If you are in a band it is very likely that you greatly enjoy the genre of music your band plays. This is very valuable because it means you have opinions and ethos that are in alignment with most of your fans and potential audience (read: customers).
Because of this, you should constantly be looking through your “fan lens” as you think about what you do with your band. By that I mean you should look at what you are doing from the perspective of someone that loves the genre of music that your band plays. Do this when deciding on what kind of merch you will be producing, how you will engage with your audience online, etc.
As a fan of punk music would branded shot glasses be something I would like?
As a fan of New Orleans jazz am I usually looking for information on Twitter or artist/venue websites?
New Idea X
When you get excited about new idea x it can sometimes blind you and make it difficult to remember who your audience is and what they actually want. The easiest way to test the viability of any idea is to pause and ask yourself, “is this something that I as a fan of this genre would want/use/buy/watch/enjoy?” You must be honest with yourself in your assessment of x. If you aren’t sure it doesn’t hurt to gather additional data by asking a few fans.
Never lose sight of the fact that your ability to view at your band as a fan of the genre is of incredible value.
The music industry has moved to a place where artists need to do far more than create and perform. They must now engage with their audience in a way that just wasn’t possible even a decade ago. This requires work and time; both of which are finite resources. On top of that they must book their shows, collect emails, get press, and somehow monetize their art so they can continue to make it.
The skill sets required for creating art that resonates and running a successful business are not intrinsically linked. This leads many artists to bring on managers to run certain aspects of their careers that they feel fall outside of their art. This could be a smart move or a very savvy one - it all depends on the responsibility that the artist entrusts their manager with and if they really should be counted on as much as they are.
By bringing on outside management, a singer-songwriter or band is, in theory, reducing the amount of business they must attend to so they can focus their energies on creative endeavors. The artist is responsible for the actions of their management and any mistake by management reflects poorly on the artist that chose them.
As artists we must realize that all actions by the people chosen as our managers will reflect on us directly. Our management missing a deadline equals us missing a deadline. Our management being rude to the sound guy at a show equals us being rude to the sound guy at a show.
It’s not nearly all bad though. Managers can help take us from a great band to a great business which, like it or not, is what we must be in order to keep creating art.
How do we know a great manager when we see one?
- They do less talking and more listening.
- They ask for clarification when needed.
- They are eager to help.
- They are respectful to everyone, not just the artist.
- They are adaptable.
- They are accountable.
- Last-minute changes don’t disturb them.
- They thrive under pressure.
As artists we must remember that we are our own responsibility. When we pass off work to others we are still held accountable when it is done poorly or not at all. Choose wisely.
As pointed out by my friend Kayleigh Mill in her recent post, stealing a physical item has both shared and disimilar implications when contrasted with downloading something illegally. There are morals at play here and laws as well.
The cost of replacing a stolen digital item is free. I feel that this is partially how people that download illegally can (sub)consciously justify the behavior even if they wouldn’t steal the cheap plastic Ray-Ban knockoffs at the gas station.
The cost of replacing the physical good (let’s keep this discussion on topic and stick with a CD sold by the artist rather than a cup of coffee) is higher because it is not as simple as duplicating a file.
Let’s face it, there is also the fear of getting caught that stops many people from stealing physical items. Imagine if everyone knew there was no chance (0%) of getting caught for stealing items in real life. The fact that it is immoral behavior would cause many to refrain but with an absence of any law enforcement it’s clear that some new people would begin stealing.
It has also become quite clear that the “ownership” of a “purchased” digital file is dubious at best. The court’s recent ruling against Redigi, a Cambridge company that allowed users to sell and transfer purchased music, only goes to confirm that ownership of a digital file comes with many more exceptions and strings attached than a physical item.
We saw a big problem. Physical album sales were sinking. Ease of access was trumping ownership, causing digital downloads to lose traction to subscription models.
The music industry has long been a fairly pessimistic one. We did not want to look at it in this light. Instead of fretting about the problem we decided to act on a big opportunity for artists.
We created Bundio, a direct-to-fan subscription platform where artists could easily create their own subscriptions, choose how much they wanted to charge per month for access, and make the process convenient and straightforward for all parties. It is built on top of Dropbox, making distribution painless.
