What Businesses Can Learn from Successful Musicians

what businesses can learn from successful music artists

The most successful bands are now the ones that engage their fans. These fans don’t just bring recognition – they bring financial success too. They are what allows the band to make money and prosper.

Businesses want to do the same, so we asked Mark Jennings, founder of Subba Media, to reveal how musicians are engaging with fans, and the lessons business can learn.

Engagement – it’s become one of the most prolific buzzwords in marketing. We hear about the volumes of engagement that top showbiz influencers achieve through social media.

The music industry is in the midst of dramatic change in the way that artists and musicians conduct their business and make money. Forging valuable connections via word of mouth and keeping fans engaged has never been more important to artists’ success.

And with more digital channels open to fans and musicians alike, the relationship is more direct and more measurable than ever before. So what can businesses learn from successful artists?

An open conversation

At Subba Media we’ve seen the shift in the music industry first hand. The traditional template for bands has gone: While a band 30+ years ago would get the time and space of a number of albums to build their audience and establish their sound, now they get an EP – if they are lucky enough to get signed in the first place.

Artists now need to spend more of their time building a following independently, before they even consider what they will do if, and when, a record label chooses to invest in their talent.

Whether you’re an up and coming band or a new startup, the message is the same. Consumer expectations across the board have changed dramatically as we conduct more of our lives online, across numerous platforms, and it’s becoming harder to hold people’s attention for long.

Relationships with publishers and media have also evolved with traditional media losing its clout, and you need to be thinking differently about how to get your message out to your audience and keep them interested.

In many ways, the power has begun to be handed back to fans and consumers, who are driving the conversations on social media and user generated content platforms such as TripAdvisor.

This means a lot more work falls directly to the artist in terms of creating and nurturing audience relationships, but it also creates a lot of new opportunities to have conversations with fans, find out what they want and keep them updated and informed about what’s in the pipeline.

With the right approaches, you can forge more meaningful relationships with your audience and keep them engaged with who you are and what you do, without the large marketing and customer services budget that would have been an advantage five to ten years ago.

Actions for better engagement

There is no shortcut or magic formula to engage an audience. It all starts with your core identity and aims.

You need to stay grounded – and grab every opportunity to tell your story and promote what you do. But you also need to allow space for audiences to share their own stories and desires.

For bands and artists in particular, fan participation is the holy grail; giving your audience a place where they feel they have a voice and play a role in shaping your direction.

Take Lady Gaga for example, her fans or ‘Little Monsters’ as they are otherwise known are made to feel like part of her entourage.

They benefit from exclusive access to pre-release tracks, priority show tickets and much more. In return she receives near unconditional loyalty, and which artists (let alone brands) can claim that?

Simply broadcasting and hoping for a reaction is no longer enough; audiences are bombarded with advertising messages across all their digital media usage. You need to be able to cut through the noise in the following ways;

1. Be authentic

Marketing is becoming increasingly story-led. Artists, brands and businesses need to show a more complete and authentic picture of who they there and what they stand for.

For example, the National Geographic engaged 350 million global followers via storytelling content marketing on social media – stories are that powerful.

But it’s not just about your story – you need to be able to talk to your audience in a way that shows you want to listen to theirs too. Authentic people are those who ask questions and open up conversations.

As in daily life, these conversations will be multi-genre, they may be political, they won’t always relate directly to what you do or make, but they will show your values and identity. Avoid sitting on the fence.

A good example… when your fans are getting fed-up with ticket prices, availability and secondary sales do something about it. Ed Sheeran did. He went out of his way to ensure tickets to his shows were only available through reputable ticket exchanges.

2. Build a community

User generated content platforms are driving conversations between fans and artists/businesses. We’ve all seen how powerful fan communities can be on social media platforms such as Twitter, so it is important to focus on creating your own niche community around your identity.

For example, forums have served as a place to bring music fans together in the last decade or so, but now these are evolving into more sophisticated online communities.

Any space that can offer a sense of exclusivity, and give audiences control over what they see and what is sold to them will keep people engaged.

3. Make data your friend

Engagement and interaction always provide you with an opportunity to learn from your audience. There are so many ways you can use technology to understand your audience’s online behaviours – and you don’t need to employ any shady or privacy invading tactics to do so.

