In this MBW Op / ed, Nick Lawrence, founder of the British accounting and auditing company BigStar, explains why fulfilling the potential of a direct-to-fan model in a “non-live” music industry has become more important and why doing it it’s all about understanding the artist and the fan.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking primarily about protecting and managing income when managing business and accounting in the music and entertainment sectors.
Smart advice, solid investments, savings accounts and the like.
And while that’s partly true, the good guys should do a lot more.
They work with their artists and advise them on generating income.
And that doesn’t just mean chasing them on tour, it also means exploring other, more creative or inventive approaches; Ideas for additional income that strikes the fine line between adding value to an artist without ever taking his fans for granted.
To do it well, it takes skill, sensitivity, and a deep understanding of the artist and fan base you are working with.
Diversification of sources of income
In general, the first thing a fan base wants is the live experience. That was the case in the 1960s, is true today, and will likely be the case in 2050 as well. Even so, it’s important that artists (and their business leaders) have other ways to grow sales.
Why? Aside from the fact that maximizing the variety of sources of income is simply a good practice, it is also a possibility for unforeseen events. For example, if a global pandemic effectively paralyzes live music. When this happens, the agility to move to a “non-live” model can make all the difference in whether or not an artist is paid.
But when done well, it can be much more than just a financial safety net. It can be a thriving source of income and a great way to connect directly with fans to fuel and cultivate demand. One aspect of the “non-live” model that can be particularly effective is direct marketing (D2F). This is exactly what it sounds like: a band or an artist who sells directly to their fan base without having to rely on a dealer or distributor as a middleman. For the artist, the profit margins are much higher. For the fan, they have the certainty that whatever they buy, whatever it is, comes straight from the band themselves.
But the D2F route needs a little bottle and a lot of insight. Since you cannot rely on a retailer’s or distributor’s notoriety, you need to be absolutely certain that the fan base in question has an appetite to actively seek out new opportunities to purchase similar goodies (be it a new release, a re – Release or merch). In reality, that means that you usually either have to be established in the mainstream or be a cult band.
Feed the cult fan base
As a standout example of the latter, we’re fortunate to have Killing Joke on the list. And cult fan bases are not getting much bigger or more engaged. But even then, you really need to take the time to understand what type of product they want. Many of these fans didn’t just grow up with Killing Joke as the soundtrack to their lives; Instead, they watched the music industry evolve inexorably from vinyl, tape and CD to digitization and streaming in front of their eyes.
And the combination of both creates a special effect: a powerful, emotional (even nostalgic) connection to the idea of music, which is expressed in a tangible, analogue form. For the same reason, vinyl sales have skyrocketed in recent years. And for a band like Killing Joke (with clever management, of course!) It is a valuable insight into the wishes of your fan base. It has to be of sufficient quality and creative value to strengthen the bond between the band and the fan.
For Killing Joke, that means digging into the reasons her fan base loves her – and that means focusing on the riches of an incredible career. It can be deluxe reissues of classic records and rarities (both physical and digital), but also make the most of the iconic artworks, posters, photographs, and fonts that have accumulated over the years.
Such items offer a double punch, as they stand in time both as atmospheric mini snapshots and together as an archive that the band has documented over the years. The packaging, as beautifully produced books, literature or photo essays, creates a nice balance between the resonance of time, place and memory and at the same time creates something completely new. For a band with such a deep history, the “non-live” options are significant.
The up-and-coming artists’ digital native approach
But what if you don’t have the luxury of having a large, loyal following, and performing live is your primary means of building your audience? Well that is certainly more difficult. But in fact, many of the same principles apply. It’s still about understanding the fanbase, even if that fanbase is more prospective than it is established.
Reprints and archival material are not an option, of course, but opening up new revenue streams certainly is, and that often means taking a D2F stance as well. Social media has made it possible for artists and fans to be in direct contact – a digital “intimacy” that is invaluable for creating a sense of connection between them. This does not generate any direct revenue, but it lays the foundation for other platforms to do so and that better reflects how and how a younger generation of talent is consuming content and connecting with artists. Patreon, for example, not only offers fans “access”, but also enables the potential of a personal “experience”. For the fan base, this helps mitigate the effects of not seeing a band or artist live. For an aspiring artist, it’s a source of income that they can really cultivate.
Of course, “non-live” income models and “D2F” income will never replace live music. But as this pandemic has clearly shown, good corporate governance is also about financial foresight. And nothing is more valuable than understanding your customer and their fan base. If you do, and you understand what you want, there are always income opportunities. Under normal circumstances, this is a Brucey bonus. But when live music is suddenly off the table, it can become a lifeline.Music business worldwide