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    Five Tips for Musicians to Engage Their Fans Digitally

    by Jason Feinberg
    March 9, 2009
    In today's wired world, music fans get an inside glimpse of artists' lives as musicians find new ways to connect with their audience. Photo by "RossinaBossioB":http://www.flickr.com/photos/rossinabossio/ via Flickr.

    Note: This is the first post from Jason Feinberg, MediaShift’s new music correspondent. With his background in online marketing, Jason will be sharing his insights into how artists can best utilize new technology in connecting with fans.

    There was a time when celebrity musicians were positioned as unreachable idols. Those days are long gone; in today’s wired marketplace, musicians have to forge a personal relationship with their audience to keep their fans’ interest. And for many, that means creating opportunities for fans to have an inside look into all aspects of an artist’s life.

    Savvy bands that tap into technologies can deliver something to their fans that satiates their demand for an insider glimpse -- while also keeping control over the band's image."

    In the current music industry climate, many artists are realizing that they must go further than ever before to be seen as approachable — they must run their organization with almost complete transparency. Save for major mainstream stars, the days of artists being put on an isolated pedestal are long gone; fans are far too savvy and options far too many for a musician to appear to be operating in a different universe. Fans demand access at unprecedented levels, so a band must either provide this access or be skilled at creating the illusion of it.

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    The Importance of Fan Engagement

    What has caused this shift toward transparency? The simple answer is the Internet. The more complex answer is that the Internet has become so woven into the fabric of our culture as to create a sense of immediate fulfillment and enable complete access to almost anyone and anything.

    Never before have consumers had more choices on how to entertain themselves. The avenues for information are exponentially greater than even 10 years ago. With this has come a massive sense of empowerment in music fans. No longer are they limited to what access or content an artist deems worthy to mete out.

    The physical technology and the conceptual structure of the Internet have given fans the ability to craft their own online experiences. If one artist is not providing the type of engagement a consumer seeks, the odds are very high that some other comparable artist is. This puts the fan in a position of greater power and influence than ever seen before in the music industry.

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    But this isn’t necessarily bad news for artists, labels, mangers, or anyone else in the chain that profits from controlling how people experience their content. Savvy bands that tap into existing and developing technologies can deliver something to their fans that satiates their demand for an insider glimpse — while also keeping control over the band’s image.

    i-e19bea983c482bec64f547bb6aca7338-weezer.jpg
    Musicians such as Weezer have used Twitter to engage fans

    The digital music space of 2009 looks very similar to the Internet application space in 1999 — a sea of new technologies, venture-funded start-ups all hoping that their product will be the killer app to revolutionize the business. Many of these will fail, but a handful will survive and change the way the industry operates. Assembling a core toolbox of these digital engagement assets is a critical step in marketing an artist moving forward. For artists (or the team managing their online presence), it is essential to pay attention to available technologies and constantly evaluate what will enhance their fans’ interactions with the band.

    Here are five things that musicians should keep in mind as they look for ways to engage their fanbase online:

    1) Add functionality that will connect to your fans.

    In crafting your digital marketing plan, first ask, does this technology add functionality that will connect to your fans? Many artists fall into the trap of using a digital asset simply because it does something interesting or innovative. When they first came online, a slew of artists adopted video remix contests, but soon found that their fans were not willing to put in the time and effort to create a usable finished product. As people learned the hard way in the late ’90s, technology for technology’s sake often results in amazing software with no users. If the product being implemented does not encourage repeat use and add something to a fan’s experience, it is effectively useless. A great technology used once is barely better than nothing at all.

    2) Technology is not a “one size fits all” solution.

    i-8bf101e99476f4c2b4ebb07ba7b884aa-nin.jpg
    Nine Inch Nails has a tight community online. Photo by Rob Sheridan

    Different technology platforms are geared towards different users. Mobile music marketing rarely makes a dent for older-facing musicians, while many youth-facing pop and hip-hop artists have used phone technology with tremendous results.

    Shareable widgets often have massive value, but only if the artist’s fan base is naturally inclined to spread things they find interesting. Nine Inch Nails fans are notorious for being a tight-knit community; technology that engages them will not work for an artist whose fans are simply into their music and not the associated community.

    3) Do not underestimate time commitments.

    Next, artists must consider how much time they are willing to commit to implementing the chosen technologies. Just as a fan only using something once has little value, there’s little value when artists do not follow through in their marketing efforts.

    In fact, depending on the scale and depth to which fans have been involved, abandoning efforts can have a negative impact on the artist’s reputation. For example, if a musician begins using the micro-blogging platform Twitter, builds a large base of followers, gives them a glimpse behind the scenes, then abandons the effort, these fans may not just lose interest but take their disappointment public in the form of message board posts, social network comments, and other inter-fan communication.

