This site is a blog for musicians and music industry people. It is a free educational resource and it is also the way I advertise my music consulting services. I am an entertainment professional with deep roots in the music industry. Throughout my music career I have been a major label A&R representative, a music supervisor, an artist manager, a reality show producer, a bass player and the head of a digital record label.
Posts Tagged ‘Social Networking’
The landscape of the music industry continued to shift this past week as labels and film studios announced efforts to rescue the bankrupt retailer HMV, and Kim Dotcom launched his controversial cloud sharing service. Also, the co-founder of the online music platform DIGIHUBB examined some of the ways artists are using social media well.
The Music Industry Will Fight to Save HMV
Music labels and film studios will most likely support an organized rescue plan for the recently bankrupt music retailer HMV. Major music companies such as Universal Music, Warner Music and Sony will reportedly extend very lenient credit terms to potential buyers and offer discounted CD and DVD prices to make HMV look desirable, reported The Sunday Times. And Universal, especially wants to see the company survive: It acquired liability for rent for 16 HMV stores when it absorbed EMI in 2012.
HMV has been in existence for 92 years and is the last existing retail chain that specializes only in music and entertainment. Many, especially those holding onto the old world order of the music business are terrified of the pressure its fall will put on the industry. They feel that brick-and-mortar supermarkets and online companies like Amazon will compete even more aggressively by cutting their prices dramatically.
At the same time, 760 staff members at DVD and games rental firm Blockbuster in Britain lost their jobs as Deloitte announced it would be closing 129 of the 528 stores in Britain within the next few weeks. Both this event and the collapse of HMV hit the retail sector of the UK hard.
Hilco, the owner of HMV Canada is one of the top buyers for HMV in the UK and reportedly began talks with administrators Deloitte on January 18. However, there are also another 50 possible buyers looking into the purchase of HMV. And CEO Trevor Moore stated he is “convinced” that the company can be saved because of all the interest. Other bids could potentially come from Game, the private equity firm Endless and private equity veteran Jon Moulton/Better Capital. Hilco has already been successful at improving sales at HMV Canada since he bought it in 2011.
Kim Dotcom to Cause More Piracy Controversy with Mega
Notorious Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom launched his new online music and film locker service Mega on January 21, even though he and three of his colleagues are still waiting to be extradited from New Zealand to the U.S. And the site’s traffic so far has showed he is still a formidable force online, according to an article in The Huffington Post. His controversial service has once again opened up concerns for many in the music industry surrounding piracy issues.
Mega hit one million registered members within 24 hours of its launch. The extreme traffic actually shut down servers several times as the site climbed quickly to the top website in New Zealand and the 141st most-visited site in the world as of last Sunday. The site presents new users with 50 GB of free cloud storage and has already hit higher daily visits than popular sharing services Dropbox and Rapidshare.
Dotcom’s renowned file-sharing service Megaupload was shut down by the FBI in January of last year, and he was brought up on copyright and racketeering charges. The entrepreneur announced that the new site is totally legal because of encryptions that will make accessing its files difficult. He told Reuters, “This is not some kind of finger to the U.S. government or to Hollywood … Legally, there’s just nothing there that could be used to shut us down. This site is just as legitimate and has the right to exist as Dropbox, Boxnet and other competitors.”
Jack Schofeld of ZDNet pointed out that the FBI has been integral in turning Dotcom into an “Internet folk hero;” its high-profile investigation surrounding the shutdown of Megaupload gave him an “endless supply of free publicity.”
Despite Mega’s strong beginning, its success will still be dependent on Dotcom’s future. However, Dotcom’s extradition is now not likely to occur because of major blunders made by New Zealand law enforcement and the spy agency GCSB when Dotcom was first arrested.
And the new site’s legality is still up for debate, despite its creator’s insistence that it is legitimate and its tagline “the privacy company.” Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today said that committing acts of piracy using the service is inhibited by client-side encryption, which forces downloaders to need a link and an encryption key to get at files from the uploader. However, experts have already pointed out some potential problems with security and safety. Dan Goodin of Ars Technica said that Steve “Sc00bz” Thomas has already created a product that can pull passwords from Mega’s encrypted confirmation emails.
Mega has already acknowledged this bug and promised password changes in the near future.
Maximizing the Power of Social Media
DIGIHUBB co-founder Tom Fazakerley shared some insights about how mega-artists like Katy Perry, Jessie J and Common are successfully marketing through social media and how artists of all shapes and sizes can follow their examples in The Guardian last week. He also talked about which platforms are working particularly well.
As he pointed out, MySpace and to an even greater degree, YouTube have enabled artists to throw their music out to a massive audience and removed boundaries within the music industry. And continuing technological shifts within the business along with the constant release of new platforms and apps are helping to make “getting heard” easier for artists, producers and promoters and have been responsible for the careers of people like Justin Bieber.
Fazakerly offered up some tips for those that want to harness the power of social networking:
- “Understand the mainstream music industry and read into what’s popular. Follow trends but make them your own; that differentiation is what separates the special few from the crowd.”
- He also suggested that bloggers and vloggers need to really highlight their personalities: “For example, you could start a tour video diary or use a vlog to show your life outside music … Separate your personal recordings from your professional ones by creating an account for each.”
- He also noted that Twitter is key, because it keeps things short and is very easily digested by fans and potential fans: “Treat Twitter as if it were an online networking event; respond to as many people as you can with a personal message, engage with your fans, regularly retweet and generally build relationships.”
- As he noted, Facebook is still the top social network as well as the #1 photo-sharing place on the Web, so it represents a critical visibility point: “Create an artist or band page to keep your work and personal life a little separate … It’s about building a relationship with your fans and enabling as many people to discover your music.”
Above all, he advised that artists actually have to be social on social media and check out the work of other musicians, comment and offer up helpful advice and support when appropriate. All the most successful artists on social media platforms engage in this way.
Fazakerley concluded, “You need to show you are innovative and understand the growing market and latest developments; only then can you let your talent and music production fly.”
