Direct-to-fan marketing is a new concept gaining popularity with bands and artists who prefer to use the internet to market themselves and sell merchandise without the help (or control) of a recording label or distributor. On its own, this approach can be time consuming and requires a solid understanding of social networking and eCommerce. To help make it easier for bands to harness the power of true independence, a number of services exist that streamline the process and offer tools to make direct-to-fan activities much easier than before.
Direct-to-fan is more than just a band website, Facebook Page, or web shop. Packaged services are often limited in their customization, extensibility or reach, even if they cost a pretty penny to use. Below are five of the absolute best platforms for launching a direct-to-fan campaign, and can be integrated into an existing website or used on their own.
Nimbit is a hosted solution for selling merchandise, managing promotions and building campaigns. Everything is managed from a user-friendly Dashboard, and instead of a widget or plugin, Nimbit allows full customization of the shop and other materials for seamless integration with your website. Nimbit handles the collection of fan data through newsletter signups and provides a set of powerful reports for tracking successes and activity. Nimbit includes Facebook fan pages and a WordPress plugin for added delivery of streaming music and merch.
Why it rocks:
Nimbit was designed by musicians for musicians, with a focus on keeping things simple. The catalog management tools allow bands to upload content once to Nimbit and instantly add it to a blog, webste, calendar and multiple social networks.
They also understand that not all musicians are skilled copywriters. Artists can choose from a library of newsletter templates and fill in the blanks with a promo code to get free tracks or any number of other features. The campaign management tool tracks each fan’s activity, which allows bands to foster a better relationship with their core following.
BandZoogle is a full-service platform that integrates its set of marketing and sales features with a lightweight webpage builder. You get the same social networking, campaign management and web shop tools offered by other services, but the primary difference is in the sleek user interface and low subscription cost.
Why it rocks:
BandZoogle is highly customizable and perfect for bands that need a good looking all-in-one solution. This platform gives you complete control over your songs and merch, allowing you to set your own prices and promotions. BandZoogle also gives you access to customer e-mail and shipping address info so you can see who is buying your songs. While you won't get the same level of analytics other services can provide, bands can target campaigns and plan tours based on location data provided. They also have phenomenal customer service.
ReverbNation is an application suite used by nearly 2 million bands, labels and artists. They do offer band profiles that artists can configure and edit which serve as a launchpad for attracting new fans, but their products have the most successful use on band websites or social media profiles. Their extensive list of features include media players, promo badges, press kits, Facebook Fan pages, street team and newsletter management tools, banner ad management and mobile apps.
Why it doesn't rock as hard:
ReverbNation's website could be a lot more streamlined and the band profiles are often cluttered and confusing. The backend suffers from the same problems, paling in comparison to the ease and beauty of the other services on this list. Their widgets are also in Flash - not a big problem unless mobile compatibility is a concern, which it should be as more and more people are turning to mobile devices to browse the internet and listen to music on the go. In spite of these drawbacks, ReverbNation still has the largest selection of music tools for bands and remains the most popular choice among high-profile acts.
Topspin is probably the most powerful direct-to-fan platform available. Like the other tools mentioned above, Topspin allows bands to manage media and content from a central location and build a custom web shop. This content can then be distributed all over the web through Topspin's unique plugins and widgets, including media players, product links, promotions, and more. They also offer campaign and contact management, providing reporting through Google Analytics. This tool was designed specifically to empower bands and artists and remove dependency on other distribution channels such as Spotify, iTunes or Amazon.
Why it rocks:
Topspin is the only solution here that accepts payments from anywhere in any currency. The shop is extremely flexible, allowing bands to offer physical shipments from anywhere in the world. Integration with Google means fan activity is captured in higher detail, exposing patterns or similarities that can be used in better marketing and promotional initiatives.
Topspin offers extensive free training on their platform and the basics of direct marketing. Arists, managers or fans or designers interested in becoming a Topspin expert may also take advantage of an array of advanced courses offered through the Topspin website.
This is a guest article by Vail Joy who is a long-time writer, designer and copy editor with 15 years of experience in corporate business writing, music journalism and internet media design. When she is not hard at work designing something, she loves writing for Wix.com, the free website builder.