Remember, anything you or they publish digitally is a tool to discover what your target audience responds to, enabling you to anticipate future patterns trends in more granular detail.

Some tools that will help you measure and monitor audience behaviour include Google Analytics, and Amplitude, a platform that allows you to track user response trends in real time.

Ultimately data needs to be approached not just by looking at the numbers but at what is driving those numbers, so invest some time in developing your analytical brain!

4. Be generous

You want to incentivise your following and give them rewards for their presence – this can come in the way of competitions, exclusive first samples/listens to new products and music, follower discounts on merchandise, etc.

For example, Radiohead let their fans decide what to pay for their album ‘In Rainbows’ with their ‘pay what you want’ scheme – showing fans that they cared about them, and their relationship with them wasn’t just about the money.

Work out what is most appropriate for your business and the stage that you are at – for example if you want to increase your email database, give them an incentive to sign up, if you want to encourage more word of mouth brand ambassadors, use merchandise.

5. But don’t give everything away

Don’t just give everything you’ve got in the hope that people will return the favour! It has to be employed with restraint, and there needs to be some benefit to you.

Free content and services are powerful means of showcasing what you are about and giving people the feeling of being a valuable part of the club.

For musicians it can be a difficult balancing act – open access can help you get a viral hit and a loyal following, but you have to be paid for what you produce. Whether you’re a musician or a business – remember, it’s also much harder to roll back and begin restricting access to your content when you started by giving things away for free.

There are a few big success stories of artist’s having been discovered through giving away content; Carly Ray Jepsen, Shawn Mendes and even Mr. Bieber himself, but there are many many more not so successful stories whereby providing free music via streaming platforms didn’t provide the big break the artist was hoping for.

In some cases it can even lead to a backlash, for example U2 gave away their album ‘Songs of Innocence’ free on the iPhone 6 – and it caused a massive backlash and didn’t generate the additional sales they had hoped for. In fact, it was a classic example of devaluing the product.

It’s the same with business, giving your product away for free doesn’t mean it will reach the masses, it just devalues the product. Ever heard the brand slogan “reassuringly expensive”?

6. Be responsive

It may not be possible to respond to every comment on your page, but you should be paying attention to them all. Take the time to respond to as many as you can; the positive, the negative, the suggestions and constructive criticism.

If you are updating your site or products on offer, share an update and explain how audience feedback and comments helped to drive your decision. And if your community is not yet forthcoming with opinions and ideas, show you want to hear from them by conducting polls and asking questions – this can be easily done on social media channels, blog posts and via email campaigns.

Trailers and sneak previews are a great way of giving your nearest and dearest fans a taste of what’s to come, whetting their appetite so-to-speak.

Childish Gambino is a great example of an artist who relishes fan engagement by providing sneak-peaks to new, sometimes even unfinished videos. He continually reacts to the zeitgeist and comes up with ways to whet his fans appetite and keep them engaged.

And remember, if you leave them wanting more, make sure you’re responsive enough to follow up!

7. Be direct

Reaching people in private inboxes helps to add to the sense of community and involvement with something bigger. In an instant message age, communications direct to a personal inbox have more resonance.

People don’t want intrusion or anything with a whiff of ‘salesy-speak’, so don’t bombard them every other day with your latest offers. Do keep in regular touch with well thought-out messages telling them something you know they will be interested in.

Where applicable this can also be employed with direct mail – used thoughtfully and with a specific purpose, it can be an effective tool for grabbing attention away from the digital noise. Communication shouldn’t come through just one channel; the conversation needs to continue offline, online, in store, at live events, and through product and service development.

Without engagement, your audience are passive observers. Engaged fans are consultants, brand ambassadors and cheerleaders for everything you do.

Remember, Airbnb, Uber, Deliveroo all got where they are now without advertising in the early stages – their users became their advocates because they were engaged with their mission and their customer support was superb. So, the more involved your fans are, the better – and the more likely your business is to succeed.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Mark Jennings who set up Subba Media with the aim of disrupting the publishing market. Subba-cultcha.com is a fan generated music and festival reviews platform. Built from a strong loyal community, the content is produced by music fans and festival goers, enabling artists and brand sponsors to reach a new, more engaged audience.

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