Two Views Of Topspin: ‘It Works’ vs. ‘Disillusioned’

image from cdn2.afterdawn.fi As more artists and marketers use the Topspin direct-to-fan platform and the company nears a March expansion to include a self-service platform, several views of its design and functionality are emerging. Many agree that Topspin is the most robust music marketing toolkit available. But despite several educational initiatives, some still find using Topsin confusing. "To maximize the potential of the platform, you will probably need a web marketing guru/developer," according to musician and marketer Charles Alexander.

A Steep Learning Curve

Alexander took Berklee's online Topspin course and was impressed, "Where I think Topspin shines… is that you can get data, metrics and analytics on each one of those spins and can fine tune your marketing to optimize all your digital touch points," Alexander wrote in an extensive analysis. "Topspin is one mamma jamma of a marketing platform. It can handle everything from fan acquisition to ticketing."

But to make some features work properly, Alexander, no stranger to music marketing, suggests that you need to become a Topspin "ninja". He also found some key flaws like Topspin's email program, which he remarked was, "downright prehistoric & cryptic compared to things like MailChimp and even Reverbnation’s Fan Reach Pro."

Red Light Loves The Platform

However, for Taylor Brigode, a digital marketer at Red Light Management, the mega-management firm for  The Decemberists, Alicia Keys, Dave Matthews Band and others, Topspin is the undeniable platform of choice.

"While I won’t say what I don’t like about the other platforms," Brigode wrote in an interview on the Topspin blog, "I will say I like using Topspin because: 1) I’m most familiar with how it works and 2) because of its ability to let me do whatever I need, 24 hrs a day. With Topspin, as long as I can code it and the App supports it, I know it can more than likely do what I need to do, whenever I need to do it, which is something I really appreciate. I’ve always been a practical DIY solutions kinda of guy and I think Topspin helps me work that way." Many others using the Topspin platform echo Brigode's enthusiasm.

So, Is Topspin For Pros Only? 

"The software has a somewhat steep learning curve", according to Alexander who believes that to get the best results requires an "in-depth understanding of the platform, WordPress (or some other CMS) and possibly FBML (or whatever comes next)". In fact if you don't have these skills he predicts "a high percentage of subscribers will abandon ship for something easier".

Of course, no one outside of Topspin has seen the new self-service version, so judging it now may be unfair.  And users don't need to understand every feature of a complex platform to get value from it.  I've used Microsoft Outlook for a decade to track email, tasks and my calendar. It's an indispensable part of running my businesses, and yet I'm always learning how to use new features.

It could also be argued that in 2011, it is essential that someone on every artist's team – not necessarily the artist's themselves – needs to become more technologically literate if they hope to take advantage of all the opportunities that the digital age provides. 

We'll be watching closely as the next iterations of Topspin's platform are released and will reach out to Topspin and Berklee for comment.

In the meantime:

What have your experiences been with Topspin and your hopes for its open release?

Are you ready to become a Topspin ninja?

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  1. It’s just a shopping cart. Nothing more, nothing less.
    If you think it’s marketing, you don’t understand music.

  2. From what I’ve seen of it, it’s a very robust shopping cart that can bundle physical, digital, merch and tickets in any number of ways – and then track, on the back-end, who buys what and how much they spend, allowing for finely tuned marketing. It can also deliver and fulfill social media campaigns (tweet/like for track, etc.) and track key influencers as those campaigns spread. I’d be hard pressed to find another “shopping cart” that can do all that. I do think the learning-curve remarks are probably accurate, but I look forward to seeing what the DIY version can do once it’s opened to the masses.

  3. Just because you buy a hammer, does not mean you are a carpenter. Topspin is like a Ferrari for marketing. You better really learn how to drive before you take it out and spin it at 190 MPH.
    These days as always, artists need someone to take them to market. It is impossible to do it alone. The marketing skills you need today are much more aligned with the direct to fan principals that the Topspin architects employed than the mass marketing techniques of days gone by. Topspin is a power tool that in the hands of a creative direct marketer can help build the next generation of successful bands.

  4. I’ve been using the platform for 2 years now and definitely think it’s much more than a shopping cart.
    I know I haven’t even used it to its fullest potential and it has been a great fan acquisition tool.
    There’s definitely a learning curve involved so it’s going to be interesting to see what the reaction is when it becomes available to the masses and bands that aren’t very tech savvy attempt to use it….

  5. While there is certainly a learning curve, you can learn the basics….collecting email addresses, selling merch, sending emails and tracking customer behavior with probably an hour of reading. Sure….you can get really in depth, and that’s part of the platform’s strength. But you don’t HAVE to get in depth, and it would still be the best platform out there.

  6. I got this via email from Ian Rogers of Topspin and wanted to share it:
    “Charles’ piece was measured and fair. No hyperbole. The good news is we’re nailing most of Charles’ complaints in the next 4 weeks. All stuff already on our radar.”

  7. I’m looking forward to seeing it, but I have a feeling it will be just like all the other tools out there – i might do some things well and fail at others. Personally I’m tired of all the hype with Topspin. You can do (for the most part) the same with ReverbNation, Bandcamp, and Google Analytics mashed up with a WordPress site.
    @Jay the “marketing” these days is about communicating with fans via an acquisition strategy, and I will say the Topspin download widgets are very well done, so these platforms DO handle elements of marketing.
    Unfortunately all everyone talks about is how cool and useful all these tools are, blah blah blah but no one is really talking about how to use them, how to really get a message across. The “build it and they will come” mentality doesn’t work.

