A few folks asked that I post the funding presentation that I gave at NAMM this year. There’s three parts to this presentation: what you need to have in place before you start your campaign, traditional funding options, and some forward thinking newer options.
You might know Rachael Yamagata as a performer who’s toured with The Swell Season, Sara Bareilles, Adam Cohen, and opened for David Gray solo at Madison Square Garden. You might also know her as a songwriter whose collaborated with Jason Mraz, Mandy Moore, Dan Wilson, Katherine McPhee, and sang on recordings by Rhett Miller, Bright Eyes, Dave Matthews, Ray LaMontagne and Ryan Adams. Rachael has put out three full length records both on and off major labels, and this past summer she enrolled in Berkleemusic’s Online Music Marketing with Topspin course. Berkleemusic’s fall 2012 term begins on September 24th.
Mike King: We’re ten weeks into the online course. What has your experience been like so far?
Rachael Yamagata: It’s been so good – I feel like if I had been this engaged in college I would have done much better! I’m super into it. There’s a bunch of people in the class that are coming from a tech background, and a variety of other musicians in there that provide great perspectives on marketing. It makes the weekly live discussions so interesting, and the material the students are posting is great. I’m all about it.
Before I took the class, I was trying to educate myself by watching YouTube videos of different online music marketing conferences. This course is a great master class overview on exactly what I was searching for, and it’s all super fascinating to me. I’ve had such a roller coaster ride in industry, and there have been times where I have been completely unaware of all of the new technologies or campaign ideas or where the money is going, and not really knowing the ins and outs or whys as much as I should have. I think a lot of artists are encouraged to not worry about it; they are encouraged to keep the creative and business side of the music business separate. I love the idea of looking at music as a purely creative endeavor, but I’ve had enough years in the business to know that it has ultimately been a disservice to me to not understand how the marketing and business works. It really changes fundamental business decisions. Having a team is great, but building up your own education is only going to help you.
MK: How did you find out about the course?
RY: My friend Kevin Salem. He’s my mentor and producer, and he’s been involved in music for 30 years. He’s seen me since the birth of career, and witnessed my experiences on two major labels to becoming independent. He’s seen all the transitions of my career, from playing for five people to playing for 1000 people.
He’s a DIY sort of guy when it comes to the business of music, and he was talking about Topspin as a great way to engage with fans, and was talking about the whole DTF idea, all terms I was sort of aware of, but because he suggested it I paid attention. I researched what Topspin was, and who uses it, and came upon the class in my research.
I released an indie record last year, my first one working as my own label. My team for that round was guided by management, MRI Distribution and RED. They did a fabulous job, but to extend my experience for future releases, particularly with DTF, I wanted to learn how Topspin could help. The technology associated with Topspin can be overwhelming at first, and I was concerned about whether or not I was qualified to even take the Topspin course. I have a great philosophical background and I have a lot of experience, but I was frightened of the tech part. So I reached out to the student advisors at Berkleemusic, and ultimately just took a chance, and I’m so glad I did. If I hadn’t enrolled, I’d probably still be sitting here fishing for tips on the Internet. It’s so much more of a class than I thought it would be.
MK: How so?
RY: First, it’s a great overview of the industry in general. The course bridges terms on the technology side, on the marketing side, and on the direct to fan side. It really brings it all together. Each lesson is totally focused on a particular area of marketing or business. For example – we have discussions on areas outside of DTF marketing, like third party online retail, and we talk about things like the pros and cons of Spotify. The focus areas are things all artists should think about. You also get the ability to have educated dialogue with your classmates and your instructor about the things that affect all artists. There are so many tools now to help expand your fan base. It’s huge
Every label, or manager, or advisor, in whatever way, they all have their own system for working. There is the old school way, and then there are the new Amanda Palmers of the world. There are varied options for moving forward in your career. This is an objective course, and it shows you how things are changing, and why some things have failed. It also shows you the potential options for the future, and let’s you decide what is best for your own career. The course does not have you adapt to a particular ‘one size fits all’ philosophy, as that is out dated. I find it all very empowering.
I’m working on my Spinshop online store right now, and I’m excited to have an outlet for creative releases that go beyond just the record download. With a new knowledge of things like data tracking, merch margins, and specifics about my fan base, I can create bundles of offerings that I think will be more in tune with what my fans are craving from me. To be able to turn my website into a supportive business platform in this way will offer more funding for things like touring and future releases. Also, compiling things like geographical data on my fan base allows me to get a better handle on places I should be touring that I may have missed. Again, the bird’s eye overview on your fan reach that you start to get by taking this course allows you to coordinate all sorts of campaign ideas with each other. You learn how to see what’s working and what isn’t, and get the tools to make smarter decisions all around.
MK: Can you talk about your instructor, Chandler Coyle?
RY: Chandler is so knowledgeable about technology, and how you can use technology to work for you to do something. Also, his overview on the broader campaign concepts is awesome. His insights on the assignments are super thorough, and he’s always making suggestions about things I may have missed. He does a great job of adding daily updates, and because of the articles that he is posting, I am now following some really fascinating tech folks. Coming from a place where music technology has scared me, it’s great. I am so interested in it now. He’s really good in showing you how technology is used effectively in the music business, and he does a great job of bringing it all forward. I think he’s been supportive of me too because I have been so engaged in the course. He’s always willing to expand on things.
Chandler provides a constant influx of great ideas, and I think it’s really good to have somebody acting as a moderator in the course. Having someone to tie these things together is invaluable. He’s great at bringing ideas down to earth.
MK: Can you give me a quick example of something that’s changed for you since you took the course?
RY: Sure. There was a morning a couple weeks back where I wanted to create an email for media widget. I’ve never pictured myself sitting back making widgets, but I built one pretty quickly, and I was able to get 100 new fans in an hour, on a Saturday. I couldn’t believe that I had just made something like that, and received that kind of response. The direct gratification is so important for an artist like me. I’ve always had webmasters, and I would have to wait two days to upload something. To be able to pull something off on my own is awesome. In the future, I can assign this sort of thing to someone else, if I want, but now I know the specifics about how it all works, and what can be done.
I’m working with Dave Kusek to update his Future of Music online course. One of the topics that we are covering in the update is effective funding techniques, from traditional options to newer options, such as fan funding using platforms like Kickstarter, PledgeMusic, and others.
