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Finding 5,000 Fans Under Your Nose: A Case for Facebook Ads

One of the biggest challenges a music marketer faces is selecting a channel (or multiple channels) to focus their efforts on. More than anything, this means researching and understanding the ways existing and potential fans discover and consume music.

In the case of a young, hip band like A B & The Sea, it was clearly the social channels — with a product that is almost universally appealing and a fanbase that spends hours upon hours daily on social networks, it was a no-brainer. All Smiles, however, is a different case entirely.

Jim Fairchild spent most of his musical career influencing a generation as the guitarist in Grandaddy. More recently, he’s touched another generation as the touring guitarist for Modest Mouse. His work isn’t relegated to these well known bands, however — he’s also put out two LPs and a few EPs as All Smiles (with some help from fellow indie-famous friends).

The first All Smiles LP was put out by Dangerbird Records, replete with marketing budget, press tour, and all the other standard trimmings of a major indie album release. The second LP, however, came out independently with little more than an old-school (read: largely ineffective, for a variety of reasons) PR campaign behind it. As a result, it made about $1,900 (against production costs of $19,000) and Jim, somewhat disappointed, wrote it off in favor of other professional engagements.

I ripped the second LP before it was out. About a week later, while I was still working at Topspin, I learned I’d be helping Jim set up his web store. I already loved the album, so working with Jim directly was a dream come true. Jim then moved to San Francisco almost immediately after I did and we became great friends. A few months ago, as I was on my way out at Topspin, I told Jim we should give away the album as an effort to build his email list before he dropped his next album. I even suggested a crazy bet (any fewer than 500 emails collected and I’d pay him $5 per download, and more than 500 and he’d pay me a percentage of sales on the next record), but backed off a little as we were both on board regardless of the terms.

We started to work on timing for the giveaway, and the Modest Mouse summer tour seemed to make a great deal of sense — Modest Mouse fans would be actively engaged with their brand, and probably looking and hoping for new music from the band.

Then we started thinking about ways to get the word out. I was traveling and preparing to start a new job and Jim was traveling with Modest Mouse, so our time resources were limited. I designed and printed several hundred postcards for Jim to take on tour and leave at the merch booth, but circumstances didn’t allow for that to happen. I coached Jim on reaching out to bloggers in the hopes of getting some coverage, but since bloggers tend to focus on new content there wasn’t much uptake.

It became quite obvious that the route we’d have to take would be advertising — we knew the market we were targeting (Modest Mouse, Grandaddy, and related fans) and didn’t have many resources or time.

We started with a Google Adwords campaign. It served up tens of thousands of impressions at the top of searches for Modest Mouse, Grandaddy, Elliot Smith, All Smiles, and a couple others, yet didn’t garner a single click over a two week period. A conversion rate of zero is never a good indication, but I heard many great things about Facebook ads from my friends in the Topspin Green Room and decided they were worth a try.

Sure enough, Facebook ads were an overwhelming success. With a daily spend of $50, a max CPC of $0.62 (at the high end of Facebook’s recommendations), and three variations of creative (the two with photos of Jim easily beat out the third with the album cover in terms of effectiveness), we suddenly started seeing conversion rates of about 150 new fan emails per day. We were paying about $0.14 per click for about 350 clicks/day, or about $0.33 per new fan acquired.

After about two weeks, the rates suddenly dropped to about 250 clicks/day and 100 emails/day, an indication that we had reached a point of penetration on impressions across enough of the market that subsequent clicks would be tougher to come by. Luckily, it was at this same time that I noticed we had only been targeting American fans. I asked Jim where the associated fan bases were strongest, and he told me France, Germany, Great Britain, and Australia. I copied the ads and targeted these regions.

Immediately upon approval, the Australian ads started to take off — we had our biggest day on August 9th with 279 emails collected. Unfortunately Facebook ads are more expensive in many other countries, so after a while the Facebook targeting algorithms started to level us off again at around the 250 clicks (and then 200 clicks) / 100 emails mark. After seeing these trend down for a couple days and realizing how far over budget we already were (which was fine since we were having such overwhelming success), I turned the Facebook ads down to $25/day, and will shut them off shortly as the emails are down to a trickle of about 40/day ($0.80/email; about 80 clicks/day — the conversion rates are superb once on the site, but the ads are more expensive per click).

