To continue filling up the stadiums and selling all those albums, artists need to continually engage with their fans. It’s a missed opportunity for artists not to be using their fans to promote their music or whatever they wanted to promote. Sarah Beth Perry, the Founder and CEO of With the Band, grew up loving boybands. After working with multiple artist teams, she saw that there was an opportunity to improve fan engagement between artists and their fans. In today’s episode, Sarah speaks with Bree Noble about how their platform is helping artists further their career reaching new fans using street teams.
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With The Band: Reaching New Fans Using Online Street Teams With Sarah Beth Perry
I am here with Sarah Beth Perry of With the Band. I can’t wait to get into her whole business and how it helps musicians. First, I’d love to know a little bit about your background, Sarah. Why did you want to be involved in music? Did you always want to be involved in the business side of music? Give us how you got from your younger years to where you are now.
I grew up in Nashville. I’m one of the very few people to have been raised here. Growing up, I was the only one in my friends whose parents didn’t work in the industry. I knew that the music industry was a thing. It’s funny, I ended up moving to Atlanta in middle school. When I moved, I had no idea that it was not normal to know singers and people who worked in the entertainment industry. That all happened when I grew up. I have a younger sister and we became the typical fan girls of those classic boy bands. That’s when I started to see the fan side of things.
Those classic boy bands, is this like the late ‘90s? Is this like NSYNC?
I’m honestly a little bit younger than most people think like Jonas Brothers and One Direction.
I’m dating myself because I’m like Backstreet Boys. My age was New Kids on the Block, but I totally get Jonas Brothers. I love their new music.
They’re so great. They continue this pump out disco tunes. I became a fan during my middle school, high school years. I remember seeing these bands congregate together and create these fan projects and fan meetups. I always wondered like, “How the heck do they even get to be a part of these things? Were they talking to each other? How are they creating these events?” Also knowing the industry side of things, I wondered, “Why do the artists seem not involved with these huge mass gatherings of fans?”
I felt like it was a missed opportunity for the artists to be using their fans to promote their music or whatever they wanted to promote. That’s how it all began. I ended up going to Belmont. Even though I was always surrounded by the music industry, I didn’t realize until my freshman year at Belmont how many types of jobs there were in the music industry. I knew the labels and I knew there were artists, but I don’t even know if there were more types of jobs in those two. I discovered that fan engagement was someone’s job. I was like, “That’s exactly what I want to do.” I’ve always loved that interaction between artists and the fans. I started researching for this company that I wanted to work for that was a fan engagement company and I could not find anything. That’s where the beginning idea of With the Band started.
You looked for what you wanted and when you didn’t find it, you saw the hole in the market, you decided, “I’m going to create that.” What is interesting is you were in college at this point. First of all, what gave you the idea that you could fill that hole at your young age? Where did you think you were going to get the resources, the help and all that to be able to do it?
It felt like it points exactly where you’re asking that. When I first had this idea, I was like, “There’s no way that I can do that. That is such a big thing to take on.” I didn’t have a ton of experience. I’ve worked so many events when I was in school and intern in a bunch of different places, but I was like, “Who am I to want to start this company?” It was for a year that I researched because I thought there had to be someone else out there doing this that I could work for. I still day after day could not find anything that was coming close to what I thought that a company should be serving both the fans and the artists.
How did you even think you were going to get the resources and the help to do this when it didn’t seem to exist?
I thought it seemed impossible at the beginning. When I started researching, I told maybe two of my friends and I was like, “This is crazy, but I want to get your feedback on it as a fan. What do you think of this?” It wasn’t until I did the Belmont business plan pitch competition. That was the first time I told anyone about the idea. I ended up winning the competition. I had no idea that I would do that well and that was the first time that people were like, “This is super cool.”It’s a missed opportunity for artists not to be using their fans to promote their music. Click To Tweet
That’s the first time I realized, especially it’s so nice as a student, there are so many opportunities to win and receive grant money. That was the first time I had received my first winnings from a competition. I was like, “I’ll look into other things like this.” Since I won, I qualified for the state. I ended up doing that one. I have won that one. I started racking up these monetary earnings from these events and that’s what I used to completely bootstrap the business.
Did you ever think after that like, “I’m going to go after venture capital money,” or were you happy with what you had gotten and you thought I can get it off the ground now?
I thought that I could get it off the ground then. I did. I still to this day have not taken any VC funding.
It feels good to have that freedom. I would feel uncomfortable taking that for my business because then you’re beholden to these other people.
