Direct-to-fan is probably a term you’ve heard thrown around online by many sources in music marketing. But what’s the essence of direct-to-fan (DTF) marketing and how do you know if it’s right for you?
What is direct-to-fan marketing?
Using the word ‘marketing’ when talking about DTF is probably misleading. DTF is much more than a marketing system. DTF is a mindset and a business model.
I think of a direct-to-fan musician as a true entrepreneur. Someone who understands the value of a fan (customer) and knows how to leverage every encounter to further their career.
Most people casually define DTF as cutting out the record companies and radio stations while taking your music straight to the fans. That may be a start. But I don’t think relying on iTunes, CD Baby, Facebook, Twitter, ReverbNation or any other platform makes you any more of a DTF artist than if you had a label. Not that I believe these platforms are bad. In fact, they all can be a significant part of a DTF strategy.
No, the real key for me is that a direct-to-fan artist is self-reliant. They have a direct line of communication and relationship with their fans. And the single biggest factor – the DTF artist collects a database of their customers/fans.
Direct-to-Fan Equals Database
Any entrepreneur will tell you “the money is in the list.” Large corporations spend millions of dollars per year developing their CRM (customer relationship management) software. Companies selling CRM software and data management solutions are some of the fastest growing organizations in business today. Why? Because businesses understand the importance of being able to communicate with their customers without relying on a third-party.
I believe this same concept applies to DTF musicians. Relying on Facebook or Twitter to reach your fans is not a sustainable business model. As Twitter becomes a publicly traded company today, they will be forced to make money for their shareholders, just like Facebook. And we all know how Facebook is making money – by forcing you to pay each time you want to reach all of your fans.
Building a database of fans is essential to being self-reliant. Most commonly, artists build an email list, but beyond that, having someone’s physical address is even more powerful. Having multiple forms of contact for your fans ensures you can reach out to them when necessary.
Even if you’re on a record label or have a management company handling your career, please do yourself a HUGE favor and insist on building a database. I’ve met multiple artists who used to have a major label deal or were with a large agency and when the ride ended they had nothing to show for it. It’s so sad to me that an artist could tour the country doing dozens of shows per year and walk away with only the short-term rewards of ticket and merch sales. Being a DTF artist means thinking for the long-haul.
A Database Puts the Power in Your Hands
Once you’ve built a list, that’s when the marketing can begin. A list of fans allows you to do something the major labels can’t do – reach your strongest customers with the least amount of marketing dollars.
See, the major labels and most large corporations (Coke, Pepsi, etc.), use what I refer to as the “spray’n’pray” approach to marketing. They have the marketing budget to allow them to purchase millions of dollars’ worth of advertising each year. By flooding the market with ads they will eventually reach their target audience. As my friend JW used to say, “Even a blind squirrel will eventually find a nut!”
But the direct-to-fan marketer is smarter; they know that their best customers are current fans and friends of current fans. By building a list of fans, the DTF approach lets you spend your marketing dollars reaching the people most likely to buy your show tickets or new album.
Instead of buying ad space in newspapers announcing their upcoming show, the DTF artist can simply mail postcards to fans living within 50 miles of the show. That’s the power of a well-built database. It allows you to segment your list of fans by geography, age, purchasing habits, anything that will let you marketer strategically. A strong database gives you the power to get the biggest bang for your marketing dollars.
Develop an Attitude
As I stated before, the direct-to-fan model is not for everyone. In fact, just reading this article may have made you uncomfortable. Referring to your fans as customers or clients is not something every artist wants to hear. Being a direct-to-fan artist requires you to become an entrepreneur. Not everyone wants to do that.
But I think being a DTF artist will actually make you a better artist. Or maybe I should say a more marketable artist. Don’t be the next Vincent Van Gogh -only revered after you’re gone. By building a relationship with your fans, you can create art they are sure to like and share.
Again, that statement might make you cringe. But I think that’s part of direct-to-fan marketing. And that’s why I’m sure its not for all.
If it is for you, then start building a list, start studying direct-response marketing, and start thinking of your music as a business. Don’t leave your music sales to chance – be intentional.