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How Jail-Time and Cults Can Help Your Band Become Successful, PART 1: A Poll of Leaders from Bandcamp, CD Baby, FanBridge, ReverbNation, Topspin Media, and More

The founders and leaders of web-based services for the music industry have the unique opportunity to see what musicians are doing to build awareness among fans and what they are doing to amplify their story through the media. I polled seven such thinkers with the question: Can you tell us about a band or two whose STORY has helped their careers? They told me compelling stories about jail-time, tragedy, and cults, but also about crowd-sourcing band members, using technology to answer fan questions, and giving fans ownership of a band. Here is part one of two:

Spencer Richardson, Founder and CEO of FanBridge:

Dream Theater had an interesting situation where they had their drummer leave the group and they were looking for a replacement. What otherwise might have been a different chapter in their story, they turned it into something really exciting. They used our technology with Damn the Radio to do a sneak peak or insider access to who the next drummer was going to be. They got a lot of press around it. Then everyone wanted to know “Who is the new guy?” They turned the page by turning that experience into greater engagement with the band.

John Legend uses our Fan Questions, a tool where fans ask questions and musicians answer them. But to tell his story, he wanted to do video responses. We built that ability and that just exploded the acquisition of audience members for him. Just yesterday we launched video Fan Questions to the entire platform. So now anyone can do video responses to fan questions. Days Difference has done that on a smaller scale but very well. Within Fan Questions they have answered over a few hundred questions which is super exciting for fans.

Imogen Heap is one of my favorite examples. She used to be in Frou Frou and then grew into her own solo career. It’s great to watch how she has used the tools and technology to build that engaged audience. She’s proven the sustainability of her career and she does that by telling each of her chapters on the FanBridge platform. We’ve seen her audience grow as her career blossomed. The way she interacts with them helps inform the technology we built around it. We try to look at clients like her who sit on loyal and engaged audiences and see the kinds of things she wants to do with those audiences and make sure that ultimately the technology is invisible. You don’t feel like you are working on an application. You feel like you are working on your story. She is an excellent example of someone who has grown that audience, has communicated with them effectively, and driven to success. We have learned a lot from her. You learn a lot by following artists like that who really know how to engage with their fans.

Ian Rogers, CEO of Topspin Media:

Yeasayer was where a lightbulb really went off for me. What Jason did with Yeasayer was that he was very methodic about it. He didn’t just put the music out there. He said: this is the way I’m going to present the band. Thisis who I think the first fans are and I’m not going to rest until I have those people. It worked extremely well; much better than if he just dumped it out there. He knew an audience and he gave them a chance to own the band as theirs. I think he was just very methodical about what he put out; when, where, and how. He didn’t even let photos get out for their first year of existence. It kept up a mystique and an image that worked with what he was trying to accomplish, and it really did work. He got that audience to care deeply about the band. He gave them the chance to own it, the chance for them to say this band is part of our world and our scene.

The story of Metric is somewhat different in that it was about their independence. There was no reason their music didn’t have mass appeal, but they showed they were still human beings who were going to approach
the business on their own terms. That became part of their story, so people listened and connected to them, because it felt real. Fans realized the album was something that had broad appeal and they could share with everyone in their social circle. It grew naturally. Here’s a band with no label and they would come to town and play and next time they would play to twice as many people. The way they unfolded that story over a period of five years was very deliberate and it really worked. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that band is truly beloved by fans, industry, radio stations. Everyone looks at them and says: that is how this should be done. They have great music and a great live show. It’s the kind of thing you want to love and

Jennifer Elias, Business Development at Bandcamp:

Zoe Keating is fascinating. She is a classically-trained cellist who is also very technologically savvy and has combined both of those things in her music. She really interacts with her fans as individuals. She made it to the classical chart on Billboard from her Bandcamp sales. She was also on RadioLab, where she was creating different moods of music on the spot. You get that kind of NPR audience excited and it makes a big difference.

Homestuck have done really well too. It’s somewhat of a webcomic in the format of a mock videogame, where loads of fans write in suggestions of where the story can go and volunteers write music to go with it. Two people run it, one based in Boston and one in Florida. They decided to sell the music to give back money to the artists. Their sales are really strong on Bandcamp, and now they operate almost as a record label for the artists that have risen up from their online community.

The above excerpt is from my new book titled “Amplify Your Story: Getting More Press Through the Art of the Pitch,” which you can download for free here. Read the full Q&As with these leaders as well as the method I developed for crystallizing the most compelling press angles for your band and music. And if you download the book, you will be the first to know about the launch of StoryAmp, a new platform for connecting musicians and the press. Stay tuned for part two of this article soon on Music Think Tank.


Reader Comments (1)

Interesting article so far... Imogen Heap is a great example, but she has pretty much always been a solo artist who did a side project called Frou Frou. Her best known album, Speak for Yourself, came out before the Frou Frou project, and she has continued as a solo artist since.

September 12 | Unregistered CommenterChristian

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