Forget the artists for the moment – forget about what the DJ wants, what the band or their manger wants and let’s focus in on you – the fan – the customer. What do you want? It’s great to get a hand written note from your favorite player – maybe a signed T-shirt or a retweet from the lead singer but what if they were so busy interacting with their fans, with you, that they didn’t have time for music? What if you demand so much of their time that their next album sucks?
We all know there has been a huge change in the Music business over the last decade – it’s not just about music – this affects any business where the product can be digitized and replicated for zero cost. Everything changes – production changes, distribution changes and marketing sure as hell changes. I’m currently studying at the Berklee College of Music: Online Music Marketing with TopSpin and it is fascinating.
The core discussion is centered on Direct to Fan marketing; we know you all love an acronym so we’ll refer to it as DTF marketing from here on. DTF marketing is brilliant – it means you don’t have to pander to anybody else, no dealing with coke addled label reps or bigger picture politics – you can do whatever you want. You can release your album – call it a ridiculous name and stick candy covered elves on the front and the only people you need to answer to are your fans. It all sounds utopian doesn’t it?
Except there’s a problem; what if you don’t have a lot of fans? What if you weren’t “broken” by the existing label system and you’re sitting in front of your laptop wondering who to email next?
The concept being pushed by the TopSpin team is that of the Middle Class musician – basically in the old days (like 2 years ago!) you either made it - i.e. signed with a label, got your album funded and got promoted through the system (and even then it was unlikely that you would actually “make it”) or you didn’t make it – i.e. you didn’t get signed, didn’t get to make your album and didn’t get hot groupie sex.
The middle class musician falls somewhere in between the two extremes – you might not become the next John Mayer or Death Cab, but you do get your album made and can quite probably make a living from having a couple of thousand fans – if you’re a sole artist. However – the minute you start to scale – the minute you have 5 members in the band you need more fans and without access to label cash and label established marketing channels – how the hell do you get them?
The answer is through hard bloody work, one fan at a time, making real relationships with your audience, answering their emails, responding to their tweets, viewing their videos and listening to their mashups. By becoming accessible you deepen the bond between band and fan and when you have something new – the fan will talk about it and share it with their friends – the marketing of your music spreads organically through the fan base – your fans are your marketing – not the radio station.
But each fan demands your time – the story of Jonathon Coulton scares the hell out of me – great indie artist, started writing and posting a song a day, got some traction, grew his fan base by developing immediate online relationships with them, was super smart about his career and now probably makes around $100k a year as a truly independent artist. So – what’s scary about that? Well – The last I heard, Jonathon was spending 6 hours a day at his laptop maintaining the relationship with his fans which is great – but – where’s the time for music in that? Not only that – how can he possibly scale it any bigger using the same model – surely more fans means more time online and eventually he’s going to reach a point where he can no longer maintain a deep enough relationship with his existing fans, let alone his new fans and ultimately things will slow down and then decline.
Add on top of that that if you’re a 4 piece rock band – you need 4 times as many fans as Jonathon has in order to get a decent lifestyle, which requires 4 times as much work and we haven’t even touched on upfront costs.
There has to be a middle ground – there has to be a way for the fan to feel that they’re connected with the artists and that they’re not going through some lame corporate PR house and likewise there has to be some way for the artists to wake up in the morning, smoke a doobie and pick up their instrument without worrying about the 170 emails in their inbox.
That’s the challenge and over the next few weeks, Alex and I are going to be developing our solution for this – we welcome your comments.