Interview by C. Vincent Plummer (@cvpmusic) - co-founder and social strategist for Bedloo.com
Michael Shoup, 12South Music
I am here today with Michael Shoup. He is a musician, designer and digital entrepreneur—who runs a creative development company in Nashville, called 12South Music. He’s toured nationally, worked at Indie music labels, and is about ready to launch an exciting new product for the festival scene called Visualive.
Vincent: Were you a musician or a web designer first, and how did one lead into the other?
Michael: I’d say I was a musician first. In fact, being a musician probably was what led me to fall into the world of design, and development and strategy, and the Internet in general.
I was a musician from the age of probably 13 or 14, and then got into bands in high school, and then decided to do that through college. It was interesting. So I was touring with a whole bunch of artists, my last couple years of college and right after college.
Just like it is now, when you are first starting as a side guy; touring, playing guitar for folks, you are not really making a whole lot of money. You are helping out, every which way you can, to make sure that things are going well but you might be making 100 bucks a gig to start off.
So, I was trying to find out a way to make more money, and realized that the artist I was playing with had really horrible representation online. So, I picked that up. I made my first contract with a girl that I was playing guitar for. I didn’t know anything about web design or strategy to start with and just said, “If you give me like 3 months to do your website, I will do it for cheap and we will make it work.” That’s how it all started. Just a moment of prayer and I figured it out, to start.
Web Design and Strategy
Vincent: So, talk to me about going from web design and strategy into forming a company at 12South Music. What led to that?
Michael: A lot of failures actually led to that. I started off, obviously I was doing some freelance design, and playing music on the road, I was doing my own music at the same time. I honestly failed big time.
I went on tour doing my own music, and I took a band with me. I was paying everybody scale, because it is just what I thought I needed to do. I went into major debt, like major, major debt doing that.
At the end of that, I needed to kind of dig out of this hole and I grabbed a couple of jobs at larger companies, basically doing web development and web design for some pretty big name artists. We were working with Brad Paisley and Kelly Clarkson and that kind of thing. That went about for 3 or 4 years.
I realized that the strategies and kind of marketing techniques that we were using at these companies to promote these giant acts with enormous budgets were the same kind of strategies that you could use to promote your indie artist friend down the street.
I just thought to myself, “Why the heck aren’t we doing this? Why aren’t we providing really great strategy and support and development for artists that I really believe in, that I think should get a voice at the same time?”
So, that was kind of my initial plan. It is just, I wanted to find way to be able to support my friends, and create a company that could help to develop artists that I really believed in.
About a year after, I made the decision to try and do that, I was given the opportunity to start working through that.
I had really great connection with a friend, Ariel Hyatt (Cyber PR) up in New York, who decided that she was going to start sending some work our way. We got to basically just play back and forth with her clients and our clients, and start a tiny little company that’s grown ever since.
Power of Social Media
Vincent: Okay so, tell me about the first time that you were introduced to the power of social media. Like was there a defining moment or example that inspired you to nurture your understanding of how musicians including yourself, can take advantage of social media?
Do you have methods of using each unique platform functions in order to hit your target marketing?
Michael: Well, the answer to that first part of that question, I was introduced to social media probably like the rest of us were; really organically. We had a MySpace account back in the day. We were all kind of trying to figure out this jungle of, okay what the heck is happening online now with social media.
It wasn’t really until, actually probably before I actually knew Ariel personally, but I was reading some blogs of hers that I was starting to understand the power that it could bring, as a marketing platform.
Then before I started this company, I started using myself as an artist, as a guinea pig for any of those methods, to see, okay what social network is doing. What kind of demographic, what kind of content works on that social network better?
A decent example: I took about 4 months and I ran a campaign on my website called Song A Week, when I was promoting a record of mine. Basically I asked; I had a Tumblr blog at that point.
I asked people that were subscribers to my Tumblr blog to submit ideas for songs that they had always wished had been written. Songs about their lives, songs about a dog or I really love this color blue that the sky is, I want song about that; anything that they can imagine.
I would take one of those ideas every week, write a song about it, record that song and shoot a music video. So literally I would wake up Monday morning, pick a song idea, and start writing. Then by that following Sunday, the entire thing was recorded, video shot and posted online.
Vincent: So, basically you decided to make songs based on feedback that you were getting from your fans, that they were submitting ideas to you about the things that they would like you to do?
Michael: Absolutely, it was direct feedback. It was none of like, “Oh I want to write a song about this today.” Like for 4 months straight, I didn’t write things from my own life. It was exactly what people were wanting to write, or were wanting me to write.
