To have people listen is one thing, but to move them to take action, specifically to purchase, is another. In this episode, modern musician Michael Walker joins host Bree Noble to talk about his proven system that converts listeners into paying fans. Taking us first to the beginning, he shares his music career journey, building his fan base back then and translating it to now, where the industry has migrated to online because of COVID. Michael breaks down the fundamentals of using online tools to connect and still create that deep connection, tapping into automation, funnels, and more. Join in on this insightful conversation as they help you navigate these tough times and earn more through music.
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How To Convert Listeners Into Paying Fans Using A Proven System
With Michael Walker
I am here with Michael Walker from Modern Musician. I am excited to be talking to him. He is a fellow Summit host. Is it three that you’ve done?
We had our third one.
Summits are great because they allow musicians to learn a lot of stuff in a short period of time from great experts. I love that you serve the musician community that way, but you also have your Modern Musician brand. You are helping musicians to build their fan base and make good money from music, which is what I’m all about. I’ve heard you on a lot of podcasts and people here may have heard your story so we don’t have to go way into that. You started growing your fan base with your band in grassroots ways. I love that because that’s how I learned to build my business. How were you building your fan base back then and how does that translate into now when we’re doing a lot of the stuff online?
Thanks for having me, Bree. The feeling is mutual of respect for you and everything that you’re doing as well. When we were first starting out, trying to grow our fan base, we lived in a very small town in Vermillion, South Dakota. When I tell people I’m from South Dakota, they’re like, “People live there?”
I was there. I went to Mount Rushmore. I’d never been to South Dakota before and it’s a different world from California.
There are slightly more cows in South Dakota than in California. We started out and didn’t know what we were doing. We booked our first tour and quickly realized that we have to figure out how to bring people out to the shows if you want to tour successfully and played quite a few shows and there’s like the bartender in the back of the room. At the time, we were sleeping in our vans, sleeping outside of Walmart parking lots, going and getting peanut butter and tortillas. That was breakfast, lunch, and dinner for peanut butter tortillas and throw a banana in there. I want to be fancy.
The thing that made the biggest impact on our career and my life personally in terms of going through the transformation was an idea that our lead singer had that now we’ve come to call tour hacking. There are six of us in the band and we were big fans of bands like All Time Low, Blink-182, Mayday Parade and pop-rock, pop-punk bands. Before their shows, they would have thousands of people waiting out front in lines to go inside sometimes for days in advance. A lot of times in the morning, the fans would show up to get the best spot in line. We thought, “What if we walk up to those people and introduce ourselves and share some of our music and try to build a connection?”
We started doing that. I was like a super shy, awkward kid. I was stuttering and shaking as I walked up to people in line. It was not natural at all, but what we found was that it works incredibly well. We sold 24,000 CDs at about four and a half months doing that. It’s because of that, one of the bands that we were talking about was called the All Time Low. They were our favorite band of all time. They heard about what we were doing. They gave us the opportunity to open for them on their next tour.It's harder to cut through the noise because there's so many people, content, and information that's multiplying. Click To Tweet
We were going on tour with one of our favorite bands. We were being backstage and being in celebrity shock because they were hanging out backstage and they were super cool. This applies not just to this strategy, but marketing in general for your band or for your business or whatever, the fundamentals are the same of finding out where the people who need what you offer, where do they hang out? Where do they congregate? How do you introduce yourself to those people and build a real relationship and generate value? Then what you offer to those people in order to make an income so you can sustain yourself into delivering more value over time so you can invest more.
The people we’re meeting at these shows are the fans who spend money to go to these shows and be with the community. They’re the right people to meet and to talk to. That’s the reason that it works so well is that they were the right people and we were connecting personally one-on-one and that goes a long way when you’re starting out. No one knows who you are. You have to put in the effort to connect with people early on.
You guys were gutsy. I know a lot of people that wouldn’t do what you guys did walking up to strangers and talking about your band. It’s super uncomfortable. You have to get out of your comfort zone to be a successful artist. It is a prerequisite in my opinion. Some people think that they can go online and they can use the online tools. They can hide behind those and not have to talk to people one-on-one. They can build their fan base that way. You’ve translated this more to an online method, especially now, because we can’t have live shows. How can you use the online tools to connect with people and still create that deep connection as if you walked up to them and had a conversation?
