Co-creating A Fanbase With Music Curation and What Artists Can Learn From Bloggers

Digital-edge-logoBy Yannick Servant of  Digital Edge from Official.fm, a blog of resources for musicians and the new music industry.

A recent profile of Spotify's Daniel Ek gave us a glimpse into the CEO's vision for the future of music: machines and algorithms deciding for us what it is we want to listen to, when and where. We're not big fans of this idea that automation will pave the way to a more enjoyable musical experience. Rather, we believe that music consumption and discovery remain fundamentally social, meaning there's a powerful opportunity at hand for artists to make a difference, to use music curation (the human facilitation of discovery) to grow and connect with an audience.

We had already looked at this idea a couple of days ago, but if you push it further, you could find there's untapped potential in the use of online tools to connect with the other artists in your musical scene, and their fans, just as much. Using curation as a means of sharing the stage, and co-creating a fanbase.

"There's untapped potential in the use of online tools to connect with the artists in your musical scene, and their fans"

To illustrate the point, there's a species from the Internet fauna artists can find inspiration in: bloggers. These people have a very strong culture of sharing, featuring and cross-promotion. In the blogging world, you can rarely survive alone, and it becomes much easier to become successful much faster when you make friends with other bloggers. As illustrated by blogger coach Corbett Barr in the web pages of "Start A Blog That Matters", connecting with other bloggers gives you people to challenge your ideas, people to send you more traffic, people to work with on joint projects, people to help promote your creations, and it makes the whole experience more fun, increasing the odds of you sticking to your blogging commitments.

A lot of this makes sense when you transfer the ideas to the music business. As an example, think of the curated playlist on Spotify, This is My Jam, Whyd or Mixtaping.fm (among others, pick your favorite) as the musical equivalent to the blogger's guest post. By curating a playlist, you feature your friends, long-time inspirations or up-and-coming artists, much in the same way as influent blogs will often offer to promote aspiring bloggers, or feature blogger buddies, on their much-read pages. If people start returning the favor, it's an exercise that can quickly translate into very real numbers.

"Think of the curated playlist as the musical equivalent to the blogger's guest post"

For example, let's say you put together a playlist with tracks from 10 artists you feel close to in your scene, with a couple of simple assumptions: each of you has 2,000 fans (or followers), and there is no cross-over in your fanbase. If each of those 10 artists shares your playlist, you'll be reaching a potential of 11*2,000 = 22,000 fans. Assuming 20% actually listen to the content, and a quarter of those become fans or followers of you and the artists in your playlist, that's 1,100 new fans for everyone. Some of the assumptions are simplistic, but you get the picture.

This idea of curation as a means of putting a musical scene you feel a part of in the spotlight has yet to overpower the hype of discovery algorithms, but already some artists have been headed in that direction for some time, notably in the electronic music and hip-hop scenes. Take a look at French artist Brodinski: his Facebook and Twitter feeds are filled with musical content from artists he's close to. Or Boston duo Soul Clap, who regularly create DJ charts on Beatport; and, because, there's a "buy" link on the tracks, these guys are actually providing their fans with an incentive to financially support the acts they've curated. If you believe in the power of connecting with other musicians, of creating a movement, your job as an artist becomes to get connected with your scene, finding the artists you see as part of your movement, help them be discovered and identified as part of the movement, and help them reciprocate. As long as there's an unmistakable unity, the bigger the movement, the bigger everyone's personal gains, ultimately.

"Your job as an artist becomes to get connected with your scene, finding the artists you see as part of your movement, help them be discovered, and help them reciprocate"

Let's recap. Done properly, curation is a powerful means of connecting, sharing, building your scene, and is a real way of boosting your career. Because by doing so, you:

– Get more people to listen to your music and convert them into fans
– Increase your media outreach
– Develop lasting relations with other artists in your scene
– Generate gratitude among your existing fans for sharing cool new tunes with them
– Show there's no narcissism in your approach: you're not there to poach fans, but to build awesomeness around your entire scene, to transform it into a movement.

Building a movement can mean anything from connecting 5 local bands to attempting to recreate the British Invasion of the 60s. It's about figuring where the mutual benefits start working out. One inspiring artist who made this question an integral part of his career is The Roots' Questlove. From the very start in the 90s, he focused on making his act part of something bigger than himself. One result of that philosophy was his incredible show in 2011, "Questlove's Afro Picks", which I had the luck to attend in Paris. As a member of the audience, it made you want to pour into the whole musical genre after the gig, not just the discography of the Roots. And that was really where he hit bullseye. Real-life curation.

It won't necessarily come as natural for every artist to take such a social approach to his music, but the good thing is that it's never been easier to give it a try. Inspired by Brodinski, Soul Clap or Questlove? Been experimenting yourself? We'd love to hear about it in the comments!


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  1. An that’s why none of the streaming services have really caught on.. Yes of course Spotify and Pandora have developed huge user bases, but that’s because streaming is definitely the future of music distribution.. But when the CEO of Spotify thinks that “machines and algorithms” are going to dictate what people listen to in the future I have to wonder how far they’re going to to make it. We live in an on-demand world, and kids DEFINITELY don’t want or need anyone telling them what to listen to. The same reason that MTV won’t go back to playing videos..

  2. As long as they find investor money, streaming services will probably keep growing quite far! But as they’re fundamentally technology companies, it’s not surprising they’d want to address their challenges with extra layers of algorithms. For many people, music and automation can’t be an enduring love story, because you lose the music as a means of self-expression.
    So past the wonder of near-infinite catalogs, you quickly switch back to looking for taste-makers, and that’s where artists should think of jumping in, because there’s an opportunity to bring a human touch back into the game!

  3. Algorithm, statistics rely on patterns and averages, and ultimately that’s not how i want to find new music.
    And that’s why I am building HIVEBEAT: to discover new music by selecting (my) taste makers and by seeing what they are listening the most (song/album/artist) over time. It’s still very much in construction but functional.
    I’ve recently added a way to discover “taste makers”, i.e. a way to discover people who have been listening to certain artist/albums first… feel free to try it https://www.hivebeats.com.

  4. Sounds neat! Tried to login to give it a try but wouldn’t accept me…
    The most important point, as I see it, though, is the ability of a music curation effort to tell a story. For the person sharing to explain why he shared what he did, and what it means to him/her. That however invariably means time has to be spent putting some serious thought into what you’re going to write, how you’re going to contextualise the music you want others to listen to.
    And that can’t possibly be automated… (a good thing, at that)

  5. Yannick, the system should have let you in, probably a temporary problem (I don’t see you in the DB at all). If you don’t mind trying again I’d appreciate it. You can also reach me directly burcsahinoglu at gmail dot com.

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