This past week, Berklee College of Music released the results of a study that revealed salary ranges within areas of the music business. Vevo also announced that it has grown into the highest-money-generating music platform in the industry since its inception in 2009. And Mary Bonney of LA Music Blog explored the positives of social media for artists that want to grow their fan base and take charge of their careers.
Where’s the Money in the Music Business?
Berklee College of Music in Boston released a brand new study last week outlining the salary ranges for musicians, audio engineers, A&R executives, writers, entrepreneurs, music educators and music therapists and many others. According to Billboard.biz, the study, conducted by the college’s Career Development Center is an update on the a 2010 report and is designed to provide a guide for those just starting out in the music industry so they have insight into the reality of an industry in flux and can financially plan their career moves.
The study, which involved 5,000 working musicians, presented very mixed results: The salaries of those working in PR and as orchestral musicians went up overall, but commercial jingle composers and session players saw a decline. Only those working in teaching saw a significant raise in their average salaries. The average music income for the past five years was estimated at $34,000.
Peter Spellman, director of Berklee’s Career Development Center said, “There is downward pressure on many music performance salaries right now due to the slowing global economic recovery, changing perceptions of music’s value, and hyper competition.” He added that this information points to the need for musicians to diversify and “expand their repertoire of both musical and professional skills” as the industry continues to shift and grow.
The study also explored some industry areas that could grow considerably as the industry evolves, including social media, digital marketing, branding and sponsorships, mobile music and streaming music. New York and California saw the highest number of employed musicians, and Florida, Texas and Tennessee were also in the top 5 states with the most working musicians.
The Music Careers In Dollars and Cents 2012 Edition also presents a flowchart to help those new to the industry field job offers, along with a list of organizations and associations designed to help artists and others that aspire to work in music.
Vevo Puts Money Back into Music
Premium music video platform Vevo announced that it has put $200 million in royalties back into the music industry since the company’s launch in 2009. In an age where artists and labels are complaining about wavering revenues, this could be promising news for artists, labels, publishers and others. The company also paid out more in royalty revenues in 2012 than in 2009 and 2010 combined.
These stats were announced by Vevo president and CEO Rio Caraeff at the Business Insider Ignition Conference held in New York City on November 27-28. He also stated that the platform brings in more money for the music industry than any other music video service.
Caraeff said he believes it is Vevo’s commitment to showcasing high-quality videos and a strong focus on the needs of music fans that has helped make it such a successful platform for artists: “The audience that loves music should be treated and valued the same way as the audience that loves the Super Bowl, and revenue should flow as such.”
The Pros and Cons of Social Media for Artists
With all the marketing tools that are available to artists in the modern music industry, how powerful is social media? Last week, Mary Bonney of LA Music Blog explored the pros and cons for musicians of using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social networking environments and how these tools have really impacted the music landscape.
As Bonney pointed out, the Internet has completely transformed the music business, bringing Rolling Stone fans real-time blogs and a direct connection to their favorite bands. But she asked, “How has this affected the music industry and what will they do about it?”
While MySpace has become less prominent as a destination for music in recent years, it was the first place that gave bands a forum for sharing music, writing blog posts, sharing live show details and communicating personally with fans in a way that made them feel valuable and special. And major acts such as Lily Allen, Colbie Caillat, Soulja Boy, Sean Kingston managed to significantly expand their brand through the site.
Of course, since MySpace, many more options have become available, and the possibilities the Internet provides for musicians and music fans have become even more limitless. Similarly, being a working musician without a label has not only become more possible, but cheaper than it has ever been before. Sites like Bandcamp and SoundCloud have replaced MySpace as a destination for listening to music and Tumblr has offered a blogging space for bands. And Twitter now provides artists with quick ways to give away tickets and merchandise to loyal fans to promote themselves or simply communicate regularly with a potentially global audience. And Spotify, Pandora and Last.fm have provided a rich space for music discovery.
Of course, Facebook has popped up as a huge marketing opportunity for artists. Josh Williams of the Atlanta band Ocean Is Theory said he believes there are both pros and cons to the platform, but its promotional power cannot be overlooked: “People are less centralized these days. MySpace helped us grow tremendously. Facebook certainly has brought new challenges. It’s not as easy, but we have to adapt and run with it … We’ve been using a lot of everything to promote.”
David Haynes of SoundCloud explained today’s social networking capabilities further as a natural outgrowth of a shrinking yet more connected music industry. “In the past, there were just a few gatekeepers to music, and you had a powerful network of labels, A&R men, radio and TV executives, and magazine who decided what you should be listening to. Now it’s so much easier to find out what your friends are listening to or what other people who like the same music on the other side of the world are recommending.”
YouTube star Julie Nunes said that she uses social networking more often than anything else in order to share and market her music. She also sees each platform as serving a very different purpose: “It’s a way to connect with people and show more sides of yourself. I use Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter all in very different ways.”
Video sites, including Vimeo and YouTube as well as services like Stageit and even Google+ that allow artists to communicate and perform face-to-face via private concerts are also becoming huge opportunities. Bonney even won an online contest back in 2007 to sing back-up vocals on Paramore’s RIOT! album by submitting a YouTube video and sharing the band’s link on all her social networking sites. And she admitted, it made her a fan for life. Other bands are finding similarly devoted fans the more they provide opportunities to connect and give fans unique and memorable experiences that go far beyond the music.
But Bonney and artists point out there are some downsides to increased connectivity. Before there was social networking, agents and publicists took charge of artists and made them “ready to sell” to their fans. Music magazines used to be almost entirely responsible for revealing personal details about artists. Now, there is almost no filter. But after the very public Kanye West/Taylor Swift incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, West defended himself on Twitter and claimed that traditional interviews did not give him final approval, giving all interpretive control to reporters.
