Taking tools seriously: Headliner.fm

The combo of digital music and internet radically changed the way artists produce, promote and distribute music. As Topspin’s Ian Roger nicely put:

The value chain is moving from what used to be artist-label-distributor-retailer-fan, to artist-marketing partner-technology-fan. There are a lot of people who are going to be in that technology box, and there are a lot of people who are going to be in that marketing box.

Let’s focus on the “marketing box”: how many services are out there to “help” artists market their music? I lost count. Which ones are worth the effort to subscribe to? Which ones are actually able to deliver value? I have decided to go deeper into these questions with Headliner.fm. Created by the founder of Nabbr, a music video channel that did not go that well, Headliner.fm is a very peculiar product. It is a pure marketing tool that (quoting the website):

lets you reach new music lovers on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace without making them Like, Follow or Friend you first. On Headliner, artists who make music similar to yours recommend you directly to their fans in their newsfeeds and timelines on Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms – for free.

Let’s skip the “for free” statement for now. In short, Headliner.fm builds a recommendation market among artists. Apparently (i.e. no scientific study to back this up, but music marketing people seem to agree) a very effective marketing technique is when artists recommend other artists to their fans. Partly because fans tend to follow their friends, partly because usually the recommended band has similar sounds that are likely to be appreciated by the same audience. A human version of Pandora’s algorithm.

Although you can add music to your page (via a connection to SoundCloud), all the features are about campaigns and promotion. Interestingly, your target are not listeners, but other musicians, that you can reach and “deal with” via Headliner. I’ll be extreme: the system is not that different from mafia, except that you use fake money (called “band bucks”) instead of life threats. As an emerging artist, you want to convince more established artists to give you a shout-out via their social networks. They might do it because they like you, of course, but you can also buy them out with band bucks (that you can purchase for real money, of course!). It is not super-intuitive, but this guide on how to make a promotion on Headliner.fm will give you the idea. Once the deal is made, Headliner.fm takes care of the rest, automatically updating Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. Basic but nice analytics will tell you how your promotions are going and how many new fans you reached.

Headliner.fm uses elements of gaming (the fake currency, the internal ranking system) to incentivize and monetize a tendency that’s already present in the long tail of pro and semi-pro musicians. The question is, does it monetize for itself (via the paid accounts and the band bucks printing) or also for the artists? Headliner.fm seems to have a good traction. The counter in the homepage is impressing:

“136,678 Artists have been recommended to 2,664,106,293 new fans”. Or “SHEF was recommended by REKKHAN, The Homie G, DJBankrupt and 10 other artists and reached 72,107 new fans.”

But who are these “fans”? Aren’t they a simple sum of Facebook, Twitter and Myspace followers of other people? Clearly Headliner.fm is over-counting the same people, but even without this preliminary objection - are these people engaged? Do they actually check you out? From the analytics screenshots, it does not seems that Headliner.fm provide you with these crucial information. And how could they? All they have is access to your social networks.

Nevertheless, looking into the testimonials, you can read Jonathan Ori Big Management declaring:

“We were very pleased with Headliner.fm’s campaign for Kaci Battaglia. It drove thousands of clicks to her “Body Shots” video on YouTube, which has now amassed over 2 million views worldwide.”

Artist-to-artist promotion probably works, and it’s a valuable tool for the DYI musician. How long are you willing to play the band bucks game it’s a different story, but $30 per month might be worth a try (the premium plan allows you to target the promotions locally, that’s actually pretty smart) possibly inside a bigger marketing strategy for your new record.

As a last note, Bandcamp allows artists’ recommendations, too. In a very different way:

“fans only see it when they’ve decided they love your music enough to buy/download it (which also means they now consider you a trusted source), and while fans wait for their download is just the right time to send them off to do a little exploring.”

Bandcamp introduces the concept of “trusted source” to tell you they can be more result-oriented than the competition, since their website is a place where people download and buy music. bandcamp

The shout-out itself looks more authentic, compared to Headliner.fm’s shameless marketing plug, which is not even written by the recommender:

headliner

Of course, Bandcamp does not offer any way to reach out to a great number of potential partner artists, that is, in the end, the core value of Headliner.fm. Bottom line: if you already have a strong network of Bandcamp’s users, it might be worth leveraging that rather than spamming other people’s Twitter (and let them spam yours). If you are a newcomer, and ready to play the numbers’ game of social media marketing, go grab the band bucks, and hope that the conversion rate of those “fans” gives you a decent return on investment.