Transcript - Ian Rogers from Topspin Discusses Social Networking and Commerce Solutions on The Music Biz Weekly Podcast
Welcome to transcript of episode seven of The Music Biz Weekly, a weekly podcast co-hosted by Michael Brandvold and Brian Thompson.
Each week Michael and Brian will discuss the latest events in the music business and music marketing events and techniques.
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This week’s episode, May 6, 2011 - Ian Rogers from Topspin Discusses Social Networking and Commerce Solutions
Brian Thompson – Hey everybody, welcome to episode number 8 of the Music Biz Weekly Podcast! We’ve got a very special guest with us today, and this is very exciting for Michael and I. We have Ian Rogers, CEO for Topspin Media on the other end of skype. Ian, how are you doing today?
Ian Rogers – I’m good thanks, how you guys doing?
Michael Brandvold – Real good, this is exciting! I think we couldn’t have better first guest for our podcast.
IR – Oh, thank you, it’s an honor!
BT – Yeah, so today…this all came about because last week’s episode #7 was discussing e-commerce solutions for bands…and we started talking about Topspin quite a bit. Next thing you know, Ian entered the discussion fray on their forum site. And here he is. So this is basically a continuation of that discussion last week, and Ian is one of the top minds in the direct-to-fan marketing area, so he’s the guy who’s got all the answers for us.
IR – And a testimony to the power of Twitter…it was last Friday that you guys tweeted out the podcast, and you mentioned Topspin media… I actually wasn’t familiar with the podcast before and I responded from the Topspin account using Hootsuite – which I tend to look at, at least one day – and made myself a note, like “I want to listen to this, this weekend.” I took a listen, took some notes, and I posted something on the forum…and wow. This is…pretty much covering the West coast here with our Skype connection. In between twitter and Skype…and media enclosures over RSS…this whole thing is a pretty amazing testament to the power of connectivity on the internet
MB – It is. It was pretty interesting when I sent that tweet out last Friday. I mentioned Topspin, I think I mentioned Bandcamp…and maybe Nimbit. And more so just to kind of throw it in front of him – I wasn’t expecting any sort of response really – but you know, Ian you responded pretty much right away on it, and I remember sending off to Brian “uh, Brian, Ian Rogers is talking about this…”
BT – *laughs
MB – And part of me was like “wow…it’s not even the marketing assistant who is watching twitter…this is the CEO of the company!” so hats off! I was pretty impressed that you yourself were, you know, that deeply involved.
BT – I’m a nerd man. Come on.
MB - *laughs
BT – What I love is that – as I was saying before we start recording this – is that almost everyday I have successes and triumphs all because of Twitter. And when I’m talking to bands, a lot of them still don’t use twitter nearly as much as they should. You know, if a band were to use twitter the way we all use twitter and we were to connect with the fans the way we are…it’s amazing what you can make out of this new medium.
MB – You just have no idea what business could land on your doorstep because you just mentioned somebody’s name. Again, this podcast with you as a guest is testament to that.
IR – I appreciate you saying that. I think you’re a 100% right. It’s a really efficient communication mechanism, I look at it all the time for myself, for Topspin, for the class we teach at UCLA… you know, you just pay attention in there and you do, you make really interesting connections. Also you get a sense of what it is that your customers are feeling and doing which is so important. You know, we have…our customer service team also looks at it constantly. We do a ticket on sale and there is an unhappy customer on twitter, they can make a lot of noise. And if we take care of him right away, you can actually flip him from being really angry to being “wow, I can’t believe I got a response so quick and they took care of me so quickly.” So, the problem of course is that there are only so many minutes in a day and it doesn’t necessarily scale, which is why you guys do a podcast and we do a weekly webcast. And you know, that was my point of doing the weekly webcast for Topspin too. It was just saying “look, we’ll jump on Justin.tv and maybe take an hour every Friday and I’m gonna jump on Justin.tv live and that way if a Topspin customer has beef, they never have to go more than 7 days without being able to talk directly to us and say “look, I’ve got a problem”. You know, which is why we have the forums, we pay attention to twitter…I just think it’s so important to do. The challenge is making it scale, right.