Tthrough that experiment I kind of was able to figure out what worked and what didn’t work on Tumblr. It made me really interested in all the other social marketing platforms out there.
So as a company we kind of take a point to whenever there is a new social platform we kind of go and make a couple of profiles, experiment with different types of content. There is completely different ways to use each of the platforms to get the best results.
For example, for a long time Twitter didn’t have a whole lot visual involved. It was 140 characters, and you had to be witty, and you have to be quick. A tweet could last for 30 seconds, whereas Facebook you could have a post that lives up in the top of the timeline for an entire day, if people are liking and commenting and that kind of thing.
The other thing that is interesting about how unique each of these platforms are,is that they are constantly changing. For example, Facebook and Instagram are really interesting as a platform, because they put a big relevance and big strength on visual things. The videos and photos get much higher priority than text posts.
That was different from between that and Twitter. Except now Twitter has added that as part of their platform. So if you are looking down at a Twitter feed you can see large photos and large videos within that Twitter feed now. It is just interesting that you need to be able to stay on top of the changing platforms at the same time.
Vincent: What are your thoughts on Vine and Snapchat?
Michael: Oh Vine and Snapchat, I love; actually we just did a blog about Snapchat. I love the possibilities of Snapchat as a micro social network, where you can talk directly to just a tiny little group of fans. Or if you really want an enormous group of fans that can have like a direct connection to you.
That’s kind of what Twitter used to feel like until it got to be more of a marketing platform. But Snapchat, especially because it’s only on a phone right now. You can directly, feel like you are texting someone or that you are sending a photo or video directly to someone or broadcasting it to 1,000 people, and giving their replies back that kind of thing. I think it is great for small bands that are touring to just keep people up to date.
Vine, I think it is all going to be about how creative you can be on Vine. Especially now that Instagram has added video. Obviously Instagram and Vine, Instagram video and Vine are kind of the two competitors in that area. What makes Vine interesting is they have kept the limit of 6 second videos. Whereas Instagram has gone and done what like 15 second videos I think.
Michael: Something in that realm.
So Vine to get something across in 6 seconds it is still you have be super creative and super kind of quick cutting, and that kind of thing to get your message across appropriately.
I think it’s been shown too that those are the channels and those are the video that do really well on Vine because it is humorous and funny to watch and it ends, and you want to watch it again, and again.
Authentic Targeted Content
Vincent: A part of what you do at 12South Music is to help clients create authentic targeted content. So, how and why did you introduce this as a service to web Development Company for musicians?
Michael: Sure. Part of my core belief about how artist need to market themselves and what's going to actually work for artist in the coming 10, 20 years, is I guess it is the same idea that you would think for anybody that is running a blog, it’s still that content is king.
I worked at companies for a longtime where we were so focused on creating, an architecture. Basically, a building that looked cool and was like, “Hey, this building is the artist, that’s so awesome. This is your home on the web.” Then they would fill it with nothing, and it doesn’t work.
If you drive by a house on the street and it is looks really pretty on the outside. You walk in there is nothing there and you are done, you know?
So, I wanted to make sure that we were helping artist plan for a career that was going to last them 10 years down the road. Not just something that, “Oh I got to pay this company money to build me something. Then next year I got to go back and change it and pay a lot more money.” That just doesn’t work; people don't have those kinds of budgets anymore.
So, our focus is always on creating really great targeted content that is going to be specifically for your demographic and your fans. Then kind of building the architecture around that content, that allows you to deliver that appropriately.
It doesn’t always have to be a website. It can be building something that you know uses Instagram and Facebook to get to your demographic.
Or that uses Vine and the Twitter API, something crazy that is visually appealing and interactive, and that kind of thing. It is way beyond just building websites these days. It just needs to be interactive, and engage your fans.
The Artist’s Website
Vincent: What do you think fans find compelling on an artist website, and how can musicians do this better?
Michael: Man, Vincent it depends on what level fandom you’re going for. You know what I mean? There are the casual fans that really just kind of want to go and listen to you music. There are the super fans that want to, like dig in into everything you are possibly getting into.
I think that, so our job as a company and people that are helping to try to increase fan engagement for artists, you have to understand the differences between those two, and the things that each of those sides want.
Let's see, for example, the super fan might want to have something on a website where it changes every time they come back, where they can interact with it. Or maybe there is like a tag board on the site that is collecting all of the fan generated content about that artist. Fans can go and curate and look at it, and do stuff with it you know any time they hit the website.