    This has happened recently in the political arena as a number of President Obama’s Twitter followers publicly voiced their annoyance that his tweets had dried up since taking office. Often this only has a limited effect, but, given the viral nature of social media, this can damage an artist’s brand in the long run. If a long-term digital marketing effort is not sustainable, a more realistic or shorter-term alternative needs to be substituted.

    4) Create a plan for implementation and awareness.

    Artists must also develop a plan for creating awareness of these digital tools. Without fans’ eyes and ears, the quality of the product and the plan are irrelevant. Musicians must find a balance between using forward-thinking technology and spending time on core fan-building techniques. The enormous benefit of music technology is that it enables artists to continually give their fans a reason to pay attention. However, if a band only has a weak fan base to begin with, their foundation must be strengthened before the value of these digital tools can be realized.

    5) Use all available web properties.

    An artist must use sites they control (official site, social networks) as well as online social media (music portals, blogs) to maximize the reach of these assets. Without a combined effort on these two avenues, fans miss the communication and the marketing message falls flat.

    Fortunately, most of the issues outlined here are fully within an artist’s control. Once an artist has an understanding of his fan base and the means to reach them, he can begin building a digital marketing strategy, one that will engage, inspire, and create long-term interest.

    Jason Feinberg is the president and founder of On Target Media Group, an entertainment industry new media marketing and promotion company. He is responsible for business development, formulation and management of online marketing campaigns, and media relations with over 1,000 websites and media outlets. The company has served clients including Warner Bros. Records, Universal Music Enterprises, EMI, Concord Music Group, Roadrunner Records, and others with an artist roster that includes The Rentals, Thin Lizzy, Sammy Hagar, Primus, Poncho Sanchez, Ringo Starr, Chick Corea, and many more.

    Tagged: digital music nine inch nails social networking strategy widgets
    • There’s definitely some interesting ways out there for musicians to connect with their fans, but also innovative ways to monetize themselves through digital initiatives.

      Check out this execution that was done my my company for up and coming singer/songwriter, Michael Cialdella (www.michaelc.com). Michael wanted his fans to get to know him better so we made his media/video section a completely immersive one for his fans.

    • This is so true and I am going through this right now! I have been a musician for over 40 years, having started out influenced by The Beatles and Woodstock. I recently lost my corporate job due to outsourcing and have now devoted my full time efforts to music once again. I find the tools out there such an advantage compared to when I was younger to connect to music sources and fans and just in general, gain visibility. I am dedicated to using all of these social networking tools to promote and market my music.

    • Great article Jason. Would love to read an entire article about the “illusion of access” that you mention here. Definitely seems to be an art by itself. Saw an artist online who claimed she would write a song about you and perform it live if you wanted. That seems to be a little extreme and, well, creepy. Definitely a bit of magic and high-wire walking to make it work.

    • Robert

      “If a band only has a weak fan base to begin with, their foundation must be strengthened before the value of these digital tools can be realized.”

      Oh, great. I thought the whole point of this article was to enlighten upcoming artists about how they can use digital technology to strengthen their fan bases. I’m glad that you at least admitted they CAN’T, and that unless you’re NIN or Weezer, none of these tips really apply to you.

      What you’re talking about here, sir, is how to fool the digital world into keeping dinosaurs alive, in the face of the fact that the digital world no longer wants the dinosaurs. This is advertisement at its best: trying to convince people that they can’t live without products that they don’t really need. You seem to be missing the point that all that is part of the old culture that’s being rejected by the new, “empowered” netizen that you talk about. There is simply no place in this new world for the 1980s/1990s pop star, and the whole pop culture is changing.

      I don’t know what the pop star of tomorrow will be like, but I now this: if they’re Big Brother-like celebrities pandering to a Big Brother-like audience, then we don’t need these artists nor this audience. Let pop music die and let’s move on to the next thing that respects people’s intelligence and aims to improve it.

    • Great post. I actually did a shorter version of this post on my own blog a few weeks ago, and included some ideas not mentioned in this article. Check it out if you’re interested: http://www.davidschultz.org/2009/02/04/some-tips-on-using-social-media-for-bands

    • Great article! On a related note we launched a free cool called RockDex last week which helps artists judge how their digital engagements with fans are doing. It scours the social web for mentions and buzz about artists.

      If anyone is interested they can check it out at http://www.RockDex.com.

    • Thanks Jason. These tips are spot on for musicians looking to expand their reach.

