A lot of artists, specifically musicians, think nobody’s earning during the pandemic. The fact of the matter is musicians are just shifting how they’re earning. One such musical-related company called Bandzoogle managed to make over $5 million. Joining Bree Noble on today’s podcast is its CEO, Stacey Bedford. Stacey shares how she got involved with Bandzoogle and how they’re supporting musicians even in these challenging times.
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The Bandzoogle Members’ Secret To Making Over $5M During The Pandemic With Bandzoogle CEO Stacey Bedford
I am excited to be here with Stacey Bedford from Bandzoogle. It is one of my absolute favorite companies that help musicians. Stacey has been the CEO for a few years. I’m getting to talk to her, which I’m excited about. I’ve had many great relationships with Bandzoogle. Dave Cool, we’ve hung out together at conferences. I met Melanie in 2019. It’s great to talk to Stacey and get the perspective of the CEO on how Bandzoogle is helping musicians. I got excited when I saw an article that they put out a few months ago that said, “Musicians earned $5 million during the pandemic through Bandzoogle.” I was like, “My audience needs to know about this because musicians are thinking nobody’s earning during the pandemic.” We’re just shifting how we’re earning and stuff. I decided to talk to Stacey about this. To start off, I’d love to know Stacey, how did you get involved with Bandzoogle? Are you musical? Do you love music? How did you get involved with a musical related company?
Thank you for having me. Before I start, I was speaking with Dave. We acknowledged that it’s our anniversary of Women of Substance and Bandzoogle’s collaboration. We need to celebrate in December 2020 somehow. Bandzoogle is a several-year-old company, but I’ve been here for years now. It’s based in Montreal and I’m living in Ottawa. We’re a fully distributed team. I’m a recreational guitar player, a terrible karaoke singer, but I sing with my whole heart and a huge music lover and fan. I spent most of my time through university and college going to shows four days a week whenever I can.
I was hoovering all the music. I’ve been very passionately supporting the arts for most of my life. When I started at Bandzoogle, it was several years ago. Back then, remote companies weren’t around. I’m picking up a job with a remote company. It was interesting, to begin with, but I started out as Bandzoogle’s first customer support rep back then. I’ve moved up the ranks for the last several years and the real benefit to me and our customers is that you have someone leading the company that has a huge customer focus perspective, as a result of where I got to begin at the company.
It’s one of those like, “I started out in the mailroom and now I’m the CEO.” It’s that thing, but a virtual version. First of all, I’d love to know about Bandzoogle. I know it was started by musicians and it’s built for musicians. What makes it unique as a platform for musicians that maybe other website platforms like Wix or WordPress that try to cater to musicians, but they don’t fit as well. What makes Bandzoogle unique?
Bandzoogle, we’re in a very unique situation because we’re fully bootstrapped and that means that we’ve never taken external funding. We’re not beholden to shareholders and we don’t have any evil overlords. I’ll talk a bit about our beginnings and we were founded. The cool thing about us now because we’re a sessional company, is that all of the decisions in our product roadmap, they’re driven by our customers. What our customers need, so what artists need now. As a team of artists, we anticipate artists will need to be successful in their music climate. That’s one of the reasons why Bandzoogle ended up with a gazillion tools.
Our origin story is interesting. We were founded by a bassist who worked at a record label. The story that you hear of a band folding because of disagreements. He continued. He signed at Donald K. Donald in Montreal. When the band folded, he continued to work at the record label. This was back in 2003 and websites were becoming important for artists. It became crazy for him to keep up with the demand at the label of artists wanting to update their tour dates, their blogs, add pictures, and set up merch stores.
He created Bandzoogle to make it easier to do his own job, and that allowed artists to be empowered to update their own sites without a Computer Science degree or knowing any web design conventions. The other component was that bands needed to be able to do it on the road. That’s how Bandzoogle was born. We keep that whole culture and movement going. Eighty percent of the staff are artists themselves. We have three opera singers on staff. We beat makers. We have sound engineers. We draw from our own experience and use our own product when we’re developing it.
