Fighting Discoverability With Community
I’ve got a discoverability problem. I’m guessing many of you do too.
I come from the music industry. My current employer, ReverbNation sees 30K+ new artist sign-ups each month. There are 24,000 new songs uploaded to Spotify, Apple Music, and the other streaming platforms per day. That’s 1M+ per month.
I’ve been doing a deep dive into the podcast space over the past couple of years. The amount of content created is overwhelming as well. There are 700,000 active podcasts in the space with 29M+ episodes.
That’s a f*ck ton of content!
The music and podcast space have many similarities. There is a massive amount of creators/artists pumping out a massive amount of work. The majority of it won’t become profitable. The majority of it won’t reach enough ears to “get noticed.”
In podcasting there’s a term called “Podfade.” Urban Dictionary defines this as:
When a podcast begins putting out episodes more and more sporadically and at greater intervals. Typically begins with only one episode missed, but if a podcast isn’t careful, it can compound, sometimes as severe as one podcast every other month. Podfade often leads to podcast death.
This concept of Podfade isn’t new to music creators. Bands have been breaking up since forever. It starts with disagreements in creative direction or more likely not making money.
The number of bands I know that need to “save up” to go on tour would blow your mind. They go on tour hoping to make money or more likely break even. Hoping the venue did their job to get the word out. Hoping that their paid social media ads reached people in the markets they’re playing. Hoping that their publicist had a more compelling pitch than the 30 others local press gets each day.
The same goes with podcasts. Podcasters spend a bunch of money to buy the right gear, the right editor, and the right creative. Podcasters bust their asses to book guests that have bigger platforms with the hope that their followers hit “subscribe.” They pitch themselves as a guest on other podcasts. They spend money on soulless social media ads. They try to get featured in one of the many podcast newsletters. They try to get their episode to an ever changing number downloads per month so they can get sponsored.
Both industries can be a thankless grind! So what do we do? How can we find more success?
I just got back from the Podcast Movement Conference in Orlando. The majority of attendees were independent podcasters who were wondering the same thing. Creators constantly blame the distribution platforms. They blame the gatekeepers. They think their numbers will be boosted forever if they can only get a feature, premiere, on a playlist or a mention. These are temporary fixes that are controlled by each of the platforms. I’m not saying “not” to be pitching yourself for these exclusives but I’m saying don’t bank on them.
Instead, I’d challenge you to understand what you control. That to me is your community. And this is where most creators get it all wrong. They ask their community to act the same as everyone else’s community. They make it transactional and ask for reviews or to share their social media post. Your fans want to talk with you. Your songs or podcasts are personal and your listeners connect deeply with that audio.
The podcaster that blew me away the most at Podcast Movement was Cal Fussman. He’s got a fantastic podcast called Big Questions with Cal Fussman. Cal gave a fantastic speech at the event but it was his “office hours” that really impressed me. He told his fans that he would be at his distributor’s booth for an hour after the panel and an hour the next day. He invited everyone to come talk with him. So I did. And it was a human conversation. He gave me a hug. He gave me his email. I chatted with other fans of his while I waited for my turn. It was inspiring.
It’s very similar to bands that sell their own merch at the end of the show. It’s an opportunity to connect with their fans while pushing their product. It forces fans to hang out after the show. It builds a community. I remember going to see Dale Watson perform in NYC. He had a ton of fans around him and he stayed to chat with every single one. He signed autographs. He took selfies. One of his fans showed him a painting on his iPhone that his son drew and Dale asked the fan if he could email the painting to himself. He said yes, so Dale took the man’s phone, typed his email into it and hit send on his fan’s painting. It was human. It was beautiful.
So you want to build a community? Be human. Talk with your fans. The beauty of a community is that they start small. So it doesn’t matter if you have 10 listeners or 500. But your goal should be to grow your community. How do you do that?
You talk with them. You get to know them. You ask them to invite their friends that will also like your music/podcast. You don’t need any membership sites to do this. Invite them to email you. Or chat with you after a performance. Or invite them to a recording session.
Create a label or a distribution network. Pool your communities and explain to your fans why this is a good fit. Eventually as you grow you won’t have to explain anymore. Your community will trust you. In the 90’s and early 00’s I bought every record put out by Matador Records. You know why? Because I trusted Matador. The same thing goes with my buddies at Disgraceland. When Jake tells me to listen to a new podcast, I do.
When I said I have a discoverability problem at the beginning of the post, I wasn’t kidding. I’m also trying to find my community. This is why I’m talking with friends who have similar podcasts. This is why I’m working on a music publisher where I can collectively pitch my friend’s music. This is why I’m writing this article. Tweet at me or email me if you want to talk about audience development or building a community. I’d love to chat.