A big opportunity lies in monetizing content that isn’t ready or able to be placed on Spotify or iTunes. An artist creates much more than what ends up on the official release. Since the inception of the iTunes store and the ability to purchase single tracks, many artists are moving towards creating incremental releases. Periodically releasing new content works very well with a subscription model. Bundio not only helps to keep fans engaged, but gives an artist a recurring revenue stream and a quicker feedback loop.
We will be launching very soon.
I was watching a Danish film on Netflix a few weeks ago called Klown. I had never heard of the movie but after reading the synopsis I decided to give it a try. From watching the film I discovered comedians Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen. I learned the film was based on their TV show called Klovn and ordered the entire series on DVD. Now I’m (cautiously) looking forward to the American remake by Todd Phillips starring Danny McBride.
Why am I talking about Netflix when I typically discuss startups and the music industry? The ability to consume any and all content has become essential to discovery of the next thing we will love. From Spotify to YouTube, the cost of experimenting with brand new content and creators has been lowered considerably. We no longer need to buy an entire album only to realize we like nothing but the single. We no longer need to worry about being fiscally cautious when it comes to discovery. While the source of discovery will often be on a blog, Twitter, or other social media platform, we instinctively use these services to immediately experience what we just heard about. With these services, we can graze on a plentiful pasture of content; continuing to chew on what we find palatable and spitting out what is not to our taste.
There will continue to be a debate over sensible compensation for streaming content. It is a very real problem that needs further discussion and research. At the same time, artists need to realize that any all-you-can-eat service, free (YouTube) or paid (Spotify), will never be the ideal platform to seek out their biggest revenue streams. It is simply impossible for a fraction of a user’s monthly subscription to equal a CD sale. What is often lost in the discussion about streams is that the user is not paying specifically for any one artist’s music or else they would just buy a handful of albums and be done. They are paying for an ocean; a place to swim deep and see what lies below the surface of familiarity.
While all-you-can-eat content consumption enables anyone to experiment with little risk other than time wasted, there is notably less intimacy between creator and listener. The casual listener gets whatever is available and then either moves on to the next creator or becomes a fan and wants more. When a casual listener changes into a fan this is the time to move them off of the buffet line and convert them into both a customer and evangelist. This is the type of person that will want more than the average listener. They will seek it out at live performances (or movie screenings in the case of Netflix) and online in the form of behind the scenes footage, exclusive tracks, and demos.
It’s time we looked at all-you-can-eat services differently. They are a place for your future fans to find you. Once they do, it becomes time to grow the relationship and move it outside of the cluttered landscape.
There is nothing more desirable than fast growth. It takes less time which means less energy and resources are spent on a long, drawn-out campaign for the affection of your target audience.
Startups call this hockey stick growth:
Do you see the resemblance?
There are months of slow growth and then in the span of one month there is an enormous explosion.
The reasons for this explosion in the startup world can vary greatly:
- You were covered in TechCrunch or had a popular post on HN.
- A new hardware device was released that allowed many more people to benefit from your software.
- You released a new version of your application with a feature that many people were looking for.
Bands and other types of creators (filmmakers, comics, etc) would benefit from working towards ambitious inflections points for their endeavors. Hockey stick growth is a common occurrence for some of the most popular new bands. An example is the Alabama Shakes, whose NPR article in October 2011 set off a perfect storm of events that generated the exact type of hockey stick growth startups aspire to.
Some “triggers” for explosive growth in the music industry:
- Positive coverage on respected websites and blogs (NPR, Pitchfork)
- Placement on a well-viewed TV show
- A remarkable music video that people cannot help but share
The harder and smarter you work in the beginning the more likely you will be able to make it to hockey stick growth. The longer you exist, the less likely this will ever happen. Avoid becoming stagnant. Move fast and make big things happen.
On 11/28 I had a guest post on Hypebot about showing appreciation for your fans.
It seemed as if everyone generally enjoyed the strategy I discussed in the post and it was tweeted by a bunch of people. I typically “favorite” every link someone tweets to my posts as a way of showing my appreciation. I don’t use Twitter for marketing my business or myself except when I occasionally release a blog post. Instead, I prefer to use Twitter as a platform for sharing interesting news about tech and music with friends as well as photos of things I’m currently enjoying.
Sometimes I follow people who tweet my posts or whose tweets I simply find interesting. I don’t expect all of these people to follow me back.
