It’s no secret that marketing is a critical part of growing a successful business around an artist.
The global record industry’s investment in marketing is clear to see by the $5.8 billion cited by the IFPI as the sum of money spent by labels annually on A&R and marketing combined.
Extensive research and development going into the field has also resulted in the emergence of impressive technology, like Ingrooves Music Group’s patented AI-driven music marketing tech we told you about back in 2020 and again in October 2022.
Meanwhile, the rise of short-form video platforms like TikTok has impacted the way digital marketing strategies around releases are rolled out, with smart tools like pre-save links proving to be valuable assets in an artist, manager or label’s digital toolbox.
There are a number of tech companies operating today that give artists, managers and labels access to digital marketing services to help promote merch, tours, as well as single or album releases.
One such company is Israel-based music marketing platform Feature.fm, which offers shareable and trackable pre-save and smart links, campaign and artist landing pages, real time-analytics, a self-serve ad platform and more.
Co-Founder & CEO Lior Aharoni notes that some independent artists “are experts when it comes to creating the music and performing, but still have challenges when it comes to marketing and promotion, especially when they are doing it on their own in addition to all of their other responsibilities”.
This was a challenge Aharoni tried to solve when he launched the company with his co-founders 10 years ago.
“We set out on a mission to help any artist of any size find their fans to build a sustainable career in music,” says Aharoni, whose platform’s clients now range from TikTok’s SoundOn, to indie distributors and labels like Ditto Music, Create Music Group, oneRPM, Secretly Group, Empire, The Orchard, AWAL, Epitaph/Anti-, Beggars Music Group and 300 Entertainment.
The company’s streaming partners include the likes of Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, Deezer and more. Feature.fm also recently struck a new partnership with YouTube Music that includes various integrations including the ability for artists to track the number of streams from both YouTube Music and YouTube that came from a Feature.fm Smart Link.
Feature.fm, which claims to have created over 1 million shareable links for over 300,000 artists in 2022, was built by what Aharoni says are experts and veterans in cybersecurity, content recommendations and big data. Aharoni is a coder himself, with a background in the Israeli army’s elite technology unit.
“I used to listen to music while I was coding,” says Aharoni. “In Israel, we had limited access to streaming services at the time other than YouTube.”
The exec’s foray into developing music industry-centric software arrived in the form of his own YouTube playlisting service called ListnPlay, which, he says, quickly reached around 100,000 users.
Aharoni then looked to his artist friends to find out what their biggest career obstacles were.
He explains: “They all said the same thing: ‘We know how to create the music and perform, but our biggest challenge is actually promoting the music, getting our music heard and managing the marketing and business side’.”
Aharoni says he and his brother [Zohar Aharoni] “had a light bulb moment” where they decided to build marketing tools for artists. He says that the original concept for Feature.fm started with an ad unit called “The Sponsored Song”, which lets artists target listeners based on similar artists and genres, to promote full-length songs in the place of traditional audio ads on streaming platforms.
This “Sponsored Song” tool has since been integrated with various streaming partners including 8tracks, Deezer and Audiomack. According to Feature.fm’s website, its sponsored song service on Deezer has average engagement rates of between 3% to 5%.
After building the Sponsored Song tool, Feature.fm’s Aharoni says that he started developing relationships in the music industry and gained a better understanding of “deeper challenges that artists and music marketers were facing”.
“While there is no shortage of ‘marketing software’ companies tailored for general purpose marketing, there was not a single, interconnected marketing ‘suite’ of tools designed specifically for the unique needs of the music industry,” he says.
“Once we understood this, we pursued our vision to empower artists with the tools that they needed to build sustainable careers through providing a comprehensive marketing solution.”
Aharoni points to various case studies to highlight how Feature.fm’s tools have been used in practice, and specifically to cases where its ‘Pre-Saves’ feature was used to convert audience interest in a teased track into actual streams and followers on streaming platforms.
One of those artists, David Kushner, used Feature.fm’s Pre-Saves tool when an unfinished demo of his song Miserable Man went viral via TikTok.
He amassed 100,000 ‘Pre-Saves’ before the song was officially released, and it’s now been streamed 87 million times on Spotify and charted in Australia and the UK.
In another example, the company’s Pre-Saves feature was used as part of a marketing plan for an unfinished song by Stacey Ryan and Zai1k that went viral on TikTok.