Check out part of the interview I did with Benji, where he talks about the shared characteristics of successful campaigns launched on PledgeMusic.
I did a quick 30 minute open house in the Berkleemusic studios a couple of weeks back. We talked about free music, radio, distribution and retail, setting up your website, and some other things. Take a look here:
I spoke to Adam Gold from American Songwriter recently for a piece he was working on about the changing music business and best practices for success. A couple of my comments made the piece, along with some thoughts from folks at Kickstarter, SoundExchange, and Moontoast. Check out Adam’s interview with all of us, here.
Here’s the rest of what I said, which didn’t make the piece:
American Songwriter: 2011 is over. I just recorded the best song I ever wrote. What’s the new model for getting my music heard? What to do with my demo?
Do I post my music on Facebook, or is there a better place for music?
Mike King: This is a long answer. I think there are really so many paths and so many options for musicians now to get their music heard. That’s both a blessing and a curse. I think the key is to think about this from a consumer, or fan standpoint. For consumers, there has never been a better time to listen to music. It’s everywhere. The floodgates are open, and if I want to check out practically anything I can do so in a matter of seconds.
I think the tricky thing, and something that a lot of folks are trying to figure out, is curation. Although larger gatekeeper-based vehicles still do have an effect at exposing folks to music, like commercial radio exposing folks to pop music, I think that for the most part consumers are moving towards niches, and are finding new music through trusted sources within these niches. For example, there are some rooms on Turntable.fm, and some DJs, that I totally trust to turn me onto new music. In one of the soul/funk rooms I’m part of, one of my favorite DJs is also a musician, and occasionally he “spins” his own music – which I love. So for me, that DJ is a trusted source, and that is where I am finding some of my new music. Same thing for blogs. A site out of LA named Rollo and Grady has the exact same taste in music as I do, and I have been turned on to some great music there. The other way I find new music is by providing my contact info to artists that I love, and I let them deliver new music to me. For example, I found a band Fanfarlo a couple years back, and because I gave them my email address, I am among the first to get new music from that band prior to release, and then can be one of the first to purchase when a new record is out.
All of this should filter into how bands release their music, and their plan for getting heard. I think that everything in a marketing plan should be integrated, and there are a lot of moving pieces that include live events, press, online retail, your own site, PR, and more, but from an overview standpoint, I think that realizing that A) fans are more niche based and look to certain outlets to curate music for them, and B) it’s possible to connect directly with fans to deliver music to them, are both key. I would approach both of these areas separately, using some of the developing marketing / technology tools and best practices. Starting by identifying who you think your core fans are, and then looking at pitching the niche outlets where they hang out is a good first step. I think that acquisition is also extremely important for all artists, and I suggest using email for media widgets from Topspin, Official.fm, SoundCloud or other marketing/technology companies to help retain a permission based contact for future communication and up sell. I also think that optimizing your site for the search engines, and making your site an awareness and conversion engine by providing media in exchange for an email address is a best practice, too.
Finally, I think you have to develop a content plan for your release. This is something that I think Metric did a great job with for their last record, Fantasies. Metric sketched out what type of media (single, acoustic version, live version, demo versions) they were going to release on their site and through widgets on third party sites prior to the release of their full length. This allowed them to acquire email addresses prior to the pre-release of their record. They were then able to reach out to these folks across the full timeline of the record release, and engage with them, make them aware of what they were doing, and also provide them with the opportunity to buy. I think that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Thisismyjam.com, Turntable.fm, YouTube, and more could all fit into your plan, but I think having a plan is key.
American Songwriter: If I do post it for free, will anyone want to buy it?
Mike King: The short answer is that case studies, examples, students experiences, and data I have seen say yes, but I think the long answer is more nuanced. My personal opinion is that artists have to think about sales differently. I think artists have to romance new fans a bit – it’s really kind of like dating. I don’t think going in for the kill immediately makes for the best long-term relationship, you know? I mean, I suppose sometimes that works, but I think a better option for retaining a fan for years, which is much less expensive than finding new fans for every record, is to treat your fans respectfully, offer then what they want, provide them with some free gifts, communicate with them regularly and effectively, and then offer options for monetization. Again, not so different than any other relationship you might have in your personal life. This is the difference – artists now have an option to provide music for free, and engage with their fans in ways that was not quite possible before. I think the new technology / marketing companies that have emerged to foster this relationship have been really helpful.
But to say it simply – I think that providing free music is key to building up your larger community, and I think that in terms of sales, you are going to want to sell a variety of items to your fans from your own site, with the idea that you can sell items that are more personal, and not available in traditional retail. Talk to any of the third party direct to fan companies like Topspin, Nimbit, Pledge Music – they will all tell you that the average revenue per sale is over $20. This is because artists have this relationship that they have built with fans, and they are monetizing much more than a single song on iTunes.
American Songwriter: Should I sell it on iTunes, CDBaby, Spotify? What sort of cut will I get?
Mike King: Yes, absolutely. There are folks that only buy music on iTunes, and are not interested in buying from an artist directly. I think for some larger artists, the volume they see from third party sales on iTunes is much greater than what they will see on their own site, but I think that the margin has the potential to be much greater by selling from your own site. In terms of the cut, every service is different. iTunes takes 30%, and if you use CD Baby as a distributor, they are going to take a 9% fee, too. So for a $.99 cent sale on iTunes, an artist would see about $.63 if they were using CD Baby. TuneCore takes no fee on sales, but has an annual fee for distribution. I consider Spotify now as more of a way for folks to discover music, not unlike radio, and I think that artists have to be there. They certainly don’t pay artists anywhere close to what iTunes pays, but I tend to think that is more because of the deals the labels / distributors made with Spotify than it is an inherent problem with the service itself. I am optimistic that as the service, and other streaming services grow, we’ll see better deals, and larger payments to artists. But I think worse than the lower payments from these streaming services is being anonymous. I have Spotify and Rdio open all day long, and if I hear or read about a new band, I have the option of immediately looking these artists up on a streaming service to check out the whole record. If I fall in love with it, I’ll then check out their site, perhaps download something interesting, and the relationship between the band and me starts. The band now has a direct, permission –based contact with me, and can up sell me on live events or other items. This all starts on Spotify. If I didn’t see the band on a streaming service, I am likely to move on and find some other music to listen to.
