“I knew when I was five or six years old I wanted to be a record executive,” smiles Will Tenney. “I was reading the backs of CDs and liner notes; I wanted to learn all these people's [names], all these characters and what they did and how the CDs got to stores and how they picked the ones that got on the radio.”
After a short stint in finance Tenney successfully turned that childhood fascination into a career in the music business, working in marketing at Atlantic Records before moving into the role of Head of Streaming Strategy & Promotion at Crush Music, where he oversaw campaigns for Lorde, Miley Cyrus, Green Day and more.
He’s currently the Founder and Managing Partner at New York based record label and management company SunPop, overseeing a roster that includes artists such as Quarters of Change (Warner/Elektra), Poptropicaslutz! (Epitaph) and more.
Not content with staying behind the scenes, Tenney is also an active musician, playing with US rockers Exit.
Here, he draws on his experiences as both an industry professional and working artist to discuss tour marketing, the benefits of having your own billboard in Times Square, employing guerrilla marketing tactics, and more…
What are the most effective social media channels for tour marketing and ticket conversions?
It’s a big question. For better or worse right now, everybody is focusing on Instagram and TikTok. Those are really at the forefront of the social media conversation.
They occupy different parts of the conversation, but both very important.
The way I describe it to people is Instagram is sort of a messaging platform and a community management platform. You are messaging your community, and maybe to a slightly broader community, when you're going on tour, how much it costs, where you're going, who you're bringing, when tickets are on sale, et cetera.
TikTok is really kind of filling the space that Instagram and other platforms used to, which is that it's helping you reach new communities.
Everyone needs to use Instagram – I think you'd be hard pressed to find somebody that's not using Instagram when announcing tours, putting tours on sale and going on tour.
But TikTok is where we're starting to see the conversation shift a bit. We've seen a few different outcomes. I mean, there are these acts who go crazy viral on TikTok, reach a whole new audience and are able to convert those fans into ticket buyers. But we don't see it at a huge scale anymore. You don't see the TikTok artist that blows up and then next year goes to play 1500 or 2500 cap rooms. It's more in the 250 or 300 capacity space.
"You don't see the TikTok artist that blows up and then next year goes to play 1500 or 2500 cap rooms. It's more in the 250 or 300 capacity space."
So Instagram really offers a more targeted way of reaching the audience you already have – is that how you see it working most effectively?
Yeah, for sure. I would say it's a community management tool at this point. It's where someone subscribes and says, I'm a fan and want to be updated with what you have to say.
Does direct-to-fan communication such as email and SMS marketing figure in your plans at all?
I think email lists still have a very valid place in this process, especially for older demographics with expendable income. There are a lot of great direct-to-fan text platforms out there that are delivering great results.
But I still think these platforms and tools and levers are pulled to ultimately drive people to follow on Instagram. So you might run Google ads, you might use a direct-to-fan text service, you might send out your email blast, all with the hope that people follow on Instagram, and that sort of tallies your community or your fan counts.
But yeah, direct-to-fan tools still have a really great conversion as far as ticket sales go.
Do you find any particular content cuts through better on Instagram?
I think it's no secret that authentic photo content tends to engage the best when you're posting to your Instagram grid. Video content obviously does better in the vertical space, or on Reels. And text and graphic based content, from a data perspective, are usually the lowest performers.
And that can be tough because most of the time, a tour poster to some degree is text or graphic based. I think it just depends on what works under your brand umbrella.
I've seen artists who are 17, 18, 19 years old, they'll post a photo first, you swipe right then you see the tour poster. Older audiences don't care as much. They want to see the tour poster right away.
Recently, we put a tour on sale for an artist I manage who is 21 years old, but they cater to primarily 15-18 year olds. And we announced the tour with a video and said, ‘Hey, we're going on tour soon’, and then three days later we posted the tour dates and the tour poster.
We broke it up into multiple pieces. So far, it's been working well.
"I think it's no secret that authentic photo content tends to engage the best when you're posting to your Instagram grid."
What’s the best way to make sure a tour announcement lands with the impact you want?
I tell people to try and have some activity in every vertical.
You don't have to be on the cover of Rolling Stone in the press vertical, but have something happening that you're pointing to, even if it's a friend's blog that you make seem more impactful than it really is.
And I feel the same way about our tour on sales. This specific one I'm talking about, we had a very structured and focused conversation about, ‘How do we make the fan and the onlooker feel like this is a huge thing they need to be a part of?’
