Expert Advice: Amber Horsburgh shares 4 ways to own your audience and add years to your career

Expert Advice: Amber Horsburgh shares 4 ways to own your audience and add years to your career

Guest post by Amber Horsburgh*

Who do your fans belong to? 

Most artists don’t own their audience. They give responsibility to third parties and due to the privacy agreements of companies with their users, they don’t pass on data and contact info to the artist. This means Apple knows who bought youvr album from iTunes, but won’t tell you. Promoters know who came to your show, but won’t tell you. Spotify knows who streamed your latest release, but won’t tell you. Artists are the ones filling the room, creating music to be streamed or sold, and amassing followers on social media but they ultimately don’t own the relationship.

This presents 2 problems in marketing:


When third parties fail, you lose your audience. Ryan Leslie, who’s produced for Snoop Dogg, Usher and Britney Spears famously lost 200,000 Myspace followers, which prompted him to found the text messaging app SuperPhone, so that he could own his fan data. 

That’s just one case; in 2019 Myspace deleted all music uploaded from 2003-2015 which equalled ~53 million songs. Followers are one thing, but frankly, it’s a tragedy for those artists who’ve lost their actual music thanks to Myspace. If you rely solely on third parties, you absorb their problems.

Ryan Leslie talks about audience ownership in music

Cold starts: 

Ticket buyers are the most valuable fans dollar per head. So, when you have a new project out you need to reach those people. However, since promoters handle tickets, they own the contact info. If you had owned this data, you can retarget these people through advertising or reach them via email, but if you don’t, then you’ll start from scratch with each campaign. And finding new fans is more expensive than developing existing ones.

If you haven’t started a direct fan relationship, here are 4 ways to begin building yours. 

1) Ask 3rd parties

Labels and promoters own a lot of data because they sell the records and tickets for artists. If you work with either, ask them. Same for merch and ticketing platforms – they have email lists of customers who’ve already interacted with you. 

When you do this, make sure you’re covered for anti-spam laws. Just ask them that you’ve got the right to add these emails to your list – they would have done this in their opt-in pages. Larger promoters, i.e.: Live Nation will have this in place but smaller, independent promoters will vary based on how they promote their shows using email marketing so best ask.

If you’re a SoundCloud Pro Unlimited subscriber you can access full Insights [link to Insights blog post] like top cities, countries, tracks and listeners. You can DM your biggest fans to start building a relationship and then ask for contact info for your email list. 

2) Contests & incentives 

Contests are great because you only need to fulfill 1 prize in exchange for many emails, so there’s less heavy lifting on your end. This can be as simple as winning tickets for shows, merch bundles or FaceTimes with you.

I’m also a fan of an optional email-gate on your website. People go to an artists’ website when they’re seriously interested in you as an artist – they’ll go to wiki to find out about an artist they’re just discovering, streaming platforms to listen to them and social to get a vibe. But the website is for real interest – people trying to find tour dates or merch.

When they get to the site you can encourage them to sign up for your mailing list by providing incentives, e.g.: first access to your music, exclusive remixes or unreleased demos – the tactic Yellow Days uses to get sign ups.

Email-gate on the Yellow Days website

3) Get people to text you

Real simple and a very soft sell, just have a link to your email list or text everywhere online. 

Text marketing boasts open rates as high as 98%. Where Mailchimp’s email open rate benchmark for musicians is 22%. Ryan Leslie did $2M gross revenue through text alone on his 2015 album Black Mozart without a manager, label, music videos or PR – purely from his fan contacts. He set up a simple automation system that asked people to text him, from there the system asks the user to add them to his phone book – the user gives him their name, location, and phone number so he can send follow-up messages. He promoted his album and tour dates via follow-up messages. 

Text apps like SuperPhone and Community can run these automations for you. SuperPhone is available right now to sign up. Community is accepting waitlist applicants. 

4) Sell through your own website

Selling direct to consumer (D2C) allows higher margins and ability to capture whatever data points you want without relying on 3rd parties. Believe (the distributor that owns Tunecore) is championing this sales approach during COVID-19. In an interview with Music Business Worldwide, CEO Denis Ladegaillerie said they’d assembled a special task force in France to get their artists D2C stores up to date after seeing positive sales from COVID releases. 

60% of French rapper, Kekra’s first week sales came through his D2C store. German rapper UFO361 moved 20,000 boxsets and CD/merch bundles through his merch partner, 30Grad, direct to fans for his April 2020 ‘Rich Rich’ album.

To wrap up

That’s 4 ways → asking partners, running contests, using marketing automation via text, and selling on your own site. 

By owning your fan relationship you’ll have greater longevity in your career because you needn’t rely as heavily on 3rd parties to promote your projects. You keep your contacts at every phase of your career, allowing more effective marketing in the short term and greater freedom long term.

*Amber Horsburgh is a music strategist based in Brooklyn. 

As former SVP Strategy at Downtown Records she helped artists build brands including Mura Masa, Smino, Tommy Genesis, Chet Faker/Nick Murphy and Cold War Kids. On the flip side, she’s helped brands like YouTube Music, Sonos, Samsung and Google Play connect with audiences.
She runs Deep Cuts – a semi-regular music strategy newsletter for artists & marketers that goes deep into effective artist marketing strategies (subscribe here).

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