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Published: November 02, 2016

The Rise of Direct-to-Fan Marketing in the Music Industry

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‘Direct-to-Fan Marketing’ is something of a new buzzword that, while not globally embraced yet, is noticing an increased use as the music industry as a whole recognises the importance of the artist as a marketing channel instead of a threat to its existence. It forms a robust and effective business model used by many independent musicians and music labels around the world. Below, we discuss further the rise of direct-to-fan marketing in the music industry.

What is direct-to-fan marketing?

The direct-to-fan marketing approach, as its name may suggest, is a way for musicians to appeal and market directly to their fans, without the need for a third-party or middle-man.

These middle-men may be large music labels or social media channels, and direct-to-fan marketing cuts these out and leaves complete control in the hands of the artists themselves. Direct-to-fan marketing has come about due to the collapse of the traditional royalty payment model and many music industry experts see the direct-to-fan approach continuing to rise and rise.

Direct-to-fan marketing is about appealing to the people the matter; the fans!

Why do we need direct-to-fan marketing?

Surely the best way to appeal to fans is to set up a Facebook page, build up a few likes and then post out some statuses right? Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that. In the age of social media and connectivity, it’s easy to assume that setting up a social channel is the most successful way of discovering and servicing your user base.

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While it might be the easiest route, it is certainly not the most successful route. Social media giants such as Facebook act as information gatekeepers, maintaining complete control over each and every person that likes a Facebook page. This means the page owner still has to go through them and pay advertising fees, each and every time to interact with their fan base.

This is, of course, despite the fact that these users have come to an artist’s page purely to hear from them directly, and most likely because the artist drove them to their page in the first place.

It is entirely fair to say that the Facebooks and the Twitters of this world do not have an artist’s best interests at heart. Success and revenue becomes measured in the number of likes that each page has. At the end of the day, they are advertising businesses so they can’t be blamed, but it skewers the way in which artists can interact with their fans.

How can artists market to their fan base effectively without knowing who they truly are? If artists were able to engage with their users on a much deeper level, in a direct-to-fan way, they would know instantly what songs they do or don’t like, what merchandise they want to see on sale and how likely they are to buy tour tickets.

Without a direct-to-fan approach, music artists are simply producing tracks, t-shirts, and booking venues without truly knowing how well they will appeal to their fans. By cutting out the middle-man, doing away with the needless control by those who don’t have a deep interest in their business and being able to properly engage with their fans, artists can establish much closer relationships between themselves an their fan base.

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Appealing to your “super fans”

Direct-to-fan marketing isn’t something that every single “social media fan” is going to be interested in. Some fans will be happy to add a few new tracks from their favourite artists to their playlists on Spotify, and simply engage with them by listening to the new tracks on the way to work.

Other fans, super fans as they are often called, want to go much further than this. They want the new merchandise, the exclusive listens to new tracks, the tickets to the tour and even the chance to meet their favourite artists. These are the people that the direct-to-fan marketing business model was made for and the fans that spend money on merchandise, albums and tickets.

A great example of a direct-to-fan marketing approach in the games industry that has had huge success is with the popular mobile game app Candy Crush, developed by King Digital Entertainment PLC. In the fourth quarter of 2014, Candy Crush had over 356 million unique monthly users, and yet only 8.3 million made any in-app purchases. And yet, they still pulled $263.8 million in from these 8.3 million users.

How? By seeing who was making in-app purchases, they began to target these users with more deals and offers, enticing them in even further, resulting in the huge revenues for the fourth quarter of 2014.

Now, this approach may seem a little shadier, having users spend more money simply by dangling deals in front of them. Direct-to-fan marketing in the music industry doesn’t have this ‘shady’ approach. It’s about music artists essentially having conversations with their super fans; finding out what merchandise and new music they want. Would they really

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buy a new t-shirt? If not, then artists can save on various costs as well as provide the fan what they really want.

But it goes so much further than this. It’s not just about artists finding out what their fans like and selling to them; it’s about connecting with their super fans. Giving them exclusive access to what happens behind the scenes, giving fans exclusive new tracks or allowing them to meet the artist back stage. It’s a way for music artists to show their fan base that they care about them just as much as the fan cares about the artist and their music.

Direct-to-fan marketing is about getting music artists and fans closer together

What can newer apps like GigRev and Bkstg do to solve the issue?

There are new platforms and apps being designed such as GigRev, and Bkstg with direct-to-fan marketing in mind. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are all brilliant platforms that go a long way in getting music artists and fans together. But they still create a wall between the two parties, with, as always, money being the issue. Even with Spotify, the money issue is far from solved, with music labels keeping roughly 70% of what an artist makes from streaming platforms. However, this is a different problem entirely.

Apps such as GigRev have been created as private social platforms that bring artists and fans together. These platforms need to be given to the artists, and then the real musical magic can unfold! These platforms need not to sit on artists’ data, acting as gatekeepers and all-controlling slave drivers. Music artists need complete control over who they engage with and how they do it, therefore taking direct-to-fan marketing to a whole new level.

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Music artists are a lot more than just artists, they are businesses, having to adapt to new technologies and new fan desires weekly, and how can a business operate without knowing what its customers want? These new social platforms operate by knowing what music artists want, and they give artists a chance to connect with fans in a way that simply hasn’t been offered before.

Many companies try and tackle the problem from a top-down approach by tackling the music labels first, but this isn’t going to solve anything. It needs to be done bottom-up, helping the ones who actually make the music and the ones who actually buy it; the music artists and their fans.

Are there any drawbacks to direct-to-fan marketing?

It will, of course, be a more time-consuming process by engaging with users more directly rather than leaving it in the hands of a third party. But this isn’t a drawback, simply another process that must be incorporated into a music artist’s business plan.

It’s easy to pay a marketing company to handle things for you, but they don’t know your brand like you do. You could let Spotify handle your promotions, but can they use the right language and approach that you would use? Probably not. The best and most successful companies are those that truly connect and engage with their user base because, let’s face it, who else are you selling to?

How direct-to-fan marketing is changing the world

An old, and now somewhat outdated notion, is that “if you build it, they will come”. Although this is a nice concept, things just don’t really work like that anymore. We live in a very rushed, “I want it now” culture, what with the ability of having everything at our fingertips, and you can’t rely on people sourcing you out in the way that they used to.

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The things that get talked about the most are the most successful advertising campaigns or the most viral tweets; things that have properly engaged with those that have viewed them. Direct-to-fan marketing is working in the same way in the music industry. By appealing to your user base, creating a unique group of super fans and, ultimately, selling content that has value, direct-to-fan marketing is sure to revolutionise the music industry in a way no other form of marketing has managed.

Image credit: Nainoa Shizuru and CONTENTKRAFT

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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