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by Chris Singleton

As regular readers of these posts will note, I seem to spend an awful lot of times telling bands to ‘think like a label’ – to create project plans; capture data efficiently; apply strong production values to any audio or visual output; get a stylist in; register music with the relevant royalty-collection organisations; do loads of coke; get your band to take their kit off at any given opportunity…all that sort of jazz. My hope is – as much as it may jar with artistic sensibilities and offend delicate souls – that readers are constantly reminded of the word ‘business’ in the phrase ‘music business’, and behave accordingly. Welcome to the machine. And if you thought that this constant encouragement to act like the most cynical of big businesses was already bad, it’s about to get worse, because I’m now going to suggest that you dabble in something called CRM: customer relationship management.

I know. It sounds terrible doesn’t it? Reducing devoted fans to ‘customers’, and talking about managing relationships without even the slightest mention of groupies. But CRM systems are what all clever businesses – and that includes the major labels – use to truly ‘understand’ their clients. Never mind the NSA, businesses have been snooping on their customers and potential customers for years now, all in a (usually profitable) attempt to squeeze as much money as possible out of them.  Yes! You too could do the same!

In the context of the music biz, all this means using sophisticated database software to

  • spot the most dedicated fans and ensure they never miss a release
  • create material for fans with particular types of interest in an artist’s music (live gigs, merchandise, limited edition vinyl etc.)
  • work out the best places to tour through use of geographical information

In a sense, these are generally things that all bands are trying to do, all the time – but CRM software just makes it a lot easier (and yes, sneaky).

So what is CRM software, and where do I get it?

A CRM package basically comprises

  • a database
  • some tools for capturing information onto it easily
  • some tools extracting useful information from it easily
  • features which allow you to track previous communications between you and your customers (fans)

There are truckloads of CRM solutions out there: Salesforce, Zoho, Capsule and Nimble are all online pieces of kit that you could use (my favourite of those, for the record, is Nimble). In a sense though, the program is less important than the database; you could actually get by reasonably well with an Excel spreadsheet so long as you were capturing the right data.

What does the ‘right data’ mean?

Most bands understand the need to capture data, but they tend to capture a fairly minimal amount of it: getting email addresses onto a scrap of paper at a gig is about as sophisticated as a lot of bands get. But actually, there is a lot more information that musicianscanand should capture which could help them both maximise sales and grow their fanbase. There are also a lot of sources of data that bands forget they have access to.

These are the pieces of information that I, as a cigar-puffing major label CEO would want to ensure that my minions were whacking onto a CRM database:

  • Email address (THE most important thing you can capture)
  • Name (particularly if you have a ‘petite’ fanbase, being able to address people by name is a Very Good Thing)
  • Postcode and country
  • History of previous music purchases
  • History of previous merchandise purchases
  • History of previous contributions to crowdfunding campaigns
  • History of previous attendance at gigs

But how the hell do you get all this data? Well, truth be told, you won’t be able to get all of it – you’re not going to convince Apple, for example, to send you a list of everybody who’s bought your records on iTunes. However, you can get a LOT of it, particularly if you are selling music and merchandise direct to fans on your website – most online store systems allow you to export all your sales info and upload it into your database; and any crowdfunding system worth its salt will give you a CSV file of everybody who’s supported your campaign. As for capturing data at gigs, you can do this both before the gig – by selling tickets in advance online – and at the event itself (you’ll find some tips on capturing data at gigs here, by the way). For the geographical side of things, it’s simply a case of capturing postcode and country any time you are asking people to provide an email address (be that on a website, or the aforementioned back of an envelope at a gig).

It will potentially be quite a lot of work and occasionally a bit of a technical challenge to get all this data in one place and onto a CRM – but it is worth it, because…

Having lots of data in your CRM means you can do Really Funky Things

Here’s where CRM gets a little less dry and a bit more sexy. Say you are deciding whether or not it’s worth investing in a vinyl release of your next album. Assuming you have captured all the data I’ve mentioned above, you can now log into your CRM, and pull up a list of everybody you sold a vinyl copy of your last record to. Groovy. And you can then decide whether there are enough people interested in that sort of thing to justify the cost.

Or say you are planning a tour. You can pull up your database, whack it into some mapping software and literally ‘see’ where your fans live. You can then identify hotspots where there is the greatest concentration of fans and put on shows in the locations which are most likely to provide a turnout which makes putting 5 sweaty blokes in the back of a people carrier for 2 months worthwhile.

Maybe you want to identify ‘superfans’ to act as special ambassadors for your band? No problem, just look for the people on your CRM who have the most ‘history’ against their records: people who have not only bought a record but attended a show, watched a live stream, purchased a t-shirt, supported your Kickstarter campaign and slept with the drummer. These are the prime candidates to join a street team or similar shady organisation devoted to promoting your music.

You get the picture – literally: an overview of your fans that you can use to sell music to in the most effective way possible. And yes, although it arguably feels quite ‘big brother’, it also brings some pretty decent benefits to the fans: they will be targeted with stuff they are most likely to enjoy, and get more opportunities to enjoy your music. And that, after all, is generally the point of being a fan.

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