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Who are super fans? They're the fans who want to connect on a deeper level with recording artists—and are willing to pay for it. And while records are no longer sold like they used to be, artists now have the technology to connect to their audiences directly and build their base, one super fan at a time. Benji Rogers, founder of PledgeMusic, travels to SXSW to explore this topic directly with artists and industry experts.
In this short documentary, copresented by PledgeMusic, Benji talks to Kevin Wortis, director of label services at Girlie Action Marketing; San Fermin, an up-and-coming Brooklyn-based band engaging with fans through Twitter; professors (and brothers) Jay and Chandler Coyle from Music Geek Services and Berklee College of Music; and Nicole Atkins, an established artist who found out she had more fans than she ever knew, when she turned to direct-to-fan platforms to fund her new record. It's a brave new world for artists and fans. Find out how they're using it to build long-lasting and career-sustaining relationships.
Benji Rogers: Superfans, these are some of the most interesting men and women in the music industry right now. And their particularly important to artists. We're no longer in the same situation that were when a record label would take a band's music and they would become famous, become millionaires and live the life rock stars. Now, it's one fan at a time. An artist can if they use the technology and tools correctly connect directly with these people, and not have an intermediary any more. That engagement is probably one of the most talked about and hottest topics in the music industry right now.
And it came down the south by southwest to meet with artists meet with superfans and to figure out what it is that these superfans want, and how best artists and the music industry can engage with them. Benji Rogers: Hi, my name's Benji Rogers. I'm the founder and president of Pledge Music. And I got here because I'm and artist. And, basically, I was looking for a way for artists like myself to engage with fans in the making of albums. That sounds grand. The original idea was I was lying on an air mattress in my mom's spare room. I was broke, I was trying to figure out how I can make a career in the music industry work for me.
I came from a family of managers, mother, father, step-father, all of whom managed bands. So I've been a, I've been a roadie, I've been a video technology for tours. I've been, you know, you name it, I've done all. But all of that was irrelevant. How do you make it work? How do you get four guys or girls into a van and go from one show to the next when you can't sell albums anymore and people are getting new music for free. It popped into my head, this concept of artist, fans charities, and that what fans really wanted was a way to be a part of the making of albums.
That there was this superfan group out there who would do what you asked them, if only you asked them, and we didn't do that. Independent artists now, with access to these superfans, have the ability to change the dynamic of the relationship. It used to be artist takes music to label, label sells to everybody. Now, artists can make music, sell it to their superfans, a label can then take that, and so it's everybody else. One does not have to live without the other.
Nielsen, the company that does the charts in the U.S. and globally, identified $2.6 billion per year left on the table because superfans cannot spend in the way of their choice. Here's a superfan, he wants to spend an average of $60 per transaction. You've sent him to a place where the maximum amount he can spend is $0.99 or $9.99. That would be, you know, to me and to, I think, a lot of people, the definition of utter insanity. And so what you've got is, you've got artists like Pretty Lights, who are giving away millions of copies of their album, and still able to sell a bunch of albums from 30,000 I think in the Bing, because they're engaging friends, and allowing those friends to do things they wouldn't normally do.
They're using social network, they're using BitTorrent, they're using all of this technologies available to them, to not just give stuff away for free, but to give stuff to those people, those influencers who can then take it to a further audience. Artist are really changing the way in which they interact with fans. One of the ways they're doing that is by employing companies who do things like label services and digital marketing. Following, his panel at south by southwest in which he talked about superfans we were able to sit down with Kevin Broadus who's director of Kabel services at Girly Action Marketing and Media.
We got to sit down with Kevin to see how he and his company put fan engagement into action. Benji Rogers: One of the things that gets thrown around at conferences like this, and one of the things that bands are endlessly confronted with is, you've gotta do social media, you've gotta do fan engagement, you've gotta do super, super serve your superfans. You, obviously marketed and have done this with thousands of artists. What does that mean, nuts and bolts to an artist, starting out, mid-level, and large? That's a huge question, I realize.
Kevin Wortis: Well, I think that the best way to talk about that is to, to zoom out a little bit and talk about how audiences have changed what their demands are on artists. Benji Rogers: Hm. Kevin Wortis: When we grew up fans myself included really demanded the mystic. Benji Rogers: Right. Kevin Wortis: Or really bought into the mystic and were very happy with it, and these days in, and presumably with the invent of the Internet. Benji Rogers: Mm-hm. Kevin Wortis: Starting with MySpace and, and going forward. Fans want access, and access means all kinds of different things.
But one of the things, they want to, they want to have an intimate feel for that artist and direct a fan's conversation. Benji Rogers: Hm. Kevin Wortis: And conversation is sometimes monetized and sometimes transactional. The conversation is, is, is intimacy. Benji Rogers: And, and do you think that this is universal for all artists? Kevin Wortis: Yes, I think it's universal. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Kevin Wortis: I think that people will demand more than just the album now. Benji Rogers: Mm-hm. Kevin Wortis: Or the single, they want to know all of the, the satellite, all of the collateral.