We’re at an interesting point with our development as a culture and with the internet and technology. We’re approaching this point where it’s like both a hugely valuable tool with automation, the ability to scale, leverage our time, and to be able to clone ourselves so that we can reach even more people. There’s also this gap or this disconnect that is happening a lot nowadays. Even though we’re more connected than ever, you’re “connected” because of the internet, if we’d lack the actual human connection of that personal interaction, then a lot of times it doesn’t work and connect. It’s harder to cut through the noise because there are many people, content and information that’s multiplying that we don’t have the resources to be able to process all of it.
We filter out most of it. We only absorb early, get the stuff that cuts through the noise. What is it that cuts through the noise? For us, what we’re finding is working best right now is similar to what we did with tour hacking in lines. Doing that online now, we call it virtual tour hacking. The idea is exactly the same. You find out where your people hang out online and then you start a conversation with them, a real authentic conversation back and forth. You build a relationship with them and then you make some offer.
There are ways that you can leverage what we talked about with the geeky stuff like AI and automation. You can build chatbots and cool things to be able to do that. There are still these key elements that you never want to lose that sense of real connection. That’s the juice that makes everything worth it. If you’re lacking that real connection, all the automation, it’s like if a car is driving 100 miles per hour, but it’s lifted up off the air, there’s no traction. It’s not going to go anywhere. Sometimes automation without the traction, without the real connection, is like the car that is spinning its wheels.
The automation is very useful. The things that we can do online that help us get in front of the right people are super helpful. Instead of driving to all the locations that you guys were going to talk to people online, maybe you’ve got to fly. That’s what the online tools can help us do, but you still have to have those conversations. Automating those conversations is not going to be as helpful as automating how you find the people.
What I’ve found both with Paradise Fears and Modern Musician was that in the initial stage, when we were starting Paradise Fears and Modern Musician, it was important to start with the ground level of the one-on-one connection with people. That helped us to get in tune with people too. One mistake that’s easy to make nowadays with the internet is that we might boost a bunch of posts or we might try to promote ourselves, but it’s like we’re playing this chord, “That sounds awesome. People are going to love this. This is great.”
What our fans are resonating at is this different chord or this is where they’re at. We’re here like,” This is going to be awesome. People are going to love this.” You put them together. It doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t connect. The one-on-one stuff that happened in terms of both face-to-face connecting with our fans and with Modern Musician, connecting with artists and seeing where they are at right now and remembering what it was like to be at the beginning.
I’m like here and they are here. I’m listening more and having that conversation. I’m feeling like, “They’re playing this.” We then can start resonating with them more. We can get in touch with them. At the beginning especially, it’s important to have those roots so that you can get in tune. When you do get in tune, what’s happened for me with Paradise Fears and Modern Musician has been like at scale in order to reach as many people as possible. If I was trying to have all those conversations, one-on-one I reached my breaking point where it’s like, I’ve got a family and I’ve got a lot of responses. I can’t talk with everyone one-on-one as much as I would like to. At a certain breaking point, you have to shift your attention.
You never want to completely get rid of that one-on-one or that direct connection, but it moves to a higher level. That’s what it’s been for us. For example, with Paradise Fears, one thing that was so awesome and hugely valuable for our fans and also for our business was doing these private parties where we would show up at our fan’s houses and play for their friends and their family. We’d do these for up to $6,000 for a single show. That was such a powerful way to connect face-to-face with the people who get the most value out of it. It was one of the most lucrative streams of income for our band to help us sustain ourselves. That’s one example if we didn’t stop doing the one-on-one. We shifted it so that we could leverage the limited amount of time that we did have with the people who got the most value from that level of attention.
That’s like house concerts, private parties, those are some of the most fun things. Things that have now had to shift to online at the moment, but they still can be done. They’re an important part of the experiences that we can offer our fans. I’ve been on your website and I see that you work with a lot of bands helping them build their fan base and go through this system that you’ve set up. Does this work the same for solo artists as well as bands?
