Imogen Heap: Connecting With Fans By Having Them Help Her Create New Album

from the very-cool dept

Whenever I talk about the whole Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy (CwF+RtB) concept, one person that lots of people kept telling me I had to pay attention to was Imogen Heap. Unfortunately, I didn't attend MIDEM this year, so I missed out on seeing her speak at the event. But I did hear about her announcement of plans to crowdsource her next album, soliciting all sorts of help from her fans (with whom she had already built a deep connection via her music, of course, and her very active use of Twitter). The idea is that every three months, she'll work on a new song, asking for various contributions from her fans, which she would then weave into the final offering.

I hadn't kept up on how that project was going, but Zoe Keating (another musician doing some really fascinating things), directed our attention to a wonderful blog post from Ian Shepherd describing his experience helping Imogen create one of the songs from this new album. He notes that he's a huge, huge fan already, and when she asked fans to contribute images and "5-word moments of clarity" to a special "interactive cloud" on her website, he did so. What he didn't realize was that she was then going to invite some of the people who contributed cool stuff to appear as extras in the video for the song. It came as a complete surprise, but he went, and it sounds like it was a fantastic experience for all involved:
So, the video is shot, now, and being edited as I type; I’ve met and made friends with the other five people whose “moments” were chosen; I’ve chatted to Kelly about production techniques and I’ve heard a sneak preview of heapsong2 in progress. I can say that it sounded as lovely as anything Imogen has written so far to me, and that the 3D audio aspect is going to be extraordinary – and that Nick and Imogen have a mammoth task ahead of them to get the song finished in time for it’s planned release on July 6th, in less than a week’s time.

I can also say that Imogen is exactly as charming, quirky and inspirational as she appears in her songs, interviews and webcasts – and crucially, that her interest in her fans and their impact on her music is absolutely genuine.

Think about it – in reality we five “bubble people” were effectively unpaid extras – but very willingly so. We all took time off work to be part of the video shoot – or college in France, in Izzy’s case. Santina actually booked her flights from the USA and a week’s leave with only two days notice, before she even knew she was finally going to be picked !
Shepard notes that this sort of level of connection seems to come naturally to Imogen. Beyond just Twitter, she clearly embraces opportunities to interact with fans at shows and in other ways as well.

Separately, Shepherd properly points out that this kind of connection can work for people at all levels (something we keep saying, but people keep insisting isn't true). Imogen is definitely a big name, with a big following, but others are doing similar things on a smaller scale and it's working great:

I’m sure some people will be muttering at this point that we can’t all be Imogen Heap – after all, she started out on her one-and-half-million-followers-strong social media adventure with a hit album and several TV synchronisation successes already safely under her belt. That’s a pretty convincing head start, right ?

Well, yes – but I see plenty of much smaller artists successfully making a similar approach work for them every day in my Twitter stream – like Zoe Keating, or Hope & Social, or Matt Stevens, or Steve Lawson, or Kate Havnevik, or Laura Kidd

You can do this stuff, too. Anyone can do it – all it takes is time, energy, imagination, connection – and a little musical ability, of course. Laura is great evidence of this – as she’s said herself, she didn’t have any fans before her first album – but her second has already been 50% funded by the fans that first album found for her – in advance.

And, while we keep hearing recording industry execs complaining about how the industry is "dying," every day we hear more and more stories of musicians building huge, loyal audiences (who are happy to pay for scarce value) by connecting with their fans.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Nicedoggy, Jul 1st, 2011 @ 6:44pm

    Your fans = your retirement fund.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Jul 1st, 2011 @ 10:33pm

    Re:

    Record Label execs retirement fund = the fans of slaves.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 1st, 2011 @ 10:34pm

    Fans WANT to Pay

    Fans want to pay the artists they love. Fans do not want to make record label executives rich. Fans are aiming to get the record label executives unemployed (or worse). Therefore it is to the advantage of the artist to make sure that as much as possible of the fans' payments go to the artist, not to any label. It is now a positive disadvantage for any artist to be signed up to a big record label.

