Seth Godin, leaders make a ruckus by challenging the status quo. And they continue to do so. Moreover, they provide connections for the ones who seek to be connected.
A leader is always at the forefront of a tribe. Not above it though. There doesn’t need to be a hierarchy in the traditional sense. It’s more important that you keep challenging the status quo and feed your tribe with new ideas. You can be at eye level with your audience and they will still look up to you because you have the courage to try out something new.
Let’s say you were the first artist (a few years back) who dared to produce techno tracks faster than 140 bpm and played that type of music after an ambient intro track in your set. It would have shocked most people. Other artists would have laughed about you (while silently admiring your courage). But a few people on the dancefloor would get it and tell their friends about this special set. And suddenly, there’s a movement around you.
Leading your tribe means nurturing it. So you have to make sure you stay in touch with your audience, especially your “true fans”. This can happen through a newsletter, a vlog, or Instagram stories. But it’s also possible to do this without any direct interaction whatsoever. If you’re the kind of mysterious artist who’s not too public, it can be enough to give an interview to a bigger blog or magazine from time to time. As long as you don’t give the standard set of boring answers, people are going to “get it”. Your tribe will be impressed by your unique perspective and the word will spread organically.
3. Growing your tribe
As mentioned earlier, most of your tribe’s growth will happen organically. But it takes time and you need to stay consistent in your output. The most important aspect here is not to disappoint them. If you stop challenging the status quo, if you adapt to the expectation of the masses, your tribe will move on. Nobody wants to follow a “me too”-artist. As long as you stay visionary, your tribe will stick with you.
But can you do something to actively grow your tribe? Of course, you can. Think about founding your own label. If you start signing other artists that complement your own music in some sort (but are special themselves), you will automatically expand your tribe and connect it to their following. That doesn’t mean your stealing fans from each other, because one can be part of many tribes. This is not a null sum game.
Another way to grow your tribe as an artist is to offer haptic goods besides your music. This can be a shirt collection, art prints, or even vinyl releases with amazing artwork (only if your fanbase is big enough for this). Your fans will be your natural ambassadors. If they identify with you and your concept, they will crave for ways to express their belonging to your tribe.
Putting it into action: Finding your tribe as an artist
As always, I’m leaving you with a few things you can implement right now. Finding your tribe is one of the most important aspects of building a solid artist career. So better start sooner than later.
1. Distill the unique or fresh aspects of your music as well as your artist personality and write them down
- Do you offer a fresh perspective in your genre? Is there something about you as a person that stands out to new people who meet you? What has been the general response to your music so far?
- Check back with your peers (especially other artists and people from the music industry) and ask for their honest opinion.
2. Start conceptualizing a new release that goes all-in on your unique strengths
- Be courageous and bold, try to challenge the status quo of your genre and take it to the next level.
- Think about artwork and photography. Everything should feel like a labor of love and dedication.
3. Release it for free and analyze who it attracts
- Make sure people perceive the value of your work, even if they don’t have to pay for it. This can be by a personal note, a video statement, or interviews you give in blogs and magazines.
- What type of people are attracted by this? Have you been able to win 10 true fans thanks to it? If so, you’re on to something.
So this is it for that episode. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Now I’d like to hear from you: What are some of your challenges with finding your tribe as an artist?
Let me know in the comments, I read everything.