Why Artists Should Sell To Fans And Let Labels Sell To Consumers

Consumer_societyGuest post by Benji Rogers (@BenjiKRogers) for sidewinder.fm, a music and tech think tank. Rogers is the CEO and founder of PledgeMusic

I'm tired of the gimmicks that surround music releases today. True, they aren't entirely new, but they are for some reason feeling particularly worn out

“Tweet this and it unlocks this; that leads to a stream of the new song,” etc.

I feel as though each marketing plan starts with "insert novel new technology here" and then defaults to the same old marketing plan as usual. Some of
these plans can be clever — involving puzzles, prizes, and such — but they are all basically messaging the same thing: “Band finished album a few months
ago and it's time to get you, the consumers, to buy it with this series of teases."

As I see it, every artist or band hits fans and consumers with the same three basic messages: “Pre-order my album. Buy my album. Have you bought my album?”
(Here the word album could be replaced by single, EP, tickets, etc.)

This is how it works, right? Every week we see a marketing campaign based around selling this same story play out in front of us on repeat. The bands are
salesmen and women selling you something that happened often months or even years ago. Often something that was dreamed up by others and that, when
executed well, grabs eyeballs. But let's face it, the message still has always looked like: “Pre-order my album. Buy my album. Have you bought my album?”

Then things got social. Suddenly, with little or no effort, artists could tell fans when they were in the studio. "We're working on new songs," the press
would gleefully re-post, blog, tweet, or report. Facebook would showcase photos of the band at work; glimpses of a process hidden from them would emerge
months, if not years in advance and, as a matter of course, these would lead up to the message: “Pre-order my album. Buy my album. Have you bought my

It's all leading to the big reveal, right? But here's the question: What is actually being revealed? We live in a world where things are instantly
accessible, where music fans feel they have the right to access what they want when they want it. Why should I pre-order anything when I can just stream it
when it's out? Why pre-order what I can access instantly for free? What are you selling me?

Add to this the fact that the message is not even coming from the artist who has been Tweeting or Instagraming from the studio; it's coming from iTunes or
the band’s label or the retailer or, in the worst case, from an artist whose creative process was over the moment the album was finished months before all
the hype began.

How many times have you seen a bored-looking band shill something they made to a radio station or retailer? They often do ads for products they don't even
use just to sell a few more singles whose creative lives ended months or years ago.

Behind the Music

But what if this could change? What if fans could participate in albums as they were being made?

If you work in the music industry, you know the excitement of getting new demos from an artist you work with. There's a tingle. It's a true reveal that
comes with the anticipation of something great – of something unknown. It's the feeling a new track used to evoke within you before you worked with
artists. It's also exciting because, when you get that demo or are in the studio with that artist, they’re just that: an artist, doing what they do best,
making the magic happen. Once that's over, it's over. Then the dynamic changes.

Every record has so many stages, so many marketing points that carry an excitement beyond what a traditional release could ever hold.

To be clear here, I am not describing a consumer experience. This is a fan experience, which leads to my other point: Artists should sell to fans and
labels to consumers. We have seen the most success across our platform, PledgeMusic, when artists bring their fans along for the ride, when fans get to
feel that same sense of excitement you feel within the music industry when you get to hear things as they happen rather than after they

Artists and marketing teams can now create a plot line that unfolds in real-time, a "Behind the Music" as it's actually happening. We call them
“Pledgers-Only” updates, and the price of entry is a pre-order of the album. Artists don’t share these updates with everyone because they aren’t meant to
be for everyone. These are the fan experiences that we have seen to be the most financially beneficial to the artists we work with.

The artists also give the hardcore fans things to share for months in advance of releases. Ironically, most artists scratch the surface when they post
Instagram pictures from the studio or Facebook or Twitter posts, but it's worth recalling that these are still just consumer experiences. These are for
everyone. These weren't created exclusively for the fans. They are a broadcast to anyone who will listen. If you want to buy the record there and then
before it's finished, you can't.

A Pledgers-Only update, however, is designed for those who want to buy into the entire experience. It's not a broadcast so much as an invite to something
that, by design, isn’t for everyone. If you want to belong – to be a fan – you can. And if you want the same as everyone else – the consumer experience?
Well, that's fine too. You can just wait for the record to come out and buy it from the label.

As I mentioned earlier, there are three key moments when artists put albums out: 1) Announcing the pre-order or the album. 2) Announcing that the album is
available on iTunes and Amazon, etc. 3) Reminding fans that it’s still available on iTunes and Amazon, etc. The most difficult moment for many artists is
when they realize they can’t keep broadcasting the same message again and again.

