Austin Evenson may have been raised around classic rock staples such as AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin, but it was an early experience with EDM that proved transformational.
“I remember this specific moment,” he smiles. “I think it might have been 2012. I was home and I was watching the Ultra Music Festival livestream on my laptop when YouTube had just started livestreaming. And I remember watching Bingo Players at 2pm on Sunday, and it was broad daylight and they dropped ‘Rattle’. And I was like, this is the craziest thing I've ever seen in my entire life. And that's really what led me down this path.”
An avid fan and advocate of EDM – for years Evenson served as Director of A&R and staff writer for tastemaking electronic music platform Dancing Astronaut – since 2016 he has been managing electronic musician and multi-instrumentalist Gryffin, guiding him from a small social media following to an artist capable of headlining Red Rocks amphitheatre.
Here, Evenson outlines the ways Gryffin has built his live and merchandise business, and more.
What are the key ways you’ve built Griffin's touring business over the past few years?
I've taken the last couple years to reflect on what makes for great artist development. One is the music itself – it has to resonate with an audience, and it has to create a world at the end of the day. I think that every artist that you see that's been successful, they typically create a world – a great example is The Weeknd or Taylor Swift.
And then I think two, which ties into the world building as well, is branding. During the pandemic I was taking some time to talk with younger managers who were having a lot of success [with TikTok, YouTube Shorts and Instagram]. One manager was like, ‘I don't really focus on TikTok, even though both my artists are thriving on there. I focus on music and branding.’ And that really stuck with me. It really does come down to, how are you connecting with the consumer? The rest of it is noise.
TikTok stats, merch stats, all of that is really affected and grounded in the music and the branding around the artists. So I think to answer your question, it really starts with the music and the branding.
And then I think also just creating a compelling live show.
"It really does come down to, how are you connecting with the consumer? The rest of it is noise."
What are the most effective ways of building a strong brand?
I think it really comes down to, what is the connection between the music and the story at the end of the day. You want to create storylines.
A great example right now is Oliver Tree. His music is incredible, that's why it keeps going viral. But he's also theatrical – he creates all this drama and allure around his project.
With every artist I work with it's like, what is the story? Like, why are people coming along for the ride?
What kind of content is currently resonating on social media, and is it different across the different channels?
Yeah, I think that every platform is different.
But if you're an artist that's looking for crossover commercial success and you're trying to grow your project into the biggest thing possible, you have to think, okay, how am I going to best amplify myself on this platform?
And I think that YouTube allows artists to get creative with that. That's how I structure our strategy with artists: think about YouTube first and what you're doing there, because what you're doing on YouTube, you can then cut it up for the rest of the platforms.
Now, that being said, you should also be doing content that's native, and focus on the short form video platforms. In terms of the emotional connection between a fan and an artist, I think that the short form video platforms are great for baiting people in.
"Think about YouTube first and what you're doing there, because what you're doing on YouTube, you can then cut it up for the rest of the platforms."
Are there any lessons you could take from that and apply to live marketing? For example, when you're thinking about marketing the tours for Gryffin?
Yeah. If you go to his TikTok page, one of his biggest videos on there was this trend of, you go up to a person and you offer them one ticket, or they can double it and pass it on to the next person. And we were actually on tour when we did this.
And it was a great piece of content, where literally, at the next tour stop, people were coming up to him and taking pictures with him. But it wasn't because they knew who he was as a musician. They just knew him from the viral TikTok video.
If you're marketing for a tour, you just need to have consistent content out there. That's the biggest thing – you need to be in front of people and reminding them of what you're selling them, without selling them.
You want to show them how grandiose the production is. Like with all of our tours we create these tour trailers that I would say are not incredibly native to where the internet is now.
But we want to show people, oh, we are coming back bigger and better than ever. And that's how we sold 18,000 tickets in LA. We were like, this is the biggest show ever, we're gonna bring all this production, all these guests. Fans want to know what they're buying at the end of the day.
So that's just something to think about. But I think it's a blend of high quality content or more produced-out content and also organic content to promote tours.
Did that TikTok video of Gryffin’s lead to an upswing in ticket sales?
Yeah, it did actually. Our show in DC, which was 6000 tickets, we saw it wrap up within the next week after that video was posted.
Are you seeing any other artists innovating in the socials space? And is thinking outside the box converting to ticket sales or streams?
