The Metallica Guide to Building a Global Audience of Ravenous Fans

Note from Jon:  Bands and bloggers have more in common than you might think. We’re searching for an audience, struggling to find our voice, and trying to commercialize our art without “selling out.”

If you’re serious about your craft, it’s worth taking the time to study the rise of popular bands, and who better to help you draw connections than Mark Hermann? In addition to being a talented blogger in his own right, he’s lived and breathed rock and roll for much of his career. Let’s see what he has to say…

Quick question.

When I say the word Metallica do you…

  1. Immediately shudder, wrinkle your nose and think, “Ummm… No? I am SO not into heavy metal music. I was never one of those people”? or…
  2. Immediately pump your heavy metal horns into the air and start playing serious air guitar while humming the riff to “Sad But True”?

It’s fairly polarizing, right? You either get heavy metal or you DO NOT get it. Kind of like this blogging thing. Only with blogging it’s a lot more lopsided.

On one extreme you have the 1%. They’re the tiny island of the fortunate few who’ve solved the great blogging mystery and have magically built a thriving online community.

Then there’s the other 99%.

That’s you, right? Flailing away in that vast global arena of digital noise, struggling to find your voice and build an audience. But sadly no matter how loud you shout “I’m over here!” the only thing growing is the sound of crickets.

Conventional wisdom would suggest it’s obvious why the 1% sit on their exalted thrones.

Conventional wisdom would say they obviously studied their asses off researching the mechanics of blogging. Worked even harder to apply that wisdom and they won, right? The other 99%? Well, they didn’t do the work. Plain and simple.

But conventional wisdom isn’t always right.

The Unconventional Path from Total Obscurity to World Domination

In the early Eighties, Metallica was an unknown metal band, wrestling to find their audience. How they rose from indie obscurity to world domination and built an audience large enough to apply for international sovereignty is a case study in defying conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom could never have predicted their rise. Yet time and again they proved that the road less travelled can lead to unmined riches.

Want to stop playing to empty rooms (and vacant comment sections)? Give the finger to convention and learn how to start a rebellion.

Here’s how:

1. Be The Hero of the Unwashed, The Unpopular and the Uncool

Every rebel needs a cause and every cause needs a charismatic leader.

The Cuban Revolution had Che Guevara. The Sixties had Jimi Hendrix.

Each was a hero to the underdog.

And in the early Eighties, Metallica led their own rebellion.

It was a backlash to the mainstream MTV pop culture of the day that embraced all the shiny new coiffed and styled video pop stars like Duran Duran, Men At Work and the Human League.

While their pop counterparts wore eyeliner and Spandex, Metallica wore dirty jeans, T-shirts and biker boots. They were the anti-pop stars. Rather than the pop confection songs that ruled those MTV playlists, Metallica’s music spoke about alienation and raging against the machine. It resonated with a huge mostly young adult male audience hanging out on the fringes that reviled pop culture, and were desperate to vent their teenage angst toward authority.

In Metallica these troubled souls found a fearless leader who fought for their unpopular cause through their music. And those fans in turn enlisted their diehard loyalty in droves.

As a writer, defying conventional wisdom and taking the contrarian view can reap huge benefits. Look at Jon Stewart’s career. Or The Onion. Or the recent knighting of Twitter’s first major social media success story, Kelly Oxford, who now has a massive Twitter following, a book deal, a movie deal and two TV pilots in the works.

You think Kelly Oxford ever took some generic “How to Promote Yourself on Twitter” online course? No, she just did her own thing, chipping away in obscurity for years. Tweeting her snarky take on this crazy world from the perspective of a single Canadian mom raising her children in it.

Want to stand out from the deafening noise of “Me Too” bloggers?

Be different. But do it with attitude. You’ll need that to sway the masses away from the status quo.

2. Play It Like You Mean It (Even If You’re Not Sure How The Song Goes Yet)

Long before they were officially a band, Metallica’s drummer Lars Ulrich already knew he had something special brewing, after guitarists Kirk Hammett and Dave Mustaine answered his newspaper ad seeking heavy metal musicians to jam with.

They gave him the confidence to approach the biggest heavy metal label at the time, Metalblade Records, and convince them to let his “band” record a song to be included on their upcoming album sampler. That gutsy move gave Metallica huge exposure and the needed impetus to come together officially as a band.

