Superfans in the new buzzword of the year.  This is amusing to me because I have focused on superfans for the last 2 decades and I’m struck by the fact that even though it is necessary to keep learning new strategies, apps, and platforms, the basics of human interaction are actually what makes superfans. We are all interested in connection and music, of course, is one of the deepest connectors for humanity.

A Lesson In Building Community  & Superfans 

This brings me to Rob Gordon – my first boss at the only record label I ever worked at: What Are Records? What I learned there about superfans and building teams has set me up for a successful career in the music business. This is because of Rob’s genius around building superfans for his artists. Rob had an uncanny knack for understanding what later became known as “direct to fan” before many in the record business caught on and I continue to operate based on his teachings.

You will have a sustainable career when you understand the value of community and connectivity and harness it to grow superfans.

What Rob understood was: Observing and staying in constant contact with a rabid fan base, and nurturing them was the ultimate way to earn money in the music business, and here’s what we did at the label:

9 Steps To Nurture Your Brand & Your Superfans

1. Harness Energy and Enthusiasm

Way before the Internet and smartphones were part of our daily lives Rob signed a band called The Samples because he saw a phenomenon that was in the process of happening.  Every show they played was packed with college students, screaming along to every song from coast to coast, the band was touring constantly and the word was spreading as the crowds were growing. The incredible part was The Samples had been dropped from a major label deal. Rob signed them and started recording their new album and at the same time negotiated their major label album back so he could re-release it. He saw that energy and enthusiasm were growing, and he moved fast to capture and create more of it.

2. Create a P-L-A-N

We created a long-term plan for the band to help support them.  We had a year of tour dates planned out with their booking agency, several albums lined up on a release schedule and he had a funnel of merch to add as the band re-entered markets to keep superfans happy and buying.  The team at the label met weekly to talk about the plan for not only The Samples but all of the other artists on the label. As a team, we each all worked on our pieces of that plan. If you don’t have a plan for the next 12 months of your music career you should make one. Plans start with goals and once you can articulate your goals, it will be much easier to build a plan around them.

3. Build a Killer Team

Rob assembled a team of young ambitious employees who were dying to make a mark in the music industry (myself included), and he showed us exactly how to build a record label. He gave us each a LOT of responsibility.  At age 22 I was in charge of the entire intern department interviewing and managing our internship program, which in a college town was a huge responsibility. We all worked in one big room in NYC and when we moved offices to Colorado we worked in a “bullpen” so we could each hear what every single department at the label did.

4. Think About The Flow of Money & Save Where Possible

Rob put his own distribution channels in place. We mailed the albums directly to the stores and tracked the sales. We cut out the need for a distribution company while directing the profits back to the band and the label. This, at the time, was completely unheard of. He also had the band buy their tour bus. Renting tour buses was a huge expense that would cut deeply into their profits. Radio promoters, publicists, graphic designers, and street teams were also hired in-house.

5. Keep Your Community Close

We moved our offices from New York City to The Samples’ hometown, Boulder. CO. This put us in direct community with the band, who stopped by the offices when they were off the road and hung out with us socially. This move also put us in a community with many of the core superfans, promoters, venues, managers, and team who were spreading the gospel of The Samples from the band’s home base.  It was not unusual to drive around town and hear The Samples blasting from car windows, frat houses, bars and restaurants.  It was an exciting reminder of our mission and it was highly motivating (and fun).

6. Communicate Consistently with Fans – Make Them Superfans

This all happened before the rise of the internet. So, we did this through physical mailing lists, postcards, letters, and catalogs. Our label communicated with fans on behalf of the band in a way that artists rarely utilized. Today, we use email newsletters and social media to talk to thousands of fans at once. But back then it was rare, and I learned the extreme value of a mailing list and a database of fans. We also knew that it was the special fans who supported the band and we were sure to flag them as “superfans” we would send them special extra gifts in every package and make sure the band knew who was enthusiastic and supportive along the road.

7. Build a Funnel and Continually Release Products 

We gave the fans what they wanted. When other bands were only selling CDs and T-shirts we had a full product funnel.  The Samples not only sold CDs and tapes.  They also sold T-shirts, hats, hoodies, sweats, CD carrying cases, and VHS videos of the band having a blast on the road in their wonderful movie Ten Wheels.  We had great products and they sold well both at shows and through the catalogs.

8. Keep Superfans Ignited and Excited

The team at What Are Records? also learned that if you could keep a fan base ignited and excited they would come back and continue to buy more. We listened to the fans, and put out exactly what it was they wanted. In every CD, there was a pamphlet that allowed superfans to write back to the record label and request whatever it was that they wanted.  This communication led to the creation of even more geat merch to sell.

9. Reward Those Who Help

After a year with What Are Records? I got a job opportunity that was too good to pass up. On my last day at the label, Rob did something that I could not believe. He gave me the label’s entire press database. And he said since you helped to build this, I’m giving it to you as a gift. It was this database that helped me build my company. Rob understood that sharing information would be the only way that we could all succeed. Years later, I traded databases with Rob again so we could both benefit. I now share as much information as I can through my newsletter and this blog.

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