9 lessons in building the community behind (and backbone of) A Song A Day

Photo source: www.aceshowbiz.com From the film Pirate Radio, which everyone should watch at least once.

I’ve been building community in some capacity throughout my career — from PR to economic development to digital marketing, and a bunch of other stuff in between. But my propensity for building community precedes any professional endeavor by years.

I’m shy, but I love bringing people together — people who can help one another, or who simply have something in common. I especially love connecting creatives with people who’ll appreciate and support their art. I’ve been accidentally helping people build lasting connections for…ever.

I guess it makes sense that I accidentally built a community-based project.

My passion project — A Song A Day — is a community of curators who hand-pick a song based on your musical preferences and deliver it to your inbox daily. We’re your music-obsessed friends sending songs we think you’ll love.

I didn’t choose A Song A Day, it chose me. It was one of those ideas that came out of a frustration I was thinking about on a run. I didn’t even realize it was a viable idea until it was trending on ProductHunt with 500+ subscribers a few hours after tweeting out the URL I purchased during a bout of insomnia.

Since, it has grown into an engaged and passionate community of curators and listeners. Super music fans, music experts, artists, and people who just want new tunes have all come together to share their love of music.

Because our current process is so manual, we’ve even launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund a product that will streamline our process, allowing us to keep going and growing, connecting more people over music. And the support has been incredible so far.

With 44 active curators and more than 450 curator sign ups, here’s what I’ve learned about building and sustaining a community of passionate people all willing to work their tails off for nothing more than the love of music and a belief in the project. I hope you can apply some of what I learned for building a community around something you love.

1) People want an outlet for expressing themselves

Music is something that people have a deep and emotional connection with, so folks are naturally inclined to engage around it. However, not all music geeks are surrounded by people as passionate about music as they are. By creating an environment where people can share music of all kinds with one another and have a conversation around it — we’ve given our curators an outlet for expressing themselves and their love for music.

As a result, people who were once strangers from across the country and around the globe are talking to each other every day about music they love and how it makes them feel.

2) People are driven by purpose: feedback is everything

I’ve been beyond impressed with how hungry our curators are for listener feedback. They truly care about what our listeners think of their song selections and are always ready and willing to make tweaks to their selections based on feedback. Better yet, it genuinely makes their day to receive positive feedback from their listeners. It’s a personal highlight for me to witness curators and members interact and converse around music.

When we receive feedback, like the comments below, our curators and myself are given a sense of purpose — we’re made to feel like we’re making a difference by making people happy. Nothing creates buy-in more than purpose, in my experience.

3) People want to be included and heard

If you want your community to engage with one another, you need to engage with them. Ask them questions, listen to them and let them know that they’ve been heard. When you can’t fulfill a request, explain why.

There have been times where I’ve been so busy, I went a long time without checking in with our curators and schedulers (several curators help me send 200 emails each week) to see how they’re doing. This is a big issue, especially because our process is still very manual and well, our curators are our product, so their happiness is crucial to our success.

However, I am fortunate that they feel comfortable proactively reaching out to me. I hope that this is because we’ve built an open and transparent environment, which leads to the next lessons learned.

4) Transparency is hugely important

Being transparent with your community will build trust and open communication. I’ve struggled with finding the right balance of transparency — even a perpetual over-sharer — which may be a first-time founder lesson as well.

Despite being transparent almost to a fault, I was initially hesitant to share my entire roadmap with our curators because I was afraid that I’d fail to deliver on it. It’s one thing to disappoint myself, it’s another to let down an entire community of people. But at the end of the day, I had to get over that. Transparency creates emotional buy-in, which is crucial to the success of a healthy community — especially a volunteer one.

I recently spoke with the folks at Purpose Generation and they said something that really stuck with me: “You’re a solopreneur, but it’s like you have 43 cofounders.” This is so true. Because I’m transparent with our curators, they feel like their truly involved with the building of a business, because they are. Having said that, I still have not mastered complete transparency, as I explain in the following lesson.

5) Unequal communication among members can create confusion

Although I try to be transparent with everyone, in reality, some curators — those who know me best or are most communicative — know a lot more about our challenges, opportunities and plans than others.

We also have a Facebook group for curators that’s incredibly active, but not everyone is on Facebook, leaving some out of certain spur of the moment updates or casual posts sharing music, tour announcements, articles, etc.

I talk so some of our curators once or several times a day, some a few times throughout the week, and others only once a week when I share stats and updates. For the most part, it works out for the best. Our community members choose how much they want to be communicated with. However, this has created unequal distribution of information and is something I’m trying to fix with more frequent communication with the rest of our team and by bringing them together on the platform we’re trying to fund now.

6) If you shut up, other people will step up

I tend to get overly excited about things and want to immediately share them with the community. This sometimes results in me posting to our Facebook group five times in a row on a Saturday morning. I’m sure it’s annoying, but I just can’t help myself.

However, if I go a few days (or even hours) without posting, the community really steps up and chimes in. They share songs, thoughts, questions, events, etc. They also answer each other’s questions, which is amazing. I still respond so they know I’ve heard them or to clarify any points, but it’s incredibly rewarding to see curators interacting with each other, even when I’m taken out of the equation. And it’s getting more active every day!

7) Community is about passion and empowerment

In my experience, the two biggest factors that contribute community success are 1) that the community consists of people who are truly passionate about the mission, and 2) people feel comfortable and empowered to reach out to each other.

Our community members invite each other to shows, they send job leads and refer each other, they announce their own music and share their photos and relevant writings. They’ve become friends, despite being spread across the globe. I think it’s because they feel comfortable to be themselves and to bond over this powerful thing that means so much to each of us…music.

8) People will volunteer their time for something that they love

I pinch myself everyday because I’m so lucky to have such an amazing group of people who help me build and contribute to this thing I care so much about, and they do it all for free. It turns out that if people truly care about something and feel like they’re a part of it, they’re willing to volunteer their time, energy, and awesome song finds.

9) But you do have to provide value

I do believe curators’ willingness to volunteer their time and passion (our two most finite resources) comes down to finding value in what they’re volunteering for. For A Song A Day curators, our value is a vehicle for discovering and sharing new music with other music lovers, which happens to be what they’re passionate about.

To build a successful community, define your purpose and mission, then share it with the world — those who are passionate about it will find you. Ok, so you might have to do some of the work to find them, but you get my point. :)

Final thoughts

I know this is a pretty fluffy, lovey-dovey post, but a lot of people do ask me how I’ve been able to grow our community to the point we have — and this is it. It pretty much comes down to passion, a strong mission people can get behind, transparency, effective, consistent, and empathetic communication, empowerment, and a little bit of luck. Happy to answer any questions!

If you’ve tried out A Song A Day and enjoy it, please consider supporting or sharing our Kickstarter campaign. Thank you!