Melody makers

So you started a band — now what? Berklee and Topspin are here to help.
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  August 13, 2009

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THE BETA BANDS: Topspin's testing period will include the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Pixies.
If you’re an up-and-popping band or artist, you first need to find fans, friends, and fiends on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and, of course, in real life. But where do you go from there? To remain in close cahoots with the millions who populate the labyrinthine multimedia landscape, you’ll need a magical method for servicing fans with everything from merch to music — preferably without involving miserly middlemen.

That’s where Berklee come in.

Early next year, the music school’s online division, berkleemusic.com, will offer extra-special access to Topspin Media (better known as simply Topspin), a self-described “professional-grade software designed for career artists” brought to you by the technological game changers behind the likes of ProTools and Yahoo! Music.

“It’s no secret to anybody — including people at Berklee — that the traditional record industry is in trouble,” says berkleemusic.com Associate Director of Marketing Mike King, who co-wrote the course on how to use Topspin to your band’s advantage, and will instruct the class next January. “Topspin is about direct-to-fan marketing — where artists are monetizing their fan bases and selling to them directly — and this course is about teaching students how to build those relationships.”

The forward-thinking high-media platform is currently undergoing real-action Beta-testing by about 150 select acts including Chester French, Eminem, Arcade Fire, Jay Reatard, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Pixies, Beastie Boys, and Beck. It will be available to the public in 2010.

If Topspin sounds similar to existing resources that help artists connect with base demographics — whether social-networking sites or such e-mail marketing tools as Constant Contact — that’s because it is. The major difference is that Topspin streamlines myriad devices into a single, increasingly manageable platform. In its Web capacity, Topspin can assist with everything from digital goodie-bag bundling (one package, for example, could offer music videos, track downloads, screen savers, and custom T-shirts) to strategic e-mail campaigning (getting newsletters to paying customers, rather than just spamming people, for example). For real-world applications, the Topspin team acknowledges that acts need to earn fans before marketing to them.

“Touring and getting yourself physically out there are still the most important things you can do,” says King. Adds Topspin Senior Director of Marketing and Artist Services Gary Brotman: “Of course our primary tool is online, but we advise our artists to capture not only fan demand but also important data at their shows and on the road. We can only help so much — that’s still up to them.”

Though Topspin developers in no way wish to pursue individual consulting contracts with artists, their goal is to ultimately design a product that will maximize Web effectiveness for specific clients. To that end, they’re currently operating offices out of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Nashville, and New York; the berkleemusic.com initiative is the biggest step so far toward applying the Topspin model to artists at all levels who wish to dodge the major (and even indie) label gauntlet.

“So far we’ve been essentially conducting two-day residency classes to get new clients familiar with the platform, and to build a knowledge base,” says Brotman. “The situation with Berklee is a big thing for us — it’s an opportunity to not only get a lot of people trained, but to make sure that we’re at the point where the right tools are there and that we’re operating with the right mindset and within the right paradigm.”

Related: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Music as memory, Coming home, More more >
  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Pop and Rock Music, Berklee College of Music, The Beastie Boys,  More more >
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