There is one sure-fire way to piss most people off on Twitter after they follow you:
- Follow your current follower back or follow someone and wait for them to follow you.
- DM them some (often rather spammy) message.
- Unfollow them immediately after sending the DM.
Today’s culprit is Vampire Sex Kittens. They are far from the only Twitter user that employs this tactic but they are getting singled out in this blog post because it was the one time too many.
Why B(r)ands do this:
- They falsely believe they can somehow increase their “Follower” count and keep a low “Following” count.
- They want to spam someone but don’t want to let that person DM them back.
Why they should abandon this practice:
- I wanted to reply to their DM thanking them for spreading the link to my Hypebot post but couldn’t. Instead, I’m now writing this post.
- Imagine I did listen to their song and loved it. Maybe I would connect them with a venue, journalist, record label, etc. Instead, when I try to message them back I see what they did and write this post.
Images of the printed text speak to us for some reason. Perhaps the playful nature of reproducing the printed word into digital media with analog filters is what makes it such a pleasure to read inside these digitized capsules. The beauty of Instagram will do very little to quell the frustration an artist should feel after reading the photographed segment of text. This impudent paragraph was clipped from a press kit rubric distributed at a Professional Development Seminar.
It takes an audacious institution to hold a seminar devoted to professional development that encourages its students to dress “like hippies on pot,” or “look dark and dirty,” based on the kind of music they play. This sort of thinking creates clone artists and focuses too much on the incorrect link between visual and aural.
The way artists look and present themselves is important to success but that is not the trouble with what this paragraph suggests. The implication is that you need to dress a certain way so people can identify you and consequently lump you in with the other “trouble-making rock & rollers.” The danger of being lumped in is very real and potentially deadly. An artist and their work MUST be able to stand on their own and be identifiable if they wish to cut through the glut of music saturating the Internet and other distribution channels.
Not only do people judge others by how they dress, what a person is wearing can actually influence their performance and self-confidence. Artists should get dressed up for performances, wearing something that makes them comfortable while also taking into consideration how they want themselves to be perceived by the audience.
Perception is more important than reality on the concert stage. New artists should remember that many of the most popular performers such as Madonna and Lady Gaga dress completely differently in concert than they do on a Monday afternoon. A concert can be like a play in the sense that some musicians “act” out a character. It should be noted that none of these characters are other musicians and that is why these artists still stand on their own. You will never see Beyoncé dressing up like Lady Gaga or vice versa.
It is baffling that someone would suggest a young artist dress like an already established and successful one. Is this now considered normal and strategically intelligent marketing behavior? Mick Jagger did not co-opt his on-stage fashion and persona from other performers so why should a new artist take his? This sort of thinking creates derivative-looking artists and the music that follows seems to continue the trend.
What a person wears will never be as important as the music they make but it remains a critical element of their live performance. Everyone that attends the concert will judge an artist more on their music than the image they give off, but the next morning when the blog posts start going up there will be no sound, only text and images of what the artist looked like when performing. Outside of the possible YouTube videos, the collective archived memory of a performance will be more visual than aural and that is more than enough reason for an artist to dress in a way that represents who they are and what they do.
Artists, if you aren’t one of the “hippies on pot” or one of those “trouble-making rock & rollers,” it is not sensible to dress like one. You will risk being labeled as inauthentic and that is worse than anything else. Remember that there is only one of you and thousands of people trying to look like a young Bob Dylan. Embrace your musical style and look like you while doing it, not someone else.
The emergence of social media as a key strategy in the promotion and marketing of music has forever changed how artists interact with fans. Gone are the barriers that caused the broadcast > consume culture we have experienced for decades. The emergence of conversation as a means of strengthening the bond between artist and those that support them has become critically important to growth.
Other than your artistic output, there is nothing that matters more than the relationship you have with your fans. Being genuine is heralded and being fake is entirely obvious. The expression, “their music spoke to me,” has changed to, “I spoke with them and realized why I connect so deeply with their music.”
You need to send the love and excitement your fans have for you directly back at them. You need to let them know how much they matter and how much they have helped you grow both creatively and professionally. Remember that a fan is never exclusively your fan; they love other artists too.
You need to be their biggest fan.