    • This article only applies after you’ve developed a fanbase the old fashioned way, pounding the pavement. So many bands I know have huge MySpace numbers (5000+ friends) but maybe 10 people actually turn up to their shows.

      The other tip I’m a bit dubious about is the final tip. All well and good to say you shoudl use all available resources but if you did that, your band ends up signed to a heap of social music portals/commmunities any no way to keep them all up-to-date. Still have to be savvy about which ones you sign up to then make sure you keep THEM up-to-date, I reckon. Even then, sadly, it means nothing without the aforementioned fanbase. This article seems to be tips for bands who are already touring, for example. Not the up-and-comers.

    • Leon

      this article is doesn’t go in to much detail about anything and is hardly of any use to anyone.

      1)Add functionality that will connect to your fans….such as???

      This article is just a marketing tool for his consulting services!

    • Valerie

      Pretty good. Anyone interested in this subject may also want to consider Andrew Dubber’s work over the past couple years, which is relevant to artists at all levels. (Scroll down past the ebook for the original posts which provide its content.)

      http://newmusicstrategies.com/ebook/

    • While your tips are true to promotion and marketing strategies for bands to utilize the web as an arena for publicity, it’s not that all bands must do this. I would say currently, a band is likely to gain a large web following quite easy. This may seem nice, but really the most important aspect IN my opinion is the live show. This is the real music, by the real musicians. Therefore, while a band may gain a network of thousands of people, you have to really gauge their success that # compared to how many go to their live shows. The interaction of the fan and band is delicate online.

      PS. check out http://www.zannel.com/followpalooza , to see how we’re giving a place for independent bands and musicians a forum to broadcast their lives, and compete for some career guiding prizing

    • eh – this article could be written better. I think we’ll create a song/video to encourage people to complain about it :)

      The point of making a connection with fans is definitely 100% true. We see so much more in terms of results when we actively communicate with fans.

    • Hi all, thanks for the comments, positive and negative. I’d like to address some of the issues brought up.

      What seems to be the biggest objection to this article is the notion that this doesn’t apply to smaller artists. In some ways, that is true – there are some marketing avenues that are simply off the table until a band can reach a certain level of awareness. However, the theory presented here applies to all artists at any stage – that fans demand a deeper, more direct connection than ever before and technology is both driving and enabling it. If a band, at any level, is savvy enough to understand what technology is appropriate for the reality of their situation, these ideas can be used to build the foundation I mentioned.

      In regards to this being a useless or empty article, I of course have to disagree. What I am presenting here is advice and suggestions based on years of successes and failures trying to engage artists’ fan bases. If this article is just common sense to you, then congrats, you must be doing something right. But for many artists that are focused purely on being an artist and haven’t tapped into the culture and philosophy of the fan-technology equation, the ideas outlined here might save someone a lot of wasted time and effort.

      Jason

    • Unlike most of these expectations to be accessible to fans by any and all means, no matter how corny or poorly managed the platform (ie. Twitter, Reverbnation), I think the artist that knows how to set a proper boundary not only retains a bigger piece of their sanity, but also manages to keep intact an element of mystery. I know by now this sounds cliche (to his credit) but Trent Reznor has managed to successfully do this on his own terms, granted he was at the superstar level before our industry got totally fucked. There still needs to be some distance between the artist and the fan. I’m tired of people putting the blame on the artist not kowtowing to anyone who shows the slightest bit of interest in their music. That’s not the answer as it’s not a sustainable structure.

      Kudos to Robert for his comments.

    • ** without the profanity this time **

      Unlike most of these expectations to be accessible to fans by any and all means, no matter how corny or poorly managed the platform (ie. Twitter, Reverbnation), I think the artist that knows how to set a proper boundary not only retains a bigger piece of their sanity, but also manages to keep intact an element of mystery. I know by now this sounds cliche (to his credit) but Trent Reznor has managed to successfully do this on his own terms, granted he was at the superstar level before our industry got totally *screwed*. There still needs to be some distance between the artist and the fan. I’m tired of people putting the blame on the artist not kowtowing to anyone who shows the slightest bit of interest in their music. That’s not the answer as it’s not a sustainable structure.

      Kudos to Robert for his comments.

    • So don’t forget, the key to developing your fan base with tech and social media is to first develop your fanbase.

      I think that an artist with a fan base large enough to worry about negative fallout from mismanagement of social apps probably has someone shaping or at least coaching that end of their “brand.” I doubt Obama would read this and storm into his office saying, “Why didn’t someone tell me to keep twittering?!”

      I’m curious to see going forward what impact social networking has on the success or failure of a new artist. MySpace friends don’t necessarily translate into concertgoers, and Twitter followers don’t necessarily guarantee ticket sales or downloads either.