I think that's kind of the game right now – how do you continue to be innovative? So you really need to try different things that work with your brand to see what works and what doesn't based off of these algorithms and numbers and metrics that people are trying to hit.
The game that we're playing is, how big can your reach be? But also, how narrow can the reach be in terms of, are you hitting the right people. If we have a video go viral in Southeast Asia, and I'm trying to promote a tour of the US, that doesn't do anything for me.
On our team we have a Content Director and he works with Gryffin on different ideas. On the flip side, we also have to remember that he's a music artist at the end of the day, and that we have a core fan base that we need to feed with certain types of content that we build the brand around.
So it's all balanced. But I think that it's really, you know, keeping in tune with people that are understanding where the internet is headed, and what is working culturally on the internet right now, and then fusing that with the brand and the artist themselves to make it authentic.
"We also have to remember that he's a music artist at the end of the day, and that we have a core fan base that we need to feed with certain types of content that we build the brand around."
If you're looking at the channels that you're spending money on to promote tours, can you see which one has the best ROI?
I think you have to bucket it into organic and paid content.
I think that the best thing you can do is [use] a platform like Audience Republic – spend money on that, where you can capture as much data as possible. I think that's the biggest thing – how do you create that first segment of fans that you can target directly and reach directly? That's goal number one. And that's what you should be paying for out of the gate.
Outside of that, in terms of paid marketing, everyone has their opinions on what is best. I think it depends on where your audience is, and how much you are spending.
Instagram ads work best for us. I've heard of people where Spotify ads have done great for them. They haven't worked out well for us. Even though Gryffin has a massive Spotify audience. And then I've had other people that are like, YouTube pre-roll is best for us. So I think it depends on where the fan base is.
But I think that data capture is probably your best bet in terms of any sort of fund allocation.
And how do you use the data that you've captured for Gryffin?
I think it's a balance of give and take. When somebody signs up for tour tickets, they want to make sure that they have first access to those tour tickets. So, we make sure that they have first access to any sort of presale that we're doing.
I think outside of that you want to retarget them, because not every single person that signs up for that link is going to buy a ticket. There are a lot of entrepreneurs and creators who talk about this model of give 10 times before you take, so one thing that we try to do is utilize these channels of direct marketing where if you sign up for something, we're also giving you exclusive content or giving you updates or information that maybe we don't post on socials, like set times ahead of time.
I've done that with another artist, where we just told the people that signed up what the set times were ahead of time, and then it diffuses, naturally. But just things like that, where you're incentivizing people to continually sign up for tours, I think you want to give them a reason to outside of you get first access to tickets, because that's just one segment of people.
"There are a lot of entrepreneurs and creators who talk about this model of give 10 times before you take..."
You’ve grown Gryffin’s merch business substantially over the past few years. How?
We have an incredible team around him. The first thing that we wanted to do, and the first stepping stone for everything, was making merch collections that reflected the branding of a tour or a certain era within his musical journey.
And also, I think that a lot of the success comes to jersey culture, especially in electronic music. Gryffin's fans are absolutely rabid for jerseys, it's the premium item. Whenever we do a jersey drop, it instantly sells out. So utilizing that as a major revenue driver tentpole-wise is super important.
When we did our show at Red Rocks, when you went to Denver you would see merch items all over the city, it was actually pretty wild. And it's a great marketing tool, and also a brand-building tool.
How important is word of mouth to your marketing?
It’s the hardest form of marketing, but it's the strongest form of marketing. When you get a referral from a friend, you're more likely to go check something out than if you just get served an ad somewhere. Especially in music, if you trust someone's music taste, and they give you a recommendation on something, that's extremely powerful.
So we focus on it. But you have to use other types of marketing to try to promote it, because you can't just go around convincing every single person on the planet or in a market to be an advocate for you.
We really empower Gryffin’s fans to be advocates for the brand. Our head of our fan club was just a fan. She was just super passionate and she started an Instagram page, and we're like, ‘Hey, you want to be the head of our fan club?’ And so she now moderates discussions with Dan [Gryffin], organizes hangs at shows and things like that, and she'll send out a newsletter. So, I think that really empowering fans and having that direct connection with the artist team and the fan are really, really important, because they're going to be your biggest advocates at the end of the day.