American Songwriter: What if only ten people buy it? Will I still get digital royalties? Via Soundchange? How do I protect my recordings?
Mike King: There’s a lot of confusion around how digital royalties work. SoundExchange collects and distributes royalties from statutory licenses, including digital cable and satellite television services, non-interactive webcasters like Pandora, and satellite radio services like Sirius XM. SoundExchange only covers performance rights, and doesn’t collect for downloads, interactive services (like Spotify, Rdio, Mog, Rhapsody), or traditional radio or TV. It really depends on where the “sale” originates to determine how much you will be paid. So, 10 sales on iTunes will pay you much more than 10 listens on Pandora or Spotify, and 10 sales off of your own site has the potential to pay you much more than all of these services. In terms of protection, copyright exists as soon as you have a tangible version of your music, such as sheet music and/or CDs. In the US, you can register the copyright to your music here: www.copyright.gov/eco. I also think that Creative Commons, which sits on top of copyright and reserves some rights, can also be a positive thing for artists who are interested in allowing their fans to participate in their work via remix contests or other forms of “participatory culture,” as Clay Shirky would say.
American Songwriter: Next, how do I get people in the industry to hear it, so I can get a record deal or have it placed in a commercial?
Mike King: You have to build up leverage. I think you can look at some recent success stories to see how other folks have done it, but all paths are different. For the most part, a label is not going to care about you unless you have leverage – unless they see that you have a base of fans that you can leverage to sell your music. Things are much harder for labels now, and while I think some labels can be great for artists, I think that artists should really consider building up their own base, hopefully with a smart in-house team. Once they have some leverage, then can then determine if they want to keep things in-house, or partner with a label. I think Karmin is a good example. Amy, Nick, and their manager Nils focused on creating great content on YouTube for years. They slowly built their base through some really great cover songs, and then did a cover of Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” which exploded with over 30 million views on YouTube in a couple months. They got on the Ellen show, they were featured on Ryan Seacrest show, and built up a huge following on Twitter, Facebook, and via email. This is leverage. The labels saw this, and Karmin had deals with all of the majors on the table in the course of a few weeks. They ended up signing to LA Reid’s Epic sub label on Sony. All paths are different, but I think leverage is a component to whatever you do.
American Songwriter: The response has been great but I haven’t been signed or picked up for a commercial — what’s my next move? Tour? Hire PR?
Mike King: It’s different for everyone. Getting in a commercial is great, but if you are having problems with getting folks interested, perhaps you have to look critically at yourself and see what you can change or do better. There are so many data points musicians can analyze these days, supplied by companies like Next Big Sound, Google, Topspin, and many others. If you are not building up a base online through strategic release of content, if you are not generating interest on your site, if you are not seeing an increase of fans at your live show, I think it makes sense to look at what you are doing from a holistic standpoint. Perhaps your music isn’t there yet. Maybe your live show isn’t quite right. Perhaps you’re marketing to the wrong people. Data can help you to see what is working and what isn’t, and I think you can iterate your campaign and your approach. Also, I think that not everyone is going to make music their full time career. Steve Albini has a good quote that I think is accurate: “Not everyone can become a professional artist. Maintain a realistic perspective on your art that allows you to enjoy doing it.”
I met up with Owain Kelly, the bassist from the band Tigers that Talked, in March at SXSW. Here’s a video the band created during their time in Austin:
Tigers that Talked was a co-winner (along with Sonoio) of Topspin’s grant competition, which I helped judge along with some heavy hitters, like Rick Rubin, Marc Geiger, Richard Jones, Glenn Peoples, and Jennie Smythe. Owain and the band created and executed a compelling new-school music marketing plan, and I thought it might be helpful if I took a minute to lay out some of what this band did, and what they are continuing to do, from a sales and marketing perspective. Most impressive in my opinion was the band’s product and pricing strategy and execution, as well as their approach to PR and overall communications. Check out an interview I did with Owain from a few weeks back:
Mike King: Can you talk a little bit about the background of the band, your ideas for the campaign, and what you were trying to accomplish?
Owain Kelly: I got together with Jamie, Chris, and Glenna after graduating from school. We all just kind of came together and we really liked what we were doing, so we went forward with it. We ended up signing to a local independent label. It was great at the time – we recorded the album and the label essentially turned around and said that they couldn’t release it. So we went through the whole process with them and eventually got the rights to the album ourselves, because we were very proud of it and we still wanted to release it.
MK: Were they not releasing it for creative reasons, or were they not releasing it for financial reasons?
OK: I think it was financial reasons. They aren’t even a label anymore. They are still a management company but they aren’t a label anymore. So I just think in the long run, they couldn’t do it. So we had this album that we finally got the rights to and we decided that instead of searching for another label, we could release it ourselves. We really just wanted to get the album out there and heard. You know, it’s the debut album, and a lot of people worked very hard to pull it together. We really just wanted to get it out there, get it sold and heard by people who had actually been waiting for it for quite awhile.
Process: Doing it Yourself with Help
MK: So when you say you put it out there yourself, was it just the four of you that were responsible for all the marketing and sales initiatives, or did you have some other folks that were helping out?
OK: We also have our manager, Ritchie. We had a radio plugger for the campaign but we didn’t have a press plugger. We did all of our press ourselves.
MK: I want to get into what you did with press because I think it’s fascinating, but I’m interested in knowing what else you guys were doing yourselves. Didn’t you also create your website?
OK: Yeah, absolutely. Essentially, the way that came about was another economic restraint. We had this kind of holding page website which we’ve had for years when we first started the band, made by the same guy who did the album artwork. It was a very simple one page that would just redirect you to the label’s website and it would direct you to our MySpace; there were just two links on it. We decided that we needed something a bit more substantial and we just couldn’t afford to go and get someone else to do it. Eventually we kind of talked about it, Ritchie and the four of us, and we agreed, “let’s just go for this and try and do it ourselves.” None of us had any form of web experience, no coding experience; basic Photoshop experience is really all we had. So we did a lot of online tutorials, chatted with friends who do a lot of web design; we just taught ourselves, and it took about a years worth of banging our head against the wall to get something that we were happy with. We kind of succeeded in the primary goal of making a website in about three months, it just took another nine months of honing skills to actually get a decent looking website that we were all happy with.
