Tribe Defined: An American Songwriter

tribe-community-concert-venue-marketing-countryUnless you’re a member of his tribe, I’m not sure how many people even know who Todd Snider is.  I certainly didn’t until getting introduced to his music about 10 years ago.  I was a captive audience:  My friend was playing HIS music, in HIS car, on a 7-hour road trip to Memphis where HE was running a benefit marathon for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.  Let’s say there wasn’t a lot of room for negotiation.  

My friend literally had every one of Snider’s albums on his i-Pod.  Initially I was skeptical, but after about the third song, I was thoroughly entertained.  Why?  Because between many of his songs,  Todd Snider told a story that transitioned into the next track.  Not random, pointless stories, either.  These stories were HILARIOUS.  By the end of the weekend, I was a BIG fan.

A few months later, my friend called to say that Todd Snider was doing a concert in the area and asked if I’d like to go along.  Of course, I said: “Heck yeah!”  The concert was in Cedar Rapids, at a small venue in a place called Czech Village.  (Czech Village is the place that was severely damaged a couple of years later by the flood of 2008.)  The venue seated about 250. When we walked in, we were instructed to “grab a chair”—a metal folding chair—and take it into the auditorium.  Unique, right?  Audience members could sit wherever they wanted in front of the stage, but it wasn’t disorganized…all chairs ended up in straight rows, just like a normal theater.

When Todd Snider came onstage, the crowd roared.  The crazy thing was: They began engaging in conversation with him like he was in each of their living rooms.  I’d never experienced anything quite like it in my life.  He asked them:  “What do you want to hear tonight?”  The crowd responded with a variety of requests, but when he heard the one that correlated with his agenda, he started his performance.  After each song, he again engaged his audience with another story or random conversation.  When he was singing, the audience sang along, oftentimes as loud or louder (and in tune) with him.  $65 a ticket for a community concert, and it was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had in my life.  Which is why I’ve seen Todd Snider two more times since then.

Many of you are likely thinking:  “What does this story about an obscure folk musician have to do with marketing?”  It has EVERYTHING to do with marketing, particularly the challenges CONTENT marketing is facing today.  Here are four big ways:

1. Of the concerts I’ve attended, most of the venues seated LESS THAN 500 people.  This means he prefers to play in more intimate settings. This enables him to know his community as well as they know him.

2. People travel for MILES to see him in concert.  By miles, I mean from MULTIPLE STATES AWAY, sometimes as many as 8-10 hour drives. This is a tribe of LOYAL followers.   

3.  People relate to him intimately through his music, which is totally transparent. When the audience participates in the experience, it becomes far more memorable for everyone.   

4.  Community members INTRODUCE outsiders to join the party. Since his music isn’t played on the radio, XM, or Sirius satellite, the only means of discovery is personal introduction. Serving/entertaining the TRIBE is more important, more rewarding, and less costly than trying to serve the masses.

How has all of this worked out for Mr. Snider?  Not being on the radio, not playing to sold-out 30,000+-seat venues, and not landing a “mainstream” record deal CAN’T be lucrative, right?

In Cedar Rapids, he pulled up in a customized Prevost tour bus.  According to Wikipedia, he has an estimated net worth of over $2.5 million.  Perhaps that doesn’t SOUND impressive, but there’s a hidden benefit to how he has gotten there and what he does every day:  Todd Snider serves a very SPECIFIC TRIBE OF FOLLOWERS.  He’s not focused on people that don’t like him or who have never been introduced to him through the tribe.

Like it or not, HE is WHO he is, and few performers I’ve ever seen have done it better.