This guest post on the power of social media in music comes from Rich Holtzman, the manager of Portugal. The Man.
It was a little over 5 years ago that I started working with Portugal. The Man. They had just released their debut album a couple months earlier. There was a little awareness but not much outside of their circle of fans. What was obvious was the band’s talent and intelligence, but ultimately what really stood out was their work ethic. We agreed to work together, and we agreed to take the slow, patient path to developing this band. Social media, as we know it, was still in its infancy but we knew it would be integral to our development. What we did not know, was that it would be the key to retrieving nearly $100,000 worth of gear 5 years later
Portugal. The Man was born of a few core beliefs: that this “job” could be really fun, that music after family was the most important thing in their lives, to always treat people fairly until they prove you wrong twice, and that hard work without shortcuts would get them what they wanted.
We Made A Plan
We made a plan; we talked about a solid 5-year commitment. That commitment had a structure. We would release new music every 8-14 months. We would tour virtually non-stop (more than 800 shows to date). We would create and own as many masters as possible. We would reinvest all of our money into the band. The band would take care of everyone’s needs (living expenses, health care, equipment, etc). We would document as much as possible on video and audio. We would generate all of our own art. We would cultivate our fanbase by developing a relationship with them by treating them like peers and always trying to give them more as often as possible. We held true to the concept of 10,000 hours, though Gladwell had not yet written his book. We knew that it would take time to be a great live band, and the band knew they wanted to progress in their songwriting. They knew they needed to get a few more albums under their belt before they could make the right record.
Developing The Band's Relationship With The Audience
The relationship we developed with our audience was always paramount. Our belief is not that they were “fans” but rather they were people who just had the same taste in music as we did. The usual approach by bands of staying backstage with a brief appearance before or after their set at the merch table would not work. They hung out in the room, with everyone else, watching the other bands, grabbing a beer. You did not need to complete a transaction to hang with the band. Our records were always reasonably priced; we put a real effort into making great packages, even at the cost of margin. While we did not give away our music for free we did encourage P2P and torrenting. Our merch was unique; rarely did it even have the band’s name on it. We knew our fans by name--they had our cell phone numbers and email addresses. There was no separation.
When the band was starting out social media was still very much in its infancy. MySpace was still king, Facebook was only open to students, Twitter had not even started. We tried to stay on the cutting edge as much as possible. We signed up early with a lot of start-ups many of which did not end up making the cut. Most were more work than actually communicating directly to people, so we continued to cultivate our direct relationships. We never started a street team. We thought it was ridiculous and a waste of time (later a few industrious friends started their own and their help has been amazing). We wrote letters. We made phone calls. We randomly mailed out gifts to people on the mailing list. We gave away music. We never stopped. When we completed a record we invited kids to hang out at our van to hear it on headphones. Some kids put together a gathering at their house. I showed up and played the entire new record. I also showed a 90-minute live movie that 2 years later still has not been seen by anyone but those people who attended. We wanted to treat them special.
Super-serving The Core
Super-serving our core is what endeared Portugal. The Man to those who knew about them. It became a special club. If you saw someone walking down the street wearing a Portugal. The Man shirt it was because you, yourself were a fan because without a name visibly on a shirt you had to be part of the club to recognize another.
It was the morning after another great set at Lollapalooza, 2 weeks early their record debuted at #42 on the Billboard Top 200, everything was feeling great. I got a call from one of the band members so we could meet up before everyone went home--they wanted to give me something. The band had bought me a beautiful vintage watch for my 5-year anniversary with them, but as they were giving it to me they got a call from our tour manager: “The band and trailer are gone. GONE.” SHIT, what do we do?
Without hesitation we jumped on Twitter and Facebook with photos, gear lists and descriptions, tagging everyone we could. Within what seemed like minutes we were trending in Chicago and mass media (TV, newspapers, radio, etc.) were contacting us. Our fans were livid. They would not be stopped because they know how hard this band has worked and how they have poured everything they have into their records and their show, and they’re always trying to give more. This became the public’s mission; we just had to stay on top of things. Respond to Facebook, respond to the tweets, do the interviews. It was a blitzkrieg of media.
Within eight hours the van and trailer had been recovered and the Chicago Police were optimistic. Our story was being covered by every TV channel and every newspaper and many of the radio stations above the huge social media story. This was high-profile and everyone was looking for a quick resolution. Four days later, we got a call from the Chicago Police: they had raided a house and had a lot of our equipment. We are still missing most of our guitars, keyboards, and some amps, but I am confident in their return. The Chicago Police credit the profile of the case in their recovery. The equipment was “too hot” to move.
The takeaway for me over the past few stressful weeks was that we recovered our gear because of what we did five years ago, not what we did the morning of August 8th. Portugal. The Man social numbers might not be the largest (Facebook 120,000 likes, 20,000 Twitter followers) but our percentage of active users is extraordinary. I believe this is the case because we do not view social media as simply a marketing tool. It is our vessel to share who we are at our core, and it is just as much a part of our lives as tuning a guitar. Portugal. The Man still has a long way to go in becoming what they want to be, but rest assured when we get there it will be a direct result of the relationships we fostered through social media.