The Future of Fan Engagement

Wed, Apr 25, 2012

Music, Rock Your Net, Technology

This past few months I’ve been looking at where the future of fan engagement and perhaps even music discovery will take us. I am intrigued. My appearance on a panel at Nashville’s Leadership Music’s Digital Summit has prompted me to put this thoughts down in a post. It’s fun to play, "So what’s next?"


A Plan

Before we get to some of the actual predictions and forecasting, I think it’s important to emphasize that underneath all of this there should be a plan. There’s nothing more frustrating than realizing you might have gotten unbelievable traction on some medium and were unable to capitalize on it. Which leads me to…

Your Online Infrastructure

We spend a lot of time in Rock Your Net, our hands on digital marketing workshop discussing and planning one’s online infrastructure. If you think it suffices to have a Facebook Fan Page as your web site, I urge you to reconsider. If nothing else invest in Bandzoogle and/or a Tumblr site. They’re relatively inexpensive (Tumblr is free). You need a home base or nexus for fans of your music to gather around and celebrate. All the better if you own that piece of online real estate.

The Experience

I think in the coming years, the fan’s personal experience with the music or the artist or content creator will dictate how successful any particular fan engagement environment or campaign will be. I know that sounds obvious in the era of the "experience economy." But, I think the ability to provide deeper fan participation in the experience will be the thing that finally tips fan engagement online more into the realm of "sensory" music. The advent of HTML5 and some of the related technologies will make this possible. We’ll discuss these further below. So onward.

More than ever I think the creativity artists bring to songs, music, performance and production, now need to be applied to fan engagement.

Online Video

Hangout Air

Google just announced Hangout Air. This is a potential game changer for not only online conversations. But for artists to interact with fans. Way cool and way fun.

Video will continue to be critical to any artist’s online success. YouTube is now radio to a new generation of fans, listeners, enthusiasts and professionals. It is now the single biggest music discovery platform. If you’re not on it, you are robbing yourself. Especially now that Google has democratized monetization.

YouTube – Gotye’s "Somebody That I Used To Know"

Gotye’s "Somebody That I Used To Know" became the #1 song in 20 different countries including the US as a result of an incredibly well conceived video going viral. Which resulted in a bunch of other artists trying to reproduce the meme. None more successful that Walk of the Earth’s version of five individuals playing one guitar. Not only was the video a fan favorite. It was also well monetized.

Arcade Fire’s Sprawl 2


Another lesser known video by Arcade Fire for Sprawl 2 was revolutionary in terms of creating an interactive video that responded to the movement of the viewer in front of a webcam. The video uses more "primitive" programming tech – but is highly effective.


I think Twitter will continue to grow as a platform for direct to fan interaction between content creators and consumers. Amanda Palmer managed to monetize an evening alone at home to some serious cash. Closer to home, Nashville artist Jen Foster, was able to convert one single tweet in response to a fan request into merch and music sales in the low five figures. It speaks volumes as to the platform. But it speaks more about Ms. Foster and her fans.


Soundcloud is primed to break wide open. It is a solid platform. Well designed and executed. But it also has a loyal and passionate user community. The Soundcloud team in return takes into account the needs of the user community when making changes and improvements. There is an inherent trust between users and developers. There is also a "culture" which I think is important to any platform’s success.

Their new partnership with Ableton, should give the platform even more reach and versatility.

Imogen Heap


Imogen Heap is a big Soundcloud fan. She recently crowdsourced the composition of a song based on snippets, samples and fragments submitted by her fan base on SoundCloud. The project entitled "HeapSong", resulted in a track called LifeLine. Check it out.


I’ve been a big fan of HTML5 ever since I saw The Wilderness Downtown by Arcade Fire. The promise of Web GL and Canvas is HUGE!

The Johnny Cash Project

This is a crowdsourced interactive video project that lets you draw frames for Johnny Cash’s "Ain’t No Grave" music video. So awesome.

The Wilderness Downtown


This is the Mack Daddy of all HTML5 music videos as far as I am concerned. Enter your childhood or present street address and watch as the music video "comes to life" and personalizes your interactive experience.


A relatively simple HTML5 app built for music that also interacts with Twitter. This rocks!

(Check out Chrome Experiments for a whole bunch of other non music examples)


This is my new favorite music tech crush. WebDoc! WebDoc uses the power of HTML5 to power a platform that is kinda like Instagram on steroids. It’s a hybrid blogging, tweeting, video, rich media platform that let’s you create, repurpose and share content.

Universal’s Nirvana Campaign


Check out Universal Music’s WebDoc campaign around the 20th anniversary reissue of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Just phenomenal.

Web Radio

Radical FM is cool. But I think Radical Indie will be – well – rad! It will give you the ability to broadcast and DJ your own radio station of indie music. How cool will that be? Check it.

It hasn’t caught on. But I just love Turntable.FM – or to be more accurate the idea of it. You spin music you like to a room full of music fans. With points. Yes, sir. I’m in!

Measuring Engagement Analytics

Of course, all of the above means nothing without the ability to measure and modify your efforts. Analytics and metrics are key. These two are very helpful and dominate the market in my humble opinion.

Google Analytics


Google’s free analytics platform is just incredible. If you haven’t learned how to use it. Do so now. You need data. This is the most affordable way to do it.



I’ve just begun using CrowdBooster and I have to say, "It’s spooky" But in a good way if you’re a marketer. Efficient, real time feedback on your social media efforts.

All in all I think the future is pretty exciting. There’s also access creep. It seems like more and more the ability for musicians and artists to access and build & leverage some of these apps & tools by themselves is becoming more accessible.

Stay tuned here for more developments.

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This post was written by:

Charles Alexander - who has written 45 posts on Outside The Box Music.

Charles Alexander is a performing songwriter, music entrepreneur and digital media marketing strategist. He was born in Malaysia and lives in Nashville. He recently bought a shinier, new vocabulary. He can also be bribed with "gulab jamuns" and an insulin chaser.

Contact the author


@musiccharles @mdave @tonygrott You're welcome. Great assessment!