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Do You "Support Local Music"?

We're going on a bit of a detour today.

Over at the blog Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong takes a look at a fascinating study by Christopher Bryan on using the power of words to create action:
"Countries around the world have tried many tactics to encourage people to vote, from easier access to polling stations to mandatory registration. But Christopher Bryan from Stanford University has found a startlingly simple weapon for increasing voter turnout – the noun. Through a simple linguistic tweak, he managed to increase the proportion of voters in two groups of Americans by at least 10 percentage points.

During the 2008 presidential election, Bryan recruited 34 Californians who were eligible to vote but hadn’t registered yet. They all completed a survey which, among other questions, asked them either “How important is it to you to be a voter in the upcoming election?” or “How important is it to you to vote in the upcoming election?” 
It was the tiniest of tweaks – the noun-focused “voter” versus the verb-focused “vote” – but it was a significant one. Around 88% of the noun group said they were very or extremely interested in registering to vote, compared to just 56% of the verb group.

In two later experiments, Bryan showed that these claims translate into actual votes. The day before the 2008 election, he sent his survey to 133 Californians who were registered to vote but hadn’t yet. After the election was over, Bryan used official state records to work out what his recruits had actually done. The results were clear: 82% of the people who read the “vote” question eventually filled in their ballots, compared to 96% of those who read the “be a voter” question."
 Why is this so?
"Bryan thinks that the subtle change from “vote” to “be a voter” plays off two psychological quirks. First, when we use predicate nouns to describe ourselves, we see the words as reflections of our essential qualities. This creates a far stronger impression than verbs do – it’s the difference which defining who we are, versus to what we do. As Bryan writes, “People may be more likely to vote when voting is represented as an expression of self – as symbolic of a person’s fundamental character – rather than as simply a behaviour.”

Second, when we use predicate nouns to describe future behaviour (“to be a voter”), we not only reflect on our qualities, but on the qualities of the people we could be. These words offer a vision of a future identity that’s up for grabs. And voting, regardless of whether people do it or not, is generally seen as positive and worthy – it’s something that people feel they should do. “Using noun-based wording to frame socially valued future behaviour allows individuals, by performing the behaviour, to assume the identity of a worthy person,” writes Bryan."
(Emphasis mine)

What we learn from this experiment is that people make decisions based on their own concept of identity. This topic keeps recurring in this blog because it's a fundamental aspect of human behavior. (Previous posts here and here)

Identity is the frame through which we view the world and make decisions. Do you listen to metal or are you a Metalhead? Do you like delicious food or are you a Foodie? Do you support local music shows or are you a Local Music Supporter?

There's a huge difference between the two.

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What is a Fan Worth?

New fans are expensive. You have to pay for fliers, press, merch and your songs in addition to social media, email lists, networking, bear costumes, pyrotechnics and everything else.

A super fan that's been digging your music for months is cheap. Send a quick text or email and you have an extra body at a show.

Smart businesses have known forever that it's worth spending money to retain customers. It's about Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), a wonderfully self explanatory business term.

A fan who only buys one ticket to your show has a lifetime value of $10. You're not going to retire on that, but it's appreciated.

Now say this same customer loved your show so much they'll see you whenever you're in town. Assuming you tour the city once a year and you only plan on touring for ten years or so, that same fan's lifetime value shot up $100. Now that's groovy.

It's easy to get caught up in short term thinking, especially in the early stages of a music career when you're making negative dollars. If a fan comes back a show later and wants to return a shirt for whatever reason, it's easy to justify a "No Refunds" policy since you're already behind a couple hundred dollars because of the shirts. They'd be annoyed, walk away, and that would be the end of that. How did this action affect that fan's lifetime value? Will they invest more or less on your band in the future?

However, you can make an arguement against being fan friendly goes like this: You say it's cool to return the shirt. The fan says thanks, but doesn't buy anything else and walks off. It's a monetary loss, sure. And what if everyone did this, you'd be broke!!!

To be fair, some people are just jerks. If bunches of people try gaming your good will, then by all means cut it off. But remember, how you treat your fans affects how they percieve you. Even if they returned the shirt, they still thought highly enough of you to buy it in the first place. It's better to err on the side of being too good to your fans than too tight with finances.

