Business Lessons in Engagement – From the Music Industry

Created: Thursday, March 14, 2019, posted by Geetesh Bajaj at 10:00 am

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By Mark Jennings, CEO Subba Media

Successful bands are the ones engaging with their fans. The result? They gain recognition and financial success.

The way that artists and musicians conduct their business and make money is changing dramatically in the music industry. Making valuable connections via word of mouth and keeping fans engaged is now of vital importance. And with more digital channels open to fans and musicians alike, the relationship is more direct and more measurable than ever before.

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.

How can a business engage its fans as effectively as the top musicians and other showbiz personalities? Let’s find out.

Improving Engagement

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. And allow space for audiences to share their own stories and desires. In the music industry fan participation is the goal; giving your audience a place where they feel they have a voice and play a role in shaping your direction.

Take Lady Gaga. 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:

Maintaining Authenticity

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

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.

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

Building 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, online forums of the past are evolving into more sophisticated online communities. is one example of a music community that is following the model of the likes of TripAdvisor. Fans can not only upload their reviews and read others but have a place where they can buy tickets for experiences they love, all reviewed by like-minded peers whose opinions they know they can trust.

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

Sneak previews and trailers are an excellent way of giving your most enthusiastic fans a taste of what’s to come.  Childish Gambino is an example of an artist who relishes fan engagement: providing sneak-peaks to new, sometimes even unfinished videos.  He continually comes up with ways to whet his fans appetite and keep them engaged.

Being 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.

But Not Giving Away Everything

Don’t just give everything you’ve got in the hope that people will return the favor! It must 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 Justin Bieber himself, but there are 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 has led 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.

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”?

Making 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 behaviors – 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 behavior 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.

Being Direct When Communicating

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.

There are excellent examples of successful companies that did without advertising budgets when they started: Airbnb, Uber, Deliveroo.  Like them you can engage with your advocates, customers who share your mission.  With a team of engaged cheerleaders your business will thrive.

Mark Jennings
Mark Jennings has worked in digital publishing and advertising his whole career. He previously worked in the US and UK for the Financial Times, he most recently launched the digital portfolio for Last Word Media. Mark Jennings set up Subba Media with the aim of disrupting the publishing market. 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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