MK: It’s something that people talk about a lot, the fact that it is difficult to be writing and recording music, producing your own music, and then doing all the marketing yourself. Did you find that you were stretched thin by doing all the press and all the web design and updates?
OK: I have to say, without kind of just wanting to pat them on the back, it genuinely helps to have a service like Topspin involved to help with the direct communication with our fans. It is a lot of work, and it does take up a lot of time, but if you aren’t prepared to do that for your fans, then why are you even bothering to play the music? The fans are there, they want to hear from you, and I think the fans respond differently when they know that you’re making your own website and you’re doing all your own press. The more you can do yourself, the better. It’s really inspiring when you finish something you’ve done on your own, and while it might have taken you slightly longer than it would taken someone else to do it, I think it’s motivating to have a real stake in every aspect of your band as a business. With direct to fan interaction, we are getting the opportunity to tailor make our entire future and to do it in response to the people that are making this happen for us. Of course, there is a really difficult side to all of this, but it’s exciting!
Acquisition and PR Campaign
Email for Media Widget
MK: Can you talk a little bit about the techniques you used to make folks aware of you, and how you acquired permission-based contact with new fans? How did you do this on your own site and on third party sites?
OK: One of the big things we used for the acquisition stage of the campaign was the email for media widget through Topspin. Three weeks before the album came out we created an email for media widget and put it in a really prominently place on our site. The idea was that it was the first thing fans and potential fans saw when they visited the site, and we exchanged a free track for an email address. Kind of simple stuff really. But we also used the email for media widgets in the wild, too. You know, anytime we approached anyone in the press, we tried to hit him or her with the free email for media widgets. If they were going to mention that an album was coming out, we’d ask them to embed the e4m’s as well. And it worked! Using Topspin’s retrieved data we saw that the email for media widget we were using has been viewed almost 14,000 times, and from those views, the e4m was clicked around 1500 times, acquiring more than 900 new emails alone in the process. These are all people that we can connect with for this current record, as well as records down the line.
MK: You also had a dedicated EPK and content page on your site that only press could access, right?
OK: Yeah, we had that as well. That was another thing, the press page that we set up on our site. I mean that again came up quite incidentally, we were just having a conversation and said, “You know what? We’ve got this page for the fans where they arrive on the site and they can instantly go to where we want them to go, so why don’t we make one for press?” So we hid a URL that wasn’t hooked up to our navigation on the actual site, and we embedded the full album, we embedded a link where press could downloaded the full album, downloaded the press release, the bios; everything that actually goes into a normal press release by an email, except that this was a live URL so that they weren’t dealing with an email that just looked like the rest of the other emails. The emails to our targeted press list were very, very short and to the point. We’d send them out and they essentially just had this link in it that said, “if you are interested in this band, here’s a press link” and if they click on that, it would take them to fully dedicated page just for them, complete with a way to contact that management, to contact us, a way to explore the site and download content.
MK: How did you focus your press outreach?
OK: We did a couple of things. First, we looked at everyone we ever talked to back from the first EP that we released, and we targeted those folks with a really personalized email. It looked a lot less like a press email, and it was from our personal accounts. We’d email these folks and say, “Hey, we’ve got this album coming out. Here’s the album for free with the press download.” This approach was really successful actually, we got some really great blogs that responded well. The second thing we did was that we created our own database from trolling through sites that we liked and pulling out email addresses of writers that we thought might like our music.
MK: Can you talk a little bit about the results? I know you were touring at the time. Were you getting more record release press or tour press?
OK: It was more record release press and we had a few tour presses, mainly for the lead show; we did an album launch show at one of the local venues and we had a few reviewers come down and do that. We also had quite a few interviews – one of the biggest local leads that did a full cover feature on us and did a full length interview. We’ve done some other things with press, like the PRS acoustic session we did and the Amazing Radio acoustic session. I think it’s nice to see the quality of the press hits and the longevity that you can have if you approach your campaign in a personal way.
MK: So you’ve got some momentum with press and live events, you are building up your permission based contacts, and you’re engaging with your fans regularly. Can you talk a little bit about your ideas behind your graduated pricing campaign and your variable product offerings?
OK: Late last year, we released our album, The Merchant on a graduated pricing model. We did a four-week graduated pricing campaign where the price of the record ranged from £1.00 if you purchased early, up to £4.00. So the first week you could get it for £1.00, the second week you could get it for £2.00, third week for £3.00, fourth week for £4.00. We really wanted to reward the fans that had waited months between the recording and the release of the record. We just wanted to make it incredibly cheap so that anyone who was already a fan, who was waiting for it to come out, could get the record for the lowest price possible. Along side of the digital release, we were selling a t-shirt as well as the physical CD. We sold the CD for £5.00 and we sold the t-shirt for £12.00. We also created another bundle, at £15.00, which was all the digital downloads, the CD, and the t-shirt all together.
It was interesting to see that 58% of total revenue from the campaign came from the first week when we were offering a £1.00 digital download, and the average purchase on the site ended up being £4.48. So a lot of fans were buying some of our more expensive items. Overall, 18.3% of purchasers opted for the more expensive options we provided.
We followed The Merchant release with a ‘pay-what-you-want’ EP called Battles, featuring exclusive tracks, remixes and 4 pieces of graphic art we designed ourselves. We offered a variety of suggested donations, from £1.00 up to £25.00. We found that 67.9% of fans opted to pay more than the lowest suggested price of £1.00, while the highest option of £25.00 accounted for 47.5% of our total revenue.
MK: Can we talk a little more about how you are communicating with folks? There was obviously some demand for this record, even though there was a while between recording and releasing in. How did you maintain this interest through messaging and communication?
OK: We run our own website, so all the blog posts come from us and we try and write at least one blog a week. We don’t like to bombard fans with emails. We don’t ever want to be an irritation for them so we try to send out about one email to the list maybe once a month. Every month, we’ll send out an email saying what we’ve been up to, what we are going to do next, that kind of thing. Facebook has been a great channel for us as well. We’re on our Facebook page all the time and all the posts on the Facebook come directly from us. We’ve found it to be a great way to have a direct and immediate participatory relationship with our fans.
