How To Make Fans Faster
The band you crave, the music you listen to when you're pissed off / feeling amazing, your idols... How did this happen? How did you find them? Think for a moment.
I heard Mastodon's Leviathan at a Border's recommended music section right after I just had a friend call me out for being whipped by my first girlfriend. Hell no I wasn't whipped, rargh! (denial and youth are a funny thing).
I heard Radiohead's Kid A by picking it up because it had cool artwork and I'd sorta heard about them. I hadn't listened to the CD yet so I brought it on a CD player to a friend's house in high school. After one minute everyone in the room got noticeably pissed off, "What is this crap, Derek?!?". I loved the band instantly.
I heard about Kaki King through my mom's recommendation. I was dreading the listen as her musical taste is incorrect. Mom was right for the first time since ever.
So what's the common thread?
(go get a cup of coffee or something, so it's like a biiiiiig pause)
Music is not experienced in a vacuum, it's a social art form. Not only do we go to shows with friends to see the actual band, we judge music based on the social cues we receive. We expect to see world-renowned concert violinists playing in carnage hall. We expect to see mediocre violinists in the subway. Guess what happens when world-renowned concert violinist Joshua Bell plays in the subway? No one gives a crap.
There are effectively an infinite number of bands out there today. It's impossible to weed through every lame, or even mediocre band, there's too many. So we look to our guidance from friends, family, reviewers, bloggers, bands, anyone to find out what's worth listening to.
Even more so, we want to be able to connect with people. When someone says to you, "Hey have you heard the new ____ album?" you want to be able to go, "Hell yeah, that album was amazing!" Music, like TV, news, gossip, art and history is cultural currency.
If you want your art to support you, you must realize this and use it to your advantange. Social Proof is powerful.
People can recommend music explicitly by playing a show or wearing a shirt, or they can recommend implicitly by simply being a member of the crowd for a street performer. Smart bartenders salt the tip jar before people show up.
Which do you think would be better in the long run: Selling 100 tickets to a 200 capacity room or selling out a 50 capacity room?
You will have to fight for your first fans. If you're smart, it won't be long before your fans fight for you.
EDIT: Just to prevent confusion, when I mention salting the tip jar I don't recommending bribing people to come to your shows. Don't go the payola route, because once you get caught you'll lose ALL your credibility, and credibility is one of THE MOST important things you as a musician own. Mercenary fans are not good, what you want it fans that willingly go out of their way to spread how much they like your music.