    That leaves the big labels with their back catalog and a collection of poor artists who do not have good business advice. The big labels are heading to be a whole lot smaller, financially speaking. The executives are not happy about that. However, they will get over it, when the right-sizing is finished. The primary job of the executives should be to prepare their label for a future in which the revenue stream is a whole lot smaller, without letting the business slip into bankruptcy. Most of them will fail at that task, judging by their miserable non-adaptation so far. Expect some nice bankruptcy sales.

     

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  4.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jul 1st, 2011 @ 10:38pm

    Re: Damn I screwed that up

    Record Label execs retirement fund = the fans of contractual slaves.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2011 @ 5:46am

    Re:

    Your fans aren't a retirement fund if they aren't buying. The artist retirement fund has been residual payments and licensing fees on people using your music. When that is gone, the only retirement they will get is when they get a pine box to lie in. Otherwise, they will have to keep working and keep dealing with the fans one on one to hope to have enough money to live.

    It's not exactly a grand future, is it?

     

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  6.  
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    Planespotter (profile), Jul 2nd, 2011 @ 7:04am

    Re: Re:

    Sounds like the future of the rest of the world. I certainly don't get money for the burgers I flipped at McDonald's when I was studying, or the first networks or computers I built when I first started out in IT 20 years ago, just like builders don't get royalty payments for the house they built 60 years ago, or the window and door manufacturers who don't get a penny every-time I open or close them...

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2011 @ 10:27am

    Re: Re:

    Who said life was fair or that artists are guaranteed a life of leisure? Or that things are never meant to change?

     

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  8.  
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    Eugene (profile), Jul 2nd, 2011 @ 11:21am

    Re: Re:

    I think you vastly underestimate how much money people can earn directly from their fans. Case in point: four days ago, the small-time youtube improv group SMBC Theater put up a kickstarter page to raise funds for a more ambitious series set in space. Their goal was to get $15,000 in 45 days. They are currently sitting on over $23,000 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/smbctheater/smbc-theater-goes-to-space

    This is a group who has been producing zero-budget videos for only a year. They have no funding, no marketing team, no PR firm, no releasing studio, no lawyers; just talent and proof that they can pull off their ambitions.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2011 @ 12:01pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Actually, if you put money into a 401k or other at each of those jobs, then yes, those jobs would pay off in retirement.

    Builders sell houses for full price up front. They don't split the house into a million parts and sell them seperately over time. It isn't very logical to compare a house builder with a musician, unless you think you should only pay $15 for your house.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2011 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Right, because musicians only sell one album to a single fan every time they make a new hit single. They have to literally make hundreds of new albums every single month because the most they can ever hope to gain from it is enough to fill up their gas tanks. After that it magically disintegrates into thin air and can never be re-made again.

     

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  11.  
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    The eejit (profile), Jul 2nd, 2011 @ 3:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    No-opne deserves to get paid. Period.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Dave, Jul 2nd, 2011 @ 6:32pm

    it's great

    I've been a huge fan of hers for years, but only recently started to follow her on Twitter and watch her video messages to fans. She describes what she's writing (including ideas she's gotten from fans), plays and sings the work in progress at her piano, and talks to you as if you're a real person, even a friend. It's very cool to feel like you're in on the artist's process and life, and a lot of fun.

    Try that with any high and mighty big control freak pop star.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Nicedoggy, Jul 3rd, 2011 @ 7:54pm

    Re: Re:

    Residuals?
    LoL

    I saw a paycheck of this one guy once, he got $150 bucks from residuals and royalties.
    LoL

    Is that better than having to work for the rest of your days, like everybody else?

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Nicedoggy, Jul 3rd, 2011 @ 8:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    So people only give money to an artist only once in their lifetime is that it?

    I heard that correctly?

    OMFG!

     

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  15.  
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    James Martin (profile), Jul 4th, 2011 @ 2:01am

    Imogen

    Great post Mike, thanks! Here's our interview with her, when she first outlined her plans to crowdsource her song. http://blog.midem.com/2011/01/interview-imogen-heap-on-her-first-ever-crowdsourced-song/

     

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  16.  
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    James Martin (profile), Jul 4th, 2011 @ 2:05am

    Re: Imogen

    oops you already linked to it in your post. My bad & thanks again :)

     

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  17.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jul 4th, 2011 @ 5:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "They don't split the house into a million parts and sell them seperately over time."

