Stefan Lessard is the bass player and a founding member of the Dave Matthews Band. He’s also taking courses at Berkleemusic.com. I caught up with Stefan when DMB played at the Comcast Center outside of Boston. The interview below is part of a larger piece, which we’ll be putting out soon.

Mike King: You’ve been playing with the Dave Matthews Band for 20 years. How did you go from playing small clubs in Virginia to this?

Stefan Lessard: This band, for a while, took every single gig that we were offered. We played every party, every rooftop party, every fraternity; we never said no, we just played everything. I think the most that we played was three gigs in one day and each one of those where about two and a half hours long. So we just worked ourselves silly for four years and when things started growing, we got on the Horde tour. And back when we started, taping was huge. We let people tape our shows and those tapes started getting everywhere and after a few years, we thought, “well, we should probably release a professional sounding live album for our first record.” So we did and we threw a few studio numbers on there but it was mostly just a live show and people loved it because all they had of us was these crappy sounding mix tapes. So finally there was this quality representation of who we were and what we did. It just really grew from there and it was a steady increase. After our first studio record, it really shot up to some sort of success.

Our business model was a lot different back then from most bands at that time, too. For a lot of bands, who are just struggling to play and keep afloat, a record company comes to them and says “We like you guys. We think we can make something out of you. Here’s X amount of dollars upfront and when you are done, we’ll give you X amount more and we’ll give you this amount for tour and give you this percent of merchandise.” What the bands didn’t realize is that the record company was pretty much taking control of the full aspect of things, like the merchandise and the booking and the touring and everything. Once you are theirs, everything went through record companies.

We had such a machine already happening by the time the record companies all got hip to who we were, that they were like, “Well, what do we do with this band? They’re already kind of doing it.” RCA was the first company that came out and saw what we did and said, “This is great! They have their touring and merch down, all we have to do is help them make a great studio record.” They signed us with that sort of freedom and we’ve had a lot of freedom from the start and only have been given more freedom throughout the years. It’s helped us not have to repay so much. It’s really helped us look at the future and move forward.

MK: Was Coran [Coran Capshaw, DMB Manager; founder of Red Light Management; co-founder of ATO Records] helping you set up your infrastructure at the beginning stage?

SL: Well, we were incorporated as a band, which was another thing that a lot of bands did not do, where the lead singer kind of owned the whole thing or the guitar player or whatever, but we came together, and incorporated. The merchandise thing…we just made t-shirts one day and just started selling the t-shirts and people loved them so we just kept doing that. Coran came around because he ran a club that we played at, and we started playing there every Tuesday and he became pretty interested in what we were doing because he saw that there was a lot of momentum. So when he came into it, there was already a lot of momentum, but he definitely helped sculpt the business model that we have used throughout our career. He’s a pretty powerful force when it comes to the business side of the music.

MK: I know you are active on Twitter and Facebook. Can you talk about how you are engaging your fans online?

SL: Our band has always tried to be at the forefront of cutting edge technology when it came to the fan site. When we first started, a fan site was more or less just a mailing list where you would sign a piece of paper and send it to a P.O. box and then maybe you got a t-shirt or a couple stickers or something. There wasn’t really too much incentive to be a fan member. So we created an online fan site and it just took off and that kind of became the model for every band after that.