      It’s entirely possible that all this social buzz will ultimately do is ensure that a band/artist is well-liked, an odd new spin-off from “successful”–like when a legitimately good band used to be hailed on all fronts as “critically acclaimed” but sales would fall flat because they weren’t “popular.”

      We’ve already experienced critical successes flopping in popularity and critically panned artists finding expertly marketed riches; why not a season of artists that we love to interact with but fail to support financially?

      I think rising artists are increasingly having to decide at the beginning of their careers what they will consider “success” as fame no longer equals money, money no longer equals quality, and quality no longer equals fame. What was it that you wanted when you wrote that first song? Can you still be happy with that?

    • Ian

      Definitely some good points in the article.
      Artists are more in control of their output & marketing strategy than they ever have been, and it’s a case of being aware of the options and tools available to you, with that comes a need to be smart enough to understand the level you’re at too.
      I think the points are very useful and valid; as long as you’re smart and realistic about your current level and ambitions/goals as a musician.
      No one can claim their ‘advice’ will make a guy or girl singing in the mirror of his/her bedroom a platinum artist over night, anyone looking for that advice or thinks it even exists is deluding themselves.

    • I too have been involved in the “trenches” of the digital music scene (production, marketing, promotion, distribution, recording artist) since the early 1990s.

      This is a good introductory/primer article for anyone who might still be skeptical about the paradigm shift in the music industry.

      The perspective of this article seems to be from that of someone associated with the “major label” type acts, rather than that of the typical independent artists that have already been making the Internet work for them for quite some time.

      There are no more “gatekeepers” in the context of the old music industry model because there are no “gates”. In that regard, I think that it misses a major point of consideration because it could have been stressed that the inherent dynamic of the Internet allows one to actually build a “fan base”. Hence, some major aspects of our thinking has to change which will effect all aspects of business planning.

      Peace, Cb

    • Wicked’s comment was pretty on point as well. There is always something about the mystery of the artist. It’s also not sustainable to constantly e-mail fans as your base grows. You have to find some kind of balance – maybe when you get to the point where you can’t keep up with emails and myspace comments, you make sure you blog more frequently. The fans want some kind of communication – it doesn’t necessarily need to be one to one.

    • Great post! Smashing Pumpkins are considering doing an interesting thing: Selling subscription services to their archives! I recently wrote a blog about how they licensed ‘Today’ to VISA. Is it selling out, or is this the new music industry?

    • You’re right, there are definitely a lot of options out there for artists and not everything is going to work for everyone. It’s important to remember who you are and why you’re doing it, and how you want to connect with your fans. Failing to do so will only result in strategies already tried.

    • the industry has changed quite a bit since my coming into the industry in the late 80’s early 90’s however, those established artists like, Nine Inch Nails, are still established because of using old school wisdom along with internet saavy technology. I had the opportunity to go with a friend to EastWest Studio, which features an 80 channel Neve 8078 console the largest in the world. If there were not any of the cool hip but knowledgeable industry pearls those Nine Inch Nails might have only grown to eight, and if i didn’t know some 19 and 22 year olds, perhaps i wouldn’t be able to skillfully play on an internet platform.

    • Jason,

      I’m glad you’re discussing this because being in the technology music biz I can totally relate with you. Some bands I work with have really embraced the digital world whereas others are flailing in the wind.

      Obviously you could have the best looking MySpace page, more Twitter followers than Ashton Kutcher, and a Facebook team of several thousand – but it what’s even just as important is how your music is perceived. Without any ‘true’ followers that truly do enjoy a band’s music – social media as much of a concern.

      For those bands ready to take their fan engagement to the next level, check out what Artistic Hub (http://artistichub.com), an interactive promotion company, as done for several brands and bands.

      Most recently, they just launched a design platform for Mercury Record’s up and coming band ‘Iglu & Hartly.’ (http://iglu.artistichub.com/ store: http://www.zazzle.com/igluandhartly*) Their hit single “In This City” was #5 on the UK Billboard upon it’s release in 2008. The application allows fans to create, vote for, and purchase their favorite band t-shirt design.

      In the first two weeks they’ve received over 40 fan generated designs and over 50,000 votes.

      Talk about engaging. Email me for info: [email protected]

      Cheers,

      Kevin

    • ben

      thanks for posting

    • Props. I can relate. Seriously, artists are SUCH hard workers!!!

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    • I agree with many of the points you bring up as well as the comments made here. There is no question that if you want to be serious about your fan base it’s best to hit them up from every angle of media i.e. social networks, videos, print, tv , radio etc..

    • great post. thanks a lot

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