I would say probably 80% or so of the artists we’re working with now are solo artists and about 20% of them are bands.
You better put them on your front page. I was like, “These are all bands.”
We do need to do a better job of representing each of them. It works equally well. There are pros and cons to being a solo artist or having a band. The pro of having a band is that if everyone is dedicated and committed and has the same vision and is willing to work for it, it’s cool. You can multiply your effectiveness by 4 or 5 times depending on the people in the band. Your benefit as a solo artist is that you might have more creative leverage and freedom. You don’t have to worry about maybe some band members who aren’t as committed. I would say that it works equally, whether you’re a band or you’re a solo artist.
I know we have a lot of solo artists reading this. We have plenty of people that are in bands as well. I wanted to make sure we are going to be doing a workshop with Michael coming up. He’s going to be showing you his system that goes from figuring out your artist identity, nailing that down, going into creating a passionate fan base, and then revenue multiplier, which I’m super excited about. First of all, I wanted to ask you, I know that this system that you teach is based on the marketing funnel concept. I teach my musicians this as well, but I don’t use the marketing terms because it freaks them out and stresses them out. The idea of all the tech involved freaks them out. I’m curious how you approach the tech? Are artists that you work with excited about digging into the tech or they’re like, “I want you to handle it?”
Depending on who you talk to, there’s a wildly different answer, but I would say the majority of the people, of the artists that we’re working with, are not the people who were excited by tech and they’re like, “I can’t wait to learn this new tech tool.” If anything, it’s the opposite where they’re like, “I feel overwhelmed by the amount of technology and learning all these new tools.” They are looking for guidance or help or some hands-on in terms of the heavy lifting. We want to help artists to develop the skillset of using these tools for themselves so that they have that as a skillset. It is valuable and important. We have a three-month program and after the three months, we want to make sure that they’re at a point where they feel at least comfortable enough to be able to keep running the funnel and to keep optimizing it, and to create new funnels.That sense of real connection is the juice that makes everything worth it. Click To Tweet
We use the analogy of we’re teaching artists how to fish for themselves so that they can have that as a skillset. The way that we’re doing it is that we have a team of eighteen trained coaches, who can do a lot of the heavy lifting for the artists. Every single week, there’s a private one-on-one session. On those sessions, we do a lot of the heavy lifting. We’re sitting on the dock next to you, showing you how to fish and being like, “This is how you fish.” That way we can move quickly. By the end of the first month have launched the entire system and that proof of concept, which is cool. It’s like, “We’re also teaching you how it works for yourself so that you at least have the basic understanding to either continue to scale up the campaigns yourself or to be at a point where if you want to outsource it and hire someone on your team, you at least understand how it works so that you can hire someone else to be able to run it for you.”
It sounds like you’re threading that first line for them and putting the fly on the line and helping them cast the first time. They’re not like, “I don’t even know how this fishing pole works.”
The first one is always the hardest because if you put your first time doing it, you can have one of those moments where you take five hours to try to figure out how this tech tool works. You get on a call with a coach who’s trained, and they’re like, “You click this button.” They click the button and it works. When it’s your first time ever building something completely new, I’ve heard this advice a lot from a few of my mentors, you emulate and then you innovate. It’s much easier to create something that’s already defined, that’s tangible. Once you have an understanding of it, to tweak it and make it your own. The first time, it’s easy to get into analysis paralysis and to want everything to be perfect the first time. That first one is you’ve got to get it out, launched. From there, you can start to refine it.
I love that your last step is revenue multiplier. In my experience, the best way to multiply revenue is to know your data because then you know the levers that you can pull. I’d love to know from you. I’m pretty religious about doing my data, but I know I talked to a lot of artists and they’re overwhelmed by the idea of keeping their data and keeping up with it every week and stuff. Can you give them an idea of what are the benefits to them of keeping watch over their data all the time and what things should they be tracking?
