Listen up, bands: Twitter is more than just a place to wax poetic from the tour bus and gripe about broken guitar strings (and/or dreams) — it can also help you promote your music and connect with your fans.
While you don’t have to go all Kanye with your Twitter stream, hooking up to the micro-blogging site can add a whole new dimension to your act.
We talked to a ton of bands — from up-and-comers like The Limousines, to indie darlings like The Thermals, to established artists like Pete Yorn and Ben Folds — about how they use Twitter, and compiled the following list of tips and tricks.
Got some more clever musical uses for Twitter? Be sure to share your pro tips in the comments below.
1. Build a Fan Base
So you’re just about to burst on the scene, showering the populace with your synth-heavy, electropop goodness. How do you go about capturing the attention of those who will make or break you: your future fanbase?
According to Brian Levine, manager and social media consultant for the emerging act Bananas for Mowgli, “Up and coming bands with little to no released music are able to take advantage of Twitter by aligning themselves with artists who share a similar fan base or aesthetic. First thing you should do is start following these people as well as the most relevant taste makers in your genre or ’scene’ if you will. Use Twitter management tools to expand your network and be in the right circles.”
That’s what Levine is doing right now for Bananas for Mowgli, whose debut album drops on October 26.
Do you follow some awesome band on Twitter that you would kill to jam with? Why not tweet at them? It can’t hurt. You never know who’s going to be down to hook up with you — especially if you don’t try. Eric Victorino of The Limousines was able to score a kind of collaboration with DJ Samantha Ronson by merely paying attention to mentions of his band on Twitter.
“We keep tabs on who’s talking about [us] and who’s mentioning us,” Victorino says. “Samantha Ronson and Lindsay Lohan were both talking about us once, so we just reached out to them, like, ‘Hey, hi.’ And from that came — I wouldn’t say a friendship — but just sort of an e-mail conversation with her. And whenever Samantha would go DJing, we’d give her a new track.”
3. Trade a Track For a Tweet
Are you a smaller band with a pretty strong fan base? Well, use the hell outta them, we say — but give them something in return. Paul Lamontagne of Bearstronaut used Twitter as both a method of releasing the band’s new single, “Shannon,” [click to download] and gaining more followers.
“We used something called ‘Tweet for a Track,’” he says. “Fans can — for the cost of one tweet — [get the song]. It gets reposted on their Twitter to all their followers, and they get the single. No money changes hands, but we get to reach as many followers as possible.”
4. Get Your Fans to Promote For You
Similar to trading a tweet for a tune, crowdsourcing your fans when it comes to promotions can also be a boon. Brian McClelland of He Whose Ox Is Gored told us, “[Our Twitter following] really did pick up once we started talking with people, and it’s kind of snowballed from there… We’ve been getting some radio play, so we’re going to go on our Twitter and do merch giveaways to people who call up and request a song.” Get He Whose Ox Is Gored’s new single, “Cloven Hoof” here.
5. Have a Personality
Yeah, your lyrics may be tight and your beats danceable, but that doesn’t mean you’re socially literate. Pick the wittiest member of the band and assign him or her the role of official Twitterer, or “Twitter Czar” as Westin Glass of The Thermals deems himself. If fans can tell you’re having fun via your tweets, they’re much more apt to engage with you (and attend shows, buy records, join a cult in your name, etc.).
“Last May, when we were doing our spring tour, we were posting on our Twitter and we were just going crazy on there,” Glass says. “One of us would be sitting in the front of the van and one of us would be sitting in the back of the van and we’d be just like just posting all kinds of crazy inside jokes, nicknames for all the people in the band. We were just trying to make each other laugh by posting all sorts of weird stuff that probably made no sense to anyone, but people seemed to like it…. I just post jokes and song lyrics from ‘90s epic hit songs, pictures of Axl Rose and, I don’t know, just whatever.”
6. Organize an Aftershow
According to Jon Foreman of Switchfoot, “The best music happens after the show.” Foreman often uses Twitter to organize said aftershows. He merely sends out a time and location, and the crowds come running. Most of the time, they’re totally lo-fi, with just an acoustic guitar — but the audience can number up to 500 fans.
Recently Foreman had a run-in with the cops in Florida after they broke up one of his on-the-fly gigs. What’s more rock ‘n’ roll than that, really? Still, Foreman is now taking greater care to run his Twitter-organized shows by the local authorities before rocking out.
7. Retain Your Independence
When you’re in the public eye, most of what you say and do goes through a kind of filter, which makes it hard to retain some measure of indie cred. Remember Hanson? The teen pop group from 1997 who took the world by storm with their jam “MMMBop?” Of course you do. Don’t front. We all had that tape.
Back in the day, Hanson was signed to Mercury Records. But after Mercury got swallowed by Island Def Jam in the merger of PolyGram and Universal in 1998, Hanson left and put out their third release, Underneath, in 2004 on their own label, 3cg Records. They’ve been indie ever since, releasing their latest album, Shout It Out, this year.
“[Twitter] allows you to take out the middle man,” Taylor Hanson tells us. “If we had had Twitter [back when we started], it would have moved us even more rapidly toward the idea that has made it possible for us to continue as a band, which is, in part, that direct connection with your fans…. And with Twitter, it’s really about, ‘how do you make that connection?’ …. It would have been a really key component for us, probably moving faster toward being independent. Because it would have even further empowered and encouraged us by being able to communicate with our fan base, and stay really proactive with them, regardless of changing label structures and corporate mergers.”
8. Share Photos
While we wouldn’t suggest giving followers a flipbook of your life, sometimes a picture can — to be totally cliche — be worth a thousand words. “I enjoy putting up pictures of [my] kids doing things because it humanizes [me] just enough with photographs without getting too much closer,” Ben Folds tells us. “It’s a pretty mean world out there sometimes, it’s kind of nice to make someone a little more human.”
Folds also includes his wife, Fleur, on the action. “[Fleur] feels like she can provide another angle to it,” he says of his wife, who once ran the main newspaper in the Turks and Caicos Islands for five years and was also a photographer for that paper.
“We’re actually going to make a book of TwitPics together — like a coffee table sort of thing,” he says. “So on the left page, if you have Fleur’s photograph of the moment and on the right page you have my photograph of the moment, it actually tells kind of an interesting story that way.”
9. Have a Contest
Everyone loves a good contest — it combines fierce, tooth-and-nail competition with prizes. What could be better than that? If you’re edging up to an album release or a tour, a contest can be a great way to drum up some publicity and to engage your fans by letting them feel like a part of your creative world.
“I wanted to give out commemorative posters to all of the concert-goers at my first two record release party shows,” says Pete Yorn, whose self-titled disc drops on September 28. “So I was like, ‘Make a poster everyone, it will be fun.’ It’s cool that people actually made them; it’s just another way to see the artistry of the fan base and how creative they are. Usually that’s the best stuff. I’m blown away by how talented they are; they come up with really cool stuff.”
10. Keep Up with Tech Trends
OK, so Twitter basically approached Arcade Fire about offering a deal on their new album, The Suburbs, through the @EarlyBird program. Still, the band has been majorly into social media of late — playing a live-streamed show on YouTube and even launching an interactive in-browser video with Google. The band was therefore a natural choice for Twitter when it came time to pick an album to sell via the service.
“We saw that Arcade Fire had a new album coming out, and there was a lot of anticipation around it and the fact that they were doing a live stream on YouTube and taking a Q&A from Twitter,” says a rep for Twitter. “We knew that they were familiar with the platform and open to using it in innovative ways, so we thought it was a great opportunity to get them involved in our @EarlyBird program and also make a pretty compelling story to help with their album sales.”