Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes release via BitTorrent’s new “paygate” feature is newsworthy for several reasons – among them that there is now yet another option in the growing market of direct-to-fan platforms. Encompassing a broad spectrum of marketing, crowdfunding, retail, ticketing, subscription, merchandise and content management, our unofficial count of these services now stands at close to 70 in the UK and North America. All of which adds significant weight to the question:


“Which is the best direct-to-fan platform?”


This is the question a client asked us last summer. In the context of the rapidly-growing market, we were intrigued. A burgeoning market means greater choice for the user, and competition encourages services to improve and drives prices down. On the other side of the coin is the opportunity cost of using one service over another, and greater choice can also bring paralysis. There comes a point where the effort necessary to learn about opposing options in order to make the best decision tends towards outweighing any potential benefit – known as the paradox of choice.

With this in mind, and looking to do the heavy lifting to resolve our client’s dilemma, we set out on a mission to survey the industry and comprehensively analyse the services available to artists, managers and labels looking to harness the power of direct-to-fan.

We chose to start with the ten leading services available in the UK:

Music Glue
Sunshine HQ


Each of these platforms offers marketing and retail services for musicians and bands – essentially, they are toolkits for managing a direct-to-fan strategy. Each has strengths and unique selling points. Some can be fully customised, some are excellent at fulfilment or brilliant at ticketing, and some offer a broad suite of services all gathered together.

Drawing on our experience of producing direct-to-fan campaigns and managing artist stores, we created a set of over 40 criteria, grouped into seven headline categories:

– costs & accounting
– chart & mechanicals
– platform management
– marketing & email
– commerce
– fulfilment
– social integrations


Taking any of the criteria in isolation risks a narrow perspective, but viewed as a whole, we began to see a standard measure emerging. This helped to bring the market into focus, and we were able to formulate a handful of relevant questions to act as a starting point, to address the question of “which platform”.

The first priority is to establish the campaign goal (or goals). This is the essential starting point in order to effectively plan, execute and measure results.

To help make sense of the market, the second question is the service level required of a direct-to-fan platform. This means considering whether the user — the artist manager, or marketer, or lead singer — is a hands-on, DIY type. In a self-serve world, the platform user is responsible for management of the toolset. Six of the ten featured platforms offer self-service.

On the flip side, it may be that a managed service would be more appropriate. These services offer a dedicated contact or team who will account manage or project manage as required. Five of the featured platforms offer a managed service, with service levels varying along with the commission rate.

Bearing in mind the campaign goals, and whether or not the user will take a DIY approach, a third deciding factor is the campaign medium. There are great advantages to hosting a campaign on a “destination” platform such as Bandcamp or PledgeMusic, because these have highly-active communities which the savvy and resourceful artist might leverage. Alternatively, the preference may be to host the campaign activity on the artist’s own site. This could involve using a portable service such as CrowdSurge, Topspin or tmstores, or taking advantage of a custom package from Music Glue, Sandbag or Sunshine HQ.

The first edition of Direct-to-Fan: Which Platform is now available: you can access a sample version here. It is designed as a ‘quick-reference’ guide, and contains a comparison grid for easy reference and a set of ten profile summaries which describe and examine each platform through core criteria which include fees, platform management and commerce options.


Wicksteed Works is a UK-based direct-to-fan agency. To find out more about Direct-to-Fan: Which Platform and the agency’s other white papers & studies, please head over to their website.

Top photo via Shutterstock – padu_foto


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