AUSTIN, Texas--I've blogged about Topspin Media in the past--it's the company that handled the staggered direct-to-fan release for the recent David Byrne-Brian Eno album, "Everything That Happens Will Happen Today." At the South by Southwest festival here this week, Topspin announced that it has taken a lot of the lessons it learned from the Byrne-Eno release and applied it to their platform.
Under the Byrne-Eno program, the artists first asked listeners to enter their e-mail address in exchange for a free song download. A few weeks later, they released a streaming version of the entire record, while simultaneously offering various packages for sale at various price points. This was the only way you could get the CD for eight weeks, when it finally went on sale for retail.
Subsequently, the artists used the e-mail addresses they'd collected to send messages about the David Byrne tour for the album, as well as a vinyl release that just came out. It was a very clever and canny way to market a record, and it benefited not only fans but also the artists--they say they earned the equivalent to a record company advance during the eight-week exclusive period.
I got a demonstration of the new platform from Topspin on Thursday morning, and there's a lot of impressive behind-the-scenes work going on there. The process starts with embeddable widgets that the artist (or, really, their management) can offer through their Web page or MySpace page; any fan can then take these widgets and redistribute them on their own pages, allowing artists to leverage their fan base as marketers.
There are a couple standard widgets, including one that lets users enter an e-mail address in exchange for a free download, and another that can be used to share an audio and video clip of some sort (Byrne and Eno sat down and talked about the album).
As these widgets are redistributed, artists can collect detailed information about who's putting them where, paving the way, for example, for a scenario in which an artist could offer free backstage passes to its 10 biggest promoters. Further down the line, when the artist is selling an album, Topspin enables the collection and storage of more information about fans (such as their ZIP codes). Such data is later used for promotions such as targeted e-mails advertising a local gig. Giving personal data is opt-in; these are fans getting information about an act they like, not random spam or cross-marketing.
Topspin's not intending to go broad--musicians have to have some history or traction before it'll take you as a client (management's basically required; a label is nice). The company is not looking to get into the distribution game, either. But I think that this type of direct-to-fan marketing is soon going to become standard-practice, at which point it'll be interesting to see how Topspin differentiates itself from the labels...or, perhaps the labels will just outsource this kind of work to them.