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Company Profile: ReverbNation
Date: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 @ 16:26:00 UTC

Company Profile: ReverbNation
Writing these profile interviews every month for the past several years (read more), I've learned a lot about the people who run the businesses we musicians use everyday. Over time, more and more companies have been started by "serial entrepreneurs" and not music people. That's not always a bad thing, but it does make me look closer into any company's sincere desire to further the art of music versus other possible motives. A couple months back, we interviewed SellaBand, and while they had one "serial entrepreneur" onboard, my interaction with the company told my musician core they were a company with musicians' best interest at heart, along with trying to make a buck. Even Indie-Music has to make a buck, and we are about as "old school" music business as you can get.

By Suzanne Glass

I have been impressed with ReverbNation's tools since I first saw them a few years back. Everything was sleek, cutting edge, and (mostly) free. ReverbNation seemed to do it better than anybody, and I still think their tools and offerings are superior quality. But when I did this interview, I became a little less comfortable.

The Company Profile interview series asks every company, right off the bat, who founded the company and what was their background in the music business before starting the business. Some companies (like FanBridge) say they do not have a background in music, they just love it and want to be in the business. Fair enough. When I asked ReverbNation, though, they just skirted the question. They said there were "five company founders, coming from a mix of marketing technology and music backgrounds". Naturally, I followed up for more information, as this interview is designed to personally connect you with who you're doing business with.

I will leave it to the reader to come to their own conclusion about ReverbNation. I think their tools are outstanding, even ingenious, but I still wonder whether all this data tracking is actually a good thing for the art of music. Sure, the major labels botched online music, we can all agree on that - and maybe this is the only way to move forward, using "tracking", "analytical tools", and nonstop statistics.

Maybe...

But a musician's work is more than just a business or a commodity to be monetized and tracked. It's an art form and a cultural commentary. Reducing it to just so many technological statistics leaves me feeling a little empty.

Here's the interview...

Indie-Music: Who founded ReverbNation, and when? Fill us in on the Founders' backgrounds and tell us how ReverbNation came to exist?


Jed Carlsen, ReverbNation: There are five company founders, coming from a mix of marketing technology and music backgrounds..

Michael Doernberg - CEO: Mike is a serial entrepreneur responsible for founding and successfully building several venture capital backed technology companies focused on helping organizations use the internet to more effectively market their products and services. His past ventures include SmartPath (acquired by DoubleClick, Inc.), and The Marathon Group (acquired by Merant, PLC). Mike began his career at Ernst & Young in their Entrepreneurial Services Organization. In February of 2006, Mike founded the Music 2.0 Company ReverbNation.com.

Lou Plaia - VP Artist Development: Lou is a music industry veteran, logging 12 years in marketing at Atlantic Records before he was handpicked to head up the Marketing and Artist Development departments of the newly formed Lava Records. Lou has handled marketing for such artists as Kid Rock, Simple Plan, Uncle Kracker, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Unwritten Law, Skindred, Cold, The Click Five, Antigone Rising, O.A.R., Nonpoint and many others.

Jed Carlson - Chief Marketing Officer: Jed was an entrepreneur in Minneapolis before moving south and earning his MBA from Duke University, focusing on technology and marketing. Past ventures include The Carlson Print Group, a commercial printing and packaging company, and SmartPrint, a division of AmericDisc Inc, that enabled “on-demand” CD manufacturing - drastically reducing costs for independent record labels.

Robert Hubbard - Chief Technology Officer: Robert Hubbard has over 16 years of experience developing software in venture-backed startups, and plays a mean guitar. Past positions include Director of Deployment at SmartPath, a marketing software company. Robert has an MS in Computer Science from UNC – Chapel Hill.

Steve Jernigan - VP of Partner Integration: Steve Jernigan knows a lot about technology. Steve has worked in numerous high-tech sectors including telecommunications (BellSouth), financial (IBM), government (Dimension Data Australia), procurement (Streamlink), and marketing (SmartPath). Steve sports a PhD in Computer Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

In late 2005, a few of us were bouncing around ideas for a new business. Most everyone at ReverbNation plays an instrument so we were already predisposed to doing something around music. We started looking at the way artists were promoting themselves online. It seemed really wrong and unfair to the artists. The reason was that the artists were providing their content (music, photos, etc.) to all of these internet sites with the expectation of promotion. The sites were selling advertising, keeping all of the money, and the artist got very little in return. They weren't getting the value they should. They weren't building a fan base with which they could have a direct dialog (in other words they weren't getting the email addresses), they weren't able to effectively connect sales (purchase of music, show tickets, and merch) to the promotional content, and they weren't getting back any relevant data that helped them to become more popular. They didn't know which songs resonated, who was listening to their music, how often they were listening, how many people who listened actually went to a show or purchased a song. Making the arrangement even more unfair was that it was actually the artists themselves that drove traffic to the sites. So, in summary the artists were giving their music away to these websites, sending their fans there, not getting any money, and not developing a fan-base that they could nurture.