The thing is too, it’s always so interesting trying to describe the whole vision that I had for the company because it was these kinds of different phases. We’re finally getting into the main phase that I wanted to get in with the company. Being a younger female, it was looked down upon that I didn’t have as much experience. I almost had to prove myself more in a way. I didn’t even think the VC would be an option at the beginning. I didn’t even fit on the table.
Explain to our audience, what was the hole in the market or the problem that you wanted to solve with this company? Why did you feel like that wasn’t being solved by what was out there?
Going back to my fan days and I feel so many music fans in general, you have these emotional attachments to the artist. I felt all these artists teams I was seeing in the market weren’t understanding that. They didn’t know how to use the fans to create super fans. They were doing these marketing campaigns and promo campaigns. I thought that the fans have much power and the people who are in the industry who were creating these campaigns did not realize that. That’s where I first saw the gap and I was like, “We need to fix this. We need to use the fans that you already have to create more fans.”
What were they doing wrong? Did you feel they were ignoring the fans or they weren’t harnessing the power of fans to be able to share and be ambassadors for the arts?
It was a little bit of both. It depends on the artists too. There are some artists who do a great job of engaging with their fans. A lot of these top 40 artists were saying that they were grateful for their fans, but then they weren’t doing that above and beyond thing for them. There are some things that fans see is above and beyond that don’t cost the artists anything and take up much of their time. It’s what the artists can do to create that stronger relationship with the individual fan. That’s what I wanted to do.
The people reading this are indie artists and they want to create that stronger relationship with their fans. They want their fans to go out, share everything that they do and tell everybody about them. How does your company do that and how can indie artists learn from that?
We’ve done it in two different ways. We’ve had a huge pivot because of COVID. Before COVID, we were doing these fan activations at different artists’ shows. These were huge fan project. If you know what a fan project is, it’s usually a group of fans that get together to do some type of thank you or give back to the artist. The first project that we did was at the Jonas Brothers show in Nashville. It was their reunion tour. They had a song called Comeback. What we did is we had 16,000 signs printed that said, “Thank you for coming back to us.” It had on the back of the sign the instructions to hold it up during that certain song.
We went and placed them in every seat in the arena. That was our first huge event. I was praying like, “Hopefully, a few hundred people will hold the sign up.” It ended up going way better than we ever imagined. All three of the guys are crying on stage and they got all these major press write-ups. It was the first moment that I realized like, “I can 100% do this. This is what I’m made to do.” It was that feeling of every single person in that arena was connected. Even through the FANDOM online, everyone across the world who was a Jonas Brother fan was talking about it. That was one of the best moments on the whole tour. We had fans DM-ing us asking them to send them signs all across the world because they couldn’t be there. It’s trying to create that emotional type on whether that is in person. Now we’re trying to help them do that digitally. It has been a huge change in the past few months on how you do that with fans.
First, before we get into the digital side because I can imagine that’s a different thing. How did you get involved with the band? Was this something you were doing on the side and they didn’t know you were doing it or were you working for the Jonas Brothers?
For the very first one, this was completely on our own. We were talking with bands. We had an app where fans could create these fan projects and fan meetups on their own and they were doing that. I always knew I wanted to get into these artists’ sponsored project piece. I didn’t think we were at that point yet. This is more of like, “I think this would be a great way to let fans know that we’ve launched.” They can create these projects themselves. It ended up getting all of these artists’ attention because it went so well.
Right after that, less than a month later, we partnered with Kacey Musgraves and her team. We created a big fan activation at her show at Bridgestone. We turned the crowd into a rainbow during the song Rainbow. That was her first headline arena show. It was cool to be a part of that. It was so much fun to see it. Depending on where you were sitting in the venue, you had a different color, a piece of paper in your seat. It had instructions to put it up to your phone flashlight during the song Rainbow. It ended up with this beautiful glowing rainbow as she sang the song. It was a special moment for sure.
Did she know it was coming?
No, she didn’t.
I can imagine being on stage and losing it when I saw that.
The most fun part of it is the artist has no idea that it’s coming. We’re talking with their teams so it’s a lot of fun.
Did her team reach out to you?
I had a friend who had previously interned there. After the Jonas Brothers thing happened, we were like, “How the heck are we supposed to top that?” I feel we hit the peak the first time. We started trying to brainstorm. I’m like, “Who is playing in Nashville next? What are the next shows coming up?” She was the next one. I reached out to her manager and was like, “We did this for the Jonas Brothers if you’d be interested for this show.” I know it’s a super special show for her. That’s how it started. It was the quickest turnaround I’ve ever had with an artist’s team.