So Facebook ads must work for everyone, right? Not exactly. There are definitely some advantages over other advertising channels (the passive discovery user behavior on Facebook (avg time on site: 45 mins) vs the active searching behavior on Google (focused on finding vs discovering)), but no channel is inherently better than any other. It’s all about the fit.

As a bit of comparison, San Francisco’s premier nerdrockers My First Earthquake recently ran a similar campaign and spent $44 to get 26 additional downloads — $1.60 per new fan acquired. They also tested three creatives and had a very clear winner very quickly (the one with the picture of their cute lead singer — photos of women in ads tend to perform at 3x of other pictures). So why didn’t My First Earthquake enjoy the same success?

Simply put, it wasn’t the right channel. The success of the All Smiles campaign (our initial lofty goal was 1000 downloads, but we’re nearing 5000) was because we (eventually) picked a channel that allowed us to easily target a very specific but rather large group of people with a relevant and compelling offer. We had some brand recognition to go on (“I like Grandaddy and Modest Mouse, so yea, I probably would like free music from a member of both”), which My First Earthquake is still building. We essentially used Facebook as a means of introduction in much the same way Fanfarlo benefitted from an introduction from Sigur Ros. It cost us more than an email from one of the bands would have, but without that as an option Facebook was the best possible channel.

Jim is extremely pleased that so many people have had a chance to listen to the record; but, to be fair, much of the really interesting data lies ahead — are these fans captured through Facebook ads as valuable as fans captured organically? My guess is no, but the real question is if they’re worth more than we spent to acquire them — on that point, I’m hopeful. At the very least, they’ve helped reach more organic traffic, as nearly all blog posts about the album (accounting for about 300 emails) have come in the last couple weeks.

Stay tuned for data from the next album launch this fall. And if you’ve run an ad campaign for an artist before, I’d love to hear your results in the comments.

Ty runs Sum The Greater, a music blog and direct-to-fan marketing company out of San Francisco. He spent two years managing Artist Services at Topspin and has since dedicated himself to helping small bands build actionable fan bases. He has written several follow-up posts on Facebook Ad campaign success, which are available here.

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Reader Comments (19)

Interesting article. I have been using a variety of Facebook ads for my band for the past 6 months or so and have gotten interesting results. Granted my daily budget is extremely low ($2!) but I have found that copy and imagery are key. We had an ad with the headline "Free Rock MP3's" and we quickly learned that it wasnt converting at all, while "Free Music Now" converted at a much higher rate. I also learned that paying per click was much more successful than paying for impression. We're still trying different things out but we're definitely honing our strategy.

September 14 | Unregistered CommenterMark

I've been happy with Facebook ads, as well. Of course, my budget isn't nearly as big as yours- I've got mine set at $1 per day...and that translates into roughly 1-2 new email addresses/ day. It's been great for bumping up my mailing list. But yes, the first ad I put up didn't do well at all, and I had to tweak it a little to get the right result.

September 14 | Unregistered Commenterchantilly

So, your campaign has paid for a lot of folks to get your music for free. Correct? Any sales from this campaign?

September 14 | Unregistered Commenteralbert

Nice case Ty,

I think the amazing thing about Facebook ads is just how targeted you can be (so much so that it's very stalkerish) - I once set an ad campaign up that through using demographic, location and interest targeting managed to make my ad appear infront of just 2 people who I had targeted as a test!

One little trick to save some cash here is to set your bidding model as CPM and have a very enticing image (perhaps with a button on it) or vis versa, have a CPC model with an image that doesn't incentivise a click (this is a great tactic for branding campaigns) that way you get heaps of impressions but no clicks, and because you're paying for the click, your costs are low - however this only usually works for a week until Facebook catch on, but hey.. I think I racked up ~50,000 impressions for less than a few dollars doing that!