BT – Well, what you’re describing Ian, is exactly what is discussed, the whole premise of the book “The Thank You Economy.” Have you read that book?
IR – I haven’t read it actually, no.
BT – It is fantastic. I mean, you don’t really need to read it, because you’re already doing all of it, but it’s talking about businesses and anybody that has something to market, about listening to what’s happening on twitter, listening to what’s being said through google or whatever, and just monitoring the digital space of mentions of your name, and interacting with those people…whether they are having a good experience or bad experience, and just engaging them. You’re right, I mean even if they’re…if someone is having a negative experience, you just… reaching out to them and acknowledging that you hear them, you understand their concern… even if you can’t do anything about it, quite often just acknowledging them can take the edge off of a bad situation.
IR – Yeah, and I find it really doesn’t take much time, and you can make friends for life… I mean I get all of the…If you mail info@topspin, it goes to a bunch of people here in the company, and I’m one of the people. You know, I’d say probably 1 out of 5 times is all that I ever respond, but if somebody has a question about “hey, does Topspin do this?” If they put their phone number in the email I just call’em, you know?
BT – That’s awesome.
MB – That is amazing that you take that time to do that.
IR – It doesn’t take that much time you know? It happened to me on Tuesday morning… I got one of those emails, it was from a Woman who had a question about Topspin, she put her phone number in the email…I landed in San Francisco and what else am I going to be doing? I’m walking towards the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) you know what I mean? So I just hit dial on my blackberry and I’m talking to her and you know, at the end of the call she’s like “I’m sorry what was your name again?” And I was like “Um…just Ian” And she got the input she needed out of… you know, and hopefully she’ll become a user and hopefully she’ll always remember that we cared enough to call her and answer her questions directly. It took me 10min, you know what I mean?
MB – The interesting thing is that there’s a lot of companies, bands, people…that can’t take that 10min.
BT – Well, I think what you’re doing there is you’re creating a potential customer for life and you know, just… you’re doing exactly what a band should be doing! It’s so scalable to other industries and other creatives…you know, hopefully she’ll jump on board the program and start recruiting new clients for you too.
IR – Yeah, there’s no question. I know there’s a… I did a blog post a couple years ago about a band that I had just gone to see, this young band called “Hail Storm” - who actually I met over twitter and I ended up going to see them when I was in out in Boston…watched them open for a band at the House of Blues – and they were incredible the way that they did it: a)from a marketing perspective. They told people from the stage “follow us on twitter, we’re gonna be at the merch stand after the show” and then… man, I’m telling you, I watched them run off stage and run to the merch stand and they stood there and… and this was an opening band who had probably 50-75 people standing around the merch stand wanting to talk to them, or buy a CD and get it signed or…etc. They really put in that work. I’ve watched Metric do the same thing, you know. They played the world tour here in LA which is not a small venue. You know, they worked all day long, they were at KCRW during the day, they did a TV show in the afternoon, they played the Wiltern at night, and they walk off stage and they are right up stairs doing the meet and greet with the fans and they are still dripping sweat, you know? I couldn’t agree more – that’s how you make fans for life.
BT – Totally, that’s funny you mention that, cuz a band that I’ve spent the last 5 years is actually on tour with Hail Storm right now, on the Avalanche tour, a band called Art of Dying…and what you’ve described is exactly what they’ve been doing for the past 5 years and they’re even doing it on the Avalanche tour…is rush their gear off stage and as soon as it’s offstage race to the merch booth and connect with every single fan until there’s nobody left there.
IR – And that’s the band you’re working with or that’s Hail Storm you’re saying?
BT – No, it’s the band I used to work with, Art of Dying.
IR – Art of Dying…gotcha, yeah.
BT – and something that they’ve started doing which is really cool on their facebook page is… from the stage the lead singer takes a snapshot of the crowd every single night, and then he posts it on the bands facebook page saying “tag yourself in the photo.”
IR – Genius.