And so in the digital marketing category, we made this killer video. Part of the conversation we had was that so many people like the band [Poptropicaslutz!] the same way they would One Direction or someone with super fans. So we went out and we met these people, and we recorded quotes from them. And we made this killer video that basically showed the pandemonium of what our shows are like on a smaller scale.
And if you were an onlooker on Instagram, and you didn't know the band, it felt like a Justin Bieber concert looking at it, because that's how the fans feel. And we wanted to showcase that.
So we tried to do something like that in every vertical.
I'm a big fan of out-of-home advertising – we have a Times Square billboard. We do sticker slaps in different neighborhoods of New York City. We do stenciling, we do snipes, we obviously had our label write a press release and hit different press outlets about the tour.
We were very focused with the support we chose. There's a whole thought process. So in summary, we very meticulously thought about how to be creative and exciting in each vertical.
It’s really creating that sense of FOMO…
For sure. And just to revisit one point, anybody can do this. You don't have to be on the cover of Rolling Stone.
When I was developing an artist, we were sending him on a five day tour, I think he was never playing a venue that was more than 150 capacity. And I remember one thing we did that was super effective was we called the elementary school where he was from and we said, ‘This artist is going on tour, and we want to have him come by a day before and meet all the kids.’
If you're in seventh grade, you can't comprehend that somebody is going on tour. And so we got all this footage of him being in this gymnasium, giving a 10 minute speech, playing one of his songs, and basically these kids chasing him out of the building, and that's just one example of it in action.
It didn't get the thousands and thousands of likes that the other content did because it's not an authentic photo of themselves. It's more formatted. It's a video posted to the grid. But everyone who saw it really understood the hype.
And it set up the tour poster moment, or came after the tour poster moment, however you want to structure it. And it really worked.
You started talking about sticker slaps and more stealth marketing. Is guerrilla marketing important to you?
For us, out-of-home and physical or print marketing is very impactful. Because digital marketing is so saturated – anyone can do it, everyone does do it.
Digital marketing will yield you much better data and results. No question. It's highly targeted for the money you're spending, you're going to get much more out of it.
That said, people see you out of home, and they apply so much value to that experience. It carries so much weight, both for the person who sees it and for the artist.
If you get playlisted on Spotify, you're going to reach so many more fans than you would if you got a spin on alternative radio. But hearing yourself on the radio is validating for the artist or for your community.
So yeah, we'll do sticker slaps, sniping – which is like wheat paste postering – stenciling. And like I said, our billboard in Times Square. That's kind of the kicker. That's been a real hit in the community.
So you actually rent a billboard that you use for your artists? How does that work?
Basically, the digital streaming platforms, they have all historically occupied billboard space in metropolitan areas.
And they've offered it as a value add to select artists – that's become one of the top things you can get. And so our artists were always saying, ‘How do we get on the Amazon billboard? How do we get a spot?’
So then I started thinking about it – how hard could it be to get a billboard? And I started researching, and there certainly were hurdles. But what I learned was, there's a lot of what's called remnant inventory, which is basically ad space that they can’t sell. And so to make a very long story short, I made a very concentrated effort to go out and acquire all the remnant inventory that I could find, and I still do.
And I imagine, just from your artists’ point of view, to see themselves in Times Square would be mind blowing.
From an impression perspective, or from an ROI perspective directly driving ticket sales or streams, it's horrible. [Laughs] But posting it to social media might be the best moment you have all month.
And our billboard has become quite popular. We just did Def Leppard. And last week we did a band called Beauty School Dropout, which is opening for Blink-182 in arenas.
With your background in streaming, how have you seen artists most effectively use streaming to boost ticket sales and market their tours?
Historically, they're very different spaces. Just as a general rule of thumb, an artist that streams to a million or two million people a month… I've seen artists like that go out on the road and have to cancel their tours, because sales are so grim.
So as a general rule of thumb, just because you have a large streaming audience, it certainly does not mean you have a large touring audience. And the general rule that we use is divide monthly listenership by 10,000. And that's the amount of tickets you may be worth. It doesn't apply like that for everybody.
That said, there are a lot of tools that the DSPs are starting to offer you can utilize. This isn't available to everybody, but if you work with an agency, Spotify’s program called Fans First is very impactful.
But there are tools that are available to everyone – you're able to add your tour dates to Spotify, you're able to pin them to your profile, the other DSPs have similar programs, and just making those tour dates visible, where people listen to music, I think goes a long way.