PledgeMusic CEO Benji Rogers On Direct To Fan: Social Is What You Are Selling
Guest post by Benji Rogers, Founder & CEO of PledgeMusic.
I don't want to buy things on Facebook. I reconnect with old friends, share pictures and see what other people are doing. It's where I get a reminder when it's someone's birthday, and when the New York Rangers win, it's where I go to shout about it. But in all of that, Facebook is not where I will go to buy anything – ever.
The inherent power of Facebook is that it sells all things social. In one sense, I suppose I go to the social media site to socialise with people I'm not immediately near and, sadly, some who I am near but am just too busy to see more often. All in one place, I can see who's doing what and when and where. When I see that a relationship status has changed or that someone has updated their hometown, it immediately tells me a story. And it's a story that's not just of interest to me but also to my father and grandparents and the 800,000,000 plus people I've never met who use the social networking site.
But it's not where I will ever go to make a purchase.
In my opinion, the smartest move Facebook has made in the music space is forcing people to use and to land on bands' walls or timelines. It's brilliant because it pushes artists to use this space as normal people would and not as an app. This is so important to you if you're an artist because you need to fundamentally understand that fans don't care about what you're selling. They care first about your music and second about what you're doing and why. Offering fans more ways to buy is pointless.
Think of it from a fan's perspective. I have to land on your Facebook wall, click through to your Facebook band page, click the "buy" button, enter my credit card or PayPal details, add my shipping information, agree to a totally unknown third party's terms and conditions and then wait for something to arrive or begin to download. All that when I could just go to iTunes and click "buy" or to Spotify and click "play." Not that I do the latter.
The direct-to-fan argument is that you're able to bring the commerce to where people are interacting and to make it easier for them to make that purchase. But is it easier? To me, it still doesn't address the fundamental issue, which is that fans don't need more ways to buy – they need more reasons to buy.
I have one specific memory that might help illustrate this point. When I was in high school, there was one kid who got me to buy more cassettes than anyone else. It drove me nuts. I used to spy into the top of his Walkmen to see what he was listening to. I'd try and catch a glimpse of what he had in his cassette collection, and at one point we got into an argument about it.
"Get your own bands," he'd say to me. I didn't even like some of his music, but I'll be damned if I didn't buy everything he did just to keep up. In one sense he was right. As we both came down from the late '80s metal high, he went folk and retro and I went Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Stone Temple Pilots and Lord only knows who else.
I remember bumping into him years after high school and him still being cagey about what he was listening to. I saw him two weeks ago, and I know he still has some gems he's holding onto just for himself. I'm sure of it. He's on Facebook now, and though he doesn't share much, what he does share I find myself eagerly clicking on. I have to…
To any and all artists who are using Facebook or an email list or a Twitter account today, I ask you this one question: Are you being social? What have you done today that is for me? What have you done that will make me want to look into your Walkmen to see what's playing there? If I were to come across your Facebook wall or browse your timeline, what story would it tell me?
Remember that I already know where I can go and get your music. I don't even have to pay for it if I don't want to. But what have you given me as a potential fan that would make me want to even click that play button in the first place?
When I wake up at home, I put on vinyl. I like to set the tone for the day. What story are you going to tell me that's going to make me get up from my computer to turn off Aretha Franklin or Exile on Main St., Donny Hathaway Live or Nina Simone to listen to your band for a few seconds, when I know nothing about you, who you are or why I should care?
What story are you going to tell me that will make me go put your music on my iPhone and take it on the ferry to work with me when, again, you're competing with my current playlist of Nick Drake, Otis Redding, Led Zeppelin or Gram Parsons? What's going to get me to turn them off and listen to you?
The answer to me is quite simple: It's not going to be your store or your player or your banner ad. It's not going to be your tour dates or your data capture widgets or your email signup form or your multitudinous packaging options or your bundles. It will first be your music and then your story and, perhaps most important of all, the way you tell me that story.
If you get the music right, people will share it – either overtly or by accident, they will share it. I lived in a world without Nick Drake until a guy whose taste in books I admired told me on pain of death to go buy it. I did. Then I dove into Nick's story, scoured the liner notes, digging deeper because I wanted to know more. I was hooked. I wanted to know why his music sounded the way it did. I sought it out. I shared it with everyone. Having more places to buy it was irrelevant. I wanted it all – disappointing outtakes included.