MB – Yeah, I’ve seen… there’s a band out of Minnesota called New Medicine that’s been doing that as well. I actually saw New Medicine and Hail Storm last summer, on the Rockstar Energy Drink Tour, and I was impressed with both of them just like you guys are talking about.
IR – I love that trick, of seeing people do that. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t do that at this point.
BT – Yeah…So let’s talk about Topspin a little. A brief little history here for, I guess, or some people who might not know what Topspin is: it’s a direct-to-fan marketing platform for bands and… not just bands, I guess other brands can use it as well.
IR – Yeah, we have filmmakers and authors and …all sorts of other people on the platform.
BT – Yeah, so it’s basically a platform that allows you to connect with fans directly through email, Facebook and Twitter… it allows you, gives you a whole host of suites to sell your music, your video, your merchandise, tickets…all on custom stores embedded anywhere on the net or on your website, including a great email marketing platform as well. So…take it from there, how long has Topspin been around? I know recently you guys have opened it up to a whole bunch of new potential clients.
IR – yeah, we opened it up at SXSW this year. I’ll give you a little bit of the back story I’ll try not to go on and bore you but… Topspin was started by Peter Gotcher, and Shamal Ranasinghe, so it wasn’t started by me. I came in about 8 months later. Peter started Digidesign, and created Pro Tools then in the 90s…and it’s something that those two had been talking about for a long time, Peter and Shamal. You know, if Pro Tools and the like have brought down the cost production and the internet has generally speaking brought down the cost of distribution, you know… what’s the toolset that people are going to use to connect with fans and do marketing? So we’ve been playing around with how that works since, really we started selling in January of 2008. You know, we just started building a platform and trying to figure out how this might be done. We started early with a band called Jubilee, and then we worked with Josh Grouse and the Dandy Warhols over then… Helped out a little bit on the NIN “Ghosts” release – they actually released that themselves but they had problems with the scalability so we took over the hosting and what not of that for them because we’re nerds and making sure things don’t crash is something that we’re generally good at. And that Fall we had what was kind of our big push, where we did our first… something that really started to look like the future to us, which was the David Byrne and Brian Eno release, which was extremely successful. We then did an Eminem record, a Paul McCartney record and the next Spring we did some Beastie Boys reissues…and over this whole time, you know, we’re doing lots of small bands too, whether they were our friends bands or just people we bumped into and said “you know, hey, why don’t we give this a shot.” So we started really adding a lot of smaller artists to the system… then kinda the end of 2008, beginning of 2009. Then you know, we just steadily grew it. You know, we were to the point where… in 2010 basically if you had sent us an email, we were giving most people an account, we just didn’t advertise it. And we had some stupid language on the site which kind of scared people away which I think was a mistake…but you know…
BT – Scared me away… *laughs
IR – *laughs* You know, we made a decision early last year that we didn’t want to open up before we had the breadth of features that we wanted, because we didn’t want to get stuck in the quicksand of having more people than we could handle from a customer service perspective and trying to innovate…and having a hard time with what were pretty basic innovations. We have a couple of big features that other platforms don’t have, one is the really sophisticated ticketing platform which can handle everything from Eminem at Yankee stadium – which we did – all the way to my daughter tomorrow night has a show at MIT that she is ticketing all herself, and it is probably going to be 100 or 200 people at the show, but she is doing all of the ticketing herself, and checking people in at the door with her iphone. You know, we’re really proud of that ticketing platform.
BT – Well it’s totally unique. There’s nothing…I’ve never seen anything else even remotely like that out there.
IR – Yeah, and to me as an artist…Like I mentioned earlier we teach class at UCLA with some other folks and one of the people who teaches the class, the lead teacher in the class his name is Jeff he manages the estates of The Doors, Janis Joplin, and a bunch of other folks and you know, he has these kids trained that when he asks them “what business are you in?” they say “the t-shirts and tickets business”.
