A Student’s View Of Berklee’s Topspin Course

This guest post comes from Brian Coughlin of the indie band Kinch. Brian just finished taking Berkleemusic's new Online Music Marketing With Topspin course and shares some of what he learned. While it's offered every semester, today happens to be the last day to sign up for this semester.
image from blog.cakewalk.com
image from indieuniverse.files.wordpress.com A little background: A year ago, I emailed Topspin asking for an account for my band, Kinch. I thought we were a perfect candidate for testing out their software because of our forward thinking philosophies and better-than-average understanding of the web. I got a response telling me that unfortunately they couldn't take us on at that moment because of their tightened restrictions while in beta. Not a problem, I figured. We'll just use bandcamp or hack together some code ourselves.

Last Fall, I found out Berklee was offering a Topspin class that would give students the opportunity to use the Topspin platform. I thought about signing up every day but was having a hard time justifying the cost. We were doing reasonably well on our own in terms of downloads and sales through our site. I decided to run a few calculations using Topspin's projections and it looked like if we were to folllow Topspin's best practices, we could be doing a lot better (and make enough to cover the cost of the course at least).

I rolled the dice and signed up. Here's a look at a few of the lessons over the last 12 weeks…

Essentially, the class is designed to put weekly marketing lessons into real life play utilizing the Topspin platform. Each week there is a new assignment that you can apply directly towards the project you're working on and get feedback from a well-informed professor and classmates.

Our Project –

Kinch Presents Ziptape Volume I:
A free digital download featuring brand new Remixes, Acoustic Versions, and Unreleased tracks

The Ziptape is an idea we borrowed from the hip hop world and adapted for an independent rock band. In between album cycles in hip hop, it's customary for rappers to release mixtapes to keep fans interested, test out new ideas, and most ingeniously, to create buzz for their next official record. Using music to promote music in the hip hop sense of a mixtape is a brilliant concept that we felt deserved exploring.

So we compiled our favorite remixes, acoustic recordings, and unreleased tracks that we culminated throughout the year and put the release in motion.

For Lesson 3, we completely overhauled our website. We modeled it after wireframes provided in the topspin class to make the music and mailing list sign ups more prominent and modified the layout a bit.

Old Design:

New Design:

For Lesson 6, we put together the Ziptape packages and built the offer page following the advice of Topspin's Best Practices.
We were really excited to try the tiered packages approach. Topspin has tons of data to support the benefits of offering your fans choices and bundling items together.

The first packages we put together were a little over the top; we went a little bundle crazy. After some revisions, we decided on offering three packages:

  • CD + download for $10
  • CD + download + shirt for $25
  • CD + download + shirt + Original Song for $100

Every package is limited and, if sold out, will gross us $1,000 each.

We're also offering a free download of the entire Ziptape in exchange for an email address since growing our mailing list is still our number one goal.

Andrew, my cousin and our songwriter, suggested the idea (based on an NPR special he's seen) of writing an original song for anyone who purchases the third package. They provide a name or subject matter, we'll write it, record it, and send it to them exclusively.

The shirts are designed by one of my favorite graphic designers, Sam Means (formerly of The Format and currently of Hello Merch). The CDs we'll print through Kufala. After some research, I think they offer the best short run product for the price. They look cool and 'feel' limited.

Now we're wrapping up Lesson 12 by sending out offer email to our mailing list. We've sent out an email to our list already through Topspin announcing tour dates. We were very pleased at our 27% open rate, a solid 15% higher than previous emails sent that weren't following Topspin best practices. We know now that our message is reaching our fans; the success of this campaign is now at the mercy of the music.

I advise every band I know to take the class not only for the invaluable marketing knowledge and top notch software, but mostly for the weekly deadlines and peer feedback. We've accomplished more in the last 12 weeks than in the last year -from building a brand new website, launching a our first ever DTF campaign, overhauling our mailing list, and more.

MORE: An interview with Mike King of Berkleemusic and Online
Music Marketing with Topspin

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  1. It’ll be cool to see if all of the efforts yield results that justify the cost of the class. Looking forward to hearing the follow up. Good luck!

  2. Sorry to be a party pooper, but I don’t see anything that prove that Topspin helped them make more money or more importantly, gain new fans. Improved open rates on their e-mails may be great, but I’d hope that they got more than that.

  3. I also toyed with the idea of Topspin because the description of the beta features and information seemed compelling. But the course price was a deal killer for me. The above design transition is interesting because from my perspective you went from something poetic, unique and iconoclastic to something that looks like MySpace. So if the objective was to appear more mainstream then it was successful. I hope it will get you the kind of “marketing” response you want. I would be curious to hear about the results.

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