It’s like the story with Derek Sivers. He created CD Baby to solve his own problem, to help sell his CDs to other people, his friend’s needed help and all that. I know you guys now have a relationship with CD Baby, which would be interesting to talk about. That makes the best companies when you’re solving either your own problem or a problem that you’re seeing close to you and you know exactly what you need to solve it. It turns out that millions of other people have the same problem.
A cool thing about Bandzoogle is that we don’t have a massive marketing budget like Wix. We don’t release something small and then push a Super Bowl ad about it. Our bread and butter is word of mouth. People talk about us. We’re so proud of that.
I’m going to put in my plug for the fact that I tell all my Academy members about it. I promoted on my Women of Substance podcast and everywhere I can. If you’re not a Bandzoogle member, you’ve got to use our promo code WOS15. That will give you 30 days free trial, 15% off, and some awesome things to help you check it out and see if it’s the right thing for you. You helped people with HostBaby when they shut down. What’s the relationship between CD Baby and Bandzoogle now?
We’ve had a long history because both companies are about the same age. Both started around the same time. We both share similar company cultures. We’re both artist-centric. I don’t think that anybody who works at either of our companies would think of us as the men. We’re like a collective group of artists helping artists. It was last August 2020, Dave Cool was at a music conference in LA and Tracy Morgan reached out to him and said, “We’re thinking about decommissioning HostBaby. I know that we’ve been competitors this whole time, but we can think of a better group to partner with to help ease the burden of these customers since we’re shuttering the service.”
It was a gargantuan undertaking, but we planned it out in a very short time. We knew HostBaby was closing their doors anyway. If we didn’t step in to try to help, those artists would have lost all of their content. The first thing that we did was we looked at trying to recreate some of the designs and the tools that HostBaby had so that we’d be able to migrate their content comfortably. We planned all of that out. The migration was executed in January and February 2020 and then the pandemic hit. The migration was quite successful. It was close to 80% of the customers who we migrated over stuck with Bandzoogle. They’re settling into their new toolset. We’re continuing to partner at CD Baby. One of the benefits to that partnership for existing, very patient customer faces that now they include digital distribution in our pro plan.
I had a couple of students that went through that. I remember being on HostBaby forever ago. It hadn’t updated with the times. I’d always been like, “I use Bandzoogle.” I did have some people that were like, “I set this up in 2007 and I’m not switching,” but they went through this transition. They couldn’t say anything bad about the situation. They knew they had no choice, but Bandzoogle made it so easy. We appreciate that you did that for all those artists. As we’re talking about artists who made $5 million during the pandemic using Bandzoogle, it has so many tools. Even a lot of artists that I’ve sent to Bandzoogle and they’ve been with Bandzoogle for several years don’t realize the breadth of tools that Bandzoogle has available.
When I tell them, “You can sell your stuff commission-free on Bandzoogle,” they’re like, “I can? I was going to use this service or their service.” They didn’t know they could do that or you could set up your subscription service on Bandzoogle. They’re like, “You can? I thought I had to use Patreon.” There are a lot of tools to cover, but can you give people an idea of all the different cool things you can do on Bandzoogle? It’s not a website.
We started out as a website building platform, but over the last several years, it’s evolved. We had five features when we launched originally in 2003 and now, we have hundreds of features. I don’t know if it’s a Canadian thing, but we have a habit of not talking ourselves up. Some of the things that we provide are all of our sales tools are commission-free. You can have a store to sell physical products. We have digital download sales. We have a tip jar feature with donations. We have live and virtual ticket event sales and a robust subscriptions feature with tiered subscriptions that I could talk about on its own segment. We have a bunch of signed engagement tools. That includes your mailing list, call to action for landing pages, integrations with social media, like YouTube, SoundCloud, Facebook, Bandcamp, Bandsintown, Twitch, Crowdcast. There’s a bunch of connections that integrate seamlessly into your website
They’re not like widgets you would use on an external site that you’ve built like WordPress. They integrate seamlessly into your design and those integrations are supported by us. If there are any issues, you reach out to us. On the website building side, our tools are fully responsive. If you’re viewing a band website from a desktop, a mobile, or a tablet, they will respond and resize beautifully to work across all of those. All of our themes are fully customizable. We started you off with some template options, or you can go completely blank and have fun with it. All those tools are easy to use.