MB – There you go. *laughs
IR – So from my perspective, just selling digital media is… that’s not where the business is actually, right? If all you’re doing is posting up mp3s and selling them for $5, you are not where the business is. So for us, it was really important that we had the ticket stuff done right before we opened up, and we also wanted to have a sophisticated membership product. Because we believe in the notion of patronage, and patronage in a big way, and giving rewards to people who have supported you in a big way. So we wanted to have that membership product. So we launched the ticketing product last March, we launched the membership product in October, and then we really started trying to make it self-serving in earnest and we launched that in March. And one more thing that we’ve been doing this whole time is…we’re actually selling a lot of stuff. We wrote millions of dollars in cheques to artists in 2010 and we found out that the majority of the money that we were making was in selling things that were more than digital downloads.
BT – Well, it’s the digital that gets people in the door right? It gets them, drives them to a fans website, or it’s the free download that gets them to receiving the emails that are generated by Topspin and then… you know, once they fall in love with the artist, then they’re connecting with them on a regular basis, it’s kind of natural to want to own something you can touch.
IR – That’s right. And so, you know, we released some data last year that said that 50% of what we sell is digital, but north of 70% of the money that we make include something physical. So you know, what we did really was we spent a lot of time operationalizing the physical side. So we have now…you can fulfill from your kitchen table, you can fulfill at one of the hundred plus fulfillment houses which are integrated with Topspin, or you can just ship us a box of CDs and we’ll ship it out for you. We have integrated fulfillment now, and it integrates the customer service. So we were really… I wanted to… Frankly it’s hard, just look at the stuff we’re doing with the Beastie Boys this week. Between shipping – I mean we’ve sold entirely out of vinyl which I never anticipated doing on this particular release – we’ve sold so many deluxes, it’s been shipped out of the managements office. We’re Soundscanning all the pieces and we’re hoping for a #1 record next week. But there’s you know…it’s complicated because the vinyl isn’t even here yet. Two thousand pieces of the vinyl are going to ship in two weeks when we get that shipment and then the rest aren’t going to ship until July because we had to order more vinyl because of demand. So you know, it’s not easy getting…just making sure you can do all this stuff and do the customer service in a scalable way and that was…we didn’t want to go self-serving, until we had stuff at least partially right.
BT – I think this is something that a lot of people probably don’t know about Topspin, is, you know, what you’re just talking about, is you guys being the fulfillment partner for product that you can actually source in your own hometown, you can get it made, you can have somebody in a garage do up some screen…screen some tees, and you can, like you said, just ship a box to your warehouse and they’ll ship your orders as they roll in.
IR – and we’ll handle the customer service. I was really glad to hear you guys talk about this on the podcast last week, because I think a lot of artists just think “oh, I’m not going to sell anything” or “I’m not going to sell that much, I might as well ship it myself”, but to your point.. I mean, even if you only have 5 people who decide they want your t-shirt, and then they never get it, I mean those are 5 potential life long fans that just got a sour taste in their mouth.
BT – I mean, for example I work with…I manage an artist by the name of Billy the Kid and you know, she’s over in Europe right now for the next two months and up until now she’s always been shipping the goods on her own, but…she’s always been on the road too, so this has always been one of my concerns because we didn’t have a fulfillment partner so, you know, you guys offer so many different opportunities, it’s not just a streaming music player widget for your website, it’s so much more than that. So, I really urge artists who are taking their careers seriously to really dig into Topspin and watch the videos – there’s tons of videos – read the FAQs and get a real understanding of what potential there is for you.
MB – I want to go back to the ticketing and membership platforms you brought up, because that really intrigues me because I spent years working for a company called Signatures Network, where we built fan clubs and did online ticketing and the VIP package for a lot of major acts. Are those platforms something that can quote on quote just be plugged into anybody’s existing website?