I'd be interested to know if anyones used Linkedin advertising to target music industry pros by job title or industry as Facebook doesn't allow those as targeting options..

September 14 | Unregistered CommenterMarcus Taylor

Respectfully, have there been any sales at all to a person you found through a Facebook ad?

I, too, am mostly interested in how many sales you make for the money you have invested.

Because that's pretty much the entire point if this is a career to make your living.

September 14 | Registered CommenterGlenn Galen

Glenn, Albert, One thing i have noticed is that the average music listener will be extremely hesitant to pay money for an unknown artist. We posted our album up for sale on bandcamp and outside of the initial purchases by friends and family, it really didnt move much. Then when we started doing FB ads, traffic and likes improved and a few more sales happened but nothing terribly substantial, then we decided to do a test and offer the album for FREE on bandcamp while still selling it through itunes and the response was overwhelmingly positive in that it got picked up by numerous blogs and twitter feeds and we garnered a bunch of downloads and an additional 300+ email addresses and an increase in itunes sales. So now we have 300+ people who gotten something for us for free, when we release our next album, we expect a good number of them to be ready to buy the album because we gave them something already, and they have a relationship to us now. There is a whole new philosophy surrounding what is called the New Music economy that every artist should read up on. We cant just sell CD's the old fashioned way anymore.

September 14 | Unregistered CommenterMark

I've run some Facebook campaigns & talked to a number of friends that have run them as well. Most people have the same story to tell me. Does it generate clicks that you pay for? Yes. Does it in the end actually generate sales? No. I have the same experience with the Google ads & Myspace ads. If you have a thousand dollars you are willing to pay to get traffic to your site or to give your music away for free, these campaigns work great. Heck, at this point I could see that argument being pretty valid with some artists. I know with a lot of folks the main use for physicals has become promotional, so it might be worth an experiment of taking that same $1000 & pouring it in to the pay per click ads for free download & email exchange & see what happens as far as it creating a spike in iTunes sales. My personal thought is people that want music for free translate to around 1% (probably less) that will return to buy things. So if you are paying over $0.10 per new fan, you are getting ripped off in the end. I do think however some combination of Facebook ads with Pay-with-a-Tweet might be a phenomenal marketing plan.

Where I do think that the Facebook ads are incredibly useful is advertising individual shows because you can not only target Elliot Smith fans or whatever, but also what city they live in. Totally a good way to go because your market of 200 fans is totally specialized & appropriate & the word about the show is spread when the ad is seen if they click it or not.

September 14 | Registered CommenterBrian John Mitchell

I think you are paying too much for clicks. I ignore the facebook recommendation and set $0.15 per click for targetted countries (US/Canada/EU/AU) with at most $2.50 daily budget.

We've had a few sales but the bulk of the sales comes through Google search (paid and organic). I'd be interested to hear other's experiences.

September 15 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Well, I feel like collecting actual data that you can use to keep in touch with people that have shown interest in your music is a lot better of a way to spend your dollars than say, running a or jango play campaign- where people can only be your "fan", and it's never certain you'll ever hear from them again.

If you want to reach out to new people, you're going to have to spend money, period. Whether it's touring, sending out press kits to magazines, or running an ad campaign. It's that, or spending all your time, all day every day doing things the harder, more time consuming way. For myself, right now I find a facebook ad campaign a cheaper and easier outreach method than say, touring.

I do think that $1500 per month is a LOT to spend. But they're an indie label, so they have the money and it might be worth it to them in the long run. I DON'T agree that people who download free music will never end up paying for it... I generally see a spike in itunes sales when I run my campaigns.

September 15 | Unregistered Commenterchantilly


You said: "we expect a good number of them to be ready to buy the album because we gave them something already"

That will be the test of the new theory, versus the "old way" of selling CDs.

Please let us know if it works.

September 16 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Galen

I've been giving FB ads a long look with one of the bands I manage. They've got a record they did with an extremely well-known producer that we want to release in early '11 and in the meantime, we've put out a 3 song sampler EP for free on Bandcamp. The band is working on a bare bones budget right now, so we've been unable to experiment as much as I'd like to be able to.