In the beginning, we wanted to make it possible for those bands that were signed to the label to be able to update their sites from the road without a Computer Science degree. Our original motto is, “It’s so easy your drummer can do it.” We’ve maintained that throughout the last several years. You don’t need to know anything about coding or design. You can create a great website EPK or even a tiered fence subscription site pretty quickly.It's always a good idea, especially for indie artists, to start small with a single or something. Click To Tweet
There are many things you can do. You can set up a freebie where people put in their email and you send them a free download. There are many things that people don’t think about that are built into there. I wanted you to go over those for sure. Let’s talk about what people were doing during the pandemic. What did you find that people were maybe using differently or utilizing more than they ever did before from Bandzoogle during the pandemic?
One of the things that you noted was that customer sales exploded. When people were anticipating that artists would be hit hard because they weren’t able to tour and play live events. Their whole business model was turned on its head during this pandemic. We were surprised and happy to see the opposite. Bandzoogle had planned out this whole roadmap and set of goals. We flipped that on its head in March 2020 when the pandemic hit. We made our focus all about artists and artists earning more revenue. Our whole mandate in 2020 is to try to make our customers more money. As a result, from April to August 2020, our customers have sold over $5 million.
You were doing weekly masterclasses. I got to do one about teaching online. You were providing so many resources, but then musicians ran with it and started making money and using your tool to do it.
Our website sales exploded. What we see in the pandemic is different across all artists. It’s unique. Some music teachers, for example, on our platform were selling services in person before. Now they’re using our subscriptions feature to sell recurring either prerecorded lessons or live streaming lessons. That’s interesting because they’re finding a way to make their business work during the pandemic. We’re seeing singer-songwriters branch out and diversify their revenue streams. There were more live streaming events in the beginning, but also singer-songwriter workshops, lessons, listing service pages for studio work and things that they maybe didn’t put a lot of energy into before. With our tip jar feature, we added that because we noticed that with live streaming, a lot of people were putting Venmo links on their Facebook Live stream.
It felt disjointed for us. We put ourselves in the shoes of them and we were watching a lot of these as music consumers ourselves. You had to go somewhere to send a tip and then your live stream was not on your website. We ended up adding a tip jar feature where you could integrate your live stream right on your website and then also accept tips right from there using our regular store checkout process. The interesting thing about that is we found that when artists were selling live streaming ticket sales through Bandzoogle and then we added the tip jar option. Some artists asking for tips, instead of selling tickets to their live streaming events. They made on average two times the revenue from asking for tips. There are a lot of opportunities and fans are sometimes maybe valuing your art more than you would consider.
That’s what I always recommended with house concerts when we could do them is that you never know to you, maybe you’re worth $20, but to somebody else whose income is not nearly as much as a factor as it is to you, it was like, they could throw a hundred in there and you don’t know.
At Bandzoogle, we’re very data-driven. We looked at the tip jar data and then we said, “If fans are given the opportunity to value whatever the artist is selling, where else can we do that?” In 2007, we had audit music sales after Radiohead launch their Pay What You Want album. We decided to take that concept and bring it to our subscription models. We launched up pay what you can tier option and also a free tier option because maybe you do have super fans, but they’re hard in the pandemic. They would like to continue to be involved in everything that you’re doing, but they’re not able to right now. You want to maintain relationships with those fans. This gives our artists a way to do that.
Do you have a breakdown of what artists were making money on during this time?
It’s funny because the biggest group of sales has been merch by far. Merch sales are through the roof for our customers now. It was like $3.8 million was from just merch. Some examples of merch that artists have been selling are t-shirts, hoodies, posters, stickers, instruments. We have some music shops on Bandzoogle, CDs, and vinyl. Some people are selling cassettes too. Vinyl and cassettes sales are through the roof. I don’t think I can give specific data on artists, but we have this band called Ninja Sex Party that joined Bandzoogle. They used our pre-order feature and they sold out within a day. I can’t give the numbers out, but it was a very successful sale. It was physical science CDs. We’re finding that artists who have some unique offerings are doing well.