IR – Yeah. So it’s really cool the way it works. Tickets and membership are both first class products in our content management system, so what this means is that you can set them up anyway you’d like and then you can bundle them into anything you’d like. So you might do…you might sell… let me give you an example because I think a lot of people think about membership or fan club and they think “Oh, well I’m not a big enough band to do that” right? But let me give you an example that would work for a really small band as well. What Dandy Warhols did a couple of years ago, I thought was genius. They sold a membership – they never called it that. What they called it to their fans was “hey, buy my album directly from my website and I’m going to give you access to b-sides, live content, and all kinds of content for the rest of the year”, right? So they didn’t make any of these promises around “oh, it’s a membership and once a year you’re gonna get your KISS army card and your glossy photos… ” and I had that shit when I was little, I had the KISS army card. That is like a level that a young band might not want to get to, but saying “hey, when you buy my record from my site, I’m gonna give you all this other content, I’m going to give you access to stuff.” That’s really simple to do. So all you would do is, in Topspin you set up a membership and you call it whatever you want to, then you setup your CD, you set up your digital and you can bundle those together into one bundle and Topspin has really unique bundling capabilities…and then you go ahead and you sell that. And then what you can do downstream of that…when you sell the fan identifies themselves via their facebook account, their twitter account, anything that uses Open ID etc. right? So you get this really simple way to login and say “hey this is me by the way.” So now you could set up an offer – you as an artist could set up an offer – which is only available to people who bought that album. So you could say “you know what? If you bought my album, I’m going to let you buy tickets a day early.” Right? Or, “if you bought my album, I’m going to let you download this live track for free.” If you go to jimnoire.com, you can see a £ 3 a month subscription service from a UK artist who is just doing some special digital for people on a monthly basis, so it’s a relatively cheap little subscription for his fans, gives him a way of getting some monthly revenue, people like it because they want to be patrons of his, and he doesn’t mind throwing a couple of songs out there for those people only every month.
BT – Now, are these membership privileges, are they typically through a login private access area on the website, or are they don’t via email, or…?
IR – What it really is, is that the offers are available…the purchase flow can be gated to be only be available to members. Or you can gate section of the site if you want it to be more sophisticated about it. I gave you the simplest use case, let me give you the most complex use case I know of. Linkin Park is selling memberships at various levels. You can buy a $60 membership that’s yearly, you can buy a $10 monthly, and anybody that’s bought anything from their webstore is a basic member. Then what they did was, when they sold tickets they had 3 different windows. Day 1 was annual subscribers only, Day 2 was for those monthly subscribers, and Day 3 was for anybody that bought anything from their webshop. Now what they’re also doing is they have a chat on their site, so if you go to lpunderground.com or .net… I can’t remember, try lpunderground.com and you go to chat, you’ll see the only way you can be a part of the chat is if you’ve bought a membership. And when you see that membership gate, that’s actually the Topspin purchase flow, it says “hey sorry, you’re not a member, if you’re member then login, and if you want to be a member click here.” And you know, so that’s the way that works. So you can… again, our goal…we always say that you know, most artists have got a vision, they’ve got a webpage, they’ve have some skills… at least they have a vision, right. Very seldomly does an artist come to us and have nothing online. So we really wanted to be able to integrate into their experience. Now, for the people who don’t have anything, you know they really don’t have anything yet, that’s why we built the store builder, and starting next week we’ll also output our brand new Facebook store, because we want to have people to be able to…in a few short clicks upload their content, click on the store, you know, configure some colors and be done.
BT – And your Wordpress store plugin is pretty brilliant too, I can’t believe how quick and dirty it is.
IR – Oh thank you! I guess I feel like – new topic – the way that you integrate into an artist’s site, we’ve made it really powerful but it’s a… you know, we started by making it for power users and I think that also has scared some people away, because some people are like “oh my god, Wordpress plugin, I don’t know what that is.” You know, so that’s why we built the store builder. So now, it kind of starts at the simplest way which is to use our store builder tool, which by outputting a simple store…as well as a Facebook store makes it super easy for an artist to come in and get setup quickly, but if you are more sophisticated and you want to have a more bespoke site, you can a) build it from scratch and we have a lot of artists who build it from scratch, I mean if you look at the My Morning Jacket website, that’s just a bespoke page with some “buy” buttons…or you can do things like integrate with wordpress – that Jim Noire site that I mentioned a moment ago is a site. It’s actually on our old wordpress plugin, the new wordpress plugin is pretty badass. If you look at Moby’s website, that’s actually built using our drupl plugin, and then we have a ning integration, Linkin Park’s site uses ning integration and where available the ning marketplace…we’re actually working on an expression engine plugin, I don’t know if you’re familiar with expression engine, it’s a great CMS like Wordpress and Drupl but has some advantages and some developers prefer it. So we’re working right now we’re working on an expression engine plugin. Our goal is to be really available wherever you are. So whatever level you’re at, whatever site development tool you’re using, we want to be able to integrate into it.
