On October 25, 1976 – my life changed forever. I went to my first concert and got hooked on the most powerful drug of all – music. I saw Bruce Springsteen headline his first arena show at The Spectrum in Philadelphia. To this day, music continues to be my drug of choice – it brings me up when I am down, and mellows me out when I am too stressed.
And you know what the scariest thing is? By today’s standards, Springsteen would have never grown to be the successful artist he is because based on record companies sales tracking and parameters, he would have been dropped before Born to Run was ever released. His first two albums (“Greeting from Asbury Park, NJ” and “The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle”) did not capture the numbers a record company would continue to support. Maybe by today’s standard an indie record label would carry him, but certainly not a major label like Columbia Records that he was on.
Yes, the record industry has proven to be legacy-minded, lacking innovation, and generally non-adaptive to the audience it serves. Thus, it is clearly a vertical that is hurting.
But wait; can social media save the day? Okay – maybe a bit bold. But I do think that social media is a must factor for successful musicians. Fans want to engage with artists – this is as obvious as can be – yes?
Recently, I was contacted by what I would call a “new media record label” – Crowdbands. Crowdsbands is self professed to be the first record label “driven by the decisions of its members.” Fans “directly affect how music is made, released, and played” all through a democratic decision process by its members. Members join for $25 per year. The first band to have signed with Crowdbands is The Donnas. The Donnas are to release a new album and members got to vote on content of the release – should they cover a Joan Jett song, do a duet with her, stuff like that.
I had the opportunity to interview Allison Robertson of The Donnas and Tom Sarig (Co-founder and Co-CEO of Crowdbands). Here is what they had to say, first The Donnas’ Allison:
Social Steve: You’ve been on major labels and now Crowdbands. What are the pros and cons for you on the new “social label”?
Allison: Well, we are still in the earliest stage of the whole experience, but already, there is a definite difference in energy. The chemistry we have with the team at Crowdbands is easy, fun, positive and pro-active. Major labels have a hard time making those particular qualities a reality.
Steve: You are the first band on Crowdbands. It is sometimes exciting and sometimes difficult to run with a “startup.” How has the ride been for you so far?
Allison: It will be very exciting to see what happens once the album is finished and we gear up for the record cycle. So far we have been delighted with Crowdbands and the experience. I’m very excited to see what our fans think of the new material and with Crowdbands we can actually poll them on any and all aspects of the album making process.
Steve: There is a difference between getting input from your fans and actively engaging. How do you see The Donnas approach to both?
Allison: Well, we don’t want to make music that our fans don’t like. We love them and want to take them along for the ride. Interestingly enough, we don’t really care anymore about whether or not “certain people” would approve of this, or whether “certain people” would like that. We just want to make music that we are really proud of, and reward our real fans with the chance to get involved in decisions that we truly do want their input on.
Steve: How accessible do you feel your band should be to your fans? What is the line between respecting your space/privacy and accessibility to fans? How much time do you actual spend “engaging” with fans? Online?
Allison: The kinds of things that I think are appropriate to share with the fans are all band-related, tour-related, and essentially, fan-related. Basically anything that a fan may have a fresh perspective on, anything that affects them as a fan of our band, we want to know their side. We read their comments on Facebook etc.; I’m always interested in what they’re listening to, what kind of food they like, where they come from, etc. As a band, we think of our fans as part of our gang, and I believe it’s our responsibility to take note of what it is that we all have in common.
Steve: If, down the road, you say joining with Crowdbands was an absolute grand decision, what will that future look like? What will it mean to be a band that has lived through the challenges within the recording industry and evolved to a happy place and YOUR definition of success?
Allison: Honestly, I think we already are a band who has survived treacherous trials and tribulations AND achieved success by our own definition. We’ve gone way farther than our original goals to play Battle of The Bands in Palo Alto and trying to book a show at 924 Gilman. The lucky thing is that we enjoy what we do and are able to share it with people out there who enjoy it as well, and I feel like this album, the future, Crowdbands, etc, is the buttercream frosting on top.
Steve: Final word – anything you want to make a point of saying?
Allison: Yes, the new album knocks my very own socks off!!!
And now some insights from Tom of Crowdbands:
Social Steve: How do you balance the principle of “what came first – the chicken or the egg” as it relates to building a fan base for Crowdbands and signed groups? You need to build both and they go hand in hand? How do you get the balance right?
Tom: We actually do not view it as chicken and the egg at all. We’re simply building on what bands already has in terms of fans and engagement, and making their fans’ experience even MORE engaging. We are looking to build an even more engaged community of super fans who was to actually be involved with their favorite acts. We build the community through consistent engagement, the Members actually make a lot of the decisions a record label would make.