Our overall strategy is that we’re all music fans at the end of the day, and we know what irritates us and we know what really inspires us, and what captures our imagination, and it’s just a case of looking at that and putting yourself in your fan’s shoes. You know, I wouldn’t want to have an email everyday, not even from my favorite band; barely every week. Once a month with what’s going on is a nice level of email communication. I also think it’s important for us to make sure our fans know that the Facebook and the Twitter posts all come direct from us. They are not talking to a representative or a PR agent; they are getting to hear what we’re actually saying and what were actually doing. It’s just brilliant that there are plenty of mediums now where you can reach your fans so directly.
Check out more on Tigers that Talked here
I had Matt Stine as a student in the inaugural run of my Online Music Marketing with Topspin course, and it’s a thrill to see him put the sales and marketing tactics we discussed in the course into practice with his artist Clinton Curtis. It’s equally thrilling to see his work presented in outlets that I admire, like Mike Masnick’s Techdirt.
I’ve pasted Matt’s guest post in Techdirt below. Congratulations Matt!
Case Study: Clinton Curtis Connects With Fans And Gives Them Good Reasons To Buy His New Album
Ever since Mike Masnick introduced the concept of CwF + RtB, he has been confronted time and time again with the argument that this concept can only work for well-known artists with large established fanbases. And time after time Mike has provided evidence that CwF + RtB can work for any band or musician at any level. Clinton Curtis’ latest release campaign for his new album, 2nd Avenue Ball, is a prime example of how a new artist can use the concepts behind Mike’s formula to build a foundation for a successful career while earning money along the way from a small group of “super” fans.
Clinton Curtis’ 2nd Avenue Ball comes out today, March 22nd but it has been available for Pre-Order since March 1st. My company, 27 Sound, has been responsible for every aspect of the campaign, from producing and recording the music, to designing ClintonCurtis.com to developing the marketing and promotion strategy. Although technically this is Clinton’s second album, Clinton is still very much a new artist, and we treated this latest release as if it was his first. Clinton had been playing a lot of shows locally and regionally over the past year, and acquired a decent amount of email addresses at those shows. We knew that a small percentage of those fans would likely support Clinton going forward. Our goal was to offer something unique to those fans already in Clinton’s network and at the same time create ways for Clinton to connect with potential new fans.
In designing Clinton’s website, we wanted to make sure we were giving Clinton’s fans a reason to return to the site on a regular basis. We created two new elements — CC Radio and CC Connect. CC Radio is essentially a bi-monthly live show, broadcast directly to clintoncurtis.com. Each episode features members of Clinton’s band, guest musicians, friends and even Clinton’s fans, getting together at 27 Sound Studios to perform a solid hour of music. Powered by Ustream, it’s really simple to use, easy to integrate into the website and shareable across all major social networks. In fact, Clinton’s album release party will actually be a CC Radio episode (9:30PM EST tonight, Tuesday March 22nd) which is a much more effective use of time and money than trying to throw a big party at a NYC venue. CC Radio is an exciting way to keep fans coming back to the site and a great way for Clinton to connect directly with his them. It has been a huge success in only it’s first two months. The fans love it, and the easy sharing capability brings more traffic to Clinton’s online store.
Once fans reach Clinton’s Online store we wanted to be sure that we gave them plenty of incentive to buy directly from us. We created CC Connect, Clinton’s “VIP” fan club, to add value to all of our direct-to-fan offerings. Any package purchased through clintoncurtis.com comes bundled with a lifetime membership to CC Connect. CC Connect members get free download packs each month featuring exclusive previously unreleased music, live recordings, studio demos, audio from CC Radio episodes and more. They also get ticket and merch discounts as well as an entire fully-produced album recorded exclusively for CC Connect members each year. By doing this we add a tremendous amount of value to each package we offer through the site, giving fans a good reason to buy.
For 2nd Avenue Ball, we worked hard to come up with a variety of packages that we think will please Clinton’s fans and drive their support. I won’t go into too much detail here on each one, but there are a couple of noteworthy items in the biggest, Super Fan Deluxe Package that I think might interest Techdirt readers.
Each of the 50 Deluxe packages come with gatefold vinyl packaging but the vinyl record inside is not Clinton’s album. We don’t yet have enough demand among Clinton’s fans to warrant manufacturing and selling vinyl, but we wanted to showcase the amazing album artwork we had from an incredible young artist, Matthew Burrows. We planned on putting high quality art prints of his work inside as an insert where the vinyl record would normally go. But then we had the idea to also include an actual LP from Clinton’s personal vinyl collection. Along with the LP, each package comes with a note about what that album meant to Clinton and what significance it had to his musical upbringing. We thought this would be a cool way to make each package completely unique.
Then we thought to return the favor…. If people get a piece of Clinton’s favorite music, we should give them back some of their favorite songs, too. So anyone who orders this package gets an email from Clinton asking for their favorite song, and then Clinton records that song and sends it directly to their inbox. Yes, it will be a lot of work for us to put this together, but it will give each of these 50 fans something special that they really want. And who knows, maybe some great recordings will come of it! (In fact, almost all of these Deluxe packages have sold out at the time of writing this, and the song requests have been really cool, including one person who requested an original song that his 9 year old son wrote.)
These are just a few of the things that are unique about this campaign although there are many others (including the “Turn This CD Into A Coaster” Kit that comes with each disc!). Have a look over at clintoncurtis.com to see the package offers in more detail and explore around the site to see more ways Clinton is actively connecting with his fanbase. I would love to hear people’s thoughts and ideas on what we could be doing better. I always keep reminding our team that this is all an experiment and we need to adapt and change every day as we learn from the feedback we get from our fans. So visit the site and help us out!
I had the opportunity to present at MIDEM in Cannes a couple of weeks ago. Check out a video of my “Direct to Fan: From Foundation to Execution” presentation below. Unfortunately, whomever edited this video cut out my intro – which I delivered in French! I assume my pronunciation was part of the editors decision making process.