After not touring much on their last record, my main focus with them has been to get them playing as many shows as possible in markets outside the NY/NJ area (where they're from). Over the last few months that's meant getting into Philly, Delaware, cities in Connecticut, etc. We're hoping to put together a 3-week East Coast tour this winter.

I've been toying with the idea of running Facebook ads in the week leading up to shows in some of these cities to let people know about the show. For example, running ads targeted to 25 miles around Danbury, CT for fans aged 19+ (if the show is 21+) over the course of that week and allocating approximately $35 total ($5/day). The CPM rates in this particular case appear to be around $0.50 per 1k impressions. While I think we'd be able to get quite a few impressions with a refined target based on the market they're playing in, how many people are really going to go to a show of a band they haven't heard of?

The alternative is to direct people to the free-P on Bandcamp (which is fully integrated with their website) and make no mention of the show in the area in the ad. The downside is running on a CPC basis (since we want people to download) seems to be approximately 2x more expensive, so you'd be lucky to get 35 clicks in that same period of time (if CPC is approximately $1.00 per). The plus side of that is if they download, we have their e-mail address and can contact them about future shows in the area, but at one heck of a per-person cost ($1.00 + 3 songs for the possibility of them contributing to a $5 cover in the near future).

Haven't quite made a decision yet, but if anyone else has grappled with a similar situation and wants to share their experience, I'd be interested to hear about it.

September 18 | Registered CommenterTony Pascarella

I've used Facebook ads, but only with a set budget and a specific event to promote. I find that using the "recommended" bids is not any more effective than using a formula that is based upon an assumption that 1% of the people will actually make a purchase (which seems to be playing out about right).

Paying .01 of the retail price of your product per click is about what it's worth. That means if you're selling a $5 cover show, you can only bid .05, which won't get you many clicks, or many impressons for that matter.

However, if you're selling a big-ticket item, you've got some leeway. Also remember, most people don't come to a show alone, so you can usually assume twice the ticket price for a show. CDs, however, are another matter -- likely anyone who buys one is going to burn it for 2 or 3 friends if they like it, and with downloads probably a lot more. If your goal is exposure, advertising a free download is worthwhile. But be aware, even in meatspace, this is not going to get you a 1-to-1 ratio of purchasing customers, probably 5% if you're lucky -- we did a nightly drawing to select one email to get a free CD, and we collected 500 or 600 emails in a few months, 2 or 3 gigs per month. But only about 40 to 50 of those emails were people who actually faithfully followed the band or ever bought anything.

One unseen correlation: every time we did the drawing, we would sell, on average, one more CD than if we didn't do it, just because we were drawing attention to the product. I suspect the bump in iTunes sales that some have experienced is a similar phenomenon.

The targeting on Facebook is very, very good, and if you can come up with 20 bands that you have been told you sound like, use those as targeting. Jango is also useful for that purpose, target people who like your genre and see what comes up as similars -- ignore the ones that are obvious, focus on the odd ones because those will be more in your niche. You can then use those to target on Facebook. Just be ready to spend a long time building brand, because those niches will of course have less traffic -- the advantage though is that you can bid lower and let the campaign run longer, which means a LOT of impressions, even with limited clicks.

Send the clicks to a free download that captures their contact info and provides the files upon confirmation of their email, and make sure to get their zip code so you can later target emails to them when you're touring in their area. (I've also used jango's targeting in a similar way, to generate fans 2 months before we're going to appear somewhere).

My general theory, though, is to bid very low and just keep a steady campaign running, get a lot of impressions along with the handful of clicks, and do traditional p.r. as well -- eventually, you'll get through to the people you need to, just don't expect it to happen overnight, or even in a year, more like 3 or more.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Pasek

I run one of the first mp3 blogs in Germany and there is one thing that I don't really get here: you give facebook your last cents AND your music so they get even richer, but Facebook won't do anything for you in return. With our blog we reach more than 1000 Downloads in any single case (yet we usually don't introduced unsigned artists) PLUS you get editorial coverage that grows day by day, bringing people all the good music that is out there.