How many times is it appropriate to solicit your fans to buy in advance? Once a week? Once every two weeks? Once a month? If so, what should your lead-time
look like? If artists or their labels, or both, share the process of the making of the album – the whole amazing, weird, fascinating, and terrifying thing
– then fans can share in all those emotions and experiences as well. Delays in production become chances to talk about why quality matters, or why things
took a turn in a particular direction.

One of PledgeMusic’s most successful campaigns ran for just under a year. Not only did it make the album profitable before it hit retail, but it also got
this artist their highest chart position to date. Fans were treated as equals and included in the entire creation process. And if fans have a cool
experience with an artist they love, it changes everything. What I'm proposing is that fans should have thirty to forty amazing experiences with their
favorite artist as they release their album.

Fan or Consumer

I'm a fan of music. I have zero interest in the consumer experience most artists offer me. I'm the guy who will spend for vinyl, signed vinyl, posters,
T-shirts, gig tickets, lyric sheets, house concerts, and test pressings, but most importantly for access. I am not just a consumer. If you offer me the
consumer experience and confine me to just the standard pre-order, buy now/have you bought $9.99 experience, you are simply leaving money on the table.

When Ian Ball from Gomez uploaded a new track from his forthcoming album for his Pledgers, I not only immediately downloaded it, but I shared that I had
with my personal networks. In fact, I auto-shared that the song was there along with all of his other Pledgers-Only updates. Plus, my friends knew that I
was listening to it. I did this from both Facebook and Twitter, and this was months in advance of the album even coming out. I do the same for multiple
artists I love, simply because I can, and I Pledge an average of $50 like hundreds of thousands of others do, too, simply because I can. Before a record is
even fully recorded, I am validating it to all my friends and acquaintances simply because I can.

If you make or release music, you will offer a consumer experience at some point. It's inevitable. The question, however, is this: Are you going to offer a fan experience as well? Not just a few bundles to upsell the fans but a true fan experience? By doing one and not the other, you leave money,
fans, and the ability to share on the table. If you narrow your pre-release window to weeks instead of months, you’re just giving yourself less time to
promote. Isn't that a bad thing?

There will always be outliers in the game, but I think it's time for artists and their managers and labels to realize that this fan experience is now part
of the process and not just an add-on. When artists sell to fans and labels sell to consumers, everybody wins.

Ask yourself, which is a better value for the money: a download, CD, stream, or bundle of the album when it comes out with promotional gimmicks and toys
surrounding it, or all of the above plus access to the process? Remember the process includes the details of how, and more importantly, why the
album was made unfolding before you in real-time over the life of the project, with unreleased tracks, exclusive access to the music and artwork, and a
glimpse into the entire journey.

Ultimately, you will choose to define yourself as either a fan or a consumer. But at least certain artists are now allowing you the freedom to have that

Sidewinder.fm is founded and edited by Kyle Bylin of Live Nation Labs. If you would like to contribute a post to be featured on the site, please reach out.

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  1. Great article Benji!
    I know personally, when the able is finally out, it feels like the close of a chapter – the medal at the end of the race. It makes a lot of sense to take the fans along for the ride when enthusiasm is at its height.

  2. I love the distinction between ‘fans’ and ‘consumers’, although I’ve always preferred the term ‘music lover’ to ‘fan’. What you’ve said here makes perfect sense, and obviously you speak from experience of what works.
    You say you’re a fan yourself, with “zero interest in the consumer experience” – I’m just curious to know whether you use Spotify or similar streaming service?

  3. I think it’s a great idea, and there are definitely artists I would want that experience with. Unfortunately it only works for those that have the die-hard fan base who are interested. How do you earn these fans without first treating people as consumers? “Listen to my new track”, “come to my show” etc.

  4. Excellent piece, Benji – thanks.
    Something about the way you articulated the specific elements that could be a part of this type of campaign, as well as your obvious passion for connecting with your favorite artists this way, really brings the possibilities of this type of approach into focus.
    I agree with Ryan, though, that it’s easiest to see how this works for artists with a sizeable and committed fan base. Do you have any data to share from Pledge Music regarding successes by bands with smaller followings?