Gail Zappa, daughter of a rocket scientist, mother of Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva Zappa, was married to the legendary composer Frank Zappa for more than 25 years. Since Frank Zappa’s death in 1993, she has overseen the release of his recordings, including many previously unavailable works, under the Zappa Family Trust.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with Gail recently about a number of topics, including copyright, offering Frank’s music direct to fans on www.zappa.com, and her opinion of third party online retail.
Mike: Can you talk a little bit about the process for choosing the material you and Joe Travers release from the vault?
Gail: Well, I think Joe has a very different process than mine. He’s a fan, which he has been since he was very young, long before we ever met him. First of all, he realizes that he gets to listen to stuff that no one else will ever hear in some cases. So that’s a very attractive part of the job for him and sad at the same time. He’s also interested in finding the source material that Frank used, in finding all of the bits and pieces. Or if he hears about a legendary project, he’ll work on reconstituting it because some of the ingredients of the sauce are missing. So there is a search and seizure part of it that he is always actively engaged in so when he goes into the vault, he usually has a motive; I don’t. That’s the difference; he’s looking for something in particular, usually. The collaboration happens when…. Oh what just happened recently? We sat down (in his office) and I said, “Joe, I need a really good concert and it has to be English. It has to be from Britain” and he said, “OK!” So he knows right where to go because he’s been through there so many times, that he knows. He says, “I think I know some choices” and he makes a selection based on that and then we find out, we’re not covered for a whole concert but we’re covered for several dates at the same time, so that we can pick and choose in terms of the performances. Sometimes you get a concert and that’s it; it’s a one shot deal and you have to go warts & all with what you’ve got and you don’t have the coverage. So, in that case, we’ve gone to fans and gotten bootleg recordings to fill in the blanks when the tape ran out and the reel didn’t get changed fast enough. So you can start with that or you can go to “well, we did several shows in this location over a period of time;” say three Halloween dates in New York. Then you can make one show from all three sources; that’s a different kind of an event. For me, the rule of thumb is, we are not making a Frank Zappa recording in terms of how its produced, but we are making a record from recordings made by Frank; that’s the big difference. There are two of us and that means there’s four feet and there is no way that they are going to fit in those two shoes.
Mike: Are you or Joe releasing material from the vault based on fan demand?
Gail: No. We’ve been releasing things based on what we think is a good thing to release. Joe makes classic arguments over and over again for releasing certain types of things that he’s knows the fans are interested in and those arguments that he makes influence some of the releases, in terms of what the contents might be; I certainly consider his opinion absolutely but my first obligation to Frank is to educate. First, you have to have a context in which you can release these things. For me, I can’t just put out a record and not have some background to it. Recently, we put out The Torture Never Stops as a DVD and this was made as a television show, because Frank had an idea that this would work on TV but this was very early on and nobody (in broadcasting) wanted to see these crazy edits that he was doing so there was a lot of resistance. So the concert, in different forms, ended up on USA Network and on MTV but Frank’s version which he created as a television special, was one particular thing that he put together himself. So my obligation, I feel, to the audience is to put out first what Frank created and then I can go back and take all of that footage, which we intended to do and are in the process of working on, and remix it in surround and put out the whole of the concert series in a big package down the road. But first, you have to see what Frank’s intention was and then you can go back to other opportunities where you can have your way with the material.
Mike: You released the MOFO Project/Object in 2006, and put in the names of anyone who pre-ordered the record into the liner notes of the release. I talk a lot about the importance of artists’ personalizing packages for their fans for direct sales off of their web site, as it helps to build the artist/fan connection. Was that part of the idea with MOFO? How did you come up with it in the first place?
Gail: We had actually done that as an experiment, when we put out our first concert release. I wasn’t sure how the audience would respond and it was FZ:OZ and we put everybody’s name on that, who ordered it in advance, because I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to make it happen. So the pre-orders gave us an opportunity to see that we could actually manufacture the way we wanted to. I have always felt very strongly about the packaging; I always have. That started with Frank, so even in the face of economic disaster in the industry and digital downloads, I still believe in the physical package. So we had already done that, but the main inspiration for adding people’s names into MOFO, the special edition, was because Frank had listed the names of people who helped to influence that music, in Freak Out. So I felt that for the people, for whom the music exists, and they are going to support it early in, you can have your name and your credit on this too because you deserve it! It wasn’t anything to do, really, with being interactive on the site.
Mike: I know that you area selling a few digital releases of Frank’s music off of your own site, and that there is very little available on iTunes. Is that because you feel strongly about the packaging? Can you talk a little bit about why a lot of Frank’s music isn’t on third-party digital sites?
Gail: Ok, this is a very big answer to what seems to be a pretty straightforward question. First of all, what the studio audience doesn’t know and what’s behind the curtain, is that there is a lawsuit where certain parties are claiming many rights, digital rights being among them. I can tell you, absolutely, that it was never Frank Zappa’s intention that anyone would control the digital rights of his music other than his heirs, so its not anything he ever told me to sell. The fact of the matter is he published a paper on how music would be delivered in the future in 1983 and copyrighted it and just bemoaned the fact that he didn’t have the budget to hire programmers to make that happen. So he was way out there and he certainly knew. Although the term “digital rights”, at the time of his death and the time of the sale, didn’t exist, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t thinking about them and planning ahead for what would best serve the value of the copyrights that remained with me. So he was thinking about his family at the time and he wanted to protect those rights. That’s part A. Part B is that I am not a fan of iTunes. I am not a fan of their growth through their overbearing means by which they have a reduced value of music. First, they taught everyone how to steal it and then they said,” Oops, sorry here’s how you can pay for it really cheap!” So you know, I’m not a fan of that and I’m not a fan of price-fixing, which is something they do. You don’t have a lot of choice in what you can offer and how you can offer it. I mean they just have rules and I understand that it is probably just a by-product of some of their programming issues but there should be other choices. I believe that the future is that there will be other choices and they will be on every artists own fan site or a conglomerate consortium of artists’ fan sites that’s not controlled by an outside party that does not respect artist’s rights. The part C of this answer, is that up until fairly recently and even still today, the sounds are massively compressed, they are not the way the artist intended them to be presented to an audience for an audiophile experience. So there was a reason for me to engage in that. Now I don’t care so much about Beat the Boots on iTunes because that’s not a recording made by Frank Zappa. Those are bootlegs as opposed to counterfeits.
