Technology and business people are obsessed with data. They're obsessed with tools that can analyze, spit out reports, and create infographics. And now they want artists to share their obsession.
There is this narrative being pushed that artists need advanced tools to weed through all this undecipherable information and light the way towards the wallets of fans that would open if only they knew who they were, where they are, and what they do, on a granular level. There are tons of thoughtpieces online that tout the importance of data for artists; funnily enough, a lot of them seem to be written by people who work for companies selling data services..
Let's say you do have all the data on your fans, how should you best put it to use?
Data can be useful in many ways: data about consumption in online services is critical for getting paid correctly. Data enables you to geotarget fans for tour routing (hey, a lot of people are streaming our record in Holbrook, Arizona, we should do a gig there) and ticket offers, or for offering presales & discounts. But data is no panacea. Data isn't going to gain you millions of new fans - this is bullshit. What drives engagement is great music and great content. But technology people can't sell you a magic tool for spitting out great content, so they're selling data tools.
The reality is, you don't need a analytics dashboard to tell you what fans want. You can do something even simpler - talk to them! ASK them what they want. It amazes me how few artists use their social channels to engage directly with fans. You can ask them which t-shirt design they like more, which mix of a single, which venue they want to see you at. Think about it - how often do your favorite artists ask your opinion about anything on social media? Engagement isn't just a field in a spreadsheet. If you need analytics to tell you who your loyal fans are, you are not paying attention to the real world.
Fans know how to engage with artists - they know how to find artist websites, their social presences, they know how to find other fans. They know how to sign up to your email list. But do artists know how to engage with their fans?
I follow dozens of artists on social media and have given only a few of them my email address. Why haven't I given my details to more of them? Because 99.9% of the emails I get from artists are usless. Why do you need my email address? To sell me stuff of yours I probably already own? To send me dusty recaps of information and content I saw a week ago on your Twitter page? To "unlock the hidden value of your superfans?" I can't remember the last time I got an email from an artist and thought, "wow, that was awesome" or even, "wow, that was useful".
Here's the thing: NONE of us give a shit about getting nicely templated sales pitches from artists, no matter how much we love them. The fabled "Superfan" supports their favorite artist, but not blindly - they know when they're being squeezed and they might like it even less than a casual fan. We've been talking about these people for YEARS as though they're out there just waiting to be turned upside down and shaken until all the change falls out of their pockets.
If you're not creating great content and engaging with your fans consistently, no analytics tool, no matter how amazing it is, will advance your career. Period. The key to forming and nurturing fan relationships is NOT data - it's YOU. Your music. Your thoughts. Your humanity. Put your efforts into these areas and people will transact with you.
Data seems to be used most obsessively by people to justify decisions when they don't have the street sensibilities and relationships to develop their own instincts and conclusions. People who, really, know little about actually selling records to fans. These people think that offering a t-shirt at a discount builds loyalty. Bullshit.
Building loyalty is about making a human connection. Spend more time in the street. Spend more time talking to your fans on your socials, ASK them. If you do, chances are you'll know what the data says before you even look at it.