When they engage with you to help with this fan activation event, is her team for paying this? Are you paying for it? How are you guys growing your company income-wise?
I had always seen fan projects and fan meetups as the first phase of the company. We first get integrated within the music industry and become associated with different artists and with these fan bases. In the beginning, how it was structured was these artists teams would pay us to come in to create these one of a kind fan activations. Now, we’ve completely transitioned into a different business model because of all the digital things. When shows come back, we will be doing some more of those.
Will you work with anyone? Could you work with an indie artist? Does it have to be a big record label artist?
No. We have talked with artists of all sizes. The way we price an activation is the capacity of the venue. How many people are going to be there? If it’s travel. We are planning to do a show in New York during the summer. We had to travel up there to do it. The physical cost of whatever we both agree on to do for that show. Anyone can hire us out to come and do these activations.
Let’s talk about the pivot then. How did COVID change everything and how have you guys adapted?
Everyone was in the same boat. When COVID happened, it’s going to be two weeks quarantine. It was for 3 weeks, 4 weeks. It was interesting at that time I received emails from different managers and some people at labels being, “What can we do besides live stream to engage with our fans?” I was like, “Let me brainstorm some ideas, I’ll get back to you.” It was at that time that I realized there was live stream and it felt there was nothing else. There were no other tools that they could use to strengthen that relationship with their fans during this time. Going back to the whole thing I was saying, I saw that the fan project is the first phase. What I wanted to do with the company was to build out our app and build out our website to enable artists to create their own modern-day version of a fan club.
That is what we have been building out all summer since COVID did happen. This way, there’s going to be a fairly simple turnkey solution for artists to create and manage their own fan crew. We felt that the fan crew aspect embodied the new version of fandom, where it’s this pack of fans who supports you. We’re enabling these artists to create their own monthly subscription models where they can interact with their fans via exclusive content through photos and videos or they can do private live streams to offer to their fans. The artist gets to charge whatever they want and get to offer any type of benefit they want to their fans.
In the world of indie artists, most indie artists right now are using Patreon for that type of thing. How do you guys differ in what you offer, the functionality of it and the engagement levels and stuff with having the app that you have from Patreon?
Our target demographic going into it were these medium to larger size artists because we felt at this time, Patreon is a giant and they are doing a pretty good job. There are some things they can do better. Where we felt there was the biggest hole where these medium to larger acts who are signed to a label and they have the option of a forum website or a completely customized app. There was nothing in between. It was either very high cost and this whole aspect of now an artist’s team having to deal with app updates in technology that they don’t want to deal with or there’s this solution that hasn’t been updated for several years. That’s the spot that we wanted to fill and that’s what we’re targeting when we’re planning to launch. We plan to spread out to then help the smaller artists. We do believe that you need different tools when you’re an artist versus if you’re a journalist or if you’re a sculptor or whatever on Patreon. We felt we could then add those features on our platform to help out those indie artists as well.
What are the features that involve engagement between the fans and the artist?
There are so many. It’s interesting, Nielsen did a study that showed that 30% of your fans are responsible for 70% of your total revenue. It shows and proves this point that those super fans, that’s who you want to connect with and who you want to build that relationship to make sure that they’re a lifelong fan. What we wanted to create on the platform is, how can we super-serve that superfan? We created ways for the artists to both interact with them via DMs if they wanted to. The actual fans get to post within the fan crew. If there’s a new album that comes out, the fans can talk about their favorite songs. The artist almost doesn’t even have to create content sometimes because the fans are creating so much. The artists can even interact with the fans’ content. It’s more of this relationship that we wanted to build that we felt other platforms weren’t serving.
Is it a community inside of the app as if you have a Facebook group or something like that?
We visualize these as each artist has their own complete portal. This is the artist world and anyone who’s in their specific fan crew is going to know everything about that artist. The big thing about the company is we wanted to create a community. When doing all the research to build out this platform, I talked to so many fans and that seemed the thing that was missing that went away when social media came to be. These artists stopped having fan clubs because they had all these social media content to keep up with. This community aspect between the fans got lost.
How do you see this translating into what street teams used to do? I know there are still street teams, but they don’t seem as active as I remember them being in the early 2000s.
I love that you see that because that’s right where we were wanting to go. Even going back to the first problem that I saw of artists not taking full advantage of their fan base, it’s not like Facebook or Instagram, where whatever you’re posting, it’s going to get hidden by algorithms. Everything that you’re posting, your fan is going to see. You have the ability to send them a push notification every time you post. We have the ability like Slack to create different channels within your fan crew. You can create one.