  8. I ordered presale tix/cd preorder for travis barker was linked thru topspin and its been a nightmare.
    Check their customer service forums-questions dont get answered-they get generically copy and pasted from their website, and even that takes days later.
    At least the concert ticket orders side (only side I’ve dealt with) has been garbage. On top of that NO REFUNDS whatsoever so can’t even cancel and order tickets regularly, even tho i wont know where the seats are or get the tix til 7 days before the event (aka 2 months from now)
    Especially on the web tday, customer service is key.

  9. I agree with @DaveKusek. I’ve used TopSpin for the last 2 years and it is a dominant resource among a large arsenal of tools. After researching the competitive products, it is also the most affordable and scalable for long term growth.
    But it is just a tool and there is a full team of people behind the success of the artist. Genius tools + amazing content + devoted team is a huge win. It is TopSpin that has delivered on the first part of that equation with sincere dedication to supporting both the artist and team’s careers. They listen, learn, and deliver.
    However, if you put all your eggs in the genius tools basket and fail to also invest in amazing content, a thoughtful content strategy, and a devoted team, success will be limited.

  10. Yeah, I have to agree with most of the observations here. Having access to TopSpin isn’t gonna make you a killer net buzz band/artist anymore than me having a Stratocaster makes me Clapton.
    As Evolvor says you can do most of what TopSpin does by using all the tools he mentions. But I haven’t seen anything else that does it as elegantly and in one control center.
    To their credit they’re aware of their shortcomings and are trying to work to improve them without being defensive. We’ll see.

  11. I’ve had this very discussion at least 100 times over the past 2 1/2 years, with artist management, record labels, other direct-to-fan platforms, and on countless conference panels. Here’s my experience, for better and worse.
    I’ve been working with Topspin since 2008, so I’ve seen the platform from early stages through significant growth. When they first came out of stealth mode, they offered a core toolset that was far ahead of their competitors. It wasn’t exactly easy to use, but if you had the tech chops and some creative savvy you could assemble a marketing and sales platform unlike anything else out there.
    As should happen in any marketplace where there is an actual demand, competitive products began appearing (or expanding) that catered to different tiers of users. Different packages suit different needs, and although Topspin needs to be clear in who their ideal users are (and they have been) a certain level of research, diligence, and reality checks are placed squarely on the artists or teams evaluating the platform. There is a reason Topspin started bringing on companies as marketing partners – they knew well in advance that their platform was going to take a serious pilot to get it to really work. This is a standard practice in enterprise-level software – expert consultancies form and become qualified to install/administer the platform. Salesforce is a great example – it’s quite difficult to derive significant value without an expert or three to guide you and customize the experience. If all you need is simple data storage you can use Bento from Filemaker without any help, but the feature set is a fraction of what Salesforce gives you. This is analogous to Topspin and its competitors. Something for everyone, but not all somethings apply to everyone.
    In full disclosure, my previous company was a Topspin marketing partner, I taught the Berklee Topspin course, and I run the direct-to-consumer department for a record label where Topspin is our platform of choice. Some might say I am biased from these affiliations, but it’s really the opposite – I chose those affiliations because I’ve seen so many successes from using the platform. However, the big successes have come because I’ve been able to allocate an experienced team to the projects. This includes a case-by-case combination of expert application users, customer service staff, web developers, merch people, fulfillment shops – team members performing the roles of the entire distribution and marketing ecosystem. Topspin provides a toolset that powers this chain, but does not re-create it for you. And it certainly doesn’t tell you how to cater to your unique fan base – let’s not forget that’s the artist/management/label/etc’s job.
    I will say that physical fulfillment is Topspin’s Achilles’ heel. As the platform was originally intended for digital products, I understand how this has been a pain point in growth. I’ve had the blessing and curse of needing scalable, high-end fulfillment services, but having the resources to build parts of it myself. A lot of bands are going to quickly realize that once you have made a sale, the hard part may just be starting. But this is true of most services, and an issue that the music business faces as a whole.
    I’m interested to see where the self-serve initiative goes. As the Topspin platform has evolved exponentially over the past few years, it has both become easier to user on a micro level (e.g. capturing fan data, selling something) and more complex to use at the macro level (e.g. where does it fit into the overall marketing/sales/distribution/product strategy). It all comes back to knowing what the right product is for a given artist. It may be Topspin, it may be Reverb Nation, it may be Nimbit, it may be Bandcamp, it may be……

  12. Topspin is a tool, a lot of their most important features come from third parties. You pay a lot for not a lot in the end, Thinking any of these tools will really make things happen is akin to thinking purchasing photoshop will make you a great photographer.
    Marketing campaigns have been around for a long time, people make those campaigns not their tools, ask anyone in advertising and PR. Tools help but only so much.

  13. I know this is late to the article, but I had to chime in about my experience using topspin’s mail platform. I’ve dealt with some of the crappiest wysiwyg editors out there, and most of the time you can just correct it in the end with HTML. But Topspin was not only crappy, it actually messed up my corrected HTML and took 2+ hours to get a preview email! That’s just not right. Within 5 minutes of creating an account of Mailchimp and seeing their HTML templates, this easily puts Topspin’s “marketing platform” — outside of the shopping cart and sub-par mp3 player / email for media widgets — on the back burner.

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