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#Fangagement: Artists Crowdsourcing Opinion Part 11: Jon Ostrow

Jon_ostrow-01Interview by C. Vincent Plummer (@cvpmusic) - co-founder and social strategist for Bedloo.com

I’m here today with Jon Ostrow. He’s the Director of Sales at Bandsintown, which is a hot concert discovery app allowing music fans to track their favorite artists based on their preferences and location.

He also runs MicControl, a stand-alone blog that explores music marketing strategy, social media trends and the best practices for DIY PR and branding. He’s directed many a campaign at Cyber PR where his passion and insight has helped lots of musicians learn how to find and energize their niche. Also, my man throws down on the bass.

So, let's check him out.

Background

Vincent: Jon, briefly give us a background. How and when did you know you wanted to pursue a career in the music industry?

Jon: Sure, I’ve been a musician; I’ve played the bass for 15 years now or so. When I was in high school I made the determining factor that I’d rather to school for marketing, which was also something I was really interested in, and be in a band and just sort of get myself involved in music then pursue the full time performing musician. (Go to Berkley, go to Julliard… that sort of a career path or educational path anyway) So, it was sort of always a focus of mine to try to find a way to mix the two of them. While I was doing marketing I was in a band the full four years of school.

In the last year of school, I went to University of Rhode Island. That last year one of my best friends and my dad and I created MicControl, which originally the original format of it was to create a social network for musicians, which of course at this point, everyone says who needs another social network for musicians, but at that point in time given that it was 2008, Twitter was just coming up. Facebook was still not brand new, but young. It made sense at the time because everyone still felt, everyone independent musicians were still really focused on MySpace as far as promoting themselves.

Of course that didn’t work out. We sort of pivoted away from that and more towards the content focus. It became this sort of blogging platform. But it was pretty like right away that I felt like I needed to combine those two and pursue being focused on the music industry.

I had an internship in early college working for a corporate marketing department and I knew from then on out that I was never going to do that. It just wasn’t for me. So I found my own opportunities to try to get into music more professionally.

Music Journalism and Blogging

Vincent: So, talk about how music journalism and blogging really opened the door to you; your general strategy for getting MicControl off the ground.

Jon: Sure, so something that we always felt like was lacking from MySpace, and I mean Facebook certainly had it but not to the same extent. It got like that notes piece but that was really it didn’t have like a blog.

So something that we determined from the get go with MicControl that we wanted to do even in its earliest version was the idea of having every person have their own blog and that way they could create their own unique following through that blog. What they were already doing elsewhere but started doing within this platform so that there was almost an ecosystem created focused around content.

The reason for that was obviously looking at other musicians and how people were discovering music and what we were trying to do to promote our own music. It ultimately continued to come back to blogs.

So, right away we felt like the only way that we’re going to get MicControl and get ourselves off the ground was if we started blogging. Whether that was about music, originally MicControl was just MicControlblog.com and it’s a little WordPress blog and then we were writing about, we did album reviews and interviews.

It’s ultimately how I got connected to Ariel in the first place was through that version of it when I was reviewing albums. So it was something that we felt from the get go with creating MicControl and creating a certain online presence that the blog content was going to be the way to get our foot in the door with a community that already existed, so that we had some sort of value to offer them in the form of a guest post or on our site or on their site as well as value to readers and to potential users and subscribers as opposed to just sort of throwing features at them and hoping that they would buy into it.

Vincent: You launched MicControl in 2008 but then you re-launched it in 2012. What were some of the early lessons that you learned and what compelled you to revisit it four years later?

Jon: For me, MicControl became my foot in the door in the career path that I’m currently on. So it was one of those things where all of the content that I had created had led to some form of recognition.

Whether that was an established brand or whatever, it was known well enough where I had made connections with the right people and that was opening doors to other writing opportunities and to jobs.

So what I have learned from it ultimately was that using and creating its own contents with a real voice behind it is powerful enough to build a network needed to get to any organization whether it’s a band, or a company, or anything like that off the ground.

So that for me was like the lesson and that’s what ultimately brought me into Cyber PR and working with Ariel on that idea of content strategy and using -- because Ariel was doing the exact same thing. I mean she built her company based on her blogging and creating a content strategy and focusing on books and blogging and speaking. It was all about content and it was through that content that she gained recognition around her brand. So, when I left MicControl and the reason why we did that was because it ultimately got big but not big enough where we felt like we could monetize on it and really have a go at creating a sustainable business. So I sort of backed away from it a little bit and that’s when I joined Cyber PR.

So I took up all of those content focused principles with me and we worked at Cyber PR but at the same time I understood that MicControl was what got me there in the first place so I felt the need to just sort of bring it back and continue writing.

It’s led to other opportunities. I was able to write for a company called SparkTrust. I still write for Disc Makers which is the parent company of CD Baby. Actually just this week I found out that I’m going to be writing for Sonicbids as well.

So it continues to lead to new opportunities to write for other companies on a freelance basis. It almost became more of like a calling card than anything else. It allowed you to stay in tune and connected to the community that helped me get my footing within the industry.