However, because everyone can get access to celebrities, fans think they know them personally, causing many artists to feel their fans are invasive. And these feelings are showing up in lyrics. Brand New’s Jesse Lacey wrote, “I am not your friend, I’m just a man who knows how to feel.” Of course, fans can provide the artists they are passionate about with a great deal of support. However, many artists feel they would like more privacy than the Internet affords.
And of course, it has been well documented what the Internet has done to sharply drive down the price of CDs and digital downloads. Sites like iTunes have managed to help musicians earn back some of the money lost through Napster, LimeWire and Kazaa. But it has taken away the power of record labels and put many artists and their fans in control of distribution and sales. SoundScan reported recently that physical album sales have dropped 50 percent since 1996, while digital sales have increased 1900%.
The Chicago Tribune’s music critic Greg Kot argued in Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music that at this moment, more people are listening to music from more sources than at any other time ever. He said that the “grassroots music industry” that has been created that has fans and bands in control rather than the corporations is actually a huge positive.
In terms of the privacy issues that social networking is causing for artists, Bonney said that bands have to make lines between what is public and what is private very clear. They should make sure not to overuse any one social media platform and censor the type of information they share: “Promoting a contest or showcasing new merchandise for the tour? Awesome. The lead singer’s girlfriend when they’re on a date? Not so much.”
Vincent Borel is the co-founder of Webdoc, a social place offering an engaging way to share and unite with others through interactive, multi-media posts about their interests, passions and events and engage with their fans. A lifelong music fan, Vincent started his career as an engineer at Dolby Laboratories, where he was an engineer working on product development for a variety of surround sound products. After earning his MBA, he went onto work as a business strategy consultant for Nestlé, where he focused on offline marketing strategies. Eventually, his passion for understanding the many ways technology and social media affects the way people connect to brands and share information via the Web led him to start Webdoc with Stelio Tzonis, Cyril Pavillard, Mathieu Fivaz and Alexandre Tzonis. Through Webdoc, Vincent and his partners have created an environment where users can easily start expressive conversations and pull video, audio, photos and more from across the Web.
I had the opportunity to talk to Vincent about what he has learned about technology and fan engagement throughout the course of his career and how Webdoc works. He also shared some examples of how artists are using his platform and other new technology tools to build highly-personalized relationships with their fans and get their music and message out there.
Thanks so much for taking some time to talk, Vincent. What led you to found Webdoc, and what is the vision of the company?
I’ve always had a passion for music, but I’ve never been a great musician. I decided I was going to contribute to the industry one way or another. I started off my career as an engineer at Dolby Laboratories. I was doing a lot of the product development for all the surround sound for both the professional and consumer ends of things.
After doing that for a few years, I wanted to see the other sides of the business and not just be involved with product development. I wanted to be more front facing and also push myself outside my comfort zone. So, I did an MBA and then for three years did some strategy consulting – helping businesses worldwide – for Nestlé.
I heard that you brought chocolate to Pakistan.
Exactly. You raise a very interesting point, because I started consulting so I could do something totally different. I did not want to do anything related to technology. I thought this was the best way for me to understand how consumers buy products. And food is a product we see every day. Why do people end up buying one product over another? I thought working with Nestlé would be a very interesting part of my professional life. It also brought me to very interesting places, like the Middle East. I actually never ended up going to Pakistan because there was a bit of turmoil going on when I had planned to go. But I did get to go to many places in the Middle East and Asia – places I would have probably never gone had I stayed in technology my entire life. The experience showed me the reality of the fact that not everyone has an iPhone or an iPad. People use the Internet in Internet cafés, and the food products they buy are not always refrigerated like we’re used to. It was definitely a big eye opener.
But after doing that for a few years, I really had this desire to get back into technology. And while I was working at Nestlé, I was always involved in personal projects fulfilling my passions for sport and technology. And that’s when I met my partners at Webdoc, and we started talking about the Web and how it was evolving. They were actually working on really interesting products for education. They were bringing this concept of interactive white boards to classrooms. And that was great, but it was actually a really tough vertical, because when you work with education, you have to deal a lot with the state and the government. That was when we all said, “I love this idea of merging content and being able to create content on the fly. But I wish it was on the Web. I don’t want to have this document on my website. I want it to be available everywhere so I can share it.”
The name Webdoc comes from that idea. The “document” has always been around, but it has taken different shapes and forms as history has moved along. We think in the future a Web doc will be a type of document where you’re able to pull in not just media – pictures, videos and sound – but anything the Web brings, which are all these powerful, interactive elements.
Webdoc encompasses the idea of the Web and the “document,” and it allows you to use the Web as a language to express and share.
The idea of pulling from different disciplines and putting the information together makes sense to me. But my question about Webdoc is, do you see it as a portal on its own, or is it a place to distribute and disperse?
It’s both. I think for us, the idea is that today, the creation happens on Webdoc, but tomorrow it could happen anywhere. And the consumption happens on Webdoc, Facebook, on your blog and anywhere else. We see the Web as a very widely-distributed platform. So, we don’t believe in having central elements. For example, you might wonder why, when you’re looking at a map, you have to stay on the page and are unable to use it anywhere else. I think making elements that are more portable brings a tremendous amount of value. Even if you think about YouTube, it was consumed for many, many years outside YouTube before it was a destination site. It was on Myspace, blogs, etc. It is still in all these places today, but there is tremendous traffic on the YouTube site as well.
Part of our philosophy with Webdoc is to make your content consumable anywhere. Wherever your audience is, you should be able to provide that content.
From the outside looking in, it feels like there are a lot of applications, and it’s so open ended, that this whole concept hasn’t come into its own in many ways.
We see this concept as something that is very broad. But as we see it, Webdoc is the most expressive way to share on the Web. The context in which you express yourself is key. So, when I talk about fashion, I will express myself in a certain way. And I’ll use different elements to talk about music. What you’ll see in the evolutions of Webdoc is that it’s very text driven, and the forms of expression must be very spontaneous but very specific to the context you’re in.
