As a kid, Randy Nichols always knew which home had the best candy on Halloween – it was the “nicest house in the neighborhood”. It also just happened to belong to Joan Jett’s manager (and co-songwriter and producer), Kenny Laguna.
One year, as Nichols rode the wave of a post-trick or treat sugar high, he began thinking about Laguna’s occupation, and was hit with a revelation: “I realized that music had a business, and there were managers, people that made these things happen for artists. And I learned about that when I was probably 10 years old.”
Fast forward 25 years, and Nichols was accompanying one of his artists on the US Warped Tour, which also featured Joan Jett on the bill.
“I was so excited to meet Kenny, tell the story of how he influenced me to want to work in the music business,” smiles Nichols. “And he introduced me to Joan Jett and we hit it off.
“I ended up seeing them at the airport that night. And I actually live in the same town as her, I live like six blocks away, and she turns to me like, ‘Hey, do you need a ride home from the airport?’ It was the coolest moment to make a friendship with someone who's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but even more so, the team of people that influenced me to want to work in this business were the kindest, nicest people you could ever meet.”
Now an established manager in his own right, having guided the careers of artists such as Underoath and The Starting Line, here Nichols’ considers the marketing methods he employs for his artists’ tours, the rising importance of TikTok in ticket conversions, and more…
When marketing and selling tickets for your artists’ tours, are any particular social media channels proving more effective than others?
I wouldn't say there's a platform that is more useful for getting the word out.
But what you do see overall is conversions are improving and getting more significant for TikTok.
I've been using this new product called Immensity, which uses AI and machine learning to analyze and find engagement and transactional deals closing from social behaviors. And through that we're seeing TikTok really increase engagement, both driving to ticket sales as well as streams on the DSPs.
"Conversions are improving and getting more significant for TikTok."
Is there any particular TikTok content that's working?
For the most recent Underoath tour we used TikTok to push the VIP packages.
The package was that the fans could listen to demos of songs that are not released yet, and songs that have come out that they know.
And we had one of the most engaged band members make a TikTok in very TikTok fashion. He started off going, ‘Do Underoath songs suck?’ And he had a header and standard TikTok font, and he played a song in the original demo version and then the final version, and then explained what the meet and greet was about.
So it was really embracing how fans engage on TikTok, rather than just simply throwing the video up.
More than anything for tour marketing [you need to create] multiple elements to promote a tour.
Because if you create just one ad mat or one tour commercial, and that's all you run for the length of the tour, the content gets old, and you lose engagement. So you need multiple ad mats nowadays and multiple elements to drive a tour.
Is that a new development?
I wouldn't say it's new, but previously I would say three or four ad mats would suffice. Now we need multiple video elements, because you want new content on TikTok, and I'm working on something new that I'm gonna test out, [which] is making Spotify canvases that double as an ad mat for the tour.
I haven't seen anyone do that before. And part of what I try to focus on when I create marketing strategies for my bands, especially around touring, it's like growth hacking. Same thing you would do in the tech community. What tools are out there? And how can I utilize them?
Spotify just launched another tool called Spotify Clips. And the goal is to get you to call out and talk about your new music. Of course, I'm going to have my bands do that. But I'm also going to have them call out about their upcoming tour, and create more ways to use Spotify to market beyond simply music.
Every time you announce a tour are you constantly thinking, what's the new way we're going to promote this?
I constantly want to find a new way to market a tour.
No matter what you're doing, whatever's going on, you have to think, ‘How do people in other industries do it?’ And not just simply look at what other bands are doing.
Have you found inspiration in any industries in particular?
I try to follow tech startups in general. And marketing platforms always grab my interest, just constantly looking for what's new.
QR codes have become more popular over the last two or three years, maybe there's a way to tap into how people are using them. For example, at the merch table, scan a QR code, and you get a merch discount if you enter your email address.
It’s constantly just looking at what is working elsewhere.
You mentioned earlier how TikTok helped you move VIP packages. Have there been any other marketing tools that have led to a real spike in sales?
I haven't seen a new marketing tool that suddenly spikes tickets.
What I think happens is you just gain more awareness and more engagement the more you use – like using TikTok as an example, for every tour I make sure that I have YouTube Shorts now, Instagram Reels, and just run things everywhere. And a year ago that didn't exist.
So it's not pushing people over the top. But it's engaging with them in more places, which is ultimately selling more tickets.
And what kind of content is resonating most? Is it live footage, or one of the band members talking to camera?
I've found real natural, just talking to the fans always engages best. Live footage is great, but at the end of the day it's just more live footage to a fan. And, more importantly, to the algorithm.
When somebody says and does something new, that makes a difference. And you look at TikTok especially, there are certain formats that tend to work certain weeks.
And if you can plug your tour artwork and your tour message into that meme of the week, you can see more reaction. There are tools out there like CapCut, and you could go [on TikTok] and see what's a trending video and click on it and pull it right into CapCut, and then create your own engaging content using that exact format that's working in the moment on TikTok.
Obviously social media is very important, but where does direct-to-fan communication sit in your plans?
Having an email address and/or phone number for a fan is incredibly important.
If you look at any other industry, you have companies that are willing to pay $5 or $10 just to get that customer information, to have them in the funnel.
And it's no different than music, except we would for the most part not go out and spend $5 or $10 for that.
