At MidemNet 2008, Techdirt/Studio 64’s Mike Masnick explained how Nine Inch Nails’ multi-platform, ultra-creative launch campaign was a prime example of “Serving your Fans”. And accurately predicted this direct-to-fan approach was the future of the music business. As a reminder, NIN frontman Trent Reznor notably left extracts of his new album for people to discover in concert venues; parts of an ARG (alternate reality game) puzzle fans had to work out. As Masnick puts it:
Embedded above is the 15 minute (trust me, it goes by quickly) presentation I did at MidemNet on January 17th in Cannes, France. It garnered an interesting reaction and a whole series of fascinating discussions over email, in person and over the phone since I presented it, and while I don’t want to repeat what’s in the video, I did want to discuss a few points raised by the presentation. The core of the presentation is the following simple “formula” that is the basis for making money in the music business (and, I’d argue, many other businesses) in the digital era:
- Connect With Fans (CwF) + Reason To Buy (RtB) = The Business Model ($$$$)
There are many artists — famous and not so famous — who have been making use (on purpose, or not) of this formula to create successful strategies for building up a stronger fan base, creating wonderful new works of art, distributing them out to the community and getting paid for it at the same time. What made Reznor so interesting as a case study was the fact that he’s done it so many times in so many different ways that he, by himself, represents a great example of how you can approach this simple formula in an infinite variety of creative ways.
One of the issues I’ve had in discussing recording industry business models is that we always hear excuses for why a, b or c won’t work. “Well, that guy can make money selling t-shirts, but this guy’s fans aren’t t-shirt types.” “That guy will sell concert tickets, but
this guy doesn’t like to perform.” “Maybe some fans will pay upfront, but people are so greedy that most will just freeride.” It’s all excuses. They all want a simple model that everyone can follow, and the point is that the simple model is what’s written about — but the difficult part is execution.
It’s about applying that “simple model” in a variety of different creative ways — which Reznor has done time and time and time again. Hell, I couldn’t even include all of the examples of Reznor’s successes in this single presentation, let alone successes by other musicians who have executed differently — but all of whom connected with fans (CwF) and then gave them a real reason to buy (RtB).
A second point that needs to be discussed is that a true reason to buy (RtB) is a voluntary transaction. Too often we’ve seen musicians or other content creators think that there is some sort of obligation to buy. And, so they put something out with a price tag, but without doing a very good job convincing fans why they should buy. There was no real reason — and then they seem to lash out at their fans for hurting them. The fault, however, lies with the musician (like any business) who failed to give a proper reason to buy, and falsely assumed that fans had some sort of obligation to buy. If an artist believes there’s an obligation to buy, fans will often educate the artist very quickly.
One final point on this is the last question that people often raise: why should the musician be involved in any of this? Shouldn’t they just be creating music? There are two answers to this. First, this is exactly where a smart record label, agent or manager can come in and be quite helpful. Let the musician create the music and let the “business guys” focus on applying this business model. Second, however, is that due to the way the industry is these days, the musician does need to be somewhat involved. You cannot connect with fans if you’re in seclusion. If you won’t want to make the effort to connect with fans, then that’s fine: you won’t have that many fans. It’s a choice you make.
That said, there are tremendous opportunities allowed by new technologies, new communities and new methods of communicating today. They all enable better ways to connect with fans, and better ways to offer real reasons to buy. Those who look at the past and complain about what’s been lost need to turn around and look at the vast open fields of opportunity in front of them. There’s a lot more music to be made, a ton of new fans to make very, very happy — and, yes, through it all, an awful lot of money that can be made as well. You just need to stop worrying about what was lost and recognize all there is to be gained.
The above is a republish of this post, which you should notably check out for the original comments. The video has to date racked up over 80,000 views, making it still our most-viewed conference video ever.