Bands As A Business: Invest Money In Marketing

image from profile.ak.fbcdn.net This is second part of my interview segment with Paige X. Cho, who is the Administration and Promotions Manager for digital distributor Valleyarm and author of the Melbourne music blog Paper-Deer. In this part, Cho talks about the importance of bands thinking of themselves as a business, how pop suffers the most from file sharing, and the shutdown of LimeWire.

Could you describe the relationship between superfans and the artists?

Cho: The term "superfan" reminds me of Mel from Flight of the Conchords – sometimes a little creepy, borderline stalker behavior but all done with good intentions. Like John Roderick writes, these are the obsessive fans that have a lot invested in bands and feel that their over-the-top and unsolicited help means that they should be friends with the band and get thanked on stage or first dibs on anything. I've even known a superfan who weirdly knew the shampoo her favorite singer used!

The problem with these fans is they aren't happy with just getting newsletters or buying autographed merch. They feel they deserve more, and the problem is that these fans get offended very easily. If you walk by them outside a venue without hearing them go "hi" or you don't personally reply to their emails, they seem to get upset and could possibly "turn" against you.

I suppose one solution that might appease some (but not all) is to set up a street team and make your biggest superfan the director of the street team. Not only are they likely to do a damn fine job for free, it's a good way to turn their obsession into something manageable.

Why is it important to understand that a band is a business?

Cho: Just as "typical" businesses with completely viable products can go under, bands with good music can't expect to sell fans content just on that basis. Businesses put activities like marketing into their budgets, and bands should perhaps do the same. It's a shame to see music artists spending thousands on recording studios for EPs, rehearsal spaces for band practice, and everything else that seems to be a given, yet don't want to part with any money when it comes to marketing their music.

But there are so many other factors that apply to business and bands alike, such as oversaturation and abundance of the product (i.e. MP3s), price (why on earth should we expect a non-fan to fork out money to download music when illegal downloads seem so alluring), ease of purchase (some bands make it quite hard to purchase their music) and so much more.

Is supporting artists is built into the culture of genres? 

Cho: I definitely think that different genres breed different fans with very diverse consumption behaviors. If we’re ignoring ridiculously successful pop acts like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, I would definitely say that pop suffers the most. While the situation for successful pop stars sometimes seem to dwarf that of the majority of rock acts, it’s still all pretty abysmal for the other 99% of pop artists who haven’t made it yet and/or never will. I suppose it’s because pop fans – generally teenagers and adults who listen to mainstream top forty charts – generally don’t buy CDs or go to shows unless the musical artist is huge, and it doesn’t help that their current “favorite” band may also change with whatever song is at the top of the charts.

Conversely, indie, punk, rock, jazz, metal, and pretty much any other genre of music will have fans that are willing to pop down to their local music venue and dish out $10 to watch small, local bands play on a regular basis and buy a homemade EP to support a local band. I think the stereotype of the obsessive rock fan with an addiction for vinyl is also quite true, while I’ve never really heard of a pop fan proudly showing off their CD or MP3 collection.

How do you feel about the great migration of music fans from LimeWire?

Cho:I would like to think that people who used LimeWire will shift over to services like iTunes and eMusic and see value in paying a few dollars for their downloads but obviously many will just investigate other illegal sources for music. Thankfully even a small percentage of 500 million monthly users is still a hell of a lot of people, so perhaps artists will notice a slight increase in royalties.

I do know a few music buffs who download illegal music because it’s just easier apparently to source music, but hopefully by now bands have cottoned on to the fact that it’s also up to them to make it as easy as possible for fans to legally buy music (i.e. one-click link to their release on iTunes store posted on their MySpace profiles) as well as reasons for purchasing music legally (like Trent Reznor numbering physical CDs and including free stickers), and bands who do want their music given away for free doing it through their own websites to lead people away from illegal websites.

But then again, I do work for a digital distributor that relies on legal downloads, and I can honestly say that I have never, ever illegally downloaded music so I may be quite biased.

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