The track, Don’t Text Me When You’re Drunk, amassed over 250,000 pre-saves after it was teased, and according to Feature.fm, Stacey Ryan secured a deal with Island Records to release the song, “utilizing her viral success and Pre-Save data as core drivers for the deal”.
Zai1k also signed a deal, with Columbia Records, following the success of the track, which has since been streamed over 15 million times on Spotify.
A third case study cited by Aharoni is artist Emmy Meli, who racked up 125 million Spotify plays in four months after posting a TikTok video teasing a live version of her track, I AM WOMAN. Meli used Feature.fm’s Pre-Saves feature leading up to release day.
Looking to the future, and commenting on his predictions for how marketing methods and tools will need to evolve to keep up with the music industry, Aharoni says that technology will “absolutely [be] required to support the scale of artists”.
He adds: “You cannot ‘white glove’ service everyone, so this is where the technology will need to stand up to support the overall explosion of artists at all stages of their career. Automation, and of course the buzzword of today, AI methods to help predict, create and even execute marketing strategies for the artists will be necessary.”
Here, as Feature.fm rolls out what it calls “a complete visual and technical rebrand“, which Aharoni says “has been prompted by an explosion of artists and their needs”, the company’s Co-Founder and CEO tells us about Feature.fm’s history, its positioning in the market, and his tips for digital marketing campaigns…
Tell us about the technology that underpins your services?
Feature.fm’s best-in-class technology is the result of many years of development by a team of experts who together served in the IDF elite tech unit unit called Mamram.
Our founders are veterans of the cybersecurity space [including] (Cyberark Software), content recommendations (Taboola.com) and big data analytics (Similarweb) and are experts in building technology stacks that can serve billions of users.
We’ve decided to use our experience, passion and knowledge to help artists grow their careers through the usage of data. Most large-scale distribution companies have chosen Feature.fm to power their tech stack, which we believe is a testament to the quality of our technology and our ability to super-serve our customers’ partners in an unparalleled volume.
The company has recently rebranded. Why have you decided to rebrand now and what has the rebrand consisted of?
The rebrand reflects how far we have come over the past 10 years and as a company of creators, we identify with our music creator community.
And now that the definition of what it means to be an artist is more complex than ever before, musicians have to do more than just create music, tour and sell merchandise.
Artists come to us because they trust us to help them become better music marketers, which is why we will be giving them the available resources to executive marketing strategies at the same level as labels who have marketing teams.
“Artists come to us because they trust us to help them become better music marketers.”
Building a business and a product is so similar to building a career in music. We use the ‘instruments’ we have available to us to create a technology and product that we need to market and promote ourselves. This is what we are creating and we are doing it for the creative industry.
We want this rebrand to show that we ourselves are creative people which is critical when you are delivering a product that is being used by creative people. As a company deeply rooted in the creative industry, it is essential for us to articulate our identity as a group of creators serving and empowering fellow creators.
With our rebrand, we have honed in on this fundamental principle, reinforcing our unwavering commitment to the success of independent artists.
What are the biggest challenges that independent artists face when it comes to marketing their music and how can Feature.Fm solve those challenges?
Knowledge gap: This goes back to what artists are always telling us. Today, artists are more sophisticated than they’ve ever been when it comes to digital marketing strategies and many are extremely gifted with content creation and messaging.
But it still goes back to what artists have always told us – they are experts when it comes to creating the music and performing, but still have challenges when it comes to marketing and promotion, especially when they are doing it on their own in addition to all of their other responsibilities. This leads to point two:
Resources: Businesses and companies like labels will have dedicated marketing teams to help promote an artist’s release. And even within some of the more boutique companies, there will be a lack of resources and there will always be more resources available at larger enterprises.
Available marketing tools: Many companies might have access to certain marketing tools, dashboards or abilities to build things themselves. We want every artist, no matter how big they are in size, to have access to all of the same tools that any big company has.
“We want every artist, no matter how big they are in size, to have access to all of the same tools that any big company has.”
Feature.fm delivers on all of these points:
- We focus on making it easy to set up your marketing strategy and provide the necessary resources whether with education, in the product, or automatically behind the scenes that help artists be successful marketers.
- Resources – By making it easy and focusing on automation and technology, we seek to provide successful marketing strategies with less required recourse.
- Making all of the tools available to all artists. At first, big labels built their own marketing tools in-house. Now we make them available to all artists.
What are the most common marketing mistakes that independent artists make and how can they be avoided?