I have started thinking about a solo record. It’s one of those things, in the history of music, most people that do that, their solo record isn’t something that carries because everyone sees it as project from the bass player for the Dave Matthews Band. So I decided that I would start a website – a platform that I could express myself, so people could see me outside of being the Dave Matthews Band bass player. So it worked and for a little while, people were signing up and talking and I would do little blogs on stuff. MySpace came up and it completely obliterated my whole concept because my concept was MySpace. All of the sudden, I signed up for an account to MySpace and I had 400 more people becoming my friends on Myspace than on my own site. I sort of left my site to the side and I went to MySpace and then from there, I went to Facebook and then from there, I went to Twitter. Next thing I know, I had a voice with the fans. Now it’s gotten to the point where I have to be really careful about what I say because people can take it one way or the other. Sometimes I like that because I don’t mind a little bit of controversy, other times, I want to go out there and squash the rumors. There are a lot of people pretending to be us online. If I find out I’ll go straight to the source, ask BT [Boyd Tinsley, violinist for DMB] if he had a Twitter account and he’d say, “what’s Twitter?” and I was like “Alright guys, FAKE! Don’t talk to him! He’s pretending to be BT”. I think I gained a sort of trust inside the community. Now its just fun and it’s a promotional thing for me. If something happens like the Grand Canyon Adventure [Stefan co-wrote the original music for Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk], I can just start talking about it. I’m taking courses at Berkleemusic, and fans love hearing about the homework I’m doing. I’ve been posting about homework and I think people are starting to think I’m crazy because it’s 4 in the morning and I’m like “still working!” and they’re like “When do you sleep?” It’s been a lot of fun for me and I think the fans enjoy it, so it is something that I’ll keep doing.

Even with all the buzz around online Direct To Fan marketing tools and techniques, I still firmly believe that live events are one of the best ways to connect directly with fans in a meaningful way. Similar to how DTF initiatives have expanded the relationship between artist and fan as it pertains to retail, it’s encouraging to see artists expanding the boundaries of what constitutes a “tour” (such as David Bazan’s “living room” show series) as well.

Artists are becoming more adept at using technological tools and third party partners to bring the spirit and energy of a live event to folks that are unable to attend in person. Sheila Hash, a former Online Music Marketing with Topspin student, is engaging in a wonderful “take-away show” initiative with her band Crush Luther, which provides their hard core fans with an opportunity to check out a unique and personal acoustic performance, and perhaps more importantly, also works as a compelling introduction for casual and potential fans. Take a look at an example, here:

no plan 8 #132. “slowdance anywhere i go” from Justin Borja on Vimeo.

In terms of music marketing, videos events like this can also help to extend the life cycle of a band’s release by providing serialized content well past release date, which is crucial in keeping fans engaged with your band.

Of course traditional live club events still provide an opportunity for artists to establish long-term fan relationships, and Christopher Grant Ward from The Elk (another former student in my Online Music Marketing with Topspin course) has created a wonderful data-driven analysis on the techniques he used to promote his show, with a focus on increasing his number of fans (in this case, defined as permission-based email contacts) and maximizing traffic at the event. While data analysis is key to guiding a successful online music marketing campaign, it’s rare to see an artist go into such detail around a live event. I think what Christopher created is a valuable case study, and I’m psyched to be able to present the details:

Overview:

* Campaign duration: 40 days (02/10 – 03/31)
* Goals:
1) Maximize audience turn-out for the “Rock The Pink Slip” concert
2) Grow the band’s permission-based email list.

Data Analysis of Campaign

(click to enlarge)

Campaign Details

Site Visibility, Pricing, and Acquisition Techniques

A month out from the event, Christopher implemented a tiered approach to selling tickets to the show on his own Website. As mentioned above, the goal of this campaign was focused on increasing the draw to the show and acquiring new fans (as opposed to focusing strictly on monetization), and as such Christopher offered the tickets at extremely reasonable prices: 1 ticket cost $4.00, 2 tickets cost $7, and 4 cost for $10. Because Christopher was using Topspin to facilitate the ticket sales, he was able to collect the email addresses of everyone that purchased from him (thus capturing the fan relationship). PDFs of the tickets were created, and all purchasers were put on a list that the bouncer checked at the door.

Advertising

14 days prior to the event, a small online ad campaign was initiated on Facebook and Google AdWords. Christopher experimented with several sets of ads over the course of the campaign, which correlated to two periods of high click rates (see graph above). The 1st of these high periods targeted a larger, more broad audience and directly promoted the show. This ad yielded the highest click rates but had no conversions.