Obviously, people in the Arts have rallied around Webdoc. A lot of your most active contributors are music- and entertainment-related brands. You have people like Jack White. How have you seen artists effectively use your platform for marketing?
It’s interesting. When people talk about marketing, they often think about push marketing and the idea of creating content and blasting it out. Certainly the Web has dramatically amplified the ability to create and virally spread content using social networks like Twitter, Facebook and blogs. There are a lot of venues where you can just feed content so it can be spread. That’s certainly one very powerful method, but the Web was never meant to be a one-way pipe.
We’ve seen very interesting things happening on Webdoc. We really believe in the notion of having social spaces where people can interact using any form of expression they want. It could be simple text, or it could be videos or a combination of videos and pictures. People should be able to combine any number of elements. We’ve seen several artists and brands use it more as a place to engage around rich content. And that engagement could be anything. People often think of campaigns or contests. But actually the most successful ones we’ve seen have involved sharing life events. For instance, maybe I’m in a band and it’s my lead singer’s birthday. How can fans interact with that person they love? How can you create a space where people can express themselves and unite together? You want to really give them a sense of community while still allowing for freedom of expression.
The UK band One Direction, who did very well on The X Factor in 2010 has used Webdoc repeatedly to create a real community and space. They had tremendous engagement. In one case, they had 6,000 posts in less than 48 hours. And when I say “post,” I’m not talking about a “Like” or a comment; I’m talking about rich, unique posts where people were expressing themselves or sending well wishes to the person whose birthday it was. If you tried to do the same thing elsewhere, you might get a little more in terms of volume, but the quality would probably be lower. You’d probably get 4,000 “Happy Birthdays.” And there would be little interest in seeing what other people are saying. When, as an artist or a band you provide a bit more freedom in the way people can express themselves and make it extremely simple, you’ll see that people are spending more time looking at what others are doing. And their personalities come through more in their posts. We’ve seen people spend 15-30 minutes in a single community around a single life event like a birthday. That’s really tremendous.
To come back to marketing, we note that marketing has become a lot less of a push than a two-way or multi-way interaction where people are sharing and generating buzz around something.In fact, one direction was the trending topic in the UK during that week.
Twitter is a very fertile ground too. Typically people create a post on Webdoc and tweet it out to their followers: “Hey – check it out and tell me what you think!” And people go check it out and make their own and share it. You get to realize the true potential of Internet marketing.
With the way Internet searches work currently, having a primary destination – like a website or a Facebook profile – seems to be the most effective method for artists, musicians and other brands. Do you think having a particular destination online will matter less in the future, when you’re able to express yourself more clearly to an unshaped community of connections? It seems like the success of Webdoc suggests we’re moving away from the norm.
It’s funny, because while the Web is becoming very decentralized, and this ability to spread, share and disseminate content wherever you discover it is becoming more possible, it’s also increasing the importance of destinations. And you can see it today with artists and their websites. When MySpace first came around, a lot of people dropped their websites. Then suddenly, today, you see a lot more artists putting more effort into their own websites.
I don’t think there’s a specific answer to your question. I don’t think having your own website will go away, but the website will just have to fit your purpose. But I do feel that people are going to be discovering content in multiple places. And you have to make sure that wherever those people are, they get the best experience they can. That might be on your website, but it could be somewhere else. And if it’s somewhere else, what are you providing?
Whenever the issue of the Web comes up when I’m coaching people, I often tell them that the goal is creating an on-going, multi-media dialogue with fans and potential fans. And it never occurred to me that this goal might be possible to achieve under one roof, but it seems like Webdoc is providing tools to do exactly that.
One of our frustrations when we were defining Webdoc was this idea that you might say, “I have these great photos on Instagram and very cool videos I found on YouTube. I wish I could combine them to say something. But the only means of expression I have today are single media. So I can share one video, a few pictures or a link to a URL.” When you’re talking, you’re usually using more than a single word. And I feel that due to technical constraints, working with one piece of media at a time made sense until today.
As time goes on, the Web – browsers, etc. – is getting a lot more powerful. If it’s easy for me to combine two videos, why should I be limited to just sharing one video at a time? And by doing it this way, you’re putting a little bit more weight on the type of message or content that you’re sharing. And we all know about the fatigue of Facebook; sometimes you look at your Facebook feed, and you feel exhausted. Within a couple hours, if you haven’t read your messages, some get buried, never to be seen again. I feel like when you look at the Facebook timeline, it’s interesting that it’s all about the curation you do for the important events for a brand or a band.
It’s important to have continuous engagement. But it’s also important to bring certain events to life. So, you can put up a single video. But what happens when they watch the video? Are you driving anything more than just awareness? It’s really interesting. I think we’ll see a lot more happening in this direction in the future.
Do you have some examples of the work you’ve done with Webdoc?
Yes. The first is one of the first case studies we did with Universal around Nirvana. Of course, Nirvana is an amazing band. And last year was the 20-year anniversary of Nevermind, so they wanted to get fans to share their memories. When we started the discussion, we showed them what could be done. And we said, “The true power of it is that you’re probably going to generate some really cool content.” But until we show it to them, there’s always this question mark: How is this going to happen, and what is it going to look like?
Nirvana posted the content on their Facebook page, and there was just a ton of engagement from real fans. You could imagine walking into their rooms, as if they had a collage of posters. It was the feeling of going back in time and seeing what kind of memories people had. It was about mixing pictures with videos and adding a personal touch to it. People posted pictures of their homes, using a single type of media. And some people just posted text. Other people posted a picture with a SoundCloud file.
It shows that Webdoc is about this ability to say it in any way that makes sense to you.
Then, to go back to the birthday example I was talking about earlier, on a band member’s birthday, One Direction managed to get over 10,000 posts. And they were very different from the ones in the Nirvana example. This shows that the personalities of the fans that follow a given band are all different. Fans express themselves very differently, and it’s key they have the opportunity to express themselves in ways that fit their personality.