Not using smart links or short links at all. We still see so many artists who share links to their music online that go directly to only one streaming service and aren’t trackable or collecting data. We also see artists who are not using Link in Bios like the ones we offer when they have an opportunity to do so.
These are powerful products because they allow artists to attain better fan engagement as well as collect important fan contact info, analytics and data.
“The best way to maintain your fan engagement is to be able to directly reach your fans.”
Not doing everything you can to collect fan contact info directly. We believe that today, the MOST important thing an artist can do is be in direct contact with their fans and to be constantly building this contact list. Because if you don’t own this list, someone else does that you don’t want to rely on to reach out to your fans.
Because today, you might want fans to listen to your latest album, but tomorrow you might want them to watch your video premiere or buy tickets to your show, buy merch or join your fan club, etc. The best way to maintain your fan engagement is to be able to directly reach your fans.
“When trying to pull in new audiences, there needs to be more to the story that makes someone want to discover more about you.”
When using Feature.fm, we see some simple mistakes that can be fixed easily, which we are focusing on helping artists discover and fix. For example, not utilizing certain available functions that can help them grow. For example, ensuring that when a fan pre-saves a song, you also get followed on Spotify.
This is something that can be easily implemented within your Feature.fm campaigns. Also, always include your retargeting pixels in all of your links and landing pages. It’s very easy to add your retargeting pixel and start collecting the data, even if you haven’t entirely learned yet how to use the data, you can still collect it as a first step.
Other [common mistakes] have to do with how you share your content and message online. We believe a lot can be learned when it comes to writing messages and copy for online posts for an artist, depending on their goals. We see a lot of posts that just say something like “Check out my new single”.
This may work for an artist with a greatly established fan base, but when trying to pull in new audiences, there needs to be more to the story that makes someone want to discover more about you. What is the song about? What is the story? Why did you write it? Who is it for? All of these questions can help spark someone’s curiosity.
Where do you feel Feature.fm is positioned in the wider music business currently and how do you want the company to be positioned in years to come?
Similar to the answers above, we are really committed to the artist – the value of the tools we are building are coming closer and closer to everything that surrounds the artist business.
Ultimately, musicians today do so much more than they used to and the lines are blurred between what it means to be an artist, a business and a creator. No matter what the artist needs to promote around their business, we will focus on supporting them in these efforts. We see true opportunity through a modern lens.
“Ultimately, musicians today do so much more than they used to and the lines are blurred between what it means to be an artist, a business and a creator.”
Feature.fm would strengthen its position as the company that is the glue that connects artists’ different areas of management into an holistic dashboard.
So whether an artist needs to see marketing data, e-commerce sales, CRM data or NFT sales, Feature.fm will always strive to put everything together in an easy-to-use interface that will allow artists to have better management of their data, fan base and career.
We will also address some of the biggest feedback we’re getting from our artist community, which is the educational aspect, helping artists better understand how to utilize data to better grow their businesses.
What are your three key tips for artists to convert their music into a viable business by using effective marketing tools/techniques?
Make valuable content. This often gets lost. The “product” needs to resonate with fans and audiences. Make great music, make sure you can perform, make great content on social media that is engaging, and above all, be authentic to yourself and don’t try to be someone you’re not. It makes the marketing and business side easier when you have a great “product”.
Know your fans – collect their contact info and reach them.
Make decisions based on the data. Don’t get overwhelmed with how much data is available to you. Have a plan when looking at your data – have pre-written questions you are trying to answer where you know what actions you will take based on the answers.
For example, go into your data asking, “Which performed better, my Instagram post or my TikTok post” and based on this answer, you might approach each platform differently.
What are your predictions for the growth of the independent/DIY artist sector in years to come?
The music industry will grow bigger and bigger, and we will experience wonderful growth in the years to come, including more investments in the space than ever before.
I predict that most of the growth would happen in the longtail, we’ll see more distribution companies being formed, more indie labels, and as result, I believe that the indies’ market share will only grow.
If there was one thing you would change about the music business, what would it be and why?
Open access to data, allowing more companies to participate and help artists grow based on their data. Today, platforms keep data very close to their chest, which is understandable, but I do believe that if platforms would allow more companies access the data (with the artist’s consent of course), we would see way more innovation and tools that will help more artists grow their fanbase and careers.
Today getting streaming, ticketing, sales, merch and marketing data all in one place to see one business view is almost an impossible but greatly needed task.
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