Go and support the music culture instead of counting clicks on a facebook ad which in the end is wasted money, since Facebook won't give you anything else back but clicks. Facebook does not give a shit about music and everybody knows that.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterUdo

Very interesting article indeed and one which I think a lot of people are missing one very crucial point.

The point with Facebook is to develop a relationship with your friends/fans.

It is very important to integrate Facebook with your website, using Facebook Connect or similar. Once you develop fans/friends, you need to communicate with them in a subtle non-money grabbing way. Your entire model should be based on free at the point of sale.

Sales should NOT be your goal. Interaction and communication is and once you develop that fan mentality, (not a moment before) you can then run a campaign to get into the charts or something to initiate sales. You can also do live shows as well.

Over the years I have been working on a number of marketing initiatives that suit indie artists and the new model formula. Sales are great but it is important to develop a strategic relationship with fans first.

You cannot sell music without fans.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterKehinde

Hey everyone - sorry for the delayed response here.

To the question of sales, it wasn't our goal with this campaign, but in fact YES we sold nearly $100 in merchandise to these new fans (split between the deluxe package and the other EP we have for sale) -- we hadn't sold a dollar's worth of merch in months. We will definitely follow up on sales data from all these new fans when the new record comes out in a few months.

The $1500 is certainly a lot -- I wasn't intending to spend more than a few hundred. However, one of the things that needs to change about this industry is the firm, set-up-front budgeting. We found something that worked far superior to all our other efforts in other channels, so we invested everything we had into that.

As for CPC vs CPM, I did a follow-up post on that here: The net was a drastically increased cost per conversion, despite what would otherwise be superior metrics on Facebook's platform. Again, we want to measure conversions, not just clicks or eyeballs.

September 21 | Registered CommenterTy White

I am managing my band (The Cool Band) and have been running into similar problems as all of you. We are an unsigned band trying to promote ourselves and what I've found is that you have to have the relationship first before your fans give you their money. Also, I think the mentality on the business side of music has to change in order to have success. The average person can get music for free easily. They can stream it on pandora or youtube, they can d/l it or they can rip it or have it sent to them by a friend. Napster and Limewire and other programs have spoiled the public so that now ppl expect to get music for free. They will no longer pay for 15 track albums where they only like 3 of the songs on the album. They arent going to pay for someone they've never heard of. Plus with twitter, facebook, email, youtube, there's an opporutnity for the fan to feel like they are really apart of the band. The point is this. A band no longer needs a label to succeed. They dont need radio stations giving them play or a multimillion dollar studio. They need quality music which they can make in their bedroom for a fraction of the cost. They need exposure which we see they can get from targeted ad campaigns. You have to put up money first now and the relationship is no more of producer and consumer. THe relationship is now a friendship. You get to know the artist, the artist repsonds to you. For that experience, we reward you with money or else you cannot continue this relationship with us.....My two cents. ALso if anyone wants to team up with a talented, hungry band..send me an email:

September 23 | Unregistered CommenterQuintin Evans

Wow, so this is my takeaway:

-make great music (which will take, realistically, hundreds and hundreds of hours)

-work the web (which will take, realistically, hundreds and hundreds of hours)

-pay for ads to give the music away

-then give the music away for free

To all "Fans" out there: you're only a fan if you actually buy music. Support the music, spend your pennies, don't download illegally.

To all bands/musicians out there: tell your friends, cousins, nieces and nephews, grandkids, whatever, that an artist, just like a lawyer, bricklayer or banker, has a right to be compensated for their efforts. Let someone (young) you know personally understand that you make music, and that you can make more music if it is supported by people buying music. If they understand that someone they actually know is being hurt by downloading, they will change their behavior.

September 30 | Unregistered Commentereducate the dl'ers

"To all "Fans" out there: you're only a fan if you actually buy music. Support the music, spend your pennies, don't download illegally. "


October 4 | Unregistered CommenterFebreze

'eductate the dl'ers' you nail the irony and frustration well.

October 5 | Unregistered CommenterAlien Skin

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