MB – So the Facebook store that you’re gonna be releasing next week? Is that a fully embedded store inside of the Facebook page so that all the transaction, all the commerce happens right inside Facebook?
IR – You know, sometimes it will click out for he commerce. We actually have an embedded store in Facebook right now where all the commerce does happen in facebook…but we’re trying to prepare for what they have coming with credits. They’ve already…starting very soon, might have been May 1st, all games inside of Facebook have to transact in credits. And they have told us – we have a great relationship with Facebook – and they have told us that they will head that way eventually with everything.
BT – Oh wow.
IR – So we… you know, we want to have a… we want to really work well in facebook, we want to support credits, we want to also support the commerce in the best way possible. So sometimes the commerce on our new plugin will link out, where our current plugin doesn’t . But it’s a really great consumer experience that integrates our Facebook store. Right now it’s a nice Facebook store and it works well, but it’s kind of ugly. So the new one…the really cool thing about it is how it’s integrated with our store builder. So basically if you look at our store builder right now, all you do is you choose some colors, you chose what you want your aisles in your store to be, you set up your Twitter/Facebook feeds and you’re done. We’re adding one more option there, which is “publish to Facebook”, so you click on “publish to Facebook” and it gives you instruction on how you install the Facebook app, make it a tab, and it takes the look and feel of your store builder and moves it right into Facebook for you.
BT – So if you’ve already created a store in your store builder, then you’re literally 10 min away from having a Facebook store.
IR – Yeah, and it’ll have exactly the same look and feel and colors and all of that.
BT – Oh that’s great.
MB – And when you’ve got a Facebook store with it… embedded in your page, are the fans able to go in to that store and share a product from your Facebook store on to their wall?
IR – Yup
MB – Wow, that’s great.
IR - …and even in our store builder right now – I don’t know if you guys noticed it, we just released that…maybe a week ago Monday – all of the offers on the store are embeddable. So you can come to an artist’s Topspin store in the web, you know, spinshop.com/…you know, like, whatever, bandname.spinshop.com…and you can click the embed button and you’ll get a code so you can actually take that offer and, you know, a fan can take that offer and put it in their blog. As well as, an artist can take that offer from the spinshop store and instead of just embedding just a buy button, embed the whole offer with the cover art and all of that stuff. So we’re trying to make that stuff as portable as possible. It’s pretty cool.
MB – I love that. I think there’s…we have yet to see the explosion of commerce being shared through Facebook. I think, you know, to have your fans basically endorsing your product by posting it on their wall’s got such incredible potential.
IR – I agree…I think we’re seeing it more than we’re giving it credit for. Because I think that when you think about it, it’s not just about having the commerce inside Facebook. I mean we’re building a store there, so obviously we want to be there…but I think the interesting thing about Facebook is it’s not necessarily about homesteading right? It’s about the conversation?
MB, BT – Yup.
IR – You know, so… I mean the number of people who are sharing the new Beastie Boys video on Facebook is extraordinary. And those people are sharing a link to beastieboys.com/preorder which by the way has the store in it, you know what I mean? And the great thing about Facebook is…. you are one click away from the store on Facebook, but you’re also one click away from the store on beastieboys.com. Right? So it’s less important that the Beastie Boys store is on Facebook, than it is that people are talking about the Beastie Boys on Facebook which … you know what, they’re already doing.
MB – Right.
IR – So I think that’s the cool part… is that commerce is getting embedded into the conversation in a really interesting way….a way that’s more than just “hey, come buy my stuff.”