I love that you have the pre-order option. I didn’t even know you had that because I did my own version of pre-order back when I released my Christmas CD. I always tell people it was so exciting to have already paid off the entire CD when I got the CDs in my hand. I hadn’t even put them out in the world yet and I’d already paid off the entire thing. Every CD that I sold after that was total profit. I love that you guys are doing that. I think not enough artists are doing pre-order campaigns.
We have a few different selling options. I know I brushed over what things you can sell at Bandzoogle, but when you’re selling anything at Bandzoogle, some of the promotional tools you can use are setting a fixed price that pays what you want, a free option. You can also offer discounts. You can offer a free item in exchange for an email with your music. There are pre-orders and crowdfunding, which are a whole other level of marketing.
I know that you started doing the crowdfunding option. I know it’s not as robust as something like Kickstarter, but I always tell musicians those huge, complicated crowdfunding campaigns are so overwhelming and most musicians don’t do them because they’re too stressful. I love the idea of a 30-day, easy, allow your fans to donate campaign. That seems like something you could do pretty easily with your version of crowdfunding on Bandzoogle.
The idea is, especially for indie artists, it’s always a good idea to start small with a single or something. If you’re lowering your initial investment, you’re lowering your risk. Something like crowdfunding allows you to test the waters to see how many of your fans would be interested in subscribing or purchasing something like that. In the beginning, we launched the lightweight crowdfunding option. That was in response to what happened at PledgeMusic. We had all the tools in place and we had some members who are creating crowdfunding campaigns through Bandzoogle. We shot out a lightweight crowdfunding option, but we’re going to be building on that in 2020. We have a few exciting things coming.
I can’t wait to find out what’s coming. There are always new tools that come out and I’m like, “They thought of that, or I can’t believe they built that in.” It’s all comes with your Bandzoogle membership. You’re always thinking about new stuff to help musicians. Have you seen anything changed over the time period of the pandemic? In the beginning, there were a lot more live streams. Have you seen that shift into musicians doing more different things as time goes on and it’s probably going to keep going on?
I’m glad you asked the question because I feel like shedding some advice from the rooftops and I wouldn’t mind taking this opportunity. When the pandemic hit, there was an overwhelming number of live streams. As a huge music consumer myself, it was almost too much. I’ve seen a lot of artists leveraging their own audience, their socials, their fan lists. When you’re doing live streams and playing weekly and you have a finite repertoire, artists might see some diminishing audiences. This is a challenge that a lot of artists are seeing like, “I can’t play it live shows so let’s do the live stream thing.” Maybe they’re not seeing the same numbers of viewers as they were early on in the pandemic.
I wanted to recommend some things to keep it fresh. It’s a good idea to look at live streaming with other bands so that you can share each other’s audiences and not saturate your own with the same content. I also think that it’s important to look at how you can help out other people in this pandemic. That’s a huge opportunity for artists. Contact your local colleges or businesses, or anywhere that you might’ve planned an in-person tour. Many of these businesses are working remotely now and that’s challenging as a whole for them to be building on their own company culture. They’re looking for ways to make things fun and create a sense of togetherness with their staff. Schools are having virtual ceremonies and events. You can pitch shows for things like that.
Think outside of the box when you’re thinking about live streaming. Play with other bands and then look at other audiences that you could share your music with. There’s the social media takeover concept. Trade Instagram accounts for a weekday or a weekend or a day with some other bands in different cities where you might have listeners or artists with a similar genre. Everybody has new problems right now. The idea is to find a way to help other businesses or artists with their problems and with your music. Some examples are if you play outside at an old folks’ home, you’re keeping them safely stimulated. Not only is that a kind gesture, but it’s also a good publicity event. Tell the local media about it.
Everybody can use some good news right now. People want to know more about you and kind gestures can help grow your community of supporters. Our lead QA, Desi, volunteered for an organization in Nashville that shifted from bedside music performances to Zoom. There are a lot of different opportunities as artists now. When you’re working for yourself, especially during the pandemic, it’s a constant hustle. The actions that you take to grow your business, they don’t have to always be a noise like the bombarding live streaming that was happening in the early days. Your hustle can be all about solving other people’s problems. I don’t think that it matters if those actions are selfish, as long as the outcome is that you’re helping someone else.