Mike: I know that the releases you are selling off of Zappa.com are at a higher bit rate. Can you envision down the line that you would be releasing some of Frank’s catalog at lossless quality off of Zappa.com?
Mike: How are you working to expose new listeners to Frank’s music? If a lot of Frank’s catalog is unavailable digitally, and physical retail is cutting back with their inventory, what other ways are you working to expose potential fans to Frank’s music?
Gail: In an ideal situation, I would be able to have more participation in the original catalog than I do right now, and that may yet happen in the next few months. If it does, then you will see a very big change. For me, any kind of release that we get out there helps to sell everything. I mean, people think I’ve planned, perhaps with Dweezil, how to do this and Dweezil has certainly contributed to introducing music to a younger audience, for the most part, so that already exists. I get letters from people that are fourteen or under all the time that are interested in the music. The problem is, is that you are fighting a huge battle. It’s great that Dweezil is out there performing the music because the saddest part is that he comes closest to having produced the band that I think Frank would’ve actually hired himself, including Dweezil on “stunt guitar”. That would have been ideal, but there’s nothing else out there that touches that band, in terms of Dweezil’s intention with respect to what he is trying to accomplish with musicians of that caliber.
Mike: I saw them two years back in Boston with Steve Vai and they were just great…
Gail: Yeah, but that was back when everyone believed that you had to have former members of the band. With all due respect, you know, we love Steve Vai – but here’s a disappointment that I have to say fairly regularly, and that is that Frank’s agenda was to educate because when you educate the audience, you give them the opportunity to experience a wide variety of musical entertainment. Now I can’t do that as well as Frank because I’m not in a band. I mean, on stage, he would introduce Stravinsky, Varèse, and Bartok, you know, all sorts of composers and lots of R&B music that he loved when he was a kid and he went out of his way to make sure people heard those sounds and heard that music. It wasn’t so important from them to know who the composer was until he did interviews; you don’t have to announce it on stage because then people don’t really pay attention. The fact is that their ears are being trained; I can’t do the ear training that Frank did but I can constantly reinforce the idea that there is a basis; there is a history behind all of this stuff. It’s based in intention; the composer’s intent is everything. So you can’t just have somebody interpret Frank’s music because in many cases it’s no different than identity theft or character assassination. When people just take it into their own hands and arrange it without getting permission and do terrible things to it that were never intended – because for them it’s easier to play that way. So I feel that I have a really strong contract with Frank Zappa to get that music out there the way that he intended it and that’s the other part of how the releases work.
But, getting back to the disappointing aspect. For me it is that there are all these people that worked under Frank’s baton and not one of them does covers. You know, you would think that somebody would think it’d be a great idea to do a cover version. I’d love to license Frank’s music but it’s just so inappropriate to license classics in so many ways because they were never written or intended for, especially not those performances, they were never intended for commercial exploitation. If people did covers though, I could certainly consider licensing those if they were something that I thought was sincere and represented the intent of the composer.
Mike: Could you give me an example of something that you would be interested in licensing?
Gail: Well, for example, I get a billion requests for “Willy the Pimp,” but there is no way that I am going to let that go out there unless I had some other version because I don’t think that it is right to exploit Frank’s particular statement and that actual recording. I mean a lot of these records were made back in the day, where these studios themselves were instruments in the hands of the composer and that’s no longer true. Everybody works out of a box now that you plug in. Back in the day, the studio was one of the actual instruments and controlling what you could do in a studio gave you as many opportunities in terms of the sounds that you could get as any other instrument. So a studio in the hands of a skilled composer is a whole other animal.
Mike: I read an interview you did where you had this great quote, “my job is to make sure that Frank Zappa has the last word in terms of anybody’s idea of who he is and his actual last word is his music.” What does that mean in terms of your opinion of copyright as it relates to Frank Zappa?
Gail: Well, I think that every person who creates anything in the realm of intellectual property is protected under the Constitution of the United States of America, because that’s what copyright law is. I didn’t invent it. I’m not the bad (or good) guy that said this is how it’s supposed to go. There’s a reason for copyrights to exist because they actually are proof and a working version of the ideas of those people, at this time and this place and I like that idea. The more freedom there is to express these ideas, the better off we all are and that’s the reason why I also love and enjoy the Bill of Rights. However, when you consider the means by which other people are trying to take copyright law and try to take it apart at the seams, they’re doing it by misinformation. It’s disinformation basically. If you want to start a war and pretend that somebody took the first shot, you use disinformation as we’ve seen in the past, to make that happen. This is war against artist rights and I think that it is not a very good idea, in this day and age, to introduce any kind of arts programming, in terms of educational programs, without introducing also the means by which you protect your rights. It’s no different than a signature at the end of the day. It’s like this, if somebody is a Muslim or a Christian, do they have the right to make you be one by voting, by majority vote? No, that’s clearly not the American way and it’s the same with copyrights. If you want to give your music away for free, that doesn’t mean you get to join a group that’s going to take apart everyone else’s rights just because that’s what you believe. You have a choice. Go ahead. Give it away. If you think that that’s the best way to market your music, by never being able to earn a living from doing that, great. Join that fabulous club and enjoy.
Mike: Any other thoughts on the state of the music industry, and ideas on how to move ahead as an artist?
Gail: Mostly, the business of music these days is a popularity contest and it’s the ability of some performer, primarily, to capture the attention of an audience and expand on that. I think as a musician/composer, you can’t look at that as competition. I mean this industry was bound to implode on itself because it’s like any other. Once the distributors are more famous than any artists they distribute, you’ve got a problem because there’s a lot of money going in to support that structure that shouldn’t be in their pockets. You know, its like if an agency is more famous that the actors it represents, in the public’s mind, you can see how that’s a problem. Well that’s what happened to the record companies too, in many ways. The real issue for artists to consider is there are so many times where decisions are being made about your rights and people who are not even including you in the conversation are taking them away from you. A perfect example of that are record ratings. The RIAA bent over and gave away rights that belong to the artists because they wanted their special pay tax bill. We’re about to put out a release so you’ll see that, Frank’s testimony on the issue, but it’s a perfect example of the fact that artist’s aren’t at the table; they aren’t represented. So I would say to any artist that wants to make a living on what he does, the first thing is: don’t stop doing what you are doing. The second rule is keep on doing it. The third rule is get a very long-range plan and stick to it. You’ve got to use the force of your imagination harnessing the force of your will and once you put the two of those things together and you have a clear picture of what it is that your trying to do as an artist, it doesn’t matter how you change your path in terms of how you accomplish your goals but you just have to keep on doing it and don’t let anybody get in your way by telling you that your work is not valuable. Invest in yourself even if no one else does, because that is the only way that you are going to survive. You’ll find ways; first of all, there is no competition for what you do. Absolutely none, anywhere. It is hard to get peoples’ attention but it happens if you work at it! If you do nothing, it won’t happen. That’s for damn sure!