It would be like the Southern California fans of Bree Noble?
You can make for a different tour, different single, different cities. You can get super creative with it. One of those ways is using the fans as a street team because I don’t know if we’re going to need to change the wording or whatever. This goes back to the fan activations we’re doing, when you give them an opportunity to help, they want to do it. They want to help that artist. Even if they don’t get to meet the artists, they feel they’re closer by helping on a campaign. The fans are excited to help you with these things so why not use them as that street team?
Do you help them get ideas of what they can do? Your superpower is that you come up with these fan activation ideas that are awesome. I would never have thought of doing those things. Sometimes people are like, “I want to do something cool to show that I’m a fan, but I have no idea what to do.”
I’m going to have two different answers to this. With the artist side of things, with every artist who creates their fan crew, you have an account manager. We meet with them on a monthly basis. It’s optional. If they don’t want to do it, they don’t have to do it. We’re there to provide monthly content ideas for them to keep up with their fan crew. On the flip side of that, before COVID started happening, it was nice because Bridgestone Arena in Nashville started seeing all the stuff we were doing and became great partners. All these bands in Nashville started reaching out to them about wanting to do fan projects and more shows. They started sending all those fans our way. It was cool to see once they started happening, even more fans from all these other different artists were like, “I saw this happen at the Jonas Brothers show. Can we do this in my own show?” It created an interesting dynamic. It’s much fun getting to deal with all the fan bases.
I love that you provide them with an account manager and somebody that they can bounce ideas off of. Sometimes artists are like, “I don’t know how to capitalize on my fan base.” You guys deal with so many artists. You’ve seen many fan projects and seen many ideas come to life. That’s cool that you’re providing that resource.Use the fans that you already have to create more fans. Click To Tweet
The one thing too that I feel I always have to remind artists teams when they’re like, “I don’t know. Let me think about it.” Sometimes we get so close to it as music industry professionals that you almost can’t see it from the fans perspective of this one simple thing would mean so much to the fan. From the artist’s side, you’re like, “That would mean nothing to them. It’s so small. Why would I even do that?”
We’re in the business bubble. We’re not seeing that fan perspective.
That’s the fun thing that I love getting to do. Every single day I’m talking with bands on different social media channels. It’s super cool too to see what they’re into that specific day. It changes so much. We’re always very in tune with what is the thing that they’re obsessed with right now.
I’m going to ask a question that might be a little odd, but we have a lot of older people reading this. You’re younger. The bands that I know you’ve worked with are the younger, pop, I know you said Dan and Shay so semi country-ish pop. Have you seen this work in progress for older artists? Let’s say artists that are in their 50s?
One of the coolest things that people don’t think about is our first target market were those typical teenage super fans. Our secondary market, we’re going to these what we call the groupies. The people who were the fans of Aerosmith, Kiss, The Deadheads and Fish, those types of people are still such obsessed fans. It’s interesting because the fan clubs that do exist right now exist in that genre. It’s all these older male rock bands. There are male country artists. That’s it. There are a few sprinkled in between. It works super well with them. The technology needs to be a little bit updated, but the nice thing is I got super lucky with my development team. In 2019, ARP had a music tech competition. I ended up winning that for trying to help elderly people combat social isolation through music. I do believe there is a huge opportunity to improve that space.
We’ve talked about the guys, the old dudes. What about women? I know you said Kacey Musgraves, but do you have a good percentage of women that are using the platform?
We haven’t launched this new platform yet. We’re launching that right at the beginning of the New Year, but that is one of my big focus is because the music industry, both on the industry side and especially on country female side needs some help within the women in the industry. I want to promote women in music as much as possible. We’re talking with a bunch of artists right now. That was one of my half two things when we’re launching. We’re planning to launch with around three artists. I want it at least half to be women. There needs to be a pedestal to help them get up. That’s one of our focuses.
There’s this idea that women don’t have as obsessed fans somehow. The boy bands, they have the teenagers. I personally am a huge fan of so many female artists and way more than male artists. Having attended Lilith Fair, there are those fanatic fans of female artists.
If you made a list of the top artists in the entire world, both Taylor Swift and Beyonce are going to be at the top of that list. It’s very interesting to me when people say that. The best model for fan engagement is Taylor Swift, no matter what you think of her music. She knows how to connect with her fans. That’s a big aspect of it and why she’s been successful. Women can do anything as well, if not better.
You’re going to launch this in January 2021 with a few major artists. When do you expect this will be available for indie artists to get involved?
