Keith McColl is Head Of Artist Relations at planet.
In a past life he was an artist manager, a label consultant, head of sales at at a music distributor, an independent record label owner, a club promoter , part time dj, bad joke teller and a fan of Liverpool FC
I was a manager for 17 years.
When I started it was relatively straight forward — you had an act, you got Zane Lowe to play your record, then NME or the Guardian would write about your artist and then labels would offer you a deal.
The route to your fans was very simple — if you got in the press and on the radio — this would lead to you building a hungry base to start building upon via live shows…play more shows, get more press and radio and watch your artist develop and grow their base.
Then the internet became more sophisticated and personalised.
The student dorm hangout of Myspace…then the warm welcoming Friends Reunited-esque vibe of Facebook through to Twitter keeping us up to date instantly with our favourite artists actions and thoughts… then Instagram created a beautiful free art gallery for us to see inside the artists world…
…We listened freely to the music we loved on our mobile phones via our chosen DSP — a library of music at your fingertips with not much to guide you other than your own taste and knowledge or a friend mentioning an artist that you might like…
…but things change
Everyone realised that data is power.
All of these 3rd party platforms that we had utilised to communicate to our fanbases started to change.
Advertisers appeared…the competition to make sure that your post was being seen by your own fans started to heat up…algorithms took over.
This has meant the route to get to your fan base has become more challenging and ultimately more expensive.
A slew of places online that a manager now must ensure the artist has a strategy for and is creating content for…just to find the audience that follows you over and over again.
Artists creating 60 TikToks for the month making sure they do what’s on ‘trend’…a recommended 8–10 Insta stories a day as a best practice guide…and lets not forget making sure you engage in ‘conversation’ on twitter, that’s if you have enough energy left…oh and there’s YouTube Shorts…it is endless.
And so, now we are unsurprisingly seeing artists starting to burnout from this endless cycle of content creation and public persona building. What happened to artists doing the art? It’s easy to see why the art sometimes takes a backseat to content creation, which is so wildly wrong. Let the artists do the art, wizards like us are here to get what they produce directly to their audience.
Once we get fans into the artists world, how do you keep them there?
I standby that it is better to be stood in a corner with 5 great mates than shaking 50 peoples hands in the room and no one remembering your name.
Nurture that core base, start to multiply it, and you get something very powerful.
IRL is where it’s at. It shouldn’t matter how many followers you seemingly have, there is still no better way of turning casual fans into core fans — than playing to them live.
Yet often promoters and agents are looking at numbers on socials and DSP’s so are unsurprisingly over or underestimating demand — once again putting the artists focus on content creation to feed the algorithm rather than their live performance.
Imagine rather than using 3rd party followers (who are there for a variety of reasons) managers could gain an understanding of an artists fan base that accurately starts to understand the true demand that surrounds artists, rather than guesstimating how many of those followers actually convert to ticket purchasers.
It really is time we knew our most valuable fans — the paying customers in any other business’s world.
Below is a review from what I’ve seen over the past 12 months diving deeper into this space and the tools available to artists:
CRM powered mailing lists
What seems like an ancient piece of kit now in tech terms is still one of the best and probably still under utilised as management teams struggle to get access to their data. Sending targeted, relevant updates to fan segments is more critical than ever but I would argue that it takes a very sophisticated manager to draw out the right data points. For example how many managers know exactly where fans are post pandemic and how many shows these fans have been to before?
Many label run mailing lists are there simply to tell people what is happening at any moment in the artists universe (and maybe other similar artists)…a useful tool — but one with a slightly blunt edge, in a meeting recently the question was asked ‘Do we really check emails for fun now?’
This is a juggernaut that ain’t going away — we are all slaves to the algorithm now…organic reach of posts are now hovering at around 2–10% — which means that you can be shouting the loudest possible from your lungs stood on the highest mountain — but… the chances of you being seen or heard are increasingly low or expensive.
Then things change at a heartbeat on these platforms — new algorithmical directed shift and features added, altered or removed…a fellow manager shared with me recently they had a community of 100,000 they had built great links with via Facebook’s messenger bot — only for them to switch it off overnight and be left with no links to that fanbase at all.
Pre Order — Pre Sale
The music business has never been particularly subtle with their advertising . They tend to do it in a less sophisticated way than clothing or sports brands.
It is often a transactional process — so, you cannot blame this ‘pre-order mechanic’ in being popular — it does however seem limited to the UK so what about Europe and other markets?
The presale unlocks an opportunity to really know the core fan base and if you know which show they are going to, that creates an opportunity to interact with fans before and after seeing them in real life.
Does this offer a way to sell albums without creating barriers to selling tickets? Maybe this ‘mechanic’ could be viewed differently ?
Especially right now, it feels a lot to be asking of people with a cost of living crisis and a looming recession?
Should the music business not be trying to create added value for fans, surely it’s better to have fans who want to buy tickets and the album rather than forcing them to do so?
For super high demand events and larger artists — this makes sense — the customer will pay…but for other acts then maybe it is time for everyone to take a different approach. And service the fan with the right item at the optimum time.
Web 3.0 and NFT’s
Are words that have whizzed across the music industry in the last few years.
This will be part of the landscape for sure — but it is a long way off mass adoption.
Granted it’s a space that is growing fast but with still only 8% of crypto wallets in existence compared to the Apple & Google Wallets it is going to take some time.
For now the industry can monetise whilst giving some different experiences and value to their fans via NFT’s but again it is a blunt world with no means of communication with that actual fan — and you only know the identity of the crypto wallet — not the actual fan.
So for now maybe it is not yet such a powerful data tool.
Time For Change
Artists and fans have taken it upon themselves to create WhatsApp groups and Discord Channels — these can be time consuming and massively demanding on the artists… fans never switch off — but artists do need time to recharge to be able to make their art..so maintaining these types of relationships can be overwhelming after a while and can be outgrown as an artist gains popularity — which leads them to having to leave these well intentioned self built universes and revert to the broadcast tools of 3rd party platforms.
Besides- fans are incredibly good at working hard for their favourite artists, so these channels usually end up being ran themselves- which is a great thing, but the artist needs a way of knowing that audience and closing the loop.
We believe there is a better way. It is time to try to move away from 3rd party platforms owning and controlling the data on your own fans.
It is time for managers to take steps to build a more personalised experience for their artists fanbases — the way to do that is by knowing who those fans actually are and understanding directly from them more of what they like and love about their favourite artists.
Organic reach of posts are now so low — which means that you can be shouting the loudest possible from your lungs stood on the highest mountain — but… the chances of you being seen or heard are next to impossible, and it’s only getting worse.
To misquote Miss Grace Jones its no longer time to be slaves to the algorithm
Check out what I do now here https://planet.fans/artists