Benji Rogers: Yeah. Kevin Wortis: Experiences that you have, and they start at the bottom from a tweak. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Kevin Wortis: And then they'll move up to a fan really wanting to purchase more than just that album, so. Benji Rogers: Mm-hm. Kevin Wortis: They don't want to just spend ten bucks on a record. Benji Rogers: Yeah. South by Southwest is this incredible chaotic hub of both panels, artists, managers, technology, and most importantly, sweaty live version gigs. And Pledge Music was able to put on a phenomenal show this year. And we spoke to Sam Firming, who is a Brooklyn-based band, about the way in which a younger band such as themselves engages with their fans and brings them along on this journey.
One of the things that we're trying to get to here is, is what do fans mean to you guys as artists and performers? John Brandon: Yeah. Benji Rogers: So do you have any incredible stories, tips as to, you know, how an emerging band would get to their fans, reach with them, interact with them? Ellis Ludwig-Leone: I mean, I would actually say that as we've toured, you know, we play the songs over and over again, so I think actually the most unique part of every show is the fan engagement. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Ellis Ludwig-Leone: And that like every audience is different. And afterwards we go out and we talk with them. And generally I'd say it's actually my favorite part of the show is actually getting people's sort of experiences watching us and what it, what the records meant to them.
Benji Rogers: Awesome. And so, online, what types of tool do you use to engage with your fans? Michael Hanf: A lot of Twitter. We're a very Twitter band. Benji Rogers: If a young band was to say, but I don't want to use Twitter, what would you say to them? Allen Tate: Neither did we. Benji Rogers: That a great answer. Allen Tate: It felt really weird, but it, it, it's, it gets more and more rewarding. And, you know, as musicians, we are either on stage or we are doing nothing. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Allen Tate: Or traveling someplace. Benji Rogers: Yep. Michael Hanf: I think it helps too, because sometimes this band gets branded as chamber pop or classical pop. Which I think a lot of people see that,. Benji Rogers: Yep. Michael Hanf: And they're like 'I don't know if I'll be into this. It doesn't seem very personal.
Benji Rogers: Yep. Michael Hanf: But the fact that we actively engage, I think people can get over that hump. Ellis Ludwig-Leone: And John had a really amazing thing, very early on. Where like I've always been scared of the merch table. Like I don't want to try to sell stuff to people. Benji Rogers: Yep. Ellis Ludwig-Leone: John realized very early on that like if you're there, it's not actually, you're actually trying to profit from people. You're actually trying to engage with people. Benji Rogers: Yep. Ellis Ludwig-Leone: And they want to buy a merchandise, you know, and that's great. John Brandon: Well because, the, the bottom line is you just have to engage. It doesn't matter if it's Facebook, or if it's Twitter, or if it's a band newsletter. If you're phone calling everybody, it doesn't matter or even you're at the eme, emerge table. Benji Rogers: Yep. John Brandon: People just want to interact with you.
You know, they're fans. Benji Rogers: Yep. John Brandon: They came to tell you. They get as much out of telling you that they enjoyed the show as much as you get out of hearing it. Benji Rogers: Yeah. John Brandon: So just provide them with that opportunity. Benji Rogers: That's awesome. Two other people we got to speak to were Jay and Chon Lacoil. Two fantastic brothers. And they both teach at Berkeley College of Music, direct to firm. And they also work with a lot of heritage artists in the space. And we got to chat with them about how they actually execute, and put these strategies into practice. Fan engagement. So, it's a buzzword. One of my favorite expressions is, social media is like high school sex.
Everyone talks about it, but no one actually does it. So can you give a new band, a couple of pointers as to what you would say to them is some key things they have to do social media wise and why it's important for them to do those? Chandler Coyle: I think what's important is, is to make it a two-way conversation rather than a, a broadcast or promotion. One thing that's bad is, if you post a picture, and say what do you guys think about this for an album cover, and fans ask questions, and you don't respond. Benji Rogers: Mm-hm. Chandler Coyle: The conversation dies. Benji Rogers: Yep. Chandler Coyle: And so whether it's on twitter or Facebook or whatever social network comes up next year is make sure you stay engaged with the fans because once you have them hooked.
Benji Rogers: Yeah. Chandler Coyle: And you can respond to them, they're more likely to become even bigger fans. Benji Rogers: And so what are some examples of some of the best engagement you've seen? Some kind of like, just knock it out of the park like, wow look at those guys go. Jay Coyle: The, the biggest example I can use is from Nashville where I'm based out of as you know. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Jay Coyle: The Civil Wars. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Jay Coyle: When the Civil Wars were starting to break, Joy Williams, the lead singer. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Jay Coyle: Was really using her social personality. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Jay Coyle: And asking questions all the time, and she was very, she was, she was very candid about, o,ow it's a really glum day for me. I just. Benji Rogers: Yeah.
