Challenging the Traditional Music Marketing Model: An Interview with BandPage's Chris Wiltsee

Today is a big day for us here at Ning. We've just announced our partnership with BandPage and have been spreading good vibes and community cheer at the SF MusicTech Summit. Music is in our blood, and we're excited to bring our social technology into the mainstream music scene. After flying cross-country to speak at the summit, Chris Wiltsee, Senior Director of Business Development at BandPage, took a moment to chat with us about music marketing and offer further context for the BandPage + Ning integration.

Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Chris! Tell us a bit about yourself and your role at BandPage.

I'm the Senior Director of Business Development at BandPage, which means that I lead BD and partnership activities for the company and have the opportunity to work with and report to our President, Jeff Amann. Currently, BandPage is focused on two main initiatives: (1) content syndication partnerships with leading companies like Pandora, Twitter, WordPress, and now Ning, to allow bands to seamlessly integrate their unique content across the top websites in the world, and (2) BandPage Experiences, which is our new e-commerce platform allowing bands to engage with fans in unique, exciting and lucrative ways. We believe that putting e-commerce and syndication together is the secret sauce that will help bands around the world to make a substantially better living.

In a 2012 article on BandPage, PandoDaily suggested that “the Internet is still too fragmented a place for artists to have any real sense of home online.” How would you respond to that statement?

I would generally agree with that. In fact, it's probably truer now than it was 3 or 5 years ago. Every 6 months, new and important services emerge that offer great value to fans and bands alike, which is great, but leads to further fragmentation. This is a challenge for bands, as they have limited time and may not be as technologically inclined or even very interested in social media. BandPage is very focused on developing tools and integrations that will help to vastly simplify this reality this for bands, by allowing them to very easily and elegantly setup their online profile with us, which will then syndicate out to a growing list of meaningful sites and services. It's great for the bands because they can better control the content that is representing them across the Web and on mobile devices from one dashboard. And it's great for the partners because they get a live feed of artist content coming direct for the source.

With Experiences, we're beginning to marry to that strategy the ability build more fan relationships and to offer those fans experiences that they can't get anywhere else. New revenue generation and greater visibility are two things that matter now more than ever for musicians.

Does the BandPage +Ning integration solve this problem of fragmentation?

Bands want feature-rich flexible social networks and are eager to integrate their unique content into those networks. Ning is clearly striving to meet this need and BandPage is pleased to welcome Ning into its growing base of content partners.

What do you feel are some of the biggest challenges for a musician who is trying to adapt to the digital environment?

One thing I hear all the time is that bands struggle to know where to focus. Should they put all of their energy into Facebook? Twitter? Facebook AND Twitter? Do I even need a website? What about Instagram? Etc...

The truth is, it is all important.

One great value to the Ning / BandPage integration is that it allows a band to pull all of these various networks and properties together under one roof where fans can follow their various social feeds, the blog from the artist, participate in a forum among other fans and keep up to date with the latest content being published by the band.

Despite the complexity in the space, bands have never had such powerful and accessible tools to grow a fan-base, segment that base into casual listeners, fans and super-fans and then to be able to offer those fan segments amazing and relevant offers. The technology is evolving (thanks to the hard work of our teams) to make this process simple, intuitive and highly scalable.

What is one thing a musician could do today to increase her reach or improve her online presence?

Connect. It isn't enough to just spend all of your time in rehearsal, in the studio and then to put out an album every 12 months and expect fans to drop everything (including $12 for a CD) when you hit the road. Bands should be in constant communication with fans. They should be releasing all the time. This could be singles, videos, special offers or experiences, unique merchandise, or even just glimpses into their world through photos, blog-posts, etc. Fans want more. They want a personal relationship with the artist. For some artists this comes very natural. For others not as much. No matter how much a band wants to remain behind the veil, it is still possible for them to be in more communication with their fans, in whatever form makes sense for them. They don't have to cheapen it or give up their mystique. They just need to make that communication part of the art. Be artful about it. Make it entertaining, and engaging. Bands didn't have to think this way 20 years ago, but they certainly do today. Rather than resist it or resent it, I think bands would do well to embrace it, and see it as the necessary trade-off for having such unbelievable access to distribution and visibility now made available through technology.

More than 500,000 musicians use BandPage to build deeper relationships with music lovers everywhere. How are the most successful musicians using BandPage?

The best bands update their content often and have setup their various sites and services so that their freshest material is always up to date and available. They are engaged with their fans. They are using our technology to build a bigger fanbase and to stay better connected with that base. They are looking for new revenue streams and creating one of a kind experiences for their fans.

Through the BandPage Experiences platform we’re seeing artists create really innovative engagement opportunities for their fans. For instance, country star Sara Evans posted a promotion last week encouraging her fans to upload a video of them singing along with their favorite song of hers. Fan will then vote for the top video and that fan will get the opportunity to fly to Nashville to sing it onstage with her at a special Country Music Awards fan appreciation event. Amazing!

How could those musicians apply the same strategies on Ning?

The same strategies apply. In fact, this integration is really valuable to bands because bands can have a site that stays up to date with content through their BandPage, but also has the additional features that Ning does so well, which is to have a blog and forum for the band and fans. Different members can have their own blogs, there can be forums around a tour, or a new song. These can evolve over time and it's all totally customizable and flexible. And it all lives under one roof. I think it is a very powerful combination that a lot of bands, managers and labels will take advantage of.

What do you feel is the biggest benefit of an artist having a branded community?

It is now possible for artists to invest in a web (and mobile) presence that is their own destination, but that is deeply tied to the social web with feeds pushing and pulling for platforms like Twitter & Facebook. With Ning’s blog and forum features, it is also possible to bring the fans into this site in a powerful and flexible way. It seems just a couple of years ago that many sophisticated digital folks had deprioritized the artists destination in favor of ‘fishing where the fish are’ on the major social networks. Now, it is really possible to invest in your own property, which you control the design and branding for, which isn’t subject to any big changes made by platforms (think Myspace, Facebook Timeline, etc.), but that takes full advantage of those major platforms, and having loops of content and social activities flowing between the artist site and social platforms. This allows for new fans to discover the artist’s content, while building a sustainable ‘home’ online.

Are there any characteristics that make a band or artist especially cut out for an online community?

The biggest characteristic is a band that is engaged with online media that enjoys sharing and connecting and does so in a thoughtful, artistic way. Done right, an artist can get a lot of ‘free’ marketing and build a huge amount of hype around new releases and projects by getting fans aware of and excited about what is happening before release day. How this is done, and doing it in the authentic voice of the artist varies from case to case. It is also important for the artist not to constantly be ‘selling’ but also just connecting and communicating with their fans genuinely.

What are your greatest expectations for your partnership with Ning?

We are very pleased to support Ning’s 3.0 platform and think the integration with our BandPage Connect feature, which allows bands to sync their BandPage content to their Ning-powered site, is a powerful product offering. The ease of setting up an elegant site, that stays up to date, while offering massive functionality and flexibility in connecting with fans is a real breakthrough. My hope is that many bands with strong fan bases adopt it and that bands that are still growing their fan-bases use it as a valuable tool in that pursuit.

Do you have any advice for an artist who is starting to cultivate her own community of fans?

I think it is important to be in constant ‘release’ mode. Artists should challenge the traditional model of putting out one release per year and then touring to support it. It seems to me that putting out smaller, stronger releases backed by engaging social marketing and live components could generate much more fan excitement and engagement. Using tools like the BandPage / Ning integrated site is an easy to use and cost effective way to communicate all the activities of the band, and create a platform to harness and showcase the fan activity within the artists own network

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