It’s one of the biggest mistakes or challenges for artists, especially because if you don’t have a way to measure and track your results, it’s like you’re in a theater that’s pitch black and you’re looking for a pair of keys. It’s hard and maybe you’ll find it. If you do, you don’t even know how you got there. Compared to, if you turn on the lights and it gives you instant feedback. You can see where things are at then you can walk directly. You’ll have to take some steps to get there, but at least you’d have that concrete clarity to know where you’re at and where the keys are at that you’re moving towards.
We have a template we call the Funnel Accelerator and there’s a weekly system for tracking your metrics along with like targets so you know what to aim for. That’s the thing that I see most of the artists. I was the weird kid in high school that liked math. I see the spreadsheet. I get excited about this. I’m like, “This is cool.” I know that a lot of people are not geeks or weirdos like me and enjoy that stuff. That being said, having the framework, I’ve seen it. It’s less than they’re overwhelmed by the actual spreadsheet. It’s more like that they’re overwhelmed by not having the spreadsheet, not knowing where to start, and not even being like, “What do I measure? What do I track?”
I’m glad you said that because that is a big thing in my Rock Your Next Release course. I tell them I can’t stand a blank page. It’s hard for me to put the first thing on there. If I hand you a system that’s already set up on a spreadsheet and say, “Use this every week,” it’s easier. That’s some of the things I give them inside that course and that is true. If you have to figure out what data am I going to track and how am I going to put it on here and set up the spreadsheet? By the time you did that, you’re done with it and you never want to see it again.
You can do that. I come back to this analogy a lot because a good analogy is if you have a goal or a destination you’re trying to get to, then it’s like you’re going on a cross-country trip. Let’s say you set out on this cross-country trip and you don’t have a map, then you might find your way there, but it’s going to take a lot of wrong turns, time, and energy to figure out your way there. If you have a map and even better, if you have a GPS, that’s telling you to like, “You are off track, take this turn.” That’s going to make it much quicker, easier, save you a lot of time and money in the long-term to get there.
In a similar way, if you don’t have one of these spreadsheets, you can create it. You can create your own map. You’re going to have to make a lot of mistakes and figure out how it works and what to aim for in order to create your map. I’ve lived in my van for a year and a half to crawl over broken glass to figure out a few of the things that we figured out. We did that without having a map. We had to chart it ourselves. There’s a lot of suffering that goes with it. We were slumming it and living on our vans, but we were excited about what we were doing and enthusiasm and stuff, which is important. The point is that it helps a lot to stand on the shoulders of not having to relearn lessons that have already been learned if you can shortcut that and save a lot of time and energy.
When we’re working online, things aren’t as tangible. For you, you’re like, “I handed CDs to people and they handed me money. I sold this number of CDs.” You get that immediate gratification. You get that feeling that I know exactly what happened, but when we’re online, a lot of times it’s like there’s clicking and there’s opening. Sometimes there are people buying, but I don’t know how many. It feels very nebulous and that’s what data does for you. It puts that feeling of I handed somebody something and they handed me money back in your court so you can understand what’s happening. What people don’t get is that data is motivating. When you look at your data and you’re like, “I didn’t realize that 35% of my audience is opening my emails. They’re reading them. It can be super exciting for people to keep track of that data, but it’s getting started with it. I’d love to know maybe a couple of data points that you think every artist should be tracking.
Whenever you’re building a funnel or you’re keeping track of a marketing sequence like this. You want to track every step in between, you want to look at Point A, B, C, D. That’s what a funnel is all about. It’s giving people a linear path and seeing how many people will take the next step. How many people don’t? All this being said, every single funnel comes down to two metrics that mattered the most, that you can look at a glance and know how well is the funnel doing, which is one, cost per acquisition and then two, value per acquisition. What that means is, for example, let’s say that you’re getting opt-ins for your email list.
Let me break down an overview of a campaign that we’re running right now. This is like virtual tour hacking, in a nutshell, I’m going to walk through what it is. We spent $130,000 in the past year to test a ton of different things. Out of everything that we’ve tested, the simplest most straightforward, and raw one is the one that ends up being the best. What it looks like is it’s exactly like tour hacking, but it’s done online. It starts with a video that’s about 20 to 30 seconds long where you’re holding up your phone and looking at the phone and saying, “My name is Michael. I play keyboard in the band called Paradise Fears. If you’re a fan of All Time Low or Mayday Parade, you might like our music too. If you want to hear one of the songs, then click on this button here and we’ll have a conversation and look forward to connecting.”