Jay Coyle: What do you guys do to pick yourselves up? So she became it wasn't about her singing. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Jay Coyle: It wasn't about her band, it was about her as a human. And to me that was part of their story, why they broke so well, because people would go to see her, and felt more connected to her as a person. Chandler Coyle: Right. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Jay Coyle: So, to me this, that's a huge success story. Benji Rogers: Yeah, that's true. Jay Coyle: Where it's, instead of worrying about the mass consumerism? Benji Rogers: Yeah. Jay Coyle: And spending tons of money to market and sell all these. Focus on the core fans and give them an experience. Benji Rogers: Right. Jay Coyle: Where they'll never want to go back to the old way. Benji Rogers: Incredible artist that we got to work with at pledge music, Nicole Atkins, recently finished her pledge campaign. And she talked about being an established artist, and going into this direct-to-fan space for the first time.
Here's what she said. Benji Rogers: What we're trying to get to here is, regular fans, superfans, and kind of music consumers. And obviously you've recently undergone some changes in life. And you've had some incredible experiences with fans. And do you want to talk about how that, how it's changed, the shift and then the great story? Nicole Atkins: The biggest thing, the biggest thing that I'll tell you like, I've done the majors. I've done the indies. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: And I gotta say, they've failed me. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: They have, and it's not for a lack of working.
Benji Rogers: Mm-hm. Nicole Atkins: Or good music, but I was in Sweden making my new record, reading David Burns' book How Music Works. Benji Rogers: Yeah, yeah. Nicole Atkins: And I came to a page about myself, it was like, Nicole Atkins, like an example of an artist that like, had good records. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: And, you know, and the last line was, if she had more ownership of her own music she would be successful. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: And I just like got the bug in my head like, maybe I should do this. I started talking to you guys, and I was terrified of doing it.
Benji Rogers: Yep. Nicole Atkins: because I was like is anybody going to do this? Benji Rogers: So did you ever since that there were fans out there that weren't kind of getting to it or Nicole Atkins: I know that, no I knew that my fans who love Neil o, they, they love me. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: But I just didn't know if like, there was ten people. Benji Rogers: Hm. Nicole Atkins: Probably you know. But I always thought they were, like, ten people. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: But they were 1,000 people. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: It was, it was so amazing. Benji Rogers: And you were so into majors and indie labels, did you have interactions with your fans? Nicole Atkins: Yeah, through, like, Facebook and Twitter and stuff.
Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: But with actual crowd funding. Benji Rogers: Hm. Nicole Atkins: Like, you meet the people. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: Like when people come up and they're like hey like I pledged this. Benji Rogers: Yep. Nicole Atkins: And like you meet them in such a different way. Benji Rogers: Moving forward is li, like knowing those fans are there and they can be activated, for lack of a better word. And they want to be involved, is it going to be part of the future for you? Nicole Atkins: I think it's always going to be part of the future. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: Yeah, because it's like, those kind of, those people help me have a life.
Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: Like, they're like, you will not work in a dry cleaning place. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Nicole Atkins: Because you're an amazing singer and I want you to do well. Benji Rogers: It really is a brave new world out there for artists and their fans. And it's working. For the first time fans are being asked what it is that they want and they are responding. We've followed up with Kevin Broadus to follow up more on this. Why should an artist care about what these fans want or thing, these specific superfans. Why should they engage with them, is there a for a longer term or short term what the? Kevin Wortis: There is virtually no artist that I've worked with that doesn't use fan in adoration as their very oxygen.
Benji Rogers: Yep. Kevin Wortis: I mean, all artists of, of every stripe in, in every field, there is, they live and breathe for that response. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Kevin Wortis: That communication, that conversation. They want to be liked. Benji Rogers: Yep. Kevin Wortis: We all want to be liked. But it takes this incredible quality of human being to get up on stage, putting themselves out there and wanting to have appreciation and so, you know, why engage with them? So that you can feel it. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Kevin Wortis: As an artist. And it makes that fan feel because they truly, authentically are.
Benji Rogers: Mm-hm. Kevin Wortis: A part of that artist endeavor, and life and experience and they can feel they are touching each other. Benji Rogers: Yeah, and do you find that the superfan engagement thing creates a more sustainable a longevity towards these things as opposed to just a kind of the casual sort of. Kevin Wortis: There's a risk there. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Kevin Wortis: It either enhances the longevity in the relationship. Or it will destroy it. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Kevin Wortis: And by that I mean if the fan comes in and spends a lot of hard earned money, and has a lot of expectation.
Benji Rogers: Mh-hm. Kevin Wortis: And if the artist isn't consistently communicating after the spend. Leading up to and then beyond the fulfillment. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Kevin Wortis: Then it creates a little bit of bitterness. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Kevin Wortis: But if they do it, and if everything is thought through, and they over deliver,. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Kevin Wortis: Then you've got a partner in your art. Benji Rogers: Yeah. Kevin Wortis: For the rest of your life. Benji Rogers: And you can make that crappy second album and they'll stay with you. Kevin Wortis: Hm, they'll give you a little, little leeway. Benji Rogers: Yep. Kevin Wortis: Yeah. Benji Rogers: Superfans are not the future for the entire music industry.
But superfans are the future for the majority of artists who choose to use them. When an artist takes you, the fan, on a journey, it is truly a remarkable experience. It's a story, it's a story that only the artists can tell in their way. And the best part of it is that as a superfan, myself included, I am part of something that will sustain them throughout their career, not just the highs and lows of the way the music industry used to operate.
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