Creating things like this before was impossible. Fans are able to express themselves through the different Webdoc tools without having to learn anything. They sign up, and they can just start posting their webdocs. It reminds me in many ways of the original idea of “fan mail,” which was always people writing and making drawings. This is the closest thing to it on a digital level. The Web brings the unique ability to make this “fan mail” public in a single space. It’s all the fans of a particular band finding themselves in one place talking about the same thing. And you get this very powerful movement. I share my own posts, but I also get to see what other people are posting. That stimulates the fan base and strengthens the bonds between fans of a particular band and each other and fans and the band itself.
And do you have any other examples?
Swedish House Mafia is very popular in Europe and growing in the U.S. as well. The band wanted to get their fans involved in the design of their new single called “Antidote.” They asked fans to submit their t-shirt design on Webdoc. The cool thing was that all the photos were visible to everyone. So, it was stimulating their fan base and enriching the community. The quality of the submissions was simply amazing.
Then, the band selected the top 10 and came back to the fans and said, “These are the 10 we selected. We want you to vote.” And again, they put up all the designs and let people in the community vote. It was on their Facebook page, but they did it through Webdoc.
That’s great. And you guys have an app you can install on Facebook.
Exactly. And that’s a perfect segue to another example. We believe you have to engage your fans at all times. So, The Script is in the recording studio right now. They were playing with something called “money shots.” You take a bill, fold it in half and put the face of the person on the bill in line with your own and take the picture. They were having a lot of fun, so they thought, “We should really ask the fans to do the same thing. It would be great to see what theirs look like.” So, they made a video and used Webdoc to post it. The video basically said, “Hey guys, post your money shots here.” Using Webdoc, they found a way to group together their fans from all over the world in a single, social place around some original, rich content. Some of them are really, really funny. Again, it’s a testimonial to the fact that their fan base is not just in the UK. You have people from all over the world participating. And all the fans are having fun while browsing what other people are doing and gaining inspiration for their own photos.
It’s very simple, yet it’s so powerful that you can get your fans to communicate. And it’s the fact that everything is in one place, so you can see it all at once. If I were to do this on Facebook, I would be able to show it to my friends on my own stream. But maybe my friends are not fans of The Script. So, I wouldn’t see all the other cool posts from fans in Korea or other places that I’m certainly not friends with because I don’t live there or speak the language. There are no boundaries here, and it’s very similar to Twitter; I get to connect to people who have shared interests and see what they’re doing.
And that’s an amazing campaign, too.
To get back to your point about Facebook, we have an app currently. But the Facebook pages have just changed, so we released something new now that everyone has switched over. The app has much bigger icons so the content is featured more prominently on your timeline. And, like the new Facebook pages, you can bring forward different views. The default view will be the timeline. But the second default is the photos. And using Webdoc I can put any other views I want. As an example, one of the views The Script put in was these “money shots.” When you click on it, you get that view. And the view is the same on Facebook as what you see on Webdoc. You can see all the posts on your page, and people are able to participate.
The new Facebook app provides a social space for your fans to interact. You can change that social space on a daily basis if you want. One day it could be the “money shots,” the next day it could be “Share your personal stories about the first concert you went to/your favorite music video/your favorite song.” Regardless of what you choose to highlight, you’re able to get fans to interact through rich media posts and content all in one space.
To learn more about Vincent Borel and his platform and see an introductory video, visit the Webdoc site.
Karl Alomar is the COO and President of VYou.com, a social platform that provides video profiles for users with content structure in the form of conversations. A serial entrepreneur with an MBA from Columbia Business School, Karl has built companies with revenues in excess of a hundred million dollars, with an emphasis on tech over the past 15 years. The VYou platform allows users to connect with experts, interact with their favorite celebrities or organizations or communicate with friends and families. Video created on the site can be embedded and posted anywhere on the Internet, providing artists, bands and others with a very personal way to connect and interact with their fans and promote their brands.
Karl talked to me recently about how he got into the technology space, how the VYou platform works and several specific ways artists can use the features of the platform to promote their music and build meaningful relationships with their fans.
Thanks so much for talking to me, Karl. Tell me a little bit about what led up to you joining up with VYou.
I started a couple companies prior to finding my way to VYou. I started my first business in 1998. It was a video platform, but more for video distribution and video monitoring. It was more on the business level than the consumer level. I sold that company in 2000 when I decided to go to business school at Columbia University in New York. During that time, I started another company that was much more of an internationally-based business but again, with a technology backbone. I sold that at the beginning of 2010 after building it to about $130 million in revenue.
Then, I met the founder of VYou, Steve Spurgat through some advisory ventures I was doing at that point. I got very intrigued by the concept of VYou and what he was doing and decided to jump into the business at an early point to get it through the launch. I helped get it funding and get it to where it is today.
There have been a lot of players in the streaming space – and not all of them have been successful. What was your goal when you set out to help found this streaming company?
Steve Spurgat originally conceived of the business. The concept was initially more oriented around creating a fully-encaptured personality online. The idea is, all the people in the world you would want to have a conversation with, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to talk to – like Deepak Chopra or others like that. Users can encapsulate their full personalities in video and online so anyone can communicate with those personalities at any time. It was never thought of as a streaming business. It was always thought of as a video or an online clone of your personality that people can interact with freely.
That obviously evolved, and it became more conversational. It started transforming into more real time and today, is more of a video and Q&A-based platform. It allows people to answer questions they receive on video and is all short messages vs. long, streaming videos. We average 30 seconds to one minute per response. And what happens is that as you build that database of content, people are able to, through natural language processing, interact with the content at free will. You start getting this seamless conversation taking place between all the members of your audience with that profile on VYou.
And you’ve had a number of high-profile musicians use the technology and the site.
Yes. We’ve had a bunch of musicians either using the technology directly themselves as a platform or using it through interviews and other events that are taking place through companies like Flavorpill or VH1 – everyone from Lenny Kravitz and Moby, down to independent artists. We’ve had a bunch of independent artists and young, newly-signed artists who have yet to have albums come out or have just had early albums come out. We’ve had a huge spread of musicians, and there’s a lot of musical talent on the platform right now.