It’s a video like that, which is what we said to people when we walked up in line except in line, I would make a stupid joke about it and be like, “If you’re interested, you can listen to our songs. I should warn you most people who listen to it, enjoy it so much that they start to cry and faint. If you need any tissues, I’ve got a backpack full of tissues.” The up-close and personal videos are the ones that we see in the best results by far, and then it starts a messenger conversation. You start having a back-and-forth conversation. We have something called your intune survey framework, which is a way to guide the conversation. In a nutshell, it’s about being a human being and having a conversation with another human being and focusing specifically on what you have in common in regard to the music.
Lighting up in terms of talking about their artists and their favorite songs. Do they go out to shows and asking music-related questions? From there, if they’re a good fit, usually we’ll segment people into different categories based on how they answer the questions. For example, if you ask someone like, “When the Coronavirus isn’t happening, do you go to a lot of live shows?” If they say, “My heart hurts. I can’t believe I can’t go out and go to concerts anymore. I went on a road trip with my best friend before everything happened.” You look at their profile pictures with their favorite band. They’re that kind of fan and we say that they’re like a “gold level fan” compared to if you asked that question to someone who doesn’t care and they might be like, “It’s been 5 or 6 years. I’m too broke to go out to shows,” or start talking like that.
One of those people is more likely to get huge value from you and your music versus another person who’s likely to not care that much. We’ll segment people into different categories based on what level of fan they are, how much value they’re going to get. The people who are a good fit, you’ll invite them to your private community. We call that your street team and the way that we position that is what we say, “Thank you for listening to the song. I’m glad you enjoyed it. You’re awesome. I’ve got a private community where I’ll do live streams. I give early access to new music. Is that something that you might be interested in if I send you a link?” As someone who’s the right fit, it’s going to be like, “For sure that sounds awesome.” “What’s your best email address?”
You have the email address and then you say, “I’ll shoot you an invite.” You sent an invite like, “When things open back up, I’ll be able to go out on tour and I’d love to play nearby. Do you want me to let you know when I play nearby?” They’ll be like, “That would be awesome.” I’m like, “What’s your best phone number? I’ll shoot you a text if we’re playing nearby.” You have an email address and a phone number. We’re doing them through private Facebook groups. I find myself giving deep here in the nitty-gritty. I don’t want to overwhelm people with too much info.
In a nutshell, some of those metrics you would track in that specific case is one, what was your cost per message? How much did it cost to get someone to click on send a message, to hear the song? You might say, “What was your cost per completed tune survey? How much did it cost to get someone to go through those questions and make it to the part with the street team?” You might say, “What was the cost per email address? How much did it cost for someone to go through that and give us their email address? How much did it cost for them to go through and join the private Facebook group?”
You’d keep track of all those things. Those are all the granular nitty-gritty things that you do want to track with the funnel, but then the most important thing, and this is going to apply to any funnel that you create, is the cost per acquisition versus the value proposition. For example, let’s say that maybe you’re saying cost per email versus the value per email. You want to track, how much does it cost you to acquire a new email address? Let’s say it costs you $1 for someone to make it through that process and give you their email address.You start, you emulate, and then you innovate. Click To Tweet
Once they join your email list, you have a sequence where you connect with them, they join your street team, you do live streams and have some offers for different merchandise or for some private party or house concert. You track what’s the value per email that you get. You take all your emails and divide it by the amount of revenue that it’s generating. You’re going to get value per straight team member or per email address. The two metrics that matter most are the cost per email versus the value per email.