MB – Exactly, it’s becoming a more natural part of the conversation.
IR – Yeah.
BT – I’ve got a question for ya. Have you…I’m sure there’s some stories here, and if there is I’d love to hear an example of one… of a part-time artist/musician who had a day job, who decided to start using Topspin to it’s fullest potential, and who, because of Topspin has now been able to walk away from their day job and focus 100% of their music. Are you aware of any examples like that?
IR – You know, probably the best example…and I don’t actually know about where they stand with their day jobs, but the band Tigers That Talked who’s a UK band who basically funded their trip to SXSW with Topspin…I thought that was pretty….
BT – Well that’s no cheap endeavour.
IR – Yeah. And they were… I can’t even tell you man, we had the best time with them, you know… talking about somebody that we just met online that I consider friends at this point. They were really a joy…to hear their story, and see their creativity and the way that they’ve applied it and used Topspin. But also, there are definitely stories like if you follow the 5ths And The Tantrums story, it’s definitely not an all a Topspin story at all. We started working with that band at the very beginning of their career, you know, it’s a …he’s a white soul singer in his 40’s who’s having great success, and we’re only a part of the story. They’ve got a great manager, they’ve had great support from KCRW, you know, tons of things have contributed to that…but I’ll tell you, it’s been incredible to watch them from the day they walked into the office and I said “You know, a white soul singer who is my age…is he really going to pull this off?” and watching him pull it off is one of those things you go “yeah, it’s totally possible. This sort of thing is a 100% possible.” Another example of that I would suppose…and again, you know, Topspin not all the story by any stretch, but watching Yeasayer do what they’ve done over the past couple of years has been phenomenal. Where they were completely unknown band, sold 50,000 records 100% on their own, and once they’d done that, partnered with a small independent label in Bloomington Indiana called Secretly Canadian…and now, those guys have a real business. And you know, again, I think that in any of these cases Topspin is not the catalyst. Topspin is not the catalyst anymore than Pro Tools is.
BT – Right. Right. But I mean it’s…I think it does obviously take you to the next level. I mean, you can be as smart as you want on facebook and twitter and as great with your emails as you can…but without the correct and scalable toolset, you’re gonna keep running into walls.
IR – I think that’s right, but I also just …I wanna be sure we’re clear, that the tools don’t make it happen, the art makes it happen. No software that any of us make is going to make people buy music that they don’t like. And a toolset like this is really just meant to make an artist’s life easier, so they can spend… they or their manager can spend more time doing other things.
BT – I mean, yeah, first you have to not suck. *laughs
MB - *laughs
IR – Somebody has to care, right? And I mean there’s other things, there really are. The tipping point… I’ve seen the path from unknown to known enough times over the past 4 years doing this and what we did previous…to start to see some patterns. And unfortunately, it is not as efficient as a nerd like me would like it to be. There definitely are tipping points and contributing factors and…you know, you have to get to the right audience, and the right people within that audience…and all those things are things that software can’t control, but it certainly can make easier. When we help an artist… they put an email for a media widget on their site and we see 80% of the emails collected comes from places not their website? That is incredible. I mean those are the kind of stats that I get really excited about. I’ll give you guys a couple of them. In a lot of the campaigns that we do, you know, we see 60-80% emails collected be, collected from a place which is not the artist’s website. Which means somebody has come and picked up that widget and put in on a blog, put it on their website and said “hey, free music!” and it turns into a connection collection point for the artist. When I hear from artists like Sonio that they make 97% of their revenue on Topspin as opposed to twitter? I’m sorry, as opposed to Tunecore, I get really excited. Because I think, “wow.” Direct to consumer as a channel is really viable, it’s real money, it means that an artists average revenue per transaction is higher than it would be without it. You know, those are the kind of things that make me think “okay, this is actually valuable, truly valuable. You have to stop short of saying “Topspin made my career”. There’s a lot of tools you could cobble together.. you know, a combination of an email tool, and a Wordpress plug in, plus paypal …and build your own, but I don’t know why you would. For $100 you can get this, this great tool set that does a lot of that stuff for you.
