There's a long-running trope about the Velvet Underground that goes something like: "The Velvet Underground only sold about a thousand copies of their first record. But every single person that bought that record started a band."
It's funny to me that we often get caught up in arguments over how many followers a band has on Twitter, or Facebook, or Myspace. And, as we continue to struggle with the concept of moving "online fans" into "offline ticket buyers," the argument keeps resonating about whether having a huge follower count even matters.
How will you measure the success of your next tour or your next recording project? On a micro level, you want to make sure that you're earning more than your spending. I hate hearing folks justify blowing thousands of dollars on the road, just so they could "build a buzz" in front of a dozen people in each of fifteen cities.
?If you're perfectly content with leading a fantasy camp lifestyle and spending money you've earned elsewhere on your music career, then that's perfectly fine. I've written in the past about the fun of being a hobbypreneur, and if you're ready to invest the same amount of money on a tour as you would on your vacation, then make it fun.
However, most of the musicians that read my books and my blog have come here to accomplish something greater. They want to achieve more than just having a good time, and more than just merely surviving. They want to make music the center of their lives. You can't do that if you're constantly worried about paying the bills, or if you think that your van has a 50/50 shot of being repossessed halfway through the tour.
That means measuring your impact through the cash that comes through the door. You don't have to "sell out," or compromise your values, to get that result. You simply have to measure the impact of your actions through a filter of how your influence generates income.
If Lou Reed asked you to buy him a cup of coffee (which he probably wouldn't, but let's just roll with it), you probably would, wouldn't you? That's because the influence of the Velvet Underground is so vast, you most likely have at least a little respect and appreciation for the guy and his music, even if you don't even own any of his work. Besides, a cup of coffee's under five bucks, and you'd have a great dinner party story.
Now, think about the musicians that hold influence in your own life. Have you ever waited in line for tickets? How long did you wait? How much did you spend? Did you want to make your own music because of what you saw at that show? Why do you think that artist had so much influence over your actions?
When you bought tickets to that show, did it feel like you were supporting an artist that needed your patronage, or did you really do it for more selfish reasons? And selfish is okay, as long as you're not hurting anybody.
In actuality, that artist and their music held so much influence over you, it probably didn't even occur to you that participating in their work was really helping them make a living. So, I want to challenge you to think about the actions you take this month. Are they designed just to "build buzz" or to grow the number of fans you've got on Facebook? Or are you going to create a work that's worth standing in line for? Are you going to connect with listeners on a level personal ?enough that they'll want to drag themselves and their friends out to a show?
The next time you're wondering why your ticket sales are sluggish, or your track's not selling so many downloads, think about what you're doing to really influence your audience. Once you've become influential--even to a small group--asking for help won't feel like asking for help. In fact, you'll probably find yourself beating back requests.
[ photo by Jason Gulledge, used under Creative Commons license. ]