The “Grow Your Following” series

Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective. As I told ‘The Tennessean’ in 2008, “since moving to Nashville twenty-five years ago, I have met people whose lives do not remotely reflect the caricature of what many outside our city presume to be a Nashvillian” or the Nashville experience. “Underground Nashville” thus explores the soul of the city, not its surface—offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew

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The “Grow Your Following” Series
for Singer/Songwriters and Bands

Part 2:  How to nurture a loyal following

by Dave Carew

One of the questions musicians often ask is “How can I build a loyal following?”  In other words, how can you not only get people to come to your shows…but keep coming time after time?

While there’s no magic formula, there are definitely things you should—and must —do if you want people to come see you repeatedly.

To learn some of the secrets, I talked to my friends Jack and Debra Harris. Jack runs one of Nashville’s best home-based recording studios, Lost Highway Studios ( Another cool part of Jack’s résumé is that he toured as a singer/guitarist in the seventies with The Association (“Cherish,” “Never My Love”.) Debra Harris is one of Nashville’s finest bass-guitarists and painters.

My conversation with Jack and Debra went like this:

UNDERGROUND NASHVILLE: What are some key things you’ve done, over the years, to cultivate a loyal, devoted following?

Jack: One of the revelations I came to, fairly early on, was that people in the audience really want to know what you’re about. To them, because you happen to be up on that stage, you’re intriguing. So when we work clubs we always make a point, during a break, to try to make a personal connection with people. Again, a lot of people feel a bit of adulation toward musicians. So they love it if they get to hang with the band.

Debra: Another key thing is how you present the music when you’re performing. You, as a member of the audience, can go into a club and enjoy live music. But if you feel the musicians are really performing for you—that they care about making a connection with you—that elevates the entire experience to another level. Lots of performers call out from the stage things like, “How y’all doin’ tonight?” but I think it’s much more effective to really talk to individual people in the audience—to make it personal and develop more of a relationship with them. That’s what makes people get involved and start caring about you as a person and artist—and interested in coming back to see future shows.

Jack: That’s definitely the best approach. But, like anything else, sometimes it can backfire. Here’s an amusing example: One night, several years ago, Debra and I were playing out, and, between songs—as we always do—we started talking, person to person, to people in the audience. I asked a woman, who appeared to be sitting with her husband, what she did for a living. She responded, “I’m a stripper.” Well, I was so taken aback that I didn’t really know what to say. I finally blurted out, “Well, you look like you’re well-equipped for it.” Probably not the best line when the woman’s husband is sitting right beside her, and my wife is right beside me.

See below for Part 1 of the “Growing Your Following” series, “Getting the Media to Cover You.”

David M. (Dave) Carew is editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter.” He also is a freelance publicist and copywriter.




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