Within a few months, we plan to spread out. We knew that we needed to beta test before we add many artists. It’s exciting too because since I’ve bootstrapped this, it’s been a day-by-day, step-by-step thing of like, “We get to this point and then that means that we’ll have the funds to build this out.” That’s how I looked at it. I want artists to be able to offer a free tier to their fans so they can start that relationship and then grow it into a paid membership. You would not believe some of the prices for live streaming. I don’t know how Instagram Live does it. It’s crazy. That is on our roadmap.
Are you going to have pricing levels for artists with different size fan bases? I’m thinking about the indie artists if they would be able to get in on this.
I wanted to make sure that this was both super fan-friendly but also super artist-friendly. There are zero startup costs to create your own fan crew. The way it works is that when a fan purchases a membership, you get 70% of the revenue and then we deal with all the transaction fees and then we’ll take what’s left over. We ended up getting usually about 20% depending on how high you price your membership. The artist gets to choose that themselves.
Do you have to be at a certain level to get an account manager from your team to help you get ideas and stuff?
At this point, we haven’t even thought about the cap for that. They’ll be some cap. I don’t know whether that will be a number of fans or the amount of revenue. We want to make sure it’s serious artists. It’s not like John in his bedroom who has a few songs on Spotify. There will be a measure. I don’t know exactly what that will be yet.
That would be so valuable for indie artists because a lot of them don’t have a big team so having somebody to help them generate ideas.
There will always too. We already create blog posts. We haven’t published yet, but we have a huge knowledge base that we’re building for these artists who are creating the fan crews. There will always be resources to help them with ideas. It might not be that monthly call every month.
I’ll have to have you back on the show once all this stuff is launched and people can jump in. You’ve got some case studies and things like that, but in the meantime, where can they go to learn more and start thinking about how they might be able to use this when it comes out?
On all social channels, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, our handle is @WithTheBandVIP and then our website is WithTheBand.co. Feel free to stalk our social profiles and see how we interact with fans. That might give you a better understanding or even do some ideas on how you can interact with your fans as well. We just created a campaign on TikTok that has been blowing up. It’s been super interesting to learn all the new platforms and see how we can use them to help artists further their careers.
What are you doing on TikTok?
This is our first time trying to create content for TikTok. We saw that Harry Styles is coming out with his Golden music video. We created a sign that said, “Honk if you love Harry Styles,” and went out and you’ve ever been in Nashville, you’ve heard of the 12 South. We went in 12 South and held up the sign and made this Harry Styles fat head. It was so funny watching all these people. It was interesting because it wasn’t even cars who were honking. It would be people yelling across the street like, “I love Harry Styles.” It was more males than females too, which was surprising. It was a lot of fun to film. It’s been doing well. We posted it and it’s getting 20,000 views a day. It’s super interesting to see. The fans start tagging their friends. If you want to laugh, you can check it out.
If you want to see how maybe you could do something like that in your hometown. You’re not well-known outside of your hometown, but people in your hometown probably know you and you could create something like that and create buzz online. Thank you. This has been fun. It’s been great to know about your journey and all these great tools you’re creating to help out artists. Thank you, Sarah Beth.
Thank you for having me.
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About Sarah Beth Perry
Sarah Beth Perry is the Founder and CEO of With the Band, a fan engagement platform founded in 2017 that strives to develop a community for fans and artists to feel a part of something bigger than themselves.
In only 3 years, Perry has grown With the Band from an idea in her dorm room to captivating packed out arenas with her creative and collaborative fan projects and meet ups. Some of her most notable experiences include her fan engagement activations at the Jonas Brothers’ highly-anticipated HAPPINESS BEGINS TOUR and Kacey Musgraves’ OH WHAT A WORLD TOUR sold-out concert in Nashville, TN.
After winning her first pitch competition in 2017, Perry saw the opportunity she had to further pursue her dream of kickstarting With the Band. Throughout college, she continued to win awards and grant money from multiple pitch competitions from organizations like Belmont University, Sigma Nu Tau, LaunchTN, and was a finalist for both AARP’s Innovation Labs Pitch Competition and the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards.
In October of 2019, less than a year after graduating from Belmont University with a double major in Entrepreneurship and Music Business, Perry was named one of Belmont’s Top 100 Alumni Entrepreneurs.
Upon seeing her concept come to fruition, Perry was encouraged to continue exploring other fan engagement avenues. Being a fangirl herself, she realized there was an opportunity to create better relationships between an artist and their fans. With the vision to be the premiere fan engagement company, With the Band will launch a new modern-day version of a fan called Fan Crews this fall.