You (should) have been keeping a mailing list since the moment you formed the group so you could stay in touch with those that liked your music enough to risk being emailed far too often. If you were really on top of things you should know where and when each person signed up for your mailing list. If you have not been doing this it is never too late to start. I think one of the most powerful emails you can send a fan is the following:
We wanted to thank you for supporting us by sharing our music with friends and attending our shows. It may feel like yesterday but on this day one year ago we played at the Middle East Upstairs in Cambridge, MA where you came out to hear us and signed up for our mailing list. In the last year we have grown as a band and it is largely due to people like you. One year ago today we were opening a show at the Middle East Upstairs and now in a week we will be coming back to Cambridge and headlining at TT the Bears. We hope to see you there and that you come say hello before or after our set.
Please refrain from copying the above email verbatim. You must make the email to your fans personal and my voice is not your own. While you should not copy directly there are a few concepts that are important for an email like this:
- Sincerity. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it. Write about how and why you are grateful.
- Nostalgia. Trigger memories that they can relive in their mind.
- A call to action. Do you have an upcoming show near where they first saw you? Are you running an Indiegogo campaign? Be selective in what you ask of your fans.
- Encourage further interaction. Getting someone to attend your show or buy your record is nice but encouraging them to talk to you and build a relationship is just as important.
When I shared a draft of this post with some artists their feedback was that they felt this strategy might be tough to scale for a band with hundreds or thousands of fans on their mailing list. Many mailing list managers such as MailChimp allow you to place fans into groups so you can keep track of where and when they signed up for your mailing list. By doing this, these messages can be largely automated yet still highly personalized.
There are many ways you can engage your fans to show them that you care. Consider attaching an exclusive mp3 to the email or a special photo. If you know a particular fan has been very important to your success you can offer to put them on your guest list for the next show in their town. Small yet sincere gestures like these can go a long way towards strengthening the bond with your fans and creating more evangelists.
To kick off Mashable Social Media Day at Boston University, Professor of Public Relations Steve Quigley identified 3 buzzwords:
Free, Sex, and Beer
Careful use of these buzzwords will cause an audience to sit up straight and briefly shift attention in your direction so the actual message can be delivered.
Here is a modified buzzword that is paramount for online sales: Free Shipping
Shipping costs can make or break the success of online product sales. Charging too little for shipping can cause you to lose money while charging too much can prevent many potential orders from being placed.
You cannot eliminate shipping expenses but you can eliminate the distractions they cause by building the costs into the purchase price.
Building shipping costs into your purchase price is critical to selling products and here’s why:
- Customers HATE to pay for shipping
Someone that puts a $10 CD into a shopping cart and is later informed that shipping adds another $5 will quickly reconsider the purchase. Once prospective customers get a product in their shopping cart 71% will still end up not buying. In addition, a Forrester Research study in 2010 showed that the biggest reason for shopping cart abandonment was because shipping and handling costs were too high.
- Fans LIKE paying those that are responsible for creating the things they value
Fans would much rather give $15 to the artist they love rather than $10 to them and $5 to FedEx. Even if part of that $15 is going towards shipping, the delivery of the product should be the concern of the seller and not the fans.
- Pricing a product higher can actually cause people to value it more
“All value is perceived value,” says Ad man Rory Sutherland in his fantastic TED talk. Pricing can have an effect on the perceived value of a product. Making your physical release compelling and worthy of purchase over an instant download is as critical as pricing it to match the added value. If you are charging $10 for a download and the same for the CD it might be worth rethinking the current pricing strategy.
An important resource for those seeking to lower shipping costs is Fulfillment by Amazon. For a small monthly fee of less than $1 per cubic foot the online behemoth will store and sell your product for you while offering 2 day shipping to Amazon Prime members and free standard shipping to anyone spending over $25. Amazon has mastered the art of inexpensive and fast shipping better than all competitors. They are able to pass the savings on to those that sell through them and charge just $1 to ship each CD sold on the site.
Remember that shipping will never be free for the business but it should always be “free” for the customer. Charge your customers for what they value and stop discussing shipping costs or anything else that could potentially turn them away from buying. By building shipping costs into the price you decrease the friction that can halt a potential purchase.
What is your current physical shipping strategy? What is your online sales buzzword? Weigh in below with your thoughts and experiences.