Writing and Marketing Techniques

Vincent: Let’s talk about some of your writing and your marketing techniques. What’s your favorite way to cut through the noise?

Jon: That’s a really hard question. I spent probably two years writing before I felt like I actually had a voice for myself. Now that I feel like I do, I can write pretty quickly.

It used to take me several days to put together a single article just because I would fumble over all the different wording and what the outline was going to look like and what the ultimate message was. Was it going to be funny or was it not going to be funny?

There’s a lot of things to think about. It eventually got to a point where I don’t have to think about that stuff anymore thankfully and I can just write an article in an hour or so and off it goes.

For me the focus was always how can I say something that’s actionable and approachable enough where in my case, my audience was primarily independent musicians.

How can I be educational and advocate best practices in a way that they can take what I’ve said and go and actually do it. Report back things that are working well and actually create discussion about stuff that does work or maybe doesn’t work with some suggestions they’ve had on their own.

Focus really on community in that sense as opposed to just creating sort of theoretical ideas that sort of get out there and you make a conversation around them but they’re not necessarily leading to actually helping people move to dial on their own.

For me that was everything, was how can I create something that’s easily explained and helps people to move to dial?

Vincent: As a campaign director for Cyber PR, you’ve had a chance to meet a lot of musicians and hear a lot of stories. What were some of the common threads for these musicians and of what are some things that they all seem to get wrong? Maybe even offer some simple remedies.

Jon: I think the common thread is passion. Ultimately, most of the musicians that you work with, that I had a chance to work with, they were independent musicians certainly at different levels. Some of them were just putting their first album out. Some had been around for twenty years and had several albums out. They were just starting to figure out the whole digital landscape.

But, ultimately, it came down to these are musicians that had passion for what they were doing and they were doing it because of their love for the craft. They weren’t just out there to make a quick buck. That said, I think the issue that a lot of them ran into, and that was the reason why we were able to continue to help them, and the reason why Ariel continues to help them with the whole team of Cyber PR, is that a lot of them don’t understand the idea of finding a niche and nurturing that through their own content strategies and just marketing strategies in general.

A lot of them are just seeing it as they’re putting out music that sounds like a certain thing and they live in a certain area and that their passions that influence that music and that drove their career process really has nothing to do it that I should just purely be focused around the relationship of a musician and a music fan.

But the musicians who really get how to create a strong content strategy and a strong marketing strategy;

I use this example all the time but he’s just a really good example Macklemore. You look at the obvious inspirations behind a lot of his music, Same Love being a great example with gay rights activism.

It became something that helped to fuel his overall approach with his fans through other content and through meet ups and shows and just different initiatives that he was taking within his own team. That helped to fuel real emotional connections and real obvious passion between fans to his music.

I think that’s been a huge part of his success overall. I think that it’s the musicians who really take the time to figure out what those passions are, those interests are that can help to curve out a niche for themselves within any form of community whether it’s local, or regional, or national, or global community is ultimately the most hugely beneficial thing that they can do.

About Bandsintown

Vincent: Well, now you are the Director of Sales at Bandsintown. I’d love for you to talk with us about their general mission and what new insight that this has offered you into the music industry?

Jon: Sure. The mission of Bandsintown is to make sure that no live music fan ever misses out on another show. It’s through this process that everything that Bandsintown does, it has a team of people that are just themselves obsessed with music and of course specifically with live music.

Everything that they’re working on; whether it’s from the website and their mobile app and the process of integrating literally hundreds of different sources to make sure virtually every touring artist has their dates listed properly on our website. To the artist platform that allows the artists to sync up directly to that data so that they can pull it into their Facebook pages, their website to make sure that their fans that are visiting them there, interacting with them there aren’t missing out on any of that information.

And then to this new promoter platform that we’re working on which is ‘Bandsintown for promotoers’ which is what I’m specifically working on Bandsintown is to allow the promotional side of the industry to make sure that they’re able to properly get the message out and to connect with even further bands that are interested in these musicians that are interested in seeing live music become purchasers and attendees at these events.

So for what I’ve learned, overall so far the 2 months or so that I’ve been there, is just that when you put a team together of people that are passionate about an aspect of the industry you get some really amazing products that are built to help out all aspects of the industry.

Whether it’s the fans getting the data, whether it’s the artist getting better ways to deliver their tour dates to fans, or if it’s the labels, or management, or promoters or venues themselves that are actually trying to sell the tickets and they’re getting the most effective way to do that now as possible as well.

Artist’s Engagement with Fans

Vincent: Now let's talk about what this program is about which is the role of the fan in the career of an artist. I’d like to hear about some of your favorite ways that you've seen artists engage with their fans?

Jon: The best things that I’ve seen musicians do is really to pull in, again it goes back to their niche and I’m sure that has a lot to do with the fact that that’s something that I have been very heavily involved with over the last few years.