So what did Lars have that you need? ATTITUDE.

You have to BELIEVE in your work. If you don’t, who will?

If you want to become a thought leader presiding over a massive tribe, you first have to learn how to LEAD. Plant your flag in the ground, claim your sovereignty and shout to the world, “THIS is where it’s at!” And then prove it with your work.

But what are you to do as a blogger when you’re still trying to discover exactly what you stand for?

Do what Lars did. It’s called Ready Fire Aim.

In other words, just go for it!

Got something to say? Then say it already.

Want to start a dream blog and write some epic shit that you know will totally blow the audience’s mind and make it impossible for that blogger to say no to you.

But you’ve got to have the goods. And they have to be remarkable. And that part’s on you.

You build an army by creating remarkable work that is simply impossible to ignore. Work that is so magnetic, people can’t help but be drawn to you.

Remember, Metallica played stadiums before they even had a record deal.

They had total conviction and a take-no-prisoners attitude. But attitude alone isn’t enough.

3. You Must Rock With Total Sincerity

Why did Metallica’s music ring so true with their fans?

Empathy, Passion and Awesomeness.

The members of Metallica were born from the same fringe culture as their fans. They could relate to their fans’ struggles because they were their fans (empathy). They weren’t trying to emulate all those hot new MTV bands. They were total originals who all shared a deep affinity for heavy metal music (passion). And they were totally dedicated to their art, rehearsing constantly and honing their songwriting to perfection (awesomeness).

In short, they lived, ate and slept heavy metal music. They were the real genie. Are you?

If you want to grow an army, you’ve got to show them you’ve been through the same battles and slept in the same foxholes. You show them your strengths by allowing them to see your vulnerabilities. Then, through your awesome work, they will see themselves and the way out of their own painful situations with you leading the way.

It’s not just about identifying and then solving the problems that keep your audience up at night. That’s nice and helpful. You need to pick up that flag with their cause and go charging up the hill like Braveheart. Leave them speechless with your insights where they can’t help but think, “Whoa, this person really GETS me!”

And something else that Metallica “got” turned out to be one of the key ingredients that led to their meteoric rise to fame and fortune.

4. Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now

Back when they were still burbling away in the indie band primordial ooze, Metallica gave away free tapes of their first demo to their fans and encouraged them to trade them freely. They even encouraged fans to record their live shows and trade them in an active underground network.

But why on Earth would Metallica just give away the one commodity that could possibly earn some or make more money?

Well, imagine you’re way into heavy metal and someone hands you this unmarked tape. You put it on and it totally blows your mind. What happens next?

You HAVE to share it! It’s what we humans do when we’re excited about something. We can’t help ourselves.

So what about that eBook you’ve been slaving away on forever? You know, the one that’s going to take the self-publishing world by storm, land you a book deal and allow you to finally quit your day job?

Well, what if you just gave it away instead?

Yes I’m talking about that same masterpiece you were so sure would blow people’s minds that they would happily pay for it?

Imagine instead if you just offered it to your fans as a thank you for their support. Think they might feel indebted to you to spread the word for just giving away such pure awesomeness?

It’s called the law of reciprocity. One of the most basic and deeply embedded human instincts. When you give someone something, the recipient NEEDS to repay that gratitude in some way.

5. Don’t Let Just Anyone Backstage

In the pre-Internet era, this underground network of diehard metal fans and tapers were trading in secret, corresponding via classified ads in the backs of obscure heavy metal music magazines.

It was a closed network. Not everyone was allowed in. In fact, casual fans wouldn’t even know it existed.

But those who found out about it wanted in.

Exclusivity. Another deeply embedded behavioral human trait.

It all goes back to the tree house when you were a kid and making up that secret handshake with your closest friends. Nobody else was allowed in without it, right? Only club members were privy to those important club secrets. And those other friends you excluded? They wanted in because you had something they didn’t have.

Take this blog for example. It’s chock-full of cool ideas to help you grow and expand your blogging talents. And it’s all free.

But it’s not how Mr. Morrow butters his daily bread.

No, that happens behind closed doors.

Like his Guest Blogging course, an exclusive (paid) membership site where a limited number of students are allowed in now and again to learn the secret backroom details of successful blogging that could make the difference between blogging obscurity and a thriving blog.

