Touring by the Numbers: Why Bands Should Stop Worrying and Love the Metrics

ReverbNation's head of West Coast operations talks about teaming up with brands and taking it on the road.


Credit: yakub88 / Shutterstock.comCredit: yakub88 / Shutterstock.comColdplay did it with iTunes. Gaga did it with Doritos. And Jay and Ye most definitely did it with Samsung. Artists who partner with mega-brands can stress less about record sales and pirated tunes as private companies foot the bill. But bands don’t have to sell out Madison Square Garden to form mutually beneficial brand alliances; they just need a little savvy in building their fan base, maximizing their exposure, and brokering deals, says Victoria Camera, vice president of Music Industry and Artist Relations for the music marketing platform ReverbNation. A veteran from Atlantic Records, Camera acts as a liaison between musicians and managers to help pair artists with likeminded brands and to develop promotional tools for both sides. Fresh off of a panel on touring tips at South By Southwest, Camera opened up about the tricky science of creating good band-brand partnerships and how artists should handle themselves on the road.

Get In Media: Brand partnerships are absolutely everywhere here at South By Southwest (SXSW). For an emerging band, how do they even begin to broker those deals?

Victoria Camera: We broker them for them. It is always through us. How it works is, ReverbNation has about 3.5 million bands on a global scale right now. It’s a pretty extensive, far-reaching company. We give them press kits and it’s essentially their resumes. It’s an EPK, an electronic press kit, so that’s where they have all their photos, their bios, their past and present touring history, everything that you would want to showcase about your band. Then we broker these deals with all of these brands in the entertainment space. Bands see the opportunity and if they fit [a brand’s] criteria, they’ll submit their press kit to these brands and then these brands go through and find the bands that are the best fit for whatever their initiatives are. 

GIM: For a band that’s looking at brand partnerships, what should they look for to make sure it is a partnership that it’s good for everyone?

VC: … I think some artists get a little overzealous and they want to cast a wide net and submit to anything and everything that they can. They don’t realize how much that actually hurts them. I think that they just need to understand, when they see these opportunities, what that brands’ market is and if it aligns with their objectives and their brand.

GIM: How does it hurt them?

VC: It’s damaging to the relationship with the brand, it’s damaging in a little bit way with us because we’re trying to make sure we’re getting this brand the right artist, and it’s just a waste of the band’s time and money and effort because you’re going after something that doesn’t make sense. We work with a lot of concert promoters and booking agents who get a ton of ReverbNation bands who are trying to submit for playing opportunities. They get these genres that are submitting to these shows that just don’t make sense. These concert promoters, they remember these bands and they’ll never look at them again for potential other opportunities because it’s essentially just spamming these people.

RELATED: Tour Smart: Martin Atkins on building a fan base and packing the venue. 

GIM: You’ve stated in the past that baby bands might want to stay away from large music showcases like South By Southwest. Why?

VC: Absolutely. From a developing baby band playing perspective, if you don’t have something going on in this [SXSW] market or markets around here where you have a fan base, don’t spend your money and time to come in here because you’ll get lost in the shuffle. We run unofficial SXSW showcases. We have 400 bands playing. You can get very easily lost in the shuffle here and as developing artists, you don’t have a lot of capital to start with. I wouldn’t say to use a big pool of your money to come here if you don’t have tastemakers coming out to see you, if you don’t have a crowd who already knows who you are. Sometimes it’s just not worth it and that goes back to my point of artists trying to cast too wide of a net and just go for everything. You have to have a strategy behind everything that you do and a tour routing and your financials are so crucial to the piece to the puzzle.

GIM: What should bands be investing in and what should they not be investing in during those early stages?
VC: Investing in your music and quality production of your music is first and foremost. If you don’t have that, it doesn’t matter how great a strategic plan that you have laid out. You have to go in and spend time with those recordings and get a great producer and get great studio time. That’s first and foremost. Then start to route your tour little by little.
Obviously, start in your hometown and do a 600-mile radius of there and really work those markets. Build those strategic partnerships along the way. You don’t need to be sponsored by iTunes. There are some great local businesses that would love to align with artists and cross promoting each other. Say at your live shows that you’ll push their product there, whether it’s putting flyers on the merch table, giving them a shout out on stage, in return for letting that band leave some kind of promotional item on their counter, whether it’s an EP or a free download card. I’ve seen a lot of bands do those cross promotions and get a lot of traction out of it. Some of the bigger clothing lines will even add you to their mailing list, so put you in an email blast that is going out to thousands of new fans that you didn’t have on your own. That’s a great starting point for bands.
GIM: You mentioned the importance of forming partnerships with other bands, especially if you’re playing in a new city. Would you mind discussing that?