The 2nd of these periods targeted smaller audiences and promoted the band’s music. These ads yielded somewhat fewer clicks but a significantly higher lift in plays (via a Topspin widget) and emails collected. Messages that directly promoted the show yielded significantly fewer visits, plays and emails collected.

Facebook Video Share Initiative

One month out from the event, Christopher released a video on Facebook, with prominent calls to action and direct links to the ticket offer information on his site. While the video was responsible for the largest spike in plays (Christopher was also using Topspin’s Email for Media and streaming player widgets) during the live event campaign, the video was ineffective at driving traffic or ticket sales.

Campaign Results

Again, as this campaign was focused on growing the band’s permission-based email list, the fan relationship statistics were the main gauge of success.

* Concert Attendees: 211
* # of New Email Addresses: 83. This translated into a 94% increase in the band’s email list.
* Unique Visits to band site: 1384 (based on Google Analytics data from 02/10 – 03/31)
* Total Page Views: 2910 (based on Google Analytics data from 02/10 – 03/31)

While revenue was not the main focus of the campaign, the band didn’t want to lose money, either. Details on expenses and sales for the event:

Ticket Breakdown:

Average ticket price: $5.46
# of $8 (door) tickets sold: 98 ($784)
# of $4 tickets sold: 46 ($184)
# of $3.50 tickets sold: 18 ($66)
# of $2.50 tickets sold: 48 ($120)

Gross Earnings: $1154
less advertising expenses: $325
less club take: $235
================
Net Earnings: $594

Cost Analysis of Emails Collected

It’s difficult to estimate the lifetime value of an email address. Christopher took a stab at estimating the cost of acquiring the 83 emails by dividing the money left on the table if the band did not discount the tickets by the amount of emails collected to come up with a cost of $3.54 per email. The math looks like this:

The band made $370 on tickets sold through direct sales on the site.
If those tickets were sold at full cost (assuming they got the
same number of concertgoers) they would have earned $664 on that same
segment. The money left on the table was $294. Divided by 83 emails, the cost
of each email collected could be calculated as $3.54.

This number was valuable to the band in estimating how they should price their
products and to help them gauge what expenses are cost-effective to building their
Network.

Post-Show Campaign and Analysis

About 30% of total visits to the site and 10% of emails collected occurred *after* the show. The band prepped an HTML page and Topspin widget before the concert. At the show, they used a photographer, videographer and audio engineer to capture live content from the show, and by the time the fans got up the next morning after the show, they had live audio and photos from the show in their inbox. The following weekend, the band released live video of the concert as well, paired with an album purchase offer. Following up with fans after gigs was a great way to continue driving traffic and getting new play and email conversions.

Here’s the video that was sent out post-show:

<param name="flashvars" value="widget_id=http://cdn.topspin.net/api/v1/artist/49/single_track_player_widget/20095?timestamp=1271291020&theme=black&highlightColor=0x00A1FF ” />

Further Analysis and Findings

1. Club ticket sales are time sensitive. Sales of concert tickets on the site were quite low until right before the show. In fact, 95% of ticket sales occurred less than 48 hours before show time (a spike in emails collected on show night can be attributed to these sales.) Even during the band’s largest spike in visits (200+) on March 17th, the band yielded fewer than $10 in sales. Overall, it is impossible to tell how many of these prior visitors may have returned to purchase tickets. Most people probably decide to see a club show within three days of gig night, especially when there is no stated limit on ticket sales.

2. Advertising data showed a lift in the number of visits to the band’s site, but few conversions. The good news is that targeted ads drove traffic, even for an unknown band and small club events. The bad news is that it was impossible to correlate ad clicks to returning visitors who purchased tickets.

3. Christopher’s targeted campaign more than doubled his permission based email list, and created dozens of new fan connections which he can use for re-marketing down the line, for free (as opposed to starting over with his next marketing campaign).

I’d like to thank Christopher for sharing this fantastic data. Follow up with him and The Elk, here.