But we'll have a pop up offering a discount from our merch store in exchange for your email address. Because we really want that data. And it is worth a couple of dollars per fan to have that data internally.
And then within Shopify we use an app called Klaviyo, which is a customer management platform that helps us better communicate with the fans, and helps us know how much money that fan has spent with us, where that fan lives, how they've interacted with us previously.
And the more data I have on that, the more ways I can market to that fan in the future.
How finely do you try and segment that data?
I try to segment as far down the funnel as I can get.
To give an example: Underoath did a livestreaming series during the pandemic. And they played their three biggest records start to finish, and we did a merch line and a vinyl reissue for each of those records.
We found that fans were significantly outweighing buying vinyl to buying tickets to the livestream. But we were already producing a livestream and spending money on it, so we had to figure out how we were going to drive fans in.
So what we did is, to anyone who bought all three pieces of vinyl, we offered them a 50% discount on tickets to the first week's livestream, or a smaller discount to buy all three weeks of the livestream.
And our thinking was, once fans saw week one of this livestream, they would be blown away and buy the following two weeks. So it was worth a deep discount to bring them in.
So I was able to segment fans who bought all three albums, but did not buy a ticket to the livestream. And through that segmentation, I then significantly increased sales.
Is word of mouth also something you utilize for tours or album releases?
Oh, absolutely. We constantly try to use word of mouth. And just create a story.
Going back to these livestreams with the vinyl, we were setting up the Shopify store, we built everything ourselves, we linked it to Facebook, and didn't realize that Facebook posted the store before it should have been announced.
And about 80 fans bought vinyl. And all of them found out about it because they were talking about it on Vinyl Collective. So it was like the biggest vinyl collecting Underoath fans.
And we ended up canceling all their orders because pricing wasn't set right, and there were some other issues. But what we did to build that word of mouth again, we said, all right, rather than just screw these fans, once we had pricing set, we sent out a message through Klaviyo to those customers who had their orders canceled and said, ‘Hey, this is going to be announced tomorrow. But we screwed you, so we're gonna give you a code so that you can buy it before anyone else.’
And we gave them a static code rather than a regenerating code, so that they could share it with their friends. And those 100 customers, whatever it was, ended up driving about $80,000 in sales because they all shared it with their friends.
And we were okay with them sharing with their friends because we knew it was going to breed that word of mouth. So it was just a really unique way to activate that base.
You’ve mentioned Shopify and Klaviyo – how important are data partnerships and integrations to you?
Data partnerships especially are incredibly important. You look at our website, it's a Shopify store. And the goal is commerce, number one, and we want to make it as easy as possible for customers to buy merch.
We're not looking to take advantage of the fans, but if they're coming to the site there's a good chance they want to buy merch, and I want that front and center, easy to do, and be able to track that fan to remarket to them, to sell them a ticket or a shirt later.
And Klaviyo is directly integrated into Shopify to allow me to do that.
Post pandemic there's so much venue congestion and competition for fan dollars. How are you making sure that people go to your artists’ shows as opposed to the others that are in town at that time?
We’re absolutely looking at what we can do now to make tours more attractive when there's so much traffic out there.
You need to get creative and make sure you stand out. And that's packaging with better bands, playing unique venues that you think your fans will love. Being creative with your onsale.
Typically, most bands announce their tours on Tuesdays and put them on sale on Fridays. I found out that Parkway Drive was launching Tuesday in the US so I went, oh crap, rather than go up against them the same day, I'm going to launch our tour a day earlier than we planned, so that we're the only voice in the media the day we announced.
Coming out of the worst of the pandemic, most artists were looking at going out in the summer. And I looked at the data and said, it looks like we should see a low in COVID by March of 2022.
And I could have been wrong. But that was where I thought we would see a low, and I bet on putting a tour out then, because I knew there would be less traffic out in March than the summer and got our tour up early.
"You need to get creative and make sure you stand out. And that's packaging with better bands, playing unique venues that you think your fans will love. Being creative with your onsale."
And we put our tour on sale at a time where most artists hadn't announced a tour yet, so we weren't competing against anyone. We blew that tour out, it was our best selling tour to date. And it cemented in the fans’ minds that you have to rush to get tickets, that the band is bigger than they were before.
And we were able to capitalize on that when we got into our next tours as well.
So it's definitely being conscious of it. But we use this term, fake it till you make it, where it's like, take on really strong support bands to get new fans in. And once you get a lot of new fans in, you can then decrease the size of your support band, because you've kind of reinvented your fan base.
Because you’re a legacy band that's been around for 20-plus years you need to find ways to grab new fans, and radio singles, playlists, featuring on other artists’ records are all tools to educate new fans that they need to come on board and learn about you.
Two of your bands, Underoath and The Starting Line, have been around for decades. What's your feel on how many fans are still with those bands from 15, 20 years ago, and how have you maintained that relationship?
One of the things we've learned is you have to dip into some nostalgia at times. But it’s important to also be moving forward.
If you're strictly nostalgia, you get written off as a nostalgia act.
So you need some new music that energizes fans. But every few years you also need to find a project to double down on the nostalgia, to educate the new fans about the old material, but also excite those new fans who weren't there to hear their favorite record in its entirety when it first came out.
And then conversely, you get that fan who hasn't seen them in 10 years when they're playing their favorite record, so they're gonna come, and then it makes it a bigger event overall, because you've created a moment that everybody needs to engage in.