    Neither do musicians, I'm sorry you can't get this.

    Besides, even with your astoundingly poor analogy about what I presume is the royalty model, that's not the only model available to them. If a builder were to decide to sell in the way you describe, why would he be expected to be subsidised if he failed to sell the number of parts he expected?

     

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  18.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Jul 4th, 2011 @ 12:40pm

    He's also media

    Not that it invalidates Heap's concept, but looking at Ian Shepherd's blog, he writes a blog on music production. So I'd say he's media rather than just a random devoted fan.

    He notes that he's a huge, huge fan already, and when she asked fans to contribute images and "5-word moments of clarity" to a special "interactive cloud" on her website, he did so. What he didn't realize was that she was then going to invite some of the people who contributed cool stuff to appear as extras in the video for the song.

    I'm guessing he was invited not just because he likes Heap, but also because she assumed, correctly, that he would write about the experience. So I'd say this is a case study of some fairly traditional PR techniques. In other words, invite the media for an inside look at your projects whenever you can.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 4th, 2011 @ 12:45pm

    mmmmmmwatcha say?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 4th, 2011 @ 11:22pm

    Re: He's also media

    I'm guessing he was invited not just because he likes Heap, but also because she assumed, correctly, that he would write about the experience. So I'd say this is a case study of some fairly traditional PR techniques. In other words, invite the media for an inside look at your projects whenever you can

    If you actually read the blog post in question, you would see that was not the case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    samoanbiscuit (profile), Jul 5th, 2011 @ 5:50am

    How well would this scale?

    While I realize Imogen Heap IS a pretty big deal, by Hollywood standards, she's still a small fry. How would this scale for bigger artists, like Beyonce or Kanye West? How would this apply to genres like those two artists record and perform in? Beyonce's fanbase is global, yet her musical "flavour", especially in her concerts are very "louisiana/deep south" or at least, a take on it that is easily commodified. How about Kanye's music, most of the reasons why it is good is because it is so very unexpected. I'm just curious...

     

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  22.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Jul 5th, 2011 @ 7:32am

    Re: Re: He's also media

    I did read it. He says he wasn't chosen because he is a blogger, but how does he know that?

    I was one of over a thousand people who made a suggestion – you can see it by following this link and searching for “stereo” – without realising that Imogen planned to invite 5 or 6 people to appear as extras in the video for the song. So it was a complete surprise to me, when I was one of the people she asked !

    She could have very well recognized his name and out of the 1000 people who submitted suggestions, chose him because he is a blogger. His account doesn't say that 1000 names were put into a hat and she invited the first five names she drew. It doesn't say the selections were totally random. Perhaps they were, but I'm guessing that who made the suggestions played a role in who got invited.

     

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  23.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jul 5th, 2011 @ 12:40pm

    Re: How well would this scale?

    "by Hollywood standards, she's still a small fry"

    ...as are approximately 99.8% of artists.

    This is actually a large part of the argument being made. The industry used to be set up around a small number of outlets, a small number of middlemen and they used to have to depend on massive sales to make ends meet. Most artists fell by the wayside, but they got the occasional Beyonce or U2 to keep the business flowing.

    But, that model no longer makes as much sense as it used to. For the vast majority of artists, this is a good thing, as it is for many people who are fans of those artists.

    "How would this scale for bigger artists"

    Why does it have to? One of the points usually discussed is that there's hundreds of models possible. This one might not be right for some artists. That's OK, the traditional models aren't OK for some others. Choice is the factor here, especially for genres considered "uncommercial" (like guitar pop, hip-hop, house music, etc. used to be considered at some point).

    "How would this apply to genres like those two artists record and perform in?"

    Forget the marketing bull. The genres they record in are pop/R&B (with a heavy slice of pop) and hip-hop respectively. There's plenty of successful artists in both genres who haven't filled arenas, and that's not a bad thing.

    It also depends on what you call "success". owning mansions and being splashed over every tabloid is not every artist's idea of success.

