Case Study: Vinyl Thief Builds Fanbase With Free Music, Web Marketing & Live Shows

Vinyl-thiefVinyl Thief is an indie rock band based in Nashville. After releasing an EP that sparked only a limited response, they decided to add marketer Wes Davenport to their team. Davenport focused on developing widget-based free music campaigns in which emails were exchanged for free downloads and a variety of analytic tools were used to track metrics. As they build toward their summer touring schedule to be followed by an anticipated full-length release, Vinyl Thief has a much stronger base on which to take their next steps as emerging artists.

I recently spoke with Wes Davenport about his work with Vinyl Thief. As it turns out he knew some members of the band, who are music students at MTSU and Belmont University, from high school. Upon returning to Nashville with a degree in marketing focused on music, Davenport sought them out and offered his help. Their disappointment at the lack of progress with their 2010 EP release, Control, led them to bring him onto the team where he focuses primarily on marketing with some co-management duties in concert with manager Phil Hadad.

Vinyl Thief's Rebel Hill Widget from NoiseTrade

Davenport began by helping the team clarify the bigger goals towards which they were working. Upon agreeing that they should focus on the goal of making a living as musicians, Davenport then began developing trackable campaigns that would allow them to build their fanbase while seeing verifiable progress towards their goals from email newsletter signups to Facebook likes.

These campaigns focused on the band's decision to proceed with digital releases, first a single then another ep, to build their fanbase and extend their reach on the web while maximizing use of their limited budget.

Vinyl Thief also continued to tour regionally with Phil Hadad booking gigs and, more recently, working with a booking agent to set up summer tour dates

In late 2011 the band returned to the studio to record a single, White Light, which they released as a free download using Topspin's music for email widget.

They embedded the widget on the band's website in order to track metrics and encourage additional Likes on Facebook and Tweets on Twitter. In part this was a response to the fact that Topspin's widget tends to leave potential fans hanging. They do get an email but wherever the widget is encountered, there is no further action encouraged after submitting one's email address.

Though Davenport especially appreciates Topspin's analytic tools, including demographic information provided for emails, he agreed to try out NoiseTrade's promotional platform to promote the folllowup digital EP, Rebel Hill, at the suggestion of manager Phil Hadad and lead singer Grayson Procter.

Though Davenport continued to use Topspin's email system, the NoiseTrade widget was one reason to add their platform to the mix. Once the fan or future fan shares their email and zip code, the widget offers the option to post to Facebook or Twitter or to send an email to friends.

In addition, NoiseTrade's free services include a dedicated page with encouragement to tip, a Facebook friends widget and info about the band including links out to one's website, social media presence and places to buy more music.

NoiseTrade also provides paid promotional options to boost one's efforts. Davenport and Vinyl Thief decided to go with the $400 Secondary Featured Album option which included placement above the fold on the homepage, in a NoiseTrade email and announcements via their social media outposts.

Davenport sent out an email newsletter to those already on their list as well with a link to the free download widget on the band's website. They also sent out digital copies of the EP to college radio stations in towns where they are planning to tour.

The results of this campaign included 2300 additions to their email list the first week and 700 more over the rest of April. Davenport imported the email addresses to Topspin where he obtained additional demographic information.

Davenport also gathered data via Google Analytics regarding visitor activity on their website and found that people downloading the album there would often then go to the band's touring schedule, a very positive sign. Additional analytics were gathered related to Facebook activity via Facebook Insights.

Team Vinyl Thief is now finalizing plans to send the first email newsletter to new signups along with older fans and are discussing a giveaway of physical prints of the album cover art. The art was created by Nashville's Bryson Leach with whom they had successfully worked before.

Davenport is proposing that they require entries in the form of EP reviews on fans' Facebook pages that will be tagged to alert the band to the entry. The idea is that, instead of seeing only a generic message that someone has entered a contest, fans will be spreading the word in a meaningful way and encouraging conversation with their friends while Vinyl Thief will receive feedback about their music.

The Rebel Hill campaign resulted in a larger email list and extended fanbase, a stronger social media presence and a great deal of data to help them understand more about their fans. Now they're heading back into the studio to record what is planned to be a full-length release. During that process, they'll be creating social media content such as behind-the-scenes videos. In June and July they'll tour as widely as possible and then release their new album in August or September.

Note that the approach of Davenport and the whole Vinyl Thief team is about building for the long term. They're not dependent on any one aspect of their work suddenly blowing up. Rather they're building a base that can sustain ongoing momentum and in the process are preparing to take advantage of luck when it strikes.


Hypebot Features Writer Clyde Smith blogs about business at Flux Research: Business & Revenue Models and maintains an audio blog at snd1.mobi. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. This is an awesome and extremely informative article on everything that Wes and Vinyl Thief have put together! So many artists do only short term planning because it’s easy to do, but setting up plans for the long term in music seems to be much more taxing and not as sexy, and that’s what has to be done much of the time. Kudos to Wes and VT!

  2. As Artist Relations for NoiseTrade, I thought I’d chime in here…first off, thanks so much for this case study on Vinyl Thief. We loved working with Grayson on this campaign…and were equally happy with the results they got from it.
    I thought I’d note that since we ran this campaign for them, our list has continued to grow…we recently passed the half million mark on our email list (currently at 541,000 and growing weekly).
    We do two emailers a week, featuring two primary artists (which go for $600 each) and two secondary features ( which Vinyl thief took part in, running for $400 each).
    These features are curated and we’re getting great responses from both artists and labels, to the point we’re usually booked up 6-8 weeks out.
    The results of each campaign vary, but our primary features typically see an even greater response than what Vinyl Thief saw. I also manage Josh Rouse, and we did a campaign for him (a 25 song retrospective, still currently available at http://www.noisetrade.com/joshrouse) last summer, when the NoiseTrade email list was at approx. 260,000 strong (half of where it is now) and we saw over 10,000 downloads in the first day….and are now at 23,000 currently. We tripled his email list using NoiseTrade, which is one of the reasons I was so game to come aboard as their artist relations man on the ground, to help other artists, new and established, gain similar traction.
    If anyone is curious to find out more about NoiseTrade, feel free to hit me up at chris(at)noisetrade(dot)com.

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