If the music is the "what," then all you need to work on next is the "why."
Just spend five minutes following Mieko on Twitter, and you'll see that in action. Or read one email from Madi Diaz's email list. Check out one Pledgers-only update from Ginger Wildheart or Matthew Mayfield, and you'll understand why the "why" is so important. Once I'm into the music, I want the journey. This is how social works. Your Facebook wall should be a narrative, not a sales pitch. I already know where I can buy your music, and I don't have to buy your music, so tell me why I should dig deeper. Better yet, let other people do that for you. Let them tell me why.
We live in a connected world where we're able to share what we love. Your player tells me nothing, and your iTunes "buy" button tells me even less. But your Facebook wall – the way you interact with your fans and what you choose to tell them – could tell me everything I need to know. Your music and then your Timeline narrative could be what pulls me into your journey, or it could be what makes me get off at the first stop.
You're competing with free, so be social. In a connected world, when the music is free, social is what you are selling.
More: PledgeMusic's Benji Rogers On Going Beyond Fan Funding To Power Album Campaigns
Great piece. And something many musicians and people in the music business still don’t understand. Everyone talks about making great music. Yes, of course, that is important (although there are successful musicians who don’t make great music). But fans or potential fans want more from you than that. They want a “relationship” with you. And unfortunately many musicians either can’t or don’t want to give the fans that. They didn’t get into music to deal with fan relationships.
Great article Benji! There was a time when we artists could get away with being mysterious and distant, that doesn’t work anymore.
Whoa – this is awesome, and deceptively deep. I know I’ll be reading this 5 or 6 more times and attempting to really internalize the essence here.
One comment, though. You say:
“What’s going to get me to turn them off and listen to you?…It will first be your music and then your story and, perhaps most important of all, the way you tell me that story.”
I’d argue that unlike the heyday of radio, when often my first exposure to a band was hearing their new single cold, with no contextual information, these days the way a band tells me their story is actually the first and most influential impression they make on me.
If Band X’s story comes to me through my friends, and then their graphic design is pro and on point, their website doesn’t have Flash, or hard-to-read text on a black background, and their blog posts/twitter feed/email communication is authentic and engaging – then I might actually listen to their music.
Once you’ve finished making killer, remarkable music, then I think you might be better off optimizing the rest of your strategy for spreading your story first, rather than the naked music itself. It’s a subtle difference, but I think a real one.
That might be just me and my online friends, though. Are other people really sharing a lot of music back & forth on Facebook?
Nice article. I have to say that artists/musicians have a very different landscape these days. Artist exposure to fans was limited to radio, print media, and touring in the past. The issue now is how you look at the new models. Is it harder, easier, or no different?
From a pure business model standpoint it is much easier now. Low costs, a wide range of tools and applications, and the potential to reach millions of fans who are engaged on social media sites.
I think there’s a ‘disconnect’ with a lot of artists these days. They seem to make the new model out to be much harder and less rewarding than it really is. Musicians are creative by nature and fan engagement is a creative process that should naturally be ‘second nature’ to an artist.
The product has to be good, but that is refined over hours of practice and live shows. Bands need to be able to play live shows, which fans find fun and enjoyable. Then the fan engagement can really start. PledgeMusic and fan funding sites are wonderful tools to help artists learn what works for their fans. The artist can then start to build a profitable and FUN career.
Music careers are not sustained by just putting out new material every year or playing a show here and there. Artists need to get away from looking at social media as the dreaded ‘marketing job’ but as part of the creative process. Careers should be fun and fulfilling. If you are doing it for any other reason, you are in the wrong line-of-work.
Excellent article, Benji! I’ll be sharing this one with lots of indie artists I come in contact with through my http://www.indieheaven.com organization.
Great article. You kind of allude to something and make a point albeit obliquely.
That is – the discovery process and the way stories about new bands and acts are shared is primarily through word of mouth. Not just any kind of word of mouth, but the buzz from friends and sources we trust. That is where I think social media platforms like FB miss the point.
Voyeuristically watching your peeps click on Spotify links is not it. That IMHO is a lost opportunity. We still hear about all things we love primarily from people we love (or like or envy or trust).
BTW, data from our artists campaigns suggest that fans do a lot of buying from apps within FB. May not be representative – but true at least in our world.
As always great insight.
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