Photo by Ron Lach

I see it all the time.

Talented musicians with tons of promise coming into our inbox with a seemingly simple request: 

I want more streams. I want to go viral on TikTok. I want more views on my (fill in the blank)

And why wouldn’t you want that? Streams are sexy. Virality is sexy. It’s exciting to see the numbers go up, and be able to celebrate 10k, 20k, 100k on something you’ve poured your heart into. It feels like people are finally noticing you, like the work you’ve done is being appreciated, and it’s reaching new heights. It feels like….well it feels like progress. And in an industry that can feel so full of intangibles and long leads, having a quick win feels good.

In some ways, it even feels easy. Sure, it might take a few hours to make that content but you know what to do. You hit record, you edit, you add a sound. There’s a formula. A certainty that if you just follow the formula, eventually it will be successful. So, it feels safer. 

Here’s the problem with that

Let’s start with playlists. By now you know the downfall of third-party playlists. That is, playlists that are not owned by you or Spotify. Most of the time, we see artists hiring third-party playlisting services to put their songs on (paid) playlists that are inflated and overrun with bots, who charge you for placement. At best your song streams will be inauthentic and at worst you’ll get kicked off the platform. The only real way to do playlisting these days is through outlets you trust (this is very much how we incorporate it into our campaigns at MP Co—working with blogs and influencers to add to their playlists—not random third-party playlisting) or, by creating a playlist with your song and others and running an ad to it. 

When it comes to TikTok, the risks of getting kicked off the platform aren’t there in the same way, but the expectation to be spending hours per day creating content is completely unrealistic and unsustainable. I read one full-time creator say each 60-second video takes about 10 hours to complete. 10 hours!! She’s posting multiple videos per day and splitting that workload between a paid team. But that dropped the curtain a little for me. We think we’re up against other creators who are simply shooting and posting but it’s not true and for the majority of truly successful creators, it’s a literal full-time job.

And then what if you do go viral? The problem with going viral is that a lot of the viewers that helped make that video viral aren’t actually fans of you, they’re just fans of the video, the trend, the format. You’re not necessarily building real, lasting fans you’re just creating content. And as we know, the fans are the piece that matter for a successful career. They’re the ones that make the labels, festivals, and sponsorships take notice.

Would you rather have 10k streams or 100 true fans?

Of course, the idea of posting content for fun and having it go viral, or your songs alone being the thing that builds your career is a lot more exciting than thinking about all of the other work that goes into building a successful and sustainable music career. Given the choice, of course, we’d rather choose the fun and easy path, the one that highlights our natural talents and nothing else. 

Plus, we might hate to admit it, but it feels a lot more satisfying to have 10k streams on a song even if they’re not true fans that support everything we do and convert to sales and support, than it does to have 100 true fans that do. 

What can you do instead?

What I’m about to say isn’t really revolutionary. It’s something you’ve probably heard a million times but sometimes, it needs repeating. The truth is, you don’t need more streams. You don’t need to go viral on TikTok. You don’t need more vanity metrics. What you need, is to spend all of that time and energy on building and nurturing your core fan base

“But aren’t they on Spotify and TikTok?” Sure, they are. And while releasing new music and having a social media strategy are all crucial parts of artist’s growth, it does not replace the strategy of building an actual community. And throwing songs on playlists or jumping on trends on TikTok, that’s not building a community—that’s just casting a wide net and hoping someone bites. It’s waiting for someone else to tell you who you are, instead of finding your people based on an existing, established identity. 

It’s not that going viral or picking up streams can’t help your career—it’s that if you don’t already have a clear brand and existing fanbase and ecosystem for new fans to come into, then it doesn’t matter.

How do I build a community of authentic fans?

You’ve probably heard the term “brand” thrown around a lot, and for good reason. Your brand is at the center of everything you do, including building a fanbase. 

So the first step is to get really clear on what makes you / your band you.  In other words, what’s your why? What drives you? Because whatever that is, it’s what’s going to pull others in as well. 

Next, it’s remembering that everything you do comes back to that fanbase. Every single thing you do should be created with that fan in mind. The TikToks you make, the show experience, the merch you create, everything should be done with that fan in mind. If you create it for them, they will notice, word will spread, and so to will your community grow.

So instead of just jumping on trends or panic-posting, take the time to really learn about and connect to your community. What are they going through? What do they need right now? What will resonate? Odds are, it’s very similar to what you are or previously were going through. After all, they’re fans of your music and your personality for a reason. Showing more of that and providing them resources (which sometimes, is just you sharing your own story so they know they aren’t alone) is what starts to get you closer to your fans, and them, into super fans.

If you build it, they will come

This is how you begin to build, nurture, and grow your community. Like a relationship, you think about what they need to feel secure and grow and you do your best to provide that for them, to check in with them, and to keep them top of mind.

It’s not sexy. It’s not as exciting as seeing stream numbers go up. But I promise you, this works. In over a decade of being in this industry, I have never seen an artist build their career solely off a TikTok or song going viral one time. There is always a ton going on behind the scenes beforehand, including a loyal, thriving fanbase. (who usually helped make those things viral) 

Meanwhile, I have seen artists get signed to labels, booked at major festivals, and asked to open for nationally known artists because they had a strong fanbase.

There’s no doubt it’s a lot more exciting to see viral numbers. It feels good to feel seen. But you have to ask yourself if they’re real fans and if it’s worth investing both time, energy, and money into something that might boost our ego, but not ultimately convert. And sometimes, it comes down to this. Do you want to feel successful, or do you want to actually be successful? 

That’s where your answer and next steps lie.