    "Beyonce's fanbase is global, yet her musical "flavour", especially in her concerts are very "louisiana/deep south"

    While I like some of her stuff, let's face it - most of her recent appeal has been based around her dancing around in lingerie and making vapid "girl power" statements that were stale when the Spice Girls (themselves a marketing creation) did it. She has some good tunes for clubs, but it's hardly original. Disagree if you like, and I'll admit I haven't listened to her full albums, but maybe that's why she's popular. She has talent, but that's not what got her where she is.

    "How about Kanye's music, most of the reasons why it is good is because it is so very unexpected."

    Hmmm... That's subjective, but I've never been a fan of Kanye's sound. I'll admit he does take some chances, but it depends on where you come from. For example - his "Stronger" single from a few years back: mindblowing to some people I talked to in the US with its incorporation of electronic dance music and collaboration with Daft Punk. A fairly decent if unspectacular sample of a very popular song from a very popular act to those of us in Europe...

    ...and that's part of what these new models are all about. Music is subjective. One person's new God of music is another's tired hack or untalented amateur. Getting the chance to connect with the artists you love and for them to make money without the middlemen? That's something...

     

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  24.  
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    samoanbiscuit (profile), Jul 5th, 2011 @ 11:31pm

    Re: Re: How well would this scale?

    Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment, and in such depth as well!

    "One of the points usually discussed is that there's hundreds of models possible."

    Well fair enough! The reason why I'm thinking of these big acts is that I think there are some performances/concerts/videos that wouldn't have been possible without the amount of financial and social clout that they possess. It would sadden me for the music world to be reduced to a stream of "mom-and-pop" and "starving" artists. It takes all kinds, and the big, rare, super-stars just seem to be more vulnerable in some ways, than the small indie artists thick on the ground in europe and north america.

    What you say about Beyonce, well though I am a fan, fair enough it's all subjective. But there is a reason she holds the record for "most grammy's won by a female in a single night", though admittedly it would not be apparent listening to her radio singles. For Kanye, well, that track never really blew my mind either. It's his production skills, and the fact that he tends to pre-empt most of his genre-mates that's so crazy to me. Kanye is actually a pretty mediocre rapper, just like Beyonce is a pretty mediocre song-writer.

    I agree with most of the sentiments on this site, that copyright is getting to long, that laws surrounding it are getting crazy, that record labels have too much power over artists, and treat them unfairly. I'm just wondering about how my favourite artists are going to weather the storm, that's all. It's true that if they can't survive, then they can't, no one owes them a living. But I'll be sad...

     

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  25.  
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    samoanbiscuit (profile), Jul 5th, 2011 @ 11:41pm

    Re: Re: How well would this scale?

    Also: thanks for not giving the patent pending indie/hipster sneer when I mentioned two big label commercial artists...

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Ian Shepherd, Jul 6th, 2011 @ 7:50am

    Re: He's also media

    Hello ! Nice to see people talking about my post :-)

    This is just a quick message to say that I'm 100% certain Immi had no idea I ran a blog - mainly because she had no idea who I was when she answered the door, and even at the end of the day hadn't remembered my name :-) (I don't blame her, I have the same problem !) The same goes for her management team.

    I made my submission using my personal email address, my five-word phrase and a 30-word description, just like anyone else. Is it possible they googled everybody's names ? I suppose, but they're all too overworked and busy on genuinely interesting things to bother, in my opinion...

    I'm sure everyone involved knows on some level that this idea is superb, "natural" viral marketing, but I'm also just as sure that's NOT why Imogen does it this way.

    As another example, at the release party on Sunday, as well as the "bubble people" there was a chap called Jonathan, who met up with her and Nick Ryan the day before to record ambience and take impulse response samples in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. What this actually means is, they burst balloons together :-) We were hardly a high-powered crowd.

    To be honest, if there's a covert "method" in all the Heapsong2 madness, it really isn't working very well...!

    Ian

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Damian Sol, Jul 6th, 2011 @ 9:10am

    Re: Re:

    If your fans aren't buying *something* -- a plastic disc, personal time, live show appearances, whatever -- then clearly you either haven't engaged them well enough, or you haven't asked them to support you in a meaningful way.

    Artists who want a retirement fund have to be able to ask for it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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