MB – So let me ask you – we’re hitting the 30min mark, and I want to kind of wrap it up with this question – you’ve got a great tool set here…do you have tools that will help artists, musicians migrate from a competing platform to you? Or do they just kind of just have to set it up from scratch?
IR – Yeah, you know we’ve talked about doing that… it’s just not on the top of our list from a features perspective. I would love it if people did, and I am personally game to help people do it. Part of the problem is that we only accept high quality audio, so… I don’t want to do anything invasive on another person’s product. And I can’t take an mp3 from the front door of another person’s product and put it into Topspin? I would love to have some migration tools for people in the future, but right now it’s basically take the same assets that you put somewhere else, and that somewhere else might be another place that you sell music, but it also might be another place that you do your email list, and that sort of thing. Because you know, we come to both…but, you know, take your raw files – I always recommend Apple lossless, because the metadata gets preserved for the most part and it saves you some time – so make some Apple lossless files that look the way you want them to look in itunes and upload them…
BT – You can also do batch uploads as well, which I loved. I didn’t have to…when I uploaded 4 albums last week, I didn’t have to go track by track by track, I could select all 12 tracks at once.
IR – Yeah, exactly. Did you use the web interface for that? or the FTP interface?
BT – No, I used the web interface.
IR – Cuz we also have an ftp interface…We have – I don’t even know how many – definitely 10’s, maybe 100’s of Pixies live albums in our system, and you know, that’s all done by…. we have 2 ways you can do it, you can upload them via FTP, and then we’ll just take the metadata and whatever is in those files and again, Apple lossless would be the way to save you the most time. Or, we’ve done massive ingestion’s where you can upload entire catalogues of music and you have a control file that’s in XML, and then it’ll pull all the metadata out of the xml file. So you know, that’s a way to… if you have a catalogue that you wanted to upload, we’ve tried to build a facility to help you as well.
MB – And I’m assuming you’ve got stuff like importing an existing CSV email list if someone is migrating from some other platform to yours…they can do that.
IR – Yup, and you can export it as well. And one thing that’s – I’m sorry to Michael to interrupt but one thing that’s worth saying – is…and this is all over our forums because we’ve been asking a lot of feedback from our users, we’re making a pretty massive upgrade to our email product right now. It’s definitely subpar. It works, and it works well, and you can schedule emails and what not… but there’s no templates or triggers, and those are some things that we’re adding over the next few weeks here.
BT – Would that include like autoresponders and all that type of things as well or…?
IR – Yes. We’re gonna have a couple of triggers in there. It’s not going to be full on automation, but a couple of really important triggers that people need are getting added in to it as well, yeah.
BT – Well, we’re really excited to watch things develop. I love everything that you guys are doing and I love the attitude of everybody involved in the company, I love… you know, I watched some stuff on Vimeo, and I just think you guys have a great thing going, and excited to see where you’re going to take things next.
IR – Thanks man, I really appreciate it. I mean we’re working our asses off, and you know, we release a new version of the software every Monday…we know it’s not perfect, but you know, we’re working as hard as we can…and hopefully we can address the… From our perspective, we’re just trying to do the most important things every week, and if we can…hopefully that works for everybody, and hopefully everybody appreciates our spirit the same way you guys do.
MB – So the most important question is: where do bands go online to get all this info and sign up.
IR – Hey, thank you. Just go to topspinmedia.com and you can just sign up right there, there’s a little video it tells you more if you want…but just go to topspinmedia.com put your email address in and we send you a link to create a new account.
MB – Very cool
BT – Buddabing. Alright, well, thanks again to Ian Rogers, CEO of Topspin media for being our very special guest today. I’m Brian Thompson from Thorny Bleeder, thanks for listening to the Music Biz Weekly Podcast.
MB – And I’m Michael Brandvold from Michael Brandvold Marketing, and until next week!
Transcriptions done with assistance from Tak from The Pawnshop Manual. Go check their music out at www.thepawnshopmanual.com.