What would you say some of the best uses of this video platform are for somebody promoting either themselves or the products around themselves?
The best conceptual use case is basically the ability for an artist to communicate and connect with their fans on a much more intimate level. And the applications that allow that are these interactive videos, which is all crowdsourced questions and content. Through these videos, artists really feel that they can directly respond to those questions and have that intimate connection to their audience. The beauty of it is, no matter who asks the question, the people that come in and experience that communication afterwards will always feel like it was a direct, one-to-one communication for them. It creates a simulated intimacy even though it’s on a broadcast platform.
There are a couple different ways that works. The most obvious way is that people set up a profile and use it part of their social activity. They link it into their Facebook, their websites and use it as part of their Twitter posts. They use it as a straightforward Q&A communication platform with their audience. And their audience gets a feel for what inspires them, what’s going on around them and all the information about what’s happening with and around the artist – announcements about new videos, new albums, new shows, or whatever it is they want to announce.
There are a couple other applications that we’ve found interesting that we’re working on right now. The platform also allows you to record short message videos. We call them status updates. And I see a lot of artists using that when they’re on the road or when they’re going to perform somewhere or do things where they’re essentially sending videos out to their fans. And because of the social connection to Facebook and Twitter, you get this immediate distribution of whatever it is you choose to post. So, we do see artists putting these status updates out there and telling people what they’re doing, where they’re going, or giving the audience a feel of what it’s like to be that artist on a day-to-day basis.
Your description makes it sound pretty portable and user friendly. How is it different from doing a YouTube vlog or some other sort of video diary?
There’s a very big difference. First of all, you can do it all on your mobile phone or on an iPad. Secondly, it’s a direct webcam-to-web functionality, so you just have to press a single button. You don’t have to upload a video and there is no editing involved. You take out your phone, record, then post it. And as you post it, you can choose to share it on Facebook, Twitter or wherever else you want online. So, it’s a much simpler process than the one you’re going to have to do through any other more traditional video broadcasting platform.
And for non-joiners like me, do you have Droid support?
We’re going to have Droid support at the end of December. We actually have a big design upgrade coming this month. The Droid support should be coming along with that or right after that.
That’s great. And what are some of the other applications you see as being particularly useful for artists?
One of the ones we see a big benefit on and that we see a lot of publications using is the ability to encapsulate a video interview with an artist. And the beauty of this is, it’s all short message video. And it’s all packaged into a pre-existing player that lives within the publisher’s page. Flavorpill is a great example of a publisher that’s using this. Essentially, it allows for video content to be encapsulated in an interview that can be recorded anywhere. You’ll have an artist that’s halfway around the world that will want to do an interview with Flavorpill. So, they’ll set up their profile and record all the interview questions. Then the artist can sit down and answer all their interview questions. You’ll see a lot of people sitting in hotel rooms, concert halls or in their apartments responding to questions. It becomes a really nice interview platform within the industry, which gives a really good user experience to the audience.
Surely when you got into online video, you did ton of research and continue to do a lot of on-going research. Do you think interactive video is going to stick? Are the metrics you’re tracking showing this to be making a real impact?
Absolutely. One really simple example is Flavorpill. The time on site for the pages that had interviews on them were twice as long or even longer as the time on site for the rest of the pages on the site. It wasn’t that the rest of the site had bad content on it. They actually have great time on site on average. But with the interview pages, the audience gets very engaged in these videos.
I think what VYou does is take the real person, whereas Twitter and Facebook have this buffer that makes you wonder whether it’s actually the real person or someone in their place filling in the content, tweeting, posting, etc. VYou says, “This is the real person. This is true, intimate conversation with the real artist.” And it allows that artist to really create a more intimate relationship between themselves and their audience.
The internet is evolving more and more. It started with just text, which turned into rich text with images. Then, images started becoming animated, which eventually turned into video. Then, social media was introduced. Now, social media is starting to integrate video as well. And creating that opportunity where you’re really able to make people feel like you’re talking to them and really communicating with them on a very personal level is something that is specific to social video. You can’t really get it in another delivery format.
To learn more about Karl Alomar and his work in the social video space, and to check out the VYou platform’s new video features releasing in January, check out the VYou website.
Todd Hansen is the Founder of the website Better Than the Van (BTTV), an online service with over 5,000 users that utilizes social networking features to help bands and music fans find free places to stay, shows to attend and venues to play in cities and towns across the U.S., Canada and Europe. Currently living in Austin, TX, Todd got his start playing in a variety of bands that toured throughout the U.S. Before starting BTTV, he also ran a small label in Minneapolis called 2024 Records.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Todd and talk about his own experiences within the music industry, what makes BTTV unique, how even bands that are just starting out can tour sustainably and get beyond their home cities, and how he hopes his site will grow in the future.
Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me, Todd. How did you get started in the music business, and what were you doing before you founded BTTV?
I’ve been in the music business for a while. I guess I just started like anybody else starts, playing in bands. Many of my bands ended up touring and opening for other bands. I also ran a small record label for four years out in Minneapolis called 2024 Records. Like most of them, it’s not around anymore. At the time, it was the thing to do, so I decided to put out friends’ records with a buddy of mine. I had a really good time doing it, but it ended up being too much. And we were doing it at a time where everyone was trying to figure out what to do as a smaller label. Now the climate’s changed a little bit, because that process is more defined. After the label, I basically went back to just playing shows and playing in bands. And about three years ago, I moved to Austin, TX. I just stopped playing for a while, because I had been playing for close to ten years and I wanted to figure out what to do next.
Which bands did you play with?