  5. I think the definition of ‘fan’ has to change. Instead of ‘How do you earn fans’ it should be ‘How do you earn friends?’ Fans don’t want to be just fans, they want to feel important. Like the “Band-aids” in Almost Famous
    In which case, it’s easy to make a fan base. You share things with them, you cultivate a real relationship. Artists need to get on board with the idea first and not sound like their marketing themselves. They need to seek genuine connection with people who like their music.
    It’s like any friendship that begins with a circumstance -an introduction or a thing in common. In this case, the circumstance is the person discovering the artist’s music. That’s the introduction. At that point, the artist has the listener’s trust and attention. Then he adds them to their tribe.
    It’s quite easy, I think, we just haven’t seen it yet so we don’t know what it looks like.
    I’m apart of a tribe like this, of people who all share something in common. I’m not just paying for access to the artist, but for the other people, too.
    All the artist has to do is decide how much they want to make every month. If you’re realistic about it, then a sustainable model can be made with even a small fan base of dedicated subscribers.
    That is what I am planning on making.

  6. Your a consumer who is made to feel like a fan by a marketing technique. And then someone else wants ten thousand ‘friends’ who are also consumers who are made to feel like friends, also with a marketing technique.
    Apart from the basic dishonesty of the proposal it’s just not practical – how many people do you count as true friends? How many ‘special’ fans can you please without patronising them? If they’re really your friends why are you trying to sell them something?
    This is the kind of innovation that is only innovation in that the innovative thing is it’s being sold as innovative when it’s as old as bobby soxers. And the catholic church. (You get a little piece of the special person, every time you show him how much you love him).

  7. Finally, the difference between fans, music lovers and consumers is being grasped by music marketing. The 3 all need different kinds of messages to attract them. I’m not saying which because they are different for each artist. The kind of people which are represented by the term fans are the types who are hyped up by every message they get whereas consumers usually are somewhat blah and/or bored and are merely the types who succumb to pressure from marketing. The whole spectrum of other people in between these extreme types are the music lovers. They are the ones for which marketing needs to be clever to attract them, where the individual messages count which are being sent. Stuff like “Musician A and Musician B have been with us in the studio” can decide a purchase for one music lover whilst “Look! Here’s our new video!” will do it for another. So it’s probably best not to be one-dimensional here but imaginative. “Written two new songs today, may or may not record them later” is better for creating interest for some people than “The new EP by artist X has got an amazing bonus track at Retailer A, an even more amazing but different bonus track at Retailer B and an awesome bonus track at Retailer C”.
    Besides that, the concept of pre-order is kind of outdated in a world where there is no scarcity of a release in the first week because you could theoretically sell an endless number of a download during the first week. Of course, fans (as characterized above) will eat it, but all others won’t. To some in the audience, it may only be part of the concept for crowd funding of a recording project these days whereas for others, it’s just pointless for the reason mentioned before. So why stick to it?
    Most independent releases and self-released music only do well in the market place if they are “growers” both stylistically (content-wise) and are promoted by word of mouth. Why not get more into this instead of promoting the outdated concept of pre-order to artists which may still hold a promise of a big payout at release time for nostalgic reasons, but usually doesn’t keep it anymore?
    But even worse, from a music lover’s perspective, is getting spoon-fed a new album track by track, and then not making it to the full track list because the artist or management believes it’s not worth it putting out the whole album due to people not having reacted to the individual tracks as expected. Maybe the audience was just waiting for the full-length? It’s not too late to actually put it out then and work it from there. If the album is a “grower” stylistically, word of mouth will spread the news to more and more people if it’s being well nurtured and encouraged. Unfortunately, too many self-releasing artists have lost patience in their project too soon and abandoned it only for it to remain in the archives. That’s sad (even though the major labels probably think different because that’s exactly where they want their competition to remain: locked away in an archive somewhere).

  8. Sorry for the late reply Mike,
    One interesting thing we’ve found is that the spend per fan is in fact higher for smaller artists. Add to this that a smaller artist can also be more creative and hands on with what they offer where as a larger artists due to sheer volume can’t be. I always say that someone with 50 really hardcore fans is in a great place to make 50 more fans as he or she can reach all of their fans. Once you get to a certain size it becomes harder to reach them all. (i.e. Facebook reach issues). One of the things that is deeply felt at Pledge is that we work just as hard for artists who are starting as we do for the larger artists. It’s about making great things. Smaller is sometimes much easier and so very rewarding for fans who can be a part of their artist getting to the next level and not just helping their larger artist stay where they are if you know what I mean.

  9. Hey Tim,
    What is truly better value for money? A download of an album for $10 that you can listen to or 3-4 months of exclusive behind the scenes access to the artists fan only updates, videos, blogs photos etc created just for the fans AND a digital download of the album for $10?
    It’s not dishonest if it’s being made for the people who are pledging for it. You are saying on the one hand! If you are a consumer you can just line up to buy it with everyone else. If you are a fan you can come along for the ride. It’s about options.
    It’s only dishonest if it’s not true…

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