But I also think that ultimately tying in my previous experience and my current experience, the best things that I’ve seen musicians do to interact with their fans is to find those passions to nurture a multitude of ways.

Whether that’s, the content itself dictates what their blog strategy is and they start creating unique conversations around important things that they’re advocating or things that are important to their day-to-day lives whether they’re gluten free or they’re gay rights activists, or they’re into exercising. Then ultimately taking that and helping it to shape the live experience as well so that in live show it’s more than just bands playing on stage with musicians playing in the audience. There’s actually an incorporation of that, I should say an extension of that, online community and the focus of that beyond into the actual real world.

There are a lot of musicians like Dave Matthews Band; they’ve partnered up with HeadCount.org and help increase the voter registration of young professionals or teens, obviously the ones that can vote from their shows.

Or you’ve got Phish was the big fan of theirs and they have their own WaterWheel Foundation where they raise money for music education and programs all around the country. Jack Johnson has his own website focused on living a green sustainable lifestyle. He brings that into his show experience as well.

So there are a lot of examples of musicians doing that really well. I think that’s the best way of doing it. That’s what I think ultimately what’s so interesting to me about, I’m starting to go sort of on a tangent here, but musicians who do crowdfunding really well. I mean that to me is where the exciting element of that is so that they can further that experience between themselves and the fans on a niche basis to really nurture those passions further.

Future of the Music Industry

Vincent: Let’s talk big picture. Look into the future for a minute. Where do you see the music industry going? What gets you excited?

Jon: I get excited about the fact that the live music industry is continuing to grow. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with festivals and how big festivals have gotten.

But it just seems to me that as important as social media and having a strong digital footprint is for musicians that actually getting out there and creating an experience between themselves and their fans is still there and it’s still strong, if not stronger than ever.

I mean I know that to a lot of musicians having to create a content strategy and focus on marketing and branding and all that stuff seems very synthetic and not the reason why they got into this in the first place. So the fact that they can still go out there and tour, perform, do what they got into this in first place for and actually make money out of that, create sustainable careers out of that; it’s amazing.

Projects to Look Out For

Vincent: In closing, do you have one particular project that you’re really excited about right now or that you’re working on that you’d like to let us all know about?

Jon: I’m just overall excited about what I’m doing with Bandsintown. I’d love to fill you in on that. But it’s also still new as well, which is a really awesome thing. But what I’m focusing on at Bandsintown is just ‘Bandsintown for promoters’ platform. It’s something that’s still in a private beta.

We’re bringing in new promoters every day to get them to utilize this if anyone wants to actually check it out themselves they could go to ads.bandsintown.com and you can get a feel for what it’s all about.

But essentially it’s that Bandsintown users, when they sign up they essentially sync their data, or I should say they sync their preferences through connecting their social network accounts or connecting their streaming music accounts.

That tracks those artists that they’re following and that they’re listening to for them so that they can receive email notifications letting them know when those shows or when those bands come into their town.

So what this platform; this ‘Bandsintown for promoters’ platform allows promoters to do is to actually gain access to that data and say for all the fans of the Pixies within a fifty miles radius of L.A. they can pull together that data, see that there is 40,000 fans of the Pixies within a fifty mile radius of L.A.

Then they can work with us to actually create a customized email that goes out specifically to those fans letting them know about this event. So it’s a really powerful way of promoting upcoming events directly to highly targeted fans.

Because you’re talking not just fans who happen to be following specific bands that are performing at your shows or that are similar to bands that are performing at your shows. But they’ve also signed up to Bandsintown for specifically the reason of wanting more information about live shows.

So the overall conversion rates that we have been seeing since we opened up this program about 10 months ago has been huge. I mean really ‘industry leading’ in the sense of email marketing and the ability to market to the concert going fans and to sell tickets.

It’s really been an exciting thing to work on and watching this thing grow. Like I said, it is still on private beta so there are some things being done and we want a select group of promoters pretty much at every level (up from the absolute biggest promoters all the way down to local promoters) working at a specific venue.

To just get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work and how we can take their feedback and make it better.

It’s just been very exciting to have the opportunity to work with a team that’s building a platform that’s growing so rapidly, on something, to my experience within marketing things to and for musicians, and sort of flipping that in a way where I’m now working on the industry side of reaching out to musicians instead of for musicians.

So it’s just overall been really exciting and it’s something I’m really; I couldn’t be happier to see this thing growing. It’s going to be really exciting to see how it continues to blossom over the next say year as we continue to build out things.

Ultimately, the goal is to have this platform become a sort of ad platform that any musician can go in there and set themselves up with one of these dedicated email campaigns. But every step of the way till we get to that point is going to be really exciting to see.

Vincent: Awesome Jon, well hey man thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

Jon: My pleasure, thank you.

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Thank you guys so much for tuning in. We’d love to hear your feedback. I’m @cvpmusic on Twitter, or hit us up at @bedloo.

You can reach Jon Ostrow on Twitter at @jon_ostrow or @MicControl.

Don’t forget to use #fangagement.

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