A lot of bands no one’s probably ever heard of. One of them was The Winter Blanket. The other was Fitzgerald, which was a rock/folk kind of thing. I filled in for a lot of people. I also played in an alt country band called Lackluster Dodge, which was really fun and funny and good. I was basically always playing in two or three bands at the same time. Some of the bands were a little more serious, so we went out and toured. I did a lot of touring around the Midwest and down South, and we’d go out to each coast every so often with people. Some of the tours were really good, where hotels were involved, but the majority of them were, some nights you could scrape together a few bucks to get a Motel 6 and some nights it was staying with friends or strangers on floors.
I started playing music like this at 17 or so, and it was just what I was used to, so basically the segue into the idea behind BTTV happened when I figured out that the whole social network type thing was going to get to a place where people felt pretty confident in the identities people were portraying online, and seeing that this might open up a space for a site that promoted free places to stay a la couch surfing. I wanted to use hospitality as a baseline for a connection so people could network a little bit better and more easily. There was a time when Myspace was young and innocent, and you could actually network pretty decently with other bands and get shows. You could scrape it together that way. And then Myspace blew up and turned into whatever it is now, and I thought that there was room for the BTTV idea. And when I threw the “music hospitality” idea out there, and it took on a life of its own. Now, we keep working on it and build what people want it to do.
You’ve been a performing and touring musician, and now you’re running this connective service, where you’re building a community for people to trade shows and couches and to put tours together. Is there anything you’ve learned about touring in a sustainable way that you feel would’ve benefited you when you were just starting out?
I think just having a place to start is really big. The service is definitely geared towards the younger bands and people that are just getting going. There are a lot of those, and a lot of bands that don’t have any idea how they could possibly tour outside their city or town or further than a couple towns away, because have it in their minds they need a booking agent or a friend to manage them and do it all. The site has become something that is geared towards the whole DIY thing, which is cool, but that’s not all that we necessarily intended or what it’s all about.
Someone said, “This is a really cool site. It’s the corporate version of DIY.” And I thought that was pretty weird. But, I guess it makes sense, even though it was never our intention. Our intention has always been just to be a point of contact and a way for the younger band to help get going. Someone might say, “I live in Minneapolis, MN, but I’ve never been to Chicago or Indianapolis before on tour,” or “I want to try to tour my way out to the East Coast and play Dayton and all these other towns along the way.” BTTV can be a great connection point, because the people who are on it are playing shows in those cities, really active in their scenes, want to help bands out and are very approachable people. It’s not a marketing platform or a promotions platform. It’s about trying to make authentic connections.
We were just talking with a band the other night at a studio here in town that is using it. This is a band that easily has friends in tons of cities and is playing other cities, but they said, “This is really cool. We’re playing in cities we would’ve never played before. We’re finding really good people there.” Whether it’s a place to stay, or a promoter or just making new friends or fans just by trying to make other connections, it ends up working as a quasi LinkedIn in some ways.
Can you get other members you know on the site to vouch for you, or are do you give people the opportunity to review each other?
Eventually, we want to do that. We’re a small shop, so all features take a little time to build out. Right now, there’s a commenting system on all the profiles that people can use. If somebody has a rough experience or it doesn’t work out they can comment. So, if a host didn’t show up or the band trashed a house, the person that was wronged can comment on a particular profile about that. There’s a feedback loop. And we are working on a feature that’s similar to one you find on LinkedIn, where you can make suggestions to other people based on the connection you have. I think as we grow, the goal is to show all the connection points people have. Then we will have people saying, “Oh, you play in this band? Our bass player was in this other band that knows them.” And then the other person will say, “Oh yeah? My bass player was friends with their other friends.” And then you connect the dots and can suddenly have a show in Portland.”
The world ends up being that small when you’ve been around long enough.
I think BTTV is innocently trying to make a way for people to connect in that way. And, as mentioned, it’s using hospitality and tour dates as the center totem around which everything else revolves.
You’ve played in touring bands, and you’re now really at the nexus of watching these touring connections happen for people at various stages. What advice would you have for people just starting out with touring that want to go to that next town over or fill in dates in between two towns?
I think a lot of bands when they get going want to go play the bigger cities because they think it’s going to be awesome, and that they’ll get a big turnout. I would say, don’t do that first. Try to play the smaller towns or cities around that city to try to gain a following and pick up some steam. Go to a place where there aren’t a lot of things people can do other than go to your show that night, or where you can open for or play in the middle slot with another local band that has a following. Get into a position where people will actually notice you instead of getting that opening slot at a good club that has ten people there just waiting for you to be done so they can hear the next band play. The key is to really try to hone in on those bands that – even if they don’t necessarily stylistically match yours – are drawing people and like you and want to help you out. I’d rather play Champaign, IL or Rockford, IL than Chicago.
I interviewed Martin Atkins not too long ago, and he was talking about how you go to New York or L.A., and not only are there 100 different bars between you and the destination for anybody just walking to any given club, but on any given night there’s a national headliner that’s offering free lobster rolls and fireworks and God knows what else. Having fewer options probably helps.
It does. Play the odds. The odds are that if you’re playing a show in Spokane, WA or in a smaller town or city at the only place they do shows, more than likely there’s just going to be people there that don’t know anything about you. But if you can fill that out with maybe ten people that you might know or have met online, they can vouch for you before you come. I don’t think that’s really changed. I just think it’s easier to get those shows now because people can connect a lot more easily that way.
What business model fuels the site?
Right now we do site sponsorships, where a particular company or brand sponsors the site for a month or as long as they want to do it. Within that package is advertising. Eventually down the road, we have a few ways we feel we can monetize it, but therein lies an interesting issue, because our audience doesn’t necessarily want to spend money on stuff they’re used to getting for free, which is “connection.” It poses an interesting problem. We’ve tossed around a very light subscription model. We’ve tossed around an idea where people only pay for what they use, so we give them an a la carte menu of features we think are really handy that they’d want to pay a dollar per month for. We’re really approaching it not as, “For $15 a month you get this,” and then they only use 20% of what they’re paying for. I think there’s opportunity to make money and have it be a self-sufficient thing, but we have to scale much more. We just rolled out the new site and redeveloped the entire thing over the last few months, so we’re seeing what kind of traction we get out of that. Right now, it’s totally free.