Fans fill up your wallet, not the other way around.

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How Much Merch Should You Stock?

I've changed my mind since writing that merch problems are an insult to your fans. While I still agree that losing revenue and bumming fans is bad karma, I'd like to refine my position.

When you buy inventory, you're forecasting demand. Easy for Walmart, difficult for musicians meeting at Taco Bueno. So when you decide how much to buy, you can either err on having too much or too little merch, so let's take a look at the costs and benefits of each decision..

Excess Inventory (Pro):
   Less risk of lost sales / bummed fans.
   Bands with larger fan bases can still possibly sell excess inventory.
   Bulk discounts.
   Less waiting for fan orders.
Excess Inventory (Con):
   Higher up-front costs.
   Higher risk of having unsold inventory (taking a loss).
   More inventory to track and haul around to shows.

Limited Inventory (Pro)
   Lower up-front costs.
   Less risk of unsold inventory.
   Easier to experiment with different items. (Top sellers are easier to scale up, bad merch is easier to drop)
Limited Inventory (Cons)
   More risk of lost sales / bummed fans.
   No bulk discounts.

Personal experience: We waaaaaay overestimated demand on our initial release. We could have saved a significant amount of money by buying less merch in preparation for our first release. Since our first release was paid out of our own pockets, overpaying was not only a bummer but it's left a chunk of our capital sitting idle in the corner of the practice room.



My advice for your band?

For an entry-level to mid-level band: It's better to err on the side of too little. In this stage you're still experimenting with merch, sound, marketing and whatnot. Since you're not relying on your legacy material as much as a more established artist, you should always experimenting to find what your fans want the most. Having demand drive your decisions will save you money AND help you get a feel for what sizes/things your fan base actually wants.

For a mid-level and above band (extended tours): It's better to err on the side of too much. Esetablished bands have breadth of both material and fans. If a shirt doesn't sell on one tour, you can carry it over to the next one with a better shot at selling than only a local band. And since larger bands rely more on merch, the risk of missing a sale hurts much more than a smaller band that's still building out a product line.

What's your take?

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Going Viral is a Waste (Pt. 2)

As I've said before, don't build your band's strategy around "Going Viral". It's a short-term strategy, and speed of adoption is inversely correlated with longevity (The quicker you rise, the faster you fall). Wasting your brainpower and creativity on ineffective strategies instead of building a solid musical catalog will burn you out fast. A music career is built on making superb music, not making superb stunts.

Tim Harford gives us a great analysis of the research work on social media marketing by Duncan Watts from Columbia University.

...we notice the successes simply because they are successful, and overestimate the likelihood of success. And there’s a survivor bias: in our analysis of what works we ignore what fails. “People think it’s all about videos of cats or cute children,” says Watts, “But there are millions of videos that have these attributes but haven’t spread.”
...The first surprise, then, is that the typical Twitter cascade is both rare and tiny. Ninety per cent of tweets are never retweeted, and most of the remainder are retweeted only by a person’s immediate followers, not by those at two or three removes. 
The second surprise is that beyond the mind-numbingly obvious, it’s impossible to predict which tweets will start cascades. Simply knowing that a user has started previous cascades tells Watts and his colleagues almost everything they can divine about the likelihood of future cascades – which is not very much. (It is not especially useful to know how many followers a user has if you know about their previous success in starting cascades, because the two pieces of data overlap.) 
Viral videos are the lottery. High payoffs, but essentially infinite players and loooooooong odds. Doing sustained, fan-focused marketing isn't sexy but it's been working for generations.

Am I saying give up social media altogether? Never! Just remember it's one of many tools in your marketing toolkit. Don't expect spending 4 hours a day crafting "the perfect tweet" is your ticket to becoming famous for your music.

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Food for Thought

For less than $20 a month, you can get unlimited streaming songs (Spotify) and movies (Netflix) whenever you want.

Twenty years ago this would get you one CD or one movie a month.

Has your band adjusted to this reality yet?