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.