This is the Ivoryton Congregational Church, a pretty little church on a river in a historic town in Connecticut. The church was built in 1888. The sanctuary inside is beautiful. It closed because of lack of members. It’s easy to say “Well, that’s what’s happening to churches today. Younger folks just don’t want to go, everyone is too busy. Millennial don’t have time or interest.” That doesn’t explain the growth in other local churches, though. Population has held steady or increased. Disposable income in this town is up considerably from when the church was founded. The problem is quite simple, and quite avoidable: the church ignored the necessity of being relevant to and for the community. It allowed itself to grow stale, and like many churches, organizations, small businesses, and even business models, it fled to the safety of “tradition” instead of moving into the 21st century. “Hey, it’s worked for all these years, why change?”
So what does this mean to a musician or venue from the standpoint of running a successful career, or business? Let’s find out.
Much is made of the “attention economy”, or the point-and-click method of staying connected. We use social media to vent anger, to re-post things said by others. We post a “I’ll be at..” or “They’ll be here tonight!” sort of announcement. With so much of this, do you really think it accomplishes anything?
In short, we have become inward-focused, instead of outward. Our posts are about ourselves, our photos selfies. Successful marketing has to return to the roots of community involvement to be effective. Any person, or business, needs to be seen as vital to a community’s well-being and vitality. You need to enhance the community, not just benefit from it.
Some key elements to building a community:
1: Involve multiple interests/community groups. Don’t be a loner in your business, the more entities you can bring in to the fold, the greater effect.
2: Go outdoors. There’s a whole world outside your venue. Head outdoors for events that you participate in. Be visible to everyone.
3: Get younger. Always, always, always aim to make your participants, your fans, your audience younger. Get families involved. Get students involved. It’s the base of the demographic period, and they tend to stay in an area longer.
4: Think Event. Multi-pronged and multi-mission events (for example, a fundraiser bringing in music, food, and an athletic event) are much larger in profile than an individual promotion.
5: Social media is a tool, not a crutch. Everything old is new again. Artists are deriving most of their income from live shows, not from album sales. While this is confusing to most artists and their team, it’s the way things were done before the record industry came in to existence 100 years ago. The novelty of physical media is gone, it’s back to basics. Streaming income is nothing more than gas money for all but a few artists. Don’t worry, and don;t wait to go viral. A pro-active approach is all that’s needed to get a jump start.