One of the online sales techniques I’ve been advocating in my online courses is for artists to create different physical and digital products and make them available on their own site at tiered price points. The idea is that you can offer something for all of your fans – the hard core fans might be interested in something from you that is a little more personalized and rare, and newer fans might be able to get something from you that wont break the bank. All the while you have the ability to offer something that cannot be purchased at traditional retail, which makes the experience of purchasing off of your site more rewarding for your fans. Here’s an example from the Yim Yames site:
Determining what you offer – and at what price point – is an art that takes into account a number of factors. For example, if the goal of your campaign is to expose your music to as many folks as possible, you’ll want to price some of your items lower and take a lower margin per unit. You’ll also want to take into account what unique items your specific psychographic would respond to the best. If you’ve determined that one of the psychographic traits your community shares with you is a love for vegetarian food, you might want to create a downloadable PDF vegetarian cookbook for your fans as a value add (similar to what Jonsi and Alex did for their fans).
Another important factor in creating an effective product and pricing plan is to use data to determine what options might create the best result for you; which brings me to the point of my post.
John Grubber turned me onto a fantastic post written a few weeks ago by Craig Mod, describing how he and Ashley Rawlings used the fundraising website Kickstarter to self publish a book by generating $24,000 in 30 days. The entire post is well worth reading, and although Craig and Ashley’s goal was to generate funding for their book, I think there’s a lot of similarities between his execution on Kickstarter and the execution of a successful music-focused DTF sales campaign on your own site.
Once Craig and Ashley had determined the overall goal of their campaign – to sell enough books to generate a return substantial enough to further expand their existing or similar publishing endeavors – their next step was to figure out what their strategy would be for the pledge tier offerings. WIth Kickstarter, people pledge a pre-determined amount of money towards a project on a tiered basis, and get something tangible in return, once the project is funded. Kickstarter’s tiered pledge functionality is not dissimilar to what a musician would offer for sale on their own site to their fans.
What was really interesting to me about what Craig and Ashley did for their book project was that they looked at the top 30 grossing Kickstarter campaign to determine the most successful tiers of pledges. This provided Craig with data that he could use, in his words, to “look for a balance between number of pledges and overall percentage contribution of funds.” Take a look at his graph below:
Chris’ analysis of this data is spot in, and I’d like to quote his thoughts from his blog, here:
“This data is, of course, hardly perfect (for example, not every project I looked at used the same tiers). But it’s good enough to give us a sense of what price ranges people are comfortable with.
The $50 tier dominates, bringing in almost 25% of all earning. Surprisingly, $100 is a not too distant second at 16%. $25 brings in a healthy chunk too, but the overwhelming conclusion from this data is that people don’t mind paying $50 or more for a project they love.
It’s also worth contemplating going well beyond $100 into the $250 and $500 tiers: they scored relatively high pledging rates compared to other expensive tiers.
The lower tiers — less than $25 — are so statistically insignificant (barely bringing in a combined 5% of all pledges) that I recommend avoiding them. Of course this depends on your project — perhaps there’s a very good reason for a $5 tier. More importantly, this data shows that people like paying $25.
Having too many tiers is very likely to put off supporters. I’ve seen projects with dozens of tiers. Please don’t do this. People want to give you money. Don’t place them in a paradox of choice scenario! Keep it simple. I’d say that anything more than five realistic tiers is too many.”
The overall results that Craig outlines above are generally similar for musicians who offer a range of products at tiered pricing levels on their own site. While I do think that offerings of less than $25 do make sense for most musicians, Craig’s overall idea of not providing too many low cost items make sense. For example, I’ve spoken to a number of my students and other artists that are interested in offering $1.00 singles off of their site. While this is possible to do, providing a lower revenue option like that tends to incentivize potential curious fans downward, as opposed to incentivizing folks to purchase a higher priced option.
Based on the data that Craig obtained from past Kickstarter campaigns, he created the following pledge tiers:
Lastly, Craig and Ashley engaged in a wonderful online promotional campaign that focused on their permission based social medial digital touchpoints, as well as key design blogs and magazine sites that were completely in target with their psychographic and demographic. They focused their messaging campaign using Twitter and Facebook (their messaging was relevant and minimal, too), as well as their own mailing list.
Craig and Ashley had build up an extensive mailing list of design and art world over the past 6 years, which they leveraged nicely. Take a look at the timing of their targeted email campaigns, and the results:
Example of the artwork that was used for the email:
Perhaps most impressive was Craig’s outreach strategy to the blogs that he felt were a laser shot target for what he was doing with this project, and his method of communication to them. He was not focused on quantity of external outreach – he was more interested in the quality of the blogs he did focus on. Again, this is fundamental marketing strategy that all artists could use to their benefit. Again, in Craig’s words:
“I’m writing to blogs that I’ve been reading for years, so for me, referencing older posts of theirs and personalizing these emails is trivial, and fun. Whatever you do, don’t send scattershot emails to media outlets. Be thoughtful. The goal is to appeal to editors and public voices of communities that may have an interest in your work, not spam every big-name blog. A single post from the right blog is 1000% more useful than ten posts from high-traffic but off-topic blogs. You want engaged users, not just eyeballs!”
Here’s his PR results on the project:
While we’re not talking apples to apples between what Craig and Ashley did with their book campaign and an online DTF music campaign, many of the best practices that Craig and Ashely employed in this campaign, from the data analysis they used, to their communication techniques are exactly what independent musicians should be focused on when they engage in online direct to fan sales and marketing campaigns.