Or his Blog Launch Formula program, where a small group of hand-picked bloggers are mentored directly by Jon Morrow himself.

But alas, you can’t see any of this. It’s for members only.

Get the picture?

Are you thinking about your own membership site yet? Full of juicy deep dive content to overwhelm your audience with awesome insider secrets? You should be.

6. Drive Your Fans Crazy With Anticipation

Can you imagine wanting something so badly and having to wait for days, weeks or even months until you get your hands on it? It’s difficult to conceive in today’s 24/7 ‘I need it NOW!’ on-demand world.

But back at the start of Metallica’s meteoric rise, in those pre-cyber days, all you had as a fan were those tapes to listen to over and over again. And friends to share the experience with you while daydreaming about the next concert that you bought tickets for months in advance.

That’s it. No band newsletters. Or fans Tweeting fabulous news from the tour. No Instagram tour bus shots. Nothing, save for the odd article in Kerrang or one of the other heavy metal rags.

That time spent waiting in anticipation made those fans’ hearts grow fonder. They had plenty of time in that analog world to percolate over the next delicious taste of news or new music or concert they could only hope to experience soon.

Contrast that with the instant gratification of today’s all-digital culture. Where anything you could possibly want to know or consume is one click or search away. How do you create a sense of anticipation when everyone expects everything now?

You take your finest evergreen content, break it into delicious bite-sized pieces and…

Feed it to your audience…slowly.


(That also happens to be how you build an army. Slowly – one fan at a time.)


Legendary bluesman, Robert Johnson once sang, “You can’t give your sweet woman everything she wants at one time.”

Same goes for your audience. You don’t start the show with your biggest hit. You save it for the closer. I know, that goes against conventional wisdom, right? You’re supposed to produce epic shit every post you publish, right? Yeah, good luck with that.

Take your audience on a journey that inspires and empowers them to the point where they have to return to taste that experience again and again.

It’s a Long Way to the Top If You Want to Rock and Roll

You might be wondering if I’ve oversimplified the process by which Metallica built up a huge global following. You might think I’ve glossed over a few important details in suggesting that you can replicate this in the blogging world.

And the truth is yeah, I have.

Because if you’re not totally committed to becoming the best at whatever it is you do, then nothing you’ve read in this post can help you.

The harsh truth is that Metallica was (and still is) an amazing heavy metal band dedicated to being the best. Period.

They worked incessantly on their craft over years and years, living in their rehearsal space for long periods, honing their songwriting and their live show to the level of perfection. They ran their organization like an elite Special Forces operation. And only the best get to be Special Forces.

That’s the part nobody wants to talk about. What it REALLY takes to become that important to other human beings as to become essential in their lives. It involves serious effort, commitment and passion.

It all boils down to this.

How badly do you want to change the world?

How hard are you willing to work at this thing? How serious are you about being insanely useful to others? Or outrageously entertaining or inspiring to the point where people simply cannot ignore what you have to say anymore? And then doing it in a way no one’s quite done before?

That’s how you build an army of ravenous fans.

You don’t need a wall of Marshall amplifiers and an arena-sized PA system to be heard. You don’t have to write epic 5,000-word posts or be controversial just for the pure shock value and you don’t have to produce a series of adorable kitten videos to get people to pay attention either.

It can be as simple as being brutally honest and showing your humanity in a way that inspires others, just as Lori Deschene has over at Tiny Buddha to build a massive following over a million strong.

Or professing your undying love for gadgetry and building a geek squad the size of the Roman Empire as they’ve done over at Gizmodo or GigaOM.

Or even gushing your profound knowledge of a wide array of obscure subjects – such as the behavioral patterns of mole rats – like Copyblogger’s Sonia Simone.

But whatever flag it is that you’re waving, you’ve got to be willing to carry it to the top of the mountain, slaying all obstacles in your way, avoiding the pitfalls of obscurity and apathy until you can finally plant it at the summit and say to your people and the world…

This is for YOU.

And so now I must ask you the sacred question:

Are you ready to rock the world?

About the Author: When not channeling rock and roll demigods, Mark Hermann is a music producer, writer and guitar player. He’s toured the world with genuine rock stars and has been featured on CNN, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Mix and Wired Magazine. Read more of his stories about how to be awesome at Rock and Roll Zen and circle him on Google+.