Think of it as like personal Pinterest on an artist site. That’s really compelling to folks that are just like super, super in love with an artist.
On the flip side, if you are just a casual fan you probably just want to be able to go in and like see, the most recently posted videos, and watch what's happening new with that artist.
So, it is kind of depends who you are trying to target, who you are trying to market to at that specific time. I think those are a couple of decent examples of things that you can do that fans are going to find really compelling.
Vincent: The next question that I have has 2 parts. What are common mistakes that you see artist make with fan engagement? And also what are interesting and current ways that artists are engaging with their fans that you absolutely love?
Michael: I feel like sometimes artists, they create a lot of missed opportunities I guess. I see times when there is an engagement. I mean our fans sent you an email or a post, or comments have been made. Or they comment on something on Facebook. Just because of the sheer volume of stuff that is happening out there, it goes unanswered. And in my opinion that should never happen.
I don't mean that to say that you as an artist have to do everything, and have a team of 30 people just to answer to social media. I think that’s exactly the opposite. In fact I think we as human beings when we try to convert ourselves over to social media, are trying to be in too many places at one time.
At least in my opinion, you do not need to be on Twitter and Facebook, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, and all of these things. These are all tools to help you engage with your fans. But it doesn’t mean that you have to be on every single one of them actively participating all the time. I don't know about you, but I would go crazy if I tried to do that.
I think, the idea to not make that mistake, is to basically find the one or two social networks that you know that a) You are really comfortable with, that you can engage really well on yourself. b) That your fans are already on, something that they are happy living at, and you know you can directly connect with them.
So, for example if you are trying, you know if you are a folk artist, and you have a bunch of fans that are you know in their 50s and 60s and love like a Laurel Canyon sound and Jackson Brown, you are probably aren’t going to have great connections on Snapchat. You probably won’t, maybe you might not need to be on Twitter. It depends, but it is all about that demographic.
So I feel like if you can hone in, and make sure that you are on the social network that is right for you and you are not trying to be everywhere at the same time, it makes those missed engagement a lot fewer. You can make sure that you are going in once a day and just checking.. “Okay what happened on my Facebook page, what happened on my Twitter account, done.” Or, “What happened on Vine, did I post something?” Instead of having to go to 10 different places, and really try to go crazy about it.
The things that I love that I see artists doing to kind of help their engagement with fans, man I love it when people are just super authentic and super fun about it. The downsides of being an artist are sometimes you feel like you need to sell yourself, and I think that’s the exact opposite thing to do.
Some of my favorite engagements with fans are when people are just themselves. Here is a nice example for ya, Macklemore has a really ridiculous series of Vine post. I would watch them not because he is Macklemore, and I dig the music, but because they are great. Because he as a person has a cool personality, and I want to see more of that personality.
I think one of them, he was calling people up on the phone just like you end up dialing random numbers in the city that he was in, offering like free tickets to one of his shows. But he wasn’t saying, “Hey this is Macklemore.” He was making really, really stupid voices, and just being a goofball, you know?
I think people will just feed into that. They want to see you being you, because that’s really they brand that they are buying into. They are buying into that artistry. They are buying into the music, and buying into who you are, and what you’re going be when you are there to entertain them.
So, that’s really what gets to me, at least as a fan personally, to kind buy into an artist. That I can see that there being super loyal with me, and they are being really authentic, and that I see the music fits who they are as well.
Vincent: So, talk to me about your new venture, Visual Live. What was the inspiration here and how can this be leveraged by musicians to further engage their audience?
Michael: Absolutely. So as a company obviously we develop a lot of things for other artists. We’ve just recently started developing an internal project which you mentioned is called Visual Live.
Visual Live can take a hashtag and visually amplify it all over a live event. We can grab information and photos and from Instagram, videos from Vine, posts from Facebook and Twitter, and put them into these giant 3 dimensional visualizations that can be put on LCD screens, jumbotrons all kinds of things, all over live events.
It is kind awesome to see when you are at, a let's say is at a ColdPlay concert, and the screen behind them suddenly bursts with user generated content. Photos that you and I and everybody else at the show have taken.
Then someone goes and grabs one of those photos on the screen and says cool, “Vincent you have just been offered a VIP experience. Come up on stage and hang out with the band.”
So the idea behind it is just to be able to connect fans and their content, and allow the band to directly interact with what fans are generating at those events.
