Nic Adler, owner of The Roxy, speaking at the SF MusicTech Summit in San Francisco, CA
Boston is a major city for live music and technological innovation so it is only natural that there will soon be a convergence. Social media forever changed the modes of communications and the techniques for concert promotion. Over the last 15 years there has been a power shift from a time when the major labels told music lovers what to buy to a new era where the customers became the voice that influenced purchases. The revolution was powered by social platforms from the Facebook wall to the Amazon reviews sections. It quickly became unacceptable for communications to be one sided and soon many businesses started having open dialogues with their customers. The competitors that did not seek to build a relationship with customers often saw business slip away. Relationships are all that keep us together in an increasingly global way of life.
Nic Adler thought that everything would be great with his father’s club when he took over the business. The Roxy was a landmark on the Sunset strip and everyone went there to play. “25 years ago the epicenter was on the strip and you went there to get signed,” reminisced Adler, “15 years ago other places started to get big but we thought we were okay. Five years ago we were buried in our venues. It wasn’t going on.” The problem? Adler places the blame squarely on his venue and the others around him. He spoke of how venues would ruthlessly try to take shows out from one another and how band’s managers would often shop around pitting venue against venue. “We all had a velvet rope mentality,” recalled Adler, “We’ll tell you when the bands can play, when the fans can come, what you can and can’t do. Add that to the competition of the other venues. Instead of connecting we were killing the strip.”
Adler realized things needed to change and fast or else the entire strip was dead. His girlfriend set up a Myspace page for the venue and he and began watching the friends accumulate. The “friends” did not mince words about The Roxy and at first the comments were largely negative. Adler described the anxiety of seeing all of this negative commentary about his business beginning to populate his Myspace page and his confusion about what to do. Should he delete the bad comments? He decided to let them roll in and attempted to change his business based on the vocal feedback he received. Looking back it was absolutely the correct decision. “Social is a mirror,” said Adler, “You need to look in it and give [the customers] what they want. We don’t want them coming once or twice a year. We want them coming 15 times a year so there is a relationship.”
How did Nic Adler develop The Roxy’s social media presence? “The key to online is to go where they are,” he stated during his morning presentation on “Social and Live” at the SF MusicTech Summit, February 13th. Starting out, Adler knew very little about social media but he was plenty knowledgeable about his audience and what they would be interested in hearing from The Roxy. Before just jumping onto the various social networks Adler wanted to develop a voice. “What was the voice of the Roxy? Be transparent about ticket fees. Don’t change voice day to day.” These were important tenets that shaped the style of conversation to one that felt less like the manufacturer was feeding the consumer. “If we had jumped on FB and Twitter without a voice it would have been different,” says Adler.
The Roxy joined Twitter next following Myspace. Adler could see no way of ending the divide between the venues on the strip unless someone made the step towards peace. “Let’s be that person that reaches out. Let’s start the process of supporting each other.” Adler recalled himself saying. A few days later all of the venues were following each other and encouraging their followers to do the same. No words were spoken and no meetings were held but Twitter had built a bridge over a year of brutal competition. Cooperation and support became the goal and wonderful things began to happen. Now in its fifth year, the Sunset Strip Music Festival brings together the six legendary venues on the strip. It’s the poster image of a community where competition exists but so do good friends and healthy relationships.
Venues on the Sunset strip went from ruthlessly competing to promoting each other on Twitter.
The content of a social media post is crucial for making a connection but one must also realize who is looking at your post and on what kind of device. “For us, photos work the best.” relayed Adler, “If we post video it’s after 8pm when we think everyone has switched from phone to computer.” Instagram is a fan favorite because of the sort of exclusive images The Roxy is able to snap and post. Their account has nearly 21,000 followers and each photo they post is “loved” by around 100 people at the bare minimum. Pinterest is particularly interesting for The Roxy because they enjoy nothing more than curating content based on the input of their fans. Few companies have done anything too creative with Spotify but Adler has been making ever-changing playlists featuring the top LA bands as voted by the fans.
It is this kind of custom-created content that excites fans and drives them to your events both online and in the real-world. “An offline component made sense,” said Adler. The Roxy worked with local venues and bars to arrange Tweet-crawls where everyone would bar crawl while tweeting and creating a conversation about the locations and generating followers for each venue’s Twitter account that they passed through.
Social media has radically changed The Roxy into a venue that encourages dialogue with fans and hence builds a stronger community. It has changed everything from the way shows are booked (“If a band is not social it’s not a good fit.”) to how customer complaints are handled. Adler recounted an angry tweet saying a Gin & Tonic was too watered down. He went to the bar, got a stiff one, and sought out the girl sitting on the floor next to an empty cup pecking away at her Blackberry. The bad PR tweet was followed by the best kind of PR tweet.
Adler telling the “Gin & Tonic” story.
Boston venues have become increasingly social with many taking to Twitter to promote their events. The Wilbur Theatre has a great practice of going around and taking photos of the audience members before shows and posting them on their Facebook page. it’s a fantastic idea because it documents the occasion of the show even if the fans took no pictures themselves. It also brings the audience to their site once they get home. What some Boston venues lack is the voice that Adler worked so hard to develop before jumping into the social scene and the sense of what content speaks to their audience. Luckily things are not as dire here as they were on the Sunset strip. Boston can take away much from what was learned by Nic Adler and The Roxy as they made the transformation into a “social” music venue.
This piece could not have been written without the kindness of SF MusicTech Summit founder Brian Zisk welcoming my friend/photographer Erik Christiansen and myself with open arms. The tenth summit was so successful that Zisk is not waiting an entire year-SF MusicTech Summit 11 is October 9th and I hope to see you there!