The rock star’s guide to understanding audiences

Musicians and brands have many things in common, not least of which is a natural love for audiences.

James Dale is the MD and founder of Sine Digital, but in a previous life he was a full-time musician and member of UK indie band Godheart Assembly.

So what can a former music star teach the martech world about audiences?

As Dale explains below, there are lessons to be learned in terms of owning data and knowing how to work the crowd…

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If you are in the business of entertainment, you need to know who you are entertaining. 

This may seem like a self-evident truth. If you ask an artist or an entertainer if they know their audience, they will tell you that they intuitively do. 

They see them at the shows, they know their faces and they understand how to provoke an emotional response. But all of this is qualitative. Rarely are artists and creators able to paint a picture through data. 

First-party data is the most valuable audience insight available. 

Often this data is kept out of the hands of creators, organisers and producers – and is instead hoarded by third party services such as Ticketmaster. 

The entertainment industry has a data problem and it is hurting the artists and creators the most. 

Because they don’t have first party data, entertainers are unable to directly contact their audiences themselves – meaning they are forever at the mercy of third parties like Google and Facebook. 

The big tech giants and their social media networks are naturally powerful tools for artists – they are channels which can drive growth and engagement. However, it’s dangerous to live solely on these platforms – as we found out ourselves. 

After (third) parties 

My band, Goldheart Assembly, rode the Myspace wave successfully at the end of the noughties. 

We broke into the industry via social media platforms – but came out the other side with very little data with which to continue our career.

In 2007, Myspace was a great place to grow a digital footprint. After uploading a few badly recorded tracks, we spiralled into social media prominence following some engagement from big name BBC DJs – eventually becoming Coldplay’s no.1 friend on the platform (a big deal at the time). 

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Off the back of that initial interest we signed deals with record labels, publishing companies and booking agents. We even performed multiple times at Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds and SXSW.

Cue then a huge shift across digital platforms. Myspace collapsed, Facebook exploded for businesses, and Spotify, Kickstarter, and Vevo launched. 

We lost followers moving from one platform to another and had to contend with choosing between Vevo and YouTube, and whether we sold physical units on Bandcamp or gave away “free” music on Spotify.

Our record label owned data from CD sales, while all the information gained from tickets for our tours and live shows were owned by our promoter Live Nation – and as they’d just acquired Ticketmaster they were in no mood to share first-party data. 

Our fortunes declined – and it was entirely because we lost the ability to keep talking to our fans directly as we didn’t own our data. 

Permission and connection 

I’m not blaming big corporations and record labels for our lack of long-term success. As with any artistic endeavour it’s a combination of multiple factors. 

However, not having access to the first-party data of people that had bought our physical products and had paid to see us live across the country meant that it was impossible for us to ever become self-sufficient. 

We built the connection with our fans – but we never owned it. 

This was the main driver for starting SINE Digital in 2017 – I wanted to try to make sure that the same thing didn’t happen to artists that we worked with.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay
Own your data: Sine’s mission is to help other creatives make their data work for them.

Now we help artists, creators and entertainers find ways to drive effective growth and build powerful connections with audiences.

We empower them to directly own the data these consumer-artist relationships create.

Understanding your audience is one thing, monetising is another

Before the tickets even go on sale we encourage producers and promoters to invest in building their own data from the very start. Seen as a “non revenue generating” activity by many producers, but our experience suggests otherwise. 

The value in doing the groundwork to gather data connected to relevant audiences is proven to successfully convert highly engaged users into buying tickets. 

Not only do we then have an understanding of who our audience is, but it means we’re able to translate this into revenue.

We recently worked with Runaway Entertainment for Disney’s Newsies, the award-winning musical. We built a highly engaged audience of 29.3k opted-in customers and converted 20% within the first 24 hours on-sale, with a £70,000 investment – generating over 700k in direct revenue.

This means over £10 return for every £1 spent during the initial data capture phase of the campaign but this isn’t the lifetime value of owning this vital data. 

More importantly, the data is now owned by the producers and enables them to build relationships with those that care and want to hear about their brand. 

As an example, over 50% of the Newsies sign-ups have now gone on to purchase tickets. 

Artists and entertainers need to know their audience – and they need to know them in a ownable, quantifiable way. 

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Star power: Artists need to do more than just know their audiences says Dale.

Seeing the news that platforms like TikTok are partnering with Ticketmaster suggests that the issues artists and creators face are only going to continue. 

These partnerships may work for consumers in the short-term – but in the long term it will serve to increase the distance between artist and fan. 

For those in music or live entertainment, my advice is to run small ad spends and link out to your own website via in-app browsers rather than linking straight to platforms, such as Ticketmaster. 

This way you can add tracking and data capture aspects to your own site and get your hands on the vital data that will enable you to engage and grow an audience. 

I would also advise having a UTM-tracked URL in your bio as well, so you collect as much data as possible no matter where people end up clicking.

For those with a large following it is of course tempting to just use the Ticketmaster links for organic posting as there is currently no way to link out to your own website in a post. 

Linking in your bio causes a big drop-off rate for link clicks and the Ticketmaster/TikTok deal will solve that problem. 

For every convenience there is a cost, and if you want to sell tickets on TikTok through Ticketmaster just make sure that you are completely comfortable with what you are giving up in order to have that link in your post.

Brands and artists in entertainment cannot afford to waste money on marketing which either isn’t effective – or doesn’t help them own the relationship with their audiences. 

Artists may intuitively understand the needs of their audiences – but the safest way to futureproof this connection is to ensure that it is enshrined in first party data. Just ask Goldheart Assembly.