Steve: What are the advantages, you see, for a band to sign with Crowdbands relative to a “traditional label”? For that matter, what will bands “not get” from Crowdbands that they would get from a traditional label?
Tom: The advantages that a band to sign with Crowdbands relative to a traditional label is that we bring with us an energized motivated Membership fan base who is emotionally invested in success and who have real love for the band. Our Members function as a natural focus group for testing, and an organic word-of-mouth marketing entity. What bands will “not get” from Crowdbands that they would get from a traditional label is (ironically) a lack of focus. Because of the economics of the current record business, labels are forced to adopt a blockbuster mentality, whereby they cannot focus at all on traditional artist development, patience, long term plans. And consequently many incredible bands still in their creative prime have fallen off major labels. Crowdbands has arrived on the scene to fix this problem, to make a label that is a better partner in realizing success for the band.
Steve: How do you ensure fans that their vote actually counts and that options posed are not predetermined?
Tom: We put a lot of time and thought into devising decisions that are really going to matter, both in that they are exciting and interesting decisions for the Member to take part in, and that they actually in some tangible way help the band further their goals and aims. The options posed are never pre-determined, I think people in general and our Members in particular are way too smart and would detect that as not genuine. And if that were to happen our community would fall apart.
Steve: Do you see the draw for fans to Crowdbands being based more dependent on the bands that are on the label or the general fun and ability to influence bands decisions? For example, is someone who is not a fan of The Donnas (or additional new bands) going to join Crowdbands and if so what do you see compelling about it?
Tom: The reasons and attractions for joining as a Member of Crowdbands are wide and varied … I think that in the beginning, certainly there is something to be said for being a fan of said Crowdbands band being a driver for a Member signup–after all, who would not want to be close and be involved with their favorite band? But as the days go on and [Members] experience what we are doing, [they] experience the richness of being involved with contributing, that in itself becomes the selling point and a major attraction for new Members. Our Members tell their friends about our community and how great the experience is.
Steve: What “exclusives” or “pre-release access/purchase” are available for Crowdbands members?
Tom: The most obvious things in terms of exclusives which we provide are obviously access to the band and to the weekly experience of working with the band and helping contribute to their effort and success. No one else is bringing bands and their fans closer together in this fashion. Just a couple weeks ago we had a terrific live chat with the band, which no one else could experience except for Members. We talked about some really pressing and meaningful career issues with the band on this chat. We are discussing other exclusives as we get closer to album release from our artists, like previews of new music before anyone else, and first track at tour concert tickets before the general public. We are really striving to make this as rich as possible an experience.
Steve: What can we expect in the way of new bands in the future? I realize you are not going to name drop anything that is in the works or specific bands you want to lure, but can you put some definition or parameters on the table?
Tom: Yes the parameters are simply bands that we love and that we feel we can add real tangible value for. We’re looking for bands that are somewhat established, artists who have already achieved some modicum of success already, but who have been abandoned by the major label system. They’ve got to feel like artists that are still very much in their creative prime and have much still to prove to the world.
Steve: How much “social” are you expecting from your signed bands and how much will be delivered by “the company” on behalf of bands?
Tom: We do expect bands to be involved with their Crowdbands experience. Like most things in life, the more effort you put in the more positive results come out of it. And we’ve found that to be especially true with Crowdbands. Crowdbands, the company, will deliver final album music to its members and we guarantee a rich excellent interactive experience each week–and we believe no one else is doing this at all.
Steve: Final word – anything you want to make a point of saying?
Tom: Crowdbands is trying to change the world one fan and one band at a time. We believe that fans and bands naturally want to be more close, and that there is not only a fun element but a true utilitarian element to what Crowdbands and its Members do for one another…
So there you have it. If you have read my articles before, you know I stress the importance of relationship building. Fundamentally, this is what EVERY company needs to do whether you are a record company, B2B, or other B2C organization. When push comes to shove, this is what Crowdbands looks to bring to the music industry – real fan-band relationships. And I’ll bet that if there is a band-fan relationship that continues to grow, the fan is more likely to actually purchase music and pay for live events and paraphernalia as opposed to simply torrenting free music. People buy from people they feel comfortable with.
You’ve heard from the artist. You’ve heard from the new record label. Now it is your turn – the audience. What do you think? Join the conversation.
Make It Happen!
Note: If you like articles relating music and social media, also check out “How I Learned About Social Media Influence from Bruce Springsteen in 1975,” “What Brands and Social Media Players Can Learn from The Grateful Dead,” and “Indie Music & Social Media – A Perfect Match.”