At a certain point you may have the uptown problem of getting the kind of traffic that Myspace gets, because any social networking site can become incessantly noisy and self promoting. How do you plan to grow without reaching that level of cacophony?
That’s totally the right word: the cacophony of sound and noise. And, that’s a really good question. I think right now for us the people who use the site drive what we do. We really only have the time and bandwidth to give them the tools they need that they’ll really use, and then to prepare by looking at what doesn’t work. We try to find those functions or features that can easily be abused and try to limit them. At some point, people will always find a way to use your site to promote themselves if you give them a little window of light to do that. I think a lot of that can be honed in as we make more money and can hire more developers and good, smart people to figure out how to handle those noise problems. As far as scaling right now, it’s “come one, come all,” and “try to grow as much as we can.” When we start noticing excessive noise, that’s when we’ll get creative and decide if it’s good noise or if we need to tune it to the kind of noise people want to hear.
To learn more about Todd and his friendly social networking site that touts itself as “Music’s Home for Hospitality,” you can visit Better Than The Van directly.
I’m sure I am preaching to the choir when I say this but there are just too many places to be when you are an artist. Just off the top of my head are Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, ReverbNation, Last.FM, Sonicbids and Bandcamp. I sure as hell don’t have a solution although I am fond of Ping.fm and artist data in a pinch. In what follows I am not suggesting that you not be in all of those places but I am certainly suggesting that you have a plan on how all of these sites and your website work together towards a cohesive plan. If you don’t have a website for your band… stop reading this and go spend the money on the domain name for your project and figure it out. Consider it an investment in your education in the way the digital world works. It is just as much an educational experience as it is an investment in your music career.
As is I guess obvious (albeit not as obvious as it should be by the pure volume of “Wait, what do you do?” or “Hey, can you get me a record deal?” calls I get) I work with musicians in trying to make sure they have a plan for moving forward in their careers. It never ceases to amaze me how the vast majority of musicians lack a focus with their digital strategy. I have had musicians wonder ask me why no one was buying music from their website when none of their well trafficked social networks linked to their homepage and their music was available for free on external sites that were easy to find through search engines.
In a pitch with Warner Music Group where I was consulting for a large Russian financial institution who wanted to start an Itunes Competitor (don’t ask – I’m just happy I didn’t wind up in a barrel in Siberia) I was told the following information about music consumers that I believe whole heartedly. Apparently there are three types of music consumers:
- Those who will only buy music or download it for free (I believe these are on the endangered species list)
- Those who will only steal music or download it for free.
- Those who will pay for music only if finding it for free (legally or illegally) is too much trouble.
What is the Moral of the story? If you are planning on selling your music – don’t put it up for free elsewhere! I know – it sounds basic but look around at your peers. There are too many artists make this mistake.
Which brings me to the point of this article. Here are some things to think about when coming up with a basic digital strategy that makes the best use of your content.
Have a plan. Any plan is better than no plan. Ask yourself what the goal is for your online assets – are you trying to sell music? Great – than make sure you place premium content or the full offering of content near a point of purchase – preferably on your own website.
Are you just trying to get your name out there? Okay – well make sure if you are giving away music absolutely free that you are getting an email address in return. If you only have one product and are giving it away… can I make the suggestion that you have to be in business somehow? If you only have one 4 song E.P. and no live show or merchandise to sell then it’s time to ask your self -what are you actually promoting? Isn’t the idea of freemium giving something away in the hopes of getting people to ultimately purchase something else? Did you think the free samples at the supermarket were given away because you looked hungry? God knows I would write much less often on this blog if it didn’t convert a few readers to consulting clients. (Not that I don’t adore you – I really do)
I see great musicians doing this all the time –blogging on their MySpace page which has no purchase button rather than on their website where even the people who don’t wind up being converted into buyers leave important data when analytics are looked at. Amazing band photos wind up on Flickr – and they should be on Flickr – but shouldn’t your website be the flagship for all official news? Shouldn’t a collage of new photos or videos in addition to living on photo sharing and video hosting sites also make an appearance on your website where (hopefully) people can sign up for your mailing list, purchase your products or at least leave you with information as to how and why they arrived on your site?
Every song, photo, video or blog post is another chance to engage your fans. All I am suggesting is that you make the most of this engagement-
- Give impulse buyers the chance to be impulsive and make your best content available near a point of purchase.
- Give would be fans the chance to get to know you by offering them a song in exchange for their email and providing them a great news product
- Take from the casual visitor to your site the data on how he or she arrived at your site through analytics.
The hardest thing with all of this is consistency. Keep remembering that being a musician is a grind and that the vast majority of start up businesses of any kind take time to become profitable.
Assorted Musician DIY news:
ReverbNation releases Facebook Sharing Widget:
(Paraphrased from an email by Reverb founder Lou Plaia)
Our new Facebook Sharing Widget is posted into your Facebook stream as well as the stream of all of your friends. It contains your Songs, Photos, Videos , Bio, Show Schedule & Store (making items available for purchase without leaving Facebook). The Facebook sharing widget makes it easy for Fans to Share it with their friends (and then their friends’ friends) & Join your mailing list. You can see it on Lou’s personal Facebook page. Look at his Wall and you’ll find his post for Authority Zero. Click the Play button.
In other News, the musician advocate organization Music Nomad announced recently that they are launching a service that will allow musicians to more easily find and book rehearsal spaces. You can read about this new service here.
For those in the New York area, Ariel Hyatt of Ariel Publicity is having her 5th digital press conference which will feature drinks, snacks, band performances and general musician-y goodness. This takes place tomorrow from 3pm-8pm at her Brooklyn headquarters.
What else? Socialnomics released an updated version of their remarkably viral Social Media Revolution Videos.
I will be returning to the regular article and interview format very soon. Be careful out there,