Out of the Box Marketing
Vincent: Why is out of the box thinking so important, as it relates to strong engagement with fans?
Michael: Okay, well out of the box thinking, is kind of the only way that works right these days when it come to marketing on the internet. There are so many people that are trying to get your fans attention every day, every minute.
If you click on something, you click on Amazon, you click on Facebook, you click on any webpage that has 10 different banner adds. I mean come on, even Google is selling AdWords, and they are trying to get your attention at the same time.
So, you really have to think out of the box. You have to think, what's the thing that is specific to me, or specific to my fans, that is going to create a really strong relationship or a really strong connection between you and your fans.
Otherwise you are just blowing smoke in the wind. That’s I think what, I don't want to be the downer, but I feel like that’s what 90% of people are doing on the internet right now. It is just making a lot noise. That’s why it is hard to find music these days, because it is easy to get music out there, but is not easy to find good stuff.
So, to make sure people know that people know that you are the good stuff, you really have to go with an angle that is exceptionally unique to you.
That doesn’t mean that you have to come up with something that is, never ever ever been done before. It just means that when you are thinking about how to represent yourself online, your voice what your tone is going to be when you say things.
You have to think about what is super unique to my situation, my location in the world, and the things that I know personally as an artist, and how can I use those unique characteristics to connect with my fan.
The Social Media Analytics and Tools
Vincent: Are there any new platforms that you have been experimenting with? The social media analytics, tools, services blogs, etcetera, that you think musicians could leverage in their content strategies?
Michael: I am a giant like internet geek. I am up till all hours in the morning, pretty much just looking at new websites and new services, because I want to try them. It is not to say, it is probably, 50% because I want to make sure that I can see what they are and help my artists. But at the same time it is a selfish need, because I really love toying around with new stuff.
But, let me see; a couple ones that I know, I am really digging right now. I am a big data nerd. I want to see numbers I want to see statistics because it really helps me understand what's happening online with my properties, and what's happening on social media. There is new little startup called Sum All that allows you to see in a very visualyl attractive kind of setup, charts and graphs of data across your social networks, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, that kind of thing. It can show you what's happening at any given time, and basically what isn’t happening.
So, it is a pretty neat little system. It is easy for you know mom and pop, and pretty much anybody else to understand what is going on there. There isn’t a bunch of crazy statistics. You don't have to have a math degree to be able to understand what is happening with those visualizations. That’s one.
One other one that I think is fantastic, this falls into the area of helping artists basically build their platform, build their team. Because I really believe that artist these days are the new entrepreneurs.
I feel like if you are going to be an independent artist. Or if you are going to be a musician of any level you are really becoming a businessperson, and you have to be read for that.
You are kind of becoming the CEO of your own career. To do that, it doesn’t mean that you have to do everything, but it does mean that you have to understand how to delegate, and how to build a business and a team underneath you.
So, I am a big fan of a service called Fancy Hands. Basically what they allow you to do is spin up very easily a remote assistant, like a virtual assistant. You don't have to do it in a like, oh crap I have to hire someone and put on them payroll.
You literally just have subscription; I think it is $10 or $15 a month. That gives you a certain number of tasks that you can send out to their team and just ask them to do for you. It is super simple, and there is a really easy like iPhone interface you can call and leave a voice mail, you can email them.
Usually they will finish your task in about 24 hours. So it is a great way for anybody that is looking to learn how to delegate, and build a team kind of start running their own career. It is a great way for someone to get into that, without having to go, “oh crap I have to actually hire somebody.”
Plans for the Future
Vincent: Sweet, Michael well, the last thing I’d ask you is anything that you would like to let the audience know that you have plans for in the future?
Michael: Sure. The next year is actually going to be a great year for us. We’ve got our usual bread and butter which is just helping artists day to day finding new ways to market themselves, and create great content online, but then we have got two internal projects. One which I told you about Visual Live which is going to launch into public beta next year. So check that out if you get a chance. It is visualiveapp.com.
We have another one in the works that I am really excited about that I kind of touched on a little bit. But we are basically working on creating a, what you would call a music intelligence system, that will help you understand how to passively promote yourself, and understand your fans without touching a button.
So, I am excited to kind of feel that one off this next year.
Vincent: Thank you guys so much for tuning in. We would love to hear you feedback, I am @cvpmusic on Twitter or hit us up @bedloo. You can find Michael on Twitter at @michaelshoup or @12southmusic. Don't forget to use that hashtag #fanengagement. Good luck everyone until next time.