VC: Yes, it’s huge. Starting out, you’re not going to have a huge fan base in all these other markets, but there could be a band, two towns over, one state over, that can draw 300 people, 500 people, and they might not have that draw in your market. A good way to come to South By is maybe not to play a show, but to find these other bands and watch them and see who’s drawing a crowd. Go up to them and be like, “Hey, listen, I can draw this amount of people in two markets over. We’re thinking about doing a two to three week tour. Let’s join forces and go out there and do some shows.” It will sell easier to the people booking the clubs. The one thing that they really look for is not only the quality of the music, but they want to see how often you’re touring, how many tickets you’re selling, how many people can you help get in the door. Aligning with these other bands that already have this established fan base is only going to open more doors for you in new clubs.

We launched something called Musician Pages. We think of it essentially as the Craigslist for musicians. We help connect those artists with other artists. It could be anything from artists looking for a producer or they want to do a tour or they’re looking to see what other instruments bands are using because they’re so amazed by their live set and they want to do that. We just help connect bands with other bands.

GIM: Where is money being made in music right now?

VC: I think the two areas bands are really making money these days are licensing and touring, and sometimes you’re going to probably have to take a loss before you start making money. In any company that’s true. They’re making money from finding these other bands and aligning these tours where there’s already a built-in audience.

Merch sales are great. You can’t be diligent enough in making sure you have enough merch on the road, because if you run out of merch it can take a band right off the road. They live off that, essentially, in the beginning, so you always have to make sure you have enough inventory when hitting the road.

GIM: What kind of data analytics should bands be tracking?

VC: Every single analytic that they can learn to digest and understand. I’m all for [bands] being on all of the platforms where you can curate your fans, but understanding the analytics is huge because you have to understand where your fans are living. It looks like statistics are showing that Facebook is now starting to skew a little bit older and the younger kids aren’t spending time engaging with bands there as much. They’re going to Twitter. They’re on Instagram. You need to understand where your fans are going and that’s where you need to live. That’s where you need to be pushing your shows and engaging with your fans. If you’re on Facebook and you’re seeing your engagement when you do posts isn’t high, you’re not getting people to comment, you’re not getting people to like anymore, you need to understand that maybe you shouldn’t be spending most of your time there promoting.

GIM: What is the number one mistake bands make in terms of touring?

VC: Not going into it with some kind of plan initially. Coming from the label world, everyone goes into every meeting with a marketing plan. “Here is our six- to 12-month timeline on how we roll this out. Here is our tour routing. Here is the money we’re going to allocate for merch. Here are our clear-cut objectives.” I think bands need to come up with their metrics to measure return on investment, and those metrics and those objectives can be measured in a variety of different ways.

Sometimes it’s a financial metric that you want to measure. I’m investing this much for six months and I want to get this much of a return. Sometimes the metrics is just reach and awareness. I want to reach this many people, which we can do through Facebook advertising and understanding those analytics. Oh, I spent $1,500 on Facebook campaigns, what are my click-through rates? What kind of ticket sales did I drive through this? Seeing awareness through your headcount at shows. Now I’ve done a month of touring. I started out with this many fans, how much have I grown from a month of touring? … Before I went into any market, I would research who the tastemakers are, the blogs, the press, maybe some community radio that I could get into. I would be making calls. I’d be telling them my story, selling myself, and growing that in every market I went into.

GIM: Have you seen anything recently that a band has done in terms of touring, promoting, or differentiating themselves that has particularly impressed you?

VC: There’s a band, Cody Beebe [and the Crooks]. He’s hit me up a variety of times. He did a cold outreach to me, which I think sometimes bands are afraid to do, but I think it’s commendable. I do it with a lot of businesses I want to align with. He was just like, “Hey, I wanted to introduce myself. Here’s my band. If you have the time, check it out.” He’d keep in touch with me periodically when he had things going on. I spoke on the [SXSW] panel and I walked out and he came up to me and he was like, “Hey, I just saw that you were speaking. I just wanted to come see you and connect with you.” I wound up going to his show last night. He put on an amazing performance and he was like, “I can’t tell you how appreciative I am that you’re taking time out of your day to come see my show.” I just don’t think that you can be too hungry and do too much outreach, and reach out to these people that you really want to connect with.

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