We felt the time was ripe to champion a new business model - a Fan Relationship Management Model (FRM) - that centers on a belief that the commercial value of any artist is predicated on the breadth and depth of their relationship with their fans. In this model, fan relationships are viewed as the pipeline through which Artists create and harvest their commercial value. This model focuses on growing, nurturing and understanding those relationships so that the right revenue opportunities can be introduced at the right time to the right people. This model is vastly different than the 'product centric' model that had dominated music up to this point

Our belief was that if we could build an artist centric solution that helped the artist build, understand and monetize a fan-base we could not only help them make more money, but we could find new ways for them to make money. A good example of this is the recent program we launched with Microsoft Windows where we actually pay the artists for giving free music to their fans.

At ReverbNation we build software that lets artists promote themselves through the vast array of online social networking and music sites and capture fan relationships wherever they develop. Today ReverbNation provides services to over 425K artists, labels and managers. We manage over 16MM fans on our artists' behalf, and using our tools, our users touch over 40MM unique people monthly.


Indie-Music:
Give us an overview of what ReverbNation does... what is available for artists on the site?

ReverbNation: ReverbNation is a web application that provides the core services that musicians need to operate their business. The services are organized into 6 areas:

  • Digital distribution - ReverbNation provides an onramp to digital retailers like iTunes and Amazon. The service is offered on a flat fee annual basis and the company does not take a percentage of sales.

  • Fan Management - ReverbNation provides complete fan management including fan capture, tracking and communication. There are free and premium services depending on the level of functionality and the size of an artist's fan-base.

  • Online Marketing and Promotion - ReverbNation provides a wide array of services in this area including:

    • Facebook Applications - ReverbNation offers applications to support Facebook. There are several different applications supporting both artist and personal profile page. The MyBand application is the #1 band application on Facebook with over 1 MM installs and a 70% monthly activity rate.

    • Widgets - ReverbNation offers the most complete and sophisticated widgets available. These include player, video, retail, show schedule and many more.

    • Press Kits - ReverbNation offers a complete online press kit solution.

    • Profile Syncing. - ReverbNation allows users to upload content to one place, set the rules, and distribute it out to MySpace, Facebook, blogs, homepages, Esc in real- time.

    • Twitter and Status Updates - ReverbNation lets the artists automatically update the world as things happen. When you add a show, your fans are notified, when you go in the studio your fans know, even when you advance up the charts, your fans are aware.

  • Gig Management - ReverbNation features the largest database of venues in the world. We analyze the shows played at each one so that we can tell any artist the best fitting venues for their tour based on where they have played in the past, who they have played with, or similar artists to them.

  • Stats and Measurement - ReverbNation provides its users with the data and INSIGHTS about how well they are doing. We let them know who is playing their music, where they are generating fans, and which efforts are yielding the best results.

  • Direct-to-Fan ecommerce - Although this won't be released until next month, we are excited to announce that we will be offering a complete Direct-to-Fan commerce offering. While I can't offer up too many details, I can say that it is the culmination of an entire year of effort and an offering for which we are very proud.

One final comment about the site that surprisingly, many people don't know, we share all of our ad revenue with the artists. For over two years we have offered up 50% of the ad revenues of the ReverbNation.com site back to the Artists that make it possible for us to earn this money. The program is called 'Fair Share' and it isn't going to make any Artist rich in and of itself. But it typifies how we see the Artists as our partners. We aren't looking to make any money if the Artists aren't incrementally more successful for using our tools.


Indie-Music:
How do artists sign-up? Is there any costs involved for artists?

Artists can sign up for free and gain immediate access to all of the free tools on this page: http://www.reverbnation.com/controller/main/signup


Indie-Music:
How does ReverbNation earn revenue, since most services seem to be free?

ReverbNation earns revenue three ways

  • Selling ads on the site (we give 50% of the ad revenue back to the Artists, however),

  • Selling premium services to the Artists like digital distribution, Reverb Press Kits, and our premium email service, FanReach Pro

  • Creating relationships between Artists and Brands - most recently our Sponsored Songs program with Microsoft Windows: http://www.myspace.com/windows . Like our ad sharing program, ReverbNation shares this revenue with the artists that participate in the program.


Indie-Music:
Where do you see the company in 5 years?

I was talking to Mike (CEO) awhile back and we were discussing how the opportunity and innovations in the music business are seemingly endless. The only thing that is certain is that in five years ReverbNation will still be helping Artists to compete, cooperate, and differentiate and of course we will be 5 years older.


Indie-Music:
Anything else you'd like my readers to know?

Yes, there is one more thing. If the artists promise to keep trying to write great music, we'll keep trying to build them the best tools in the world.

 

ReverbNation
Website:
http://www.ReverbNation.com/

 


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