Fans can be your greatest advocates or your worst nightmares. When we talk, to each other or to the world in general, word can spread like wildfire, so it's advisable for you to make sure that we're speaking the Good Word about you and your a cappella group.
I'll give an example. One of my fan friends had plans to attend a Tonic Sol-fa show at a fair in Iowa last year, but she couldn't arrive till half-way through the show. Via Twitter, she had mentioned she would be sad if she missed her favorite song. When she finally got there, the second set was starting, and over the mike she heard, "Is Nicole here? She'd better be because we rearranged our whole set for her." And then they sang her favorite song. You'd better believe she tweeted about it right away. And many new fans were made.
So, take this advice from us fans:
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
One of the members of Straight No Chaser tweeted about an encounter he had on tour. A car rental representative asked about his group, but upon learning the name, admitted he had never heard of them. The SNC member replied, “Oh, don’t worry. Your mom probably has.”
See, the members of Straight No Chaser definitely know their audience. Many of them also know our names and faces, our Twitter handles, our families, and the gifts we have brought them at the concerts we’ve attended. And let me tell you, we Chasers love them and are all the more loyal because of it.
What has been interesting to observe about the Chasers with whom I interact is that, after having become SNC fans, most of us have expanded our musical repertoires to include other a cappella groups. Some of us have come to admire groups from “The Sing-Off”. Many have followed personal recommendations from fellow fans. Still others have looked for groups at their alma maters or close to their homes.
My point is this: There are fans out there looking to be a part of your audience.
Here are some ways you can gain fans, and better yet, keep fans.
Help us find your music
Get your music out there. Doesn’t this seem like the obvious first step? There are many ways we discover new a cappella music: Pandora, Spotify, Turntable, the various annual compilations such as Sing, Voices Only, and BOCA. And the best way to discover new music? Word-of-mouth from other a cappella fans. But if your music is not easy to find, we can’t become your fans.
Update your website. If you’re going to have a website, maintain the damned thing. It’s fully irritating to find music we like only to go to the group’s website and find it hasn’t been updated since 2009. Collegiate groups, I’m looking at you. But it’s also professional groups and everyone in between. Upload some current group photos, with member names. It’s really hard to write even a tweet about how much we like your group and music if we can’t find any information on your website to include.
Get your show dates up early. I know college students can plan their events two weeks in advance, and people will show up, but if you want to expand your fan base (and you do), you’re going to have to give middle-aged moms like me and my friends a little more advance notice. I would think you would want to include us in your fan base anyway because we’re the ones with money to buy your albums and fund your Kickstarter.
Blog about what you’re doing once in awhile so we know you’re still around. If you can’t put out an entire new album or EP, how about a single, or at least a show video? Now that we’ve become your fans, don’t you want us to remain your fans? Frankly, you have to be current to be relevant.
Let us get to know you
I’ve been to multi-group shows where each of the groups huddles in its own area in the lobby after the performance. This is not at all helpful. Repeat: this is not helpful. An easier way for us to get to know you is for you to do a meet and greet at the end of your show. As much as I may like your music, it’s no guarantee I know all your names or who sings each part. Try for an organized signing line or photo op, so fans are more likely to stop by.
Better yet, bring your entire group to an a cappella festival. That gives plenty of people the opportunity to spend time with you and learn your names. I mean, who can resist the BOSSstache (s/o to Cut Off)? I was recently told that about 20% of VIP tickets are purchased by non-singer fans, and we’re there looking to connect.
A favorite fan element is the ability to engage with you personally on social media. Just like your website, if you have a Twitter account or Facebook page, get active. Let us know what you’re up to. Respond to our questions. Retweet our flattery and criticism. Get to know us back. One of the experiences I hold near and dear to my heart is when Ryan Chappelle of Ball in the House stopped me in the hallway at BOSS, asked if I was @LovedeAcapella, and thanked me for being a supportive fan. 30 seconds to him = lifetime memory for me and me becoming a fan for life.
When we can find shows to attend (update your website and use your Twitter), we’re looking for entertainment. We’ve heard your recorded music; now, engage us as a live audience. Interact with each other on stage. Let us in on the jokes. It’s not just about the music, people.
When I saw Sonos last year, I was enthralled by the music, but do you know what I remember most (besides them signing a poster for my then 5-year old daughter)? While the gentlemen were dealing with an equipment malfunction, the ladies shared a little about the group’s experiences on “The Sing-Off”, good, bad and ugly. More of that, please!
Sometimes fans discover new groups through other groups. Why not try a collaboration with another artist? Or tour together? The sky is the limit, and all in the name of spreading the joy of a cappella to more fans.
One request: if you’re going to cover a song, cover the actual song, and don’t just sing some other group’s arrangement. That’s just lazy, and we’ll know. Fans compare notes.
Acknowledge your fans
Once you have fans, you’ll discover we’re dedicated to your success. We want to help you and give you things. Let us. You'll never know the connections we have unless you take the time to engage. If we are able to help you out with something, please acknowledge with a thank you. It means the world to us. Someone wrote a thank you blog to me once, and it’s truly one of my most cherished things in life. I still read it when I need to smile.
A final request
To the a cappella community at large: Don’t make us feel bad for being fans.
Don’t mock our music choices; we may happen to like the song “Hallelujah,” no matter how many times you’ve heard or mixed it. It doesn’t matter to us if our favorite group’s arrangements aren’t particularly complex; in case you weren’t listening, we love them for more reasons than the music. If we show up at a festival, introduce yourself and a few others; we may not know anyone when we get there, but we’d like to.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
Once you get to know us, I’m sure we’ll get along just fine.
[photo: superfan Tara Kellerman with The Swingle Singers]
About the writer:
Christine Mabry is first and foremost a mother to two hilarious children, Xander and Aurora. In her other job, Christine is a Program Supervisor for a municipal recreation department in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she supervises things like swim lessons, kids’ day camps, and adult bocce and kickball leagues. She swears the time she spends on Pinterest is completely work-related. Christine’s love of a cappella started back in high school in Huntsville, Alabama, when she heard a cassette recording of Take 6 in 1988, and it grew from there. She figures her obsession with a cappella just about balances out her husband and son’s fixation with Star Trek. Connect with Christine on Twitter at @LovedeAcapella and visit her personal a cappella fan blog at lovedeacapella.wordpress.com.