If your value per email is $3 and your cost per email is $1, and that means that your funnel is a 300% ROI funnels. That means that you’re winning the game of funnels. Those are the two metrics that matter most. Even if you had a super high cost per acquisition, if you’re offering something on the high end and your value per acquisition was a lot higher, then it still is going to be profitable. You’re still going to be able to reach more people with it and vice versa. Even if it’s super cheap to acquire a new fan. I’ve seen certain things where it’s like how to get 10,000 fans in seven days. You look at it like, “You start to get bots and fake people from overseas.” You get 10,000 people, but it would be like, “Cost per acquisition, $0.03.” There’s value per acquisition, zero, nothing. It’s especially hard sometimes to communicate some of this. If we’re looking at the spreadsheet, it might be a little bit easier for people to understand it. That’s what our workshop is all about. We can share examples.
I’m glad you shared that. Me as a marketer, I understand all of that, but sometimes it’s hard to explain why these metrics are important. The reason is you can look at your spreadsheet and say I spent this much and I made this much because people are always like, “How much should I spend on Facebook Ads? These Facebook ads are too expensive.” Are they? Have you looked at whether they’re too expensive? If you’re getting 3x, it doesn’t matter if you spent $1 or $10. If you spend $1 and you’re making $3, awesome. If you spent $10 and making $30, also awesome. It’s good to have those numbers and I’m glad you went through that. It will be great to see it on the screen. Why don’t you tell them about the workshop that we have coming up?
The workshop is a chance for us to geek out more and go into more details in terms of sharing examples, there is something powerful about being able to share the screen and looking at the spreadsheet and seeing the different targets you’re going to aim for. The training is called the Fan Base Growth Workshop. It’s something that we’ve been running for about a few months now. The thing that we’ve gotten the most feedback from artists are they’re coming out of it being like, “This is exactly what I needed. Thank you.” This puts it like into clarity, getting those templates and understanding how to treat their music like a business, having clarity on like, “What can we offer and how can we get to our first $5,000 a month with our business with our music so that we don’t have to rely on a 9:00 to 5:00 job anymore?”
I would say the main two things that we focus on in the workshop are first of all, who’s going to get the most value out of it? If you at least have one song that you feel proud of that you’ve recorded, that’s high quality. That’s the one requirement for it. What we focus on is now that you have that song, how do you put it in front of the right people who are most likely to resonate with the music? That’s phase number one, how do you put it in front of the right people? How do you generate traffic?
The second thing that we focus on is once you have a big flow of new listeners who are connecting with it, how do you turn those listeners into actual fans, connect with them and build a deeper relationship so you can make a sustainable income with your music? The system that we walked through in the workshop is how to go from scratch and get to your first $5,000 a month with the music. That’s what the whole spreadsheets are lined up too. It shows you what the metrics are that you need to hit. The clarity that a lot of artists are missing or they’re looking for is, what does that look like? The people are going to get the most value from it. If you’re reading this right now, if you’re at a point where you’ve got the song and it resonates when you put it in front of the right person, but now it’s like, “How do we grow in it properly and how do we make it sustainable?”
You don’t have to be a techie geek, data geek like us because Michael is going to break it all down for you. You don’t have to completely understand all of it. He’s going to make it in terms that we’re all going to understand. Sign up for the workshop. You can do that at FEMusician.com/modernmusician. We will see you there. Thank you, Michael. I’ve enjoyed geeking out with you on all this nitty-gritty stuff. We didn’t go too much in the weeds for them, but I think there are plenty of people that read this that enjoy this stuff.
Thanks for having me. This is a lot of fun. I appreciate you giving me the space to let my geek out a little bit.
- Modern Musician
- Paradise Fears
- Rock Your Next Release
- Fan Base Growth Workshop
About Michael Walker
Michael Walker is leading a revolution in today’s music industry. Having personally reached 17 million views on YouTube, working with Grammy Award-winning producers and touring internationally to perform for hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide – Michael is one of those rare mentors who has actually walked the walk of their own methodology.
Starting out with pure grass-roots techniques, he and his band Paradise Fears went from living out of their cars to selling 24,000 albums in 6 months and reaching #2 on the iTunes Alternative Charts.
Taking his clients through a 3-tier system, Artistic Identity, Passionate Fan Base and Revenue Multiplier; Michael provides artists with the tools necessary to create a lasting career in the music industry.