I always encouraged artists to reach out to venues because venues are struggling too. If they’ve got a following on a Facebook page, they can maybe do virtual concerts and you guys can split the money, you can help them out and you can help yourself out. I love the idea of businesses and colleges. I know I’ve seen my alma mater has been doing a weekly concert series and some of them have been students of the college and some of them have been outside artists to inspire the students in the music department and in their college in general. Those are super great ideas. We have to keep being proactive because this is not ending anytime soon. The way it is now is going to be this way for a little while longer. We need to think outside of the box.Your hustle can be all about solving other people's problems. Click To Tweet
In this climate, you need the get-up and go. The good thing about it is that when the pandemic is over, even if it’s in a long time from now, the artists who have put all of the energy to adapt, they’ll have a bigger range of strategies for monetizing their music business. Those are things that they might have never bothered with before, but now we have to.
You expand your streams of income. You’ve thought outside of the box, you’ve got maybe ten different ways that you could make money. I always say you can pull this lever or pull this lever, depending on what’s happening in the world and happening in your life. If you have more levers to pull, then you have more ways to make money. You’re not like, “I only have two streams of income and I lost one of them entirely.” You don’t want to be in that position.
It’s a terrible time, but it’s a quiet time. The quiet is a good time to work on setting up your online business and focusing on your strategies right now. We’ve seen some interesting things you were asking about, like where that $5 million is or how that breaks up. We’ve seen an uptick in the subscription users. The ones that are doing successful are offering some unique things like handwritten notes. We have one artist who is sending out a high-quality print. A lot of artists create art in many different ways, and they’re leveraging those other mediums to help them through this pandemic. There are a lot of things that you do day-to-day as an artist that you don’t think about, but your super fans would be interested in having an eye on that. If you’re doing band practice, record that. Put it on, put it in your blog posts, put that in your tier, like access to band practice. If they want to hear about how you came to write a certain song that’s popular, those are things that are interesting to your fans.
Behind the scenes in the studio or anything where you’re giving them special access that they wouldn’t normally have. Fans are interested in that. These are all some great ideas. Is there anything that we haven’t touched on that Bandzoogle is doing to help artists in our unique situation and in the future?
I was talking about our process. What we do is we look at customer feedback. We keep our fingers on the pulse about what’s happening in the music industry. When the pandemic started, the first thing that we knew that we could do out of the gate was to provide a lot of support resources for musicians. That included educating artists about the things that you can do to help yourself through government grants, services that are available to help you. We have an eBook that’s out on the Bandzoogle Blog. You can access it. It’s not for Bandzoogle members. You can look up some resources for artists during the pandemic. It’s not stuff that we do. It’s the stuff that’s available globally.
We put out a lot of educational information. We were always running different webinars and putting your eBooks that are accessible to the public. When the pandemic hit, the first thing that we wanted to do was look at how to help artists generate more income. Before we had event ticket sales available at Bandzoogle and we quickly realized that wasn’t going to be feasible anymore. We opened up live streaming ticket sales for all customers. That was something that was only available on our pro tier, which is $20 a month. Even if you’re on the light plan, you can sell it live streaming tickets or events.
We’re always thinking about different tools to add for artists, but some interesting things that we have coming with Bandzoogle, you can sell CDs, vinyl, and the digital version. You can sell bundles of music with physical and digital versions. In the near future, we’re going to be working on a product bundle. You can combine a whole bunch of different items from across all of your different eCommerce tools. That’s something you’re going to see in the next twelve months. I can’t talk about it too much because it’s coming soon or you’re going to see the ability to sell print on demand items through Bandzoogle.
People are going to be so excited about this.
I hope so. The first thing I thought about during the pandemic was how to keep my stuff safe and then how to keep the artists safe. I don’t want them going to the post office. That’s going to be coming soon. You’re going to see a lot more improvements to our existing features. Anything that customers are asking for they need, we’re always working on those.
