Make Your Startup More Successful by Behaving Like a Successful Band

By Mark Jennings, CEO Subba Media.


The music industry is changing dramatically. Making valuable connections through word of mouth and keeping fans engaged is now massively important for a band’s success. As more digital channels open to both musicians and their fans, the relationship is more direct than ever. And of course, modern technology helps make it more measurable.


Let me share the ways that I believe entrepreneurs can learn from top artists and engage their customers just like a showbiz star.


Focus on conversation


Whether you’re an up and coming band or a new startup, the message is the same. Consumer expectations across the board have changed dramatically as we conduct more of our lives online, across numerous platforms, and it’s becoming harder to hold people’s attention for long. Relationships with publishers and media have also evolved with traditional media losing its clout, and as an entrepreneur you need to be thinking differently about how to get your message out to your audience and keep them interested.


In many ways, the power has begun to be handed back to fans and consumers, who are driving the conversations on social media and user generated content platforms such as TripAdvisor. This means a lot more work falls directly to the artist in terms of creating and nurturing audience relationships, but it also creates a lot of new opportunities to have conversations with fans, find out what they want and keep them updated and informed about what’s in the pipeline.


With the right approaches, you can forge more meaningful relationships with your customers and keep them engaged with who you are and what you do, without the large marketing and customer services budget that would have been an advantage a few years ago.


Always authentic


Marketing is becoming increasingly story-led. Artists, brands and businesses need to show a more complete and authentic picture of who they there and what they stand for. For example, the National Geographic engaged 350 million global followers via storytelling content marketing on social media – stories are that powerful.


But it’s not just about your story – you need to be able to talk to your audience in a way that shows you want to listen to theirs too. Authentic people are those who ask questions and open up conversations. As in daily life, these conversations will be multi-genre, they may be political, they won’t always relate directly to what you do or make, but they will show your values and identity. Avoid sitting on the fence.


A good example… when your fans are getting fed-up with ticket prices, availability and secondary sales do something about it.  Ed Sheeran did.  He went out of his way to ensure tickets to his shows were only available through reputable ticket exchanges.




User generated content platforms are driving conversations between fans and artists/businesses. We’ve all seen how powerful fan communities can be on social media platforms such as Twitter, so it is important to focus on creating your own niche community around your identity.


For example, forums have served as a place to bring music fans together in the last decade or so, but now these are evolving into more sophisticated online communities. is one example of a music community that is following the model of the likes of TripAdvisor. Fans can not only upload their reviews and read others but have a place where they can buy tickets for experiences they love, all reviewed by like-minded peers whose opinions they know they can trust.


Also, Lady Gaga is an example. Her fans or ‘Little Monsters’ as they are otherwise known are made to feel like part of her entourage.  They benefit from exclusive access to pre-release tracks, priority show tickets and much more.  In return she receives near unconditional loyalty, and which artists (let alone brands) can claim that?


Any space that can offer a sense of exclusivity and give audiences control over what they see and what is sold to them, will keep people engaged.


Give freely


You want to incentivise your following and give them rewards for their presence – this can come in the way of competitions, exclusive first samples/listens to new products and music, follower discounts on merchandise, etc.


For example, Radiohead let their fans decide what to pay for their album ‘In Rainbows’.  They were showing their fans that they cared about them, and their relationship with them wasn’t just about the money.


Work out what is most appropriate for your business and the stage that you are at – for example if you want to increase your email database, give them an incentive to sign up, if you want to encourage more word of mouth brand ambassadors, use merchandise.


But not too freely


Don’t just give everything you’ve got in the hope that people will return the favour! It has to be employed with restraint, and there needs to be some benefit to you. Free content and services are powerful means of showcasing what you are about and giving people the feeling of being a valuable part of the club.


For musicians it can be a difficult balancing act – open access can help you get a viral hit and a loyal following, but you have to be paid for what you produce. Whether you’re a musician or a business – remember, it’s also much harder to roll back and begin restricting access to your content when you started by giving things away for free.


There are a few big success stories of artist’s having been discovered through giving away content; Carly Ray Jepsen, Shawn Mendes and even Mr. Bieber, However, there are many more not so successful stories where providing free music on streaming platforms didn’t provide the big break the artist was hoping for.


In some cases it can even lead to a backlash.  Remember when U2 gave away their album ‘Songs of Innocence’ free on the iPhone 6? It created a huge backlash and didn’t generate the additional sales they anticipated. Paul Quirk, chairman of the UK’s Entertainment Retailers Association, said: “This vindicates our view that giving away hundreds of millions of albums simply devalues music and runs the risk of alienating the 60 per cent of the population who are not customers of iTunes. How can we really expect the public to spend £10 on an album by a newcomer?”


It’s the same with business, giving your product away for free doesn’t mean it will reach the masses, it just devalues the product.  Ever heard the brand slogan “reassuringly expensive”?



Love your data


Engagement and interaction always provide you with an opportunity to learn from your audience. There are so many ways you can use technology to understand your audience’s online behaviours – and you don’t need to employ any shady or privacy invading tactics to do so. Remember, anything you or they publish digitally is a tool to discover what your target audience responds to, enabling you to anticipate future patterns trends in more granular detail.


Some tools that will help you measure and monitor audience behaviour include Google Analytics, and Amplitude, a platform that allows you to track user response trends in real time.


Ultimately data needs to be approached not just by looking at the numbers but at what is driving those numbers.


Respond as much as possible


Take the time to respond to comments on your pages etc. as you can; the positive, the negative, the suggestions and constructive criticism. If you are updating your site or products on offer, share an update and explain how audience feedback and comments helped to drive your decision. If your community is not yet offering opinions and ideas, conduct polls and ask questions. This is easy through social media channels, blog posts and via email campaigns.


Trailers and sneak previews are a great way of giving your nearest and dearest fans a taste of what’s to come.


Reach out directly


Reaching people in private inboxes helps to add to the sense of community and involvement with something bigger. In an instant message age, communications direct to a personal inbox have more resonance. People don’t want intrusion or anything with a whiff of ‘salesy-speak’, so don’t bombard them every other day with your latest offers. Do keep in regular touch with well thought-out messages telling them something you know they will be interested in.


Where applicable this can also be employed with direct mail – used thoughtfully and with a specific purpose, it can be an effective tool for grabbing attention away from the digital noise. Communication shouldn’t come through just one channel; the conversation needs to continue offline, online, in store, at live events, and through product and service development.


Remember that many entrepreneurs have succeeded in building big businesses without advertising at the start. Think Deliveroo or Airbnb. Their customers, sharing their mission, become cheerleaders and spread the word.  Use your entrepreneurial drive and tap into this type of support. You’ll find your startup will fly.




Mark Jennings has worked in digital publishing and advertising his whole career. He previously worked in the US and UK for the Financial Times, he most recently launched the digital portfolio for Last Word Media. Mark Jennings set up Subba Media with the aim of disrupting the publishing market. is a fan generated music and festival reviews platform. Built from a strong loyal community, the content is produced by music fans and  festival goers, enabling artists and brand sponsors to reach a new, more engaged audience.


Twitter: @subbacultchacom




National Geographic engaged 350 million global followers via storytelling content marketing on social media
Paul Quirk: