Direct band to fan sales is the new holy grail; not just for indie musicians, but for a growing number of major label artists as well. Profits increase when you cut out the middle men and the chances for future fan engagement increase dramatically. The artist captures a fan email address.The fan discovers a t-shirt or perhaps joins the community.
Selling on the web is, however, about more than just slapping a buy button on a web site or creating widgets for your digital street team to spread. A few companies like Topspin, Bandcamp and Fan Mail Marketing are working to build the tools that empower artists to gather, communicate and sell to fans. But knowing which tools produce the best results and where point your resources has too often been mystery.
Enter James Lamberti, Topspin's VP of Marketing & Artists Services. Lamberti si fond of "Data is my A&R agent, viral marketing is my radio promotion, (and) direct-to-fan is my retail store" and he recently spent his 100th day collecting and analyzing data for Topspin. After more than 100K transactions for 50 artists, Lamberti says that patterns are starting to emerge pointing to a set of "best practices" that Topspin is using to drive efforts on behalf of its clients.
"We can’t name names, but we’ve seen artists either totally ignore or totally embrace best practices," wrote Lamberti on the Topspin blog. "The difference in revenue is ridiculous and we have hard data to back it up." A self-serve calculator on the blog claims that these best practices can lead to a 6 to 7 fold increase in online sales. Thus far, however, Topspin has been reluctant to share the specifics of those best practices; though they have promised to begin doing so soon.
One reason for Topsin's hesitancy may be that what works, like most things web related, is changing almost daily. Just two weeks ago Topspin CEO Ian Rogers was telling a music conference in Nashville that in Topspin campaigns so far they are "seeing Facebook represents 2-4% of first-week sales and Twitter 1-2%." Today Rogers is voluntarily eating his own words and pointing to a campaign designed and executed by Lee "Chauvin" Martin of Silva Management. Martin's Twitter campaign drove 22% of the traffic on Jimmy Eat Word's web site and resulted in 20% of sales on release day.
The same campaign brought in 200,000 Jimmy Eat World Twitter followers in just 30 days (now 350,000), and between tweets and re-tweets the word spread quickly that fans loved the new live release. “It’s as if you were in a record store looking at the new Jimmy Eat World release and 1000 people standing next to you told you how good it was,” Martin says.
Does this mean that Twitter is the new holy grail? No, says Rogers, "This isn’t about “the next big thing”. It’s about how little we know about how marketing will work and how transactions (not just purchases, but any kind of value exchange) will be earned (and I do mean earned) in the future."
"People are powerful marketers," Rogers' continues. "But not only are the drivers for traffic evolving, the tools we use to measure the attention economy are going through a really interesting growth phase. It’s hard not to be excited by seeing some of these tools work in ways that are more than just novel, they’re shuffling meaningful amounts of attention around and making real money for artists."
In all probability, which strategies work will continue to evolve rapidly.They will also vary widely from artist to artist. Van Morrision fans may be far less excited by Twitter than Jimmy Eat World's, and an extremely visual artist may be better served by viral video, for example. Nor will any one source of buzz and traffic ever be enough, as radio did in the '60's and 70's. But as Rogers' says these are "exciting times indeed."