Are you saying, for example, that I put out an EP and I decided not to create any physical ones, go and get them to create them for me? Can I do those one-offs if someone orders them from my website?
This update that we have coming is going to be related to merch. The reason why we focused on that first is that we noticed that that was the biggest way that artists were making money. That’s how we prioritized it. It was overwhelming. If we look at our store data, it’s overwhelming to see how many people are selling t-shirts. That could be complicated especially if you have to keep a specific size mix. That’s a huge investment for your artist.
That is going to be helpful. Is it t-shirts or any kind of merch like if I wanted to do a mug or something like that?
The options are vast. I don’t think I’m supposed to be talking about this.
I don’t want to go to the post office all the time. Not only is it unsafe, but it’s also annoying. This is useful and people can order what they want. I also am a huge fan of bundles. I’m glad that you’re making that available. I personally think bundles are the best way to sell things nowadays. Especially if you want to sell your CDs, people are going to want to buy it with a piece of merch. I think that makes it a lot more enticing. It will be great to have bundle options or different pieces of merch that people want, like low-level items and higher-level like super-fan bundles, I like to call them. That is going to be amazing.
On your note about the different things people are selling, when I was going through the data, I saw some pretty funny things. People are jumping on what their fans might need or what might be interesting during the pandemic. I noticed that there are quite a few artists selling branded face masks. There’s a lot of wall calendars. There are custom ring tones. We even have a couple of artists who created a mini-series. They’re using their subscriptions feature to launch those monthly. I also saw aprons. There are some artists who know their customer base well and understand what their other interests are outside of their music. They know putting out their own recipes and then selling aprons. They’re jumping on the bandwagon of, “What other things can I provide that might be interesting to these customers?” Everybody knows that there’s a strong movement to support local. Fans know that this is a great thing to be doing.
That’s such a great idea to come out with things like that like recipes and aprons. During the pandemic, you’re baking a lot of bread or something. I baked banana bread every single week from April through June. I never did that before. You get into something funky and then like your fans might be interested in that, so you never know.
It’s funny that you mentioned that because of all of the stress that we’re all handling as artists, it’s manifesting in some interesting ways, and some of those are constructive ways to deal with your stress. It was Melanie Kealey, our communications manager who put out this blog post about wellness during the pandemic for artists. There are some interesting resources in our blog about how artists can be successful, but also how they can take care of themselves.
If we’re used to having a lot of contact with our fans, physical contact, being in front of audiences, and getting that feedback as an artist, sometimes you feel like you’re in this bubble and you don’t know if your art matters anymore. It is important to pay attention to stress and your mental state. This has been great. Especially the merch piece, that’s so interesting to me. I do hope like every brand is coming out with a mask. I know I’ve been having to buy my kids. My one daughter was like, “I want a musical theater mask.” The other one is like, “I want this branded mask.” We should all be doing stuff that people can use from home or use in this particular situation that maybe you’ve never offered as an artist before. Thank you for all the great ideas. If you’re not on Bandzoogle yet, we gave you a million reasons to be on Bandzoogle.
I love what Stacey said about this is a quiet time. This is the best time to get your online house in order and get your business truly up online. I know tons of teachers that are realizing, “I should have gotten on the online bandwagon a long time ago.” It’s that whole thing about when is the best time to plant a tree. It was back then when a long time ago, but now is the second-best time. Go out and get set up. You can start leveraging what’s available now. After this is over or whatever it looks like on the other side of it, things will be different. There will be more online than there ever was before. You want to be ready for that. That’s my little soapbox there. Anything else you want to say, Stacey?
I wanted to say thank you for having me. It’s been nice to get some facetime with you.
You are welcome. Check out Bandzoogle. She said go check out all of their blog posts. They have these pillar posts. I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, they did one on the live stream that is so in-depth on every way that you could live stream and every tool and all that stuff. Check that out. They’re totally free. Get your free trial by putting in WOS15 and see if Bandzoogle is right for you, test out their tools, and all that. Thank you, Stacey, for giving us your time and letting us know all the ways musicians can keep making money.