There aren't many stories quite like Macklemore's; the Seattle born rapper has been making music for 12 years, but it was earlier in 2012, upon his debut release "Heist" (with Ryan Lewis), when he shot to mainstream fame. Just hours after "Heist" dropped it had secured the #1 spot on the iTunes Album Chart, before entering in at #2 on US Billboard 200. But even before these successes, the pair had sold out 18 of 27 shows on tour across the US and UK. No label, just pure fan support.
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Macklemore's DIY success story proves the power of fan-based communities. Every single artist starting out wants a large and widespread audience, to be able to roll up to a venue and play to a packed crowd, but where exactly to start is the million-dollar question.
Fan communities sprout in the hometown of an artist whereby it is sustained as the artist grows, acting as a hub for an artists most active and loyal fans, aka: the backbone of your career. Servicing this local community well involves a combination of delivering content to speak to them with grassroots PR.
This is where Macklemore got it so right. He branded himself as the poster-boy for Seattle Hip Hop and leveraged that fiery North West pride. He regularly released material about Seattle and its people, sought residencies at Chop Suey among other locals and through touring was able to tap into other Seattle rapper's fan-bases. The first major audience he played to, a cool 48,000 people, was to perform his tribute song to the late Seattle Sports Broadcaster Dave Niehaus and deceased Seattle Mariners. And he had a merchandise range that integrated into the lives of the Seattle rap fan, not just the Macklemore fan.
So for artists starting out the best thing to do is find your neighbors in fans and media form and make stuff for them about your city - merch, street art, music, packaging and so on. Below is a timeline of Macklemore's career and how he was able to harvest a large fan community through pledging allegiance to Seattle.
If you are an artist looking to build your fan community from scratch sign up to the free Skillshare course Build an Audience: A Macklemore Case Study.