As album sales continue their decline and music consumers lean more toward downloading singles via iTunes, MP3 blogs and podcasts, building a loyal fan base, much less selling a full-length record, takes a bit of ingenuity on the artist's part. The public bounces from one “it” band to the next like a commitment-phobic lover, not willing or motivated to spend enough “quality time” with an act to take the relationship to a deeper level.
Back row, from left: Scott Page, Steve Lukather, Leland Sklar, seated: Russ Lujan
However, with the phenomenal success of lifestyle portals such as MySpace.com, nearly 2 million artists (according to the number of acts listed on MySpace Music) have found a way to woo over an artist with bulletins, songs to play and download, photos, blogs, e-mails and instant messages, giving them a powerful tool to boost show attendance, increase album sales and develop some of those one-song flings into long-term relationships.
Now, Los Angeles — based New Media Broadcasting Company (www.NewMBC.com) has developed a sophisticated next-generation, author-anywhere, private multimedia communication network.
Its “gated digital clubhouse” integrates a free networking portal and e-storefront with premium service upgrades (including a desktop application that delivers next-generation Instant Messaging), including self-publishing creation tools and global private broadcasting capabilities.
“It is a turnkey business model for artists interested in recruiting, engaging and retaining worldwide audiences,” says CEO Scott Page, who formed the company with his partner, Russ Lujan (president/COO). Page — former saxophonist for Super-tramp and Pink Floyd — was co-founder of publicly traded multimedia pioneers 7th Level. With Lujan, formerly executive VP of Internet streaming/interactive broadcasting company EnterMedia, he began developing the NewMBC concept that became New Media Broadcasting in 1999 after working together on IBM's ThinkNet online educational service.
“We saw broadband coming and the ramifications of community building combined with individual production capabilities,” says Page. “We've built an audience-relationship platform from which bands can include and manage their audiences, offer them private access to the inner workings and latest projects, and deliver them premium content — all within a paid-subscription environment based on a common mutual interest: fandom.”
With this base, they will offer a subscription-based, private and secure network for the band and premium-level fans that also get access to exclusive content. “It's very behind-the-scenes,” notes Lujan. “The artist chronicles how they recorded an album, transmits video soundchecks or issues a live broadcast about what's happening on the tour bus — what the fan is very interested in.”
These VIP items can be delivered to subscribers' computers, cell phones and/or other mobile devices instantly. Ongoing communication among “club” members helps build a collective environment that can accelerate concert and album sales for the artist. “For example,” says Page, “let's imagine that Toto [the company's first network channel] is touring in Europe. Guitarist Steve Lukather logs onto the network and sees that there are thousands of people online. He hits a button on his computer and says, ‘Hey everybody, check out this jam we just did.’ He pushes that out in real time. The fan walking down the street gets a beep on his cell phone, whips it open and views the jam. If Steve wants to push the viral network, he can grant rights to users so they can start mixing and mashing the content that is being broadcast downline.”
And there's no doubt that the members of Toto seem to be enjoying this brave experiment in cyber-capitalism. In his reports from the road, as Toto sets out on its world tour, Lukather says, “There is a great change in the music business. The old business model is dead and all this new technology allows the artist to control their own destiny and manage a worldwide audience.” Keyboard wizard Greg Philanganes, Toto's newest member, observes, “It's a new and exciting forum that will hopefully reach great levels of interaction between fans, artists and peers.”
And, in the case of the TotoNetwork's gated online community, certain musical celebrity chums are also taking residence; in two cases, as correspondents, guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers) and bassist Leland Sklar (Phil Collins, James Taylor) have gotten into the act as “broadcasters,” so to speak.
As Page notes, “Fans interested in this type of premium service, while a small percentage of an artist's audience, represent a new influx of substantial dollars. These passionate fans are the ones who buy every CD, collect the bootlegs, put the stickers on their cars, want access to the band and will pay for exclusive content they can't get anywhere else. Lets say five percent go with the premium service of 1 million fans who pay anywhere from $4.95 to $9.95 per month — that's as much as $6 million a year in new revenues.”
“Moreover, the artist can own the audience and establish the global market that is so critical to today's enterprise. If you create new projects or produce other acts, you can have a built-in audience based on repeat business, which is key.”
“We believe that this is the most incredible time for artists and musicians,” says Page. “What really makes it happen for the artist is the ability to reach an audience directly from anywhere on a worldwide basis, with a single network connection. The whole model has completely turned around, and finally, there's the potential for musicians to build a business with the people who really care the most about their music and are willing to support and receive it in this brand-new way.
Heather Johnson is a Mix contributing editor.