Jun 4, 2015 · 5 minutes

Is there any tech vertical more hotly-contested in 2015 than digital music?

As each "stakeholder" argues over who's at fault for stagnant and unfairly distributed revenues, the one thing on which they all agree is that the prevailing monetization schemes are broken.

Theories abound for how to fix them. Apple wants to kill free ad-supported streaming in favor of paid subscriptions. Songwriters are lobbying Congress to pass a well-intentioned but inadequate law that would raise royalty rates. Record labels are happy to increase their own already sickeningly sizable cuts, but are ultimately satisfied with the status quo. After all, as one tech executive told me, "They're still living off that Nat King Cole money."

Then there are companies like Bandpage whose ambition is simple: Increase revenues for artists.

Bandpage provides profile tools for 500,000 bands, hosting bios, tour dates, concert tickets, and merchandise. What makes the company's product more dynamic for bands than a mere Myspace page is that Bandpage partners with and provides their API to as many sites and apps as possible that are used to discover, consume, and buy music and other offerings from bands. That includes Spotify, Rdio, YouTube, Google, and the ticketing giant Stubhub. For example, when you search for a band on Spotify or Google, the bio and tour date information displayed comes from Bandpage.

The model operates under the assumption that fans rarely visit a band's Facebook page or website, and instead interact with artists primarily through these platforms. Bands need only set up their profile once, and thanks to Bandpage it will live all over the digital landscape. Crucially, the tool is free to use, and Bandpage only makes money when it sells a ticket, T-shirt, or other paid experience through one of these channels, taking 10 percent of the sales.

Now Bandpage has taken its model a step further. Instead of merely porting information and ecommerce offerings to music and search platforms, the company has partnered with early streaming pioneer Rhapsody to identify, using data aggregation and analysis, an artists' biggest fans on the service and provide location-aware tour date alerts, ticket sales, and other offerings via push notifications.

The key, Bandpage CEO J. Sider says, is only targeting a band's biggest fans -- the ones who obsessively listen to an artist's tracks and therefore will consider these alerts a welcome feature, not spam. With 2.5 paid subscribers, Rhapsody is smaller than Spotify which has 60 million subsribers, 15 million of whom pay for the service. But Rhapsody, despite taking a decade to attract a million subscribers, has been growing fast expanding its user base by 60 percent between 2014 and 2015. And moreover, Sider says he hopes this will be the first of many streaming platforms to partner with Bandpage, firmly believing that in the future fans will discover, consume, and buy tickets or merchandise from bands all on the same platform.

"For the first time ever, a streaming service is really turning into a full service music hub," Sider said.

And Sider has the data to back up his theory.

"Fans are spending ten times more time on streaming service than their bands’ website or Facebook page," Sider said. And these impressions often lead to real sales increases, Sider adds, claiming that clickthrough rates are five times higher when offering tickets and merchandise through these services versus a band's webpage or social media profile, while conversion rates are three times higher.

And to a larger extent than perhaps any other digital platforms, music apps hold a treasure trove of consumer data that cay be used to predict purchasing behavior. According to Localytics, users spend more time in music apps than any other mobile category, launching these apps 16.3 times per month and spending an average of 8.9 minutes during each session. That totals 145 minutes a month which far outpaces social networking -- the second most-used category of apps at 63 minutes per month. What's more, the nature of music consumption allows Bandpage to carefully segment user bases in a way that's unique from other media.

"For the first time in this business, and I know that’s a big statement but it’s true, fans are providing signals at a massive scale about who their favorite bands are and who’s hot," Sider said. "Some won’t spend money, some will buy tickets but nothing else, some will buy tickets and T-shirts and merchandise. And as an industry we haven’t really used those signals to make a bigger user experience at scale; to analyze the data to really provide the best fan experience there is while driving a lot more revenue for bands."

Sider says music is special because, while users might watch a movie once or buy toothpaste every couple months, a person could listen to a song or songs from a single artist two hundred times in a given month.

"What other thing do you do 200 times?"

These push notifications regarding tickets or other offers can be customized by each artist to create a personal touch -- the band simply fills in a field on Bandpage as easily as writing a Facebook update. Only instead of the update being potentially buried by Facebook's News Feed, Bandpage can deliver these updates only to the users who listen to the band most, and via mobile push notifications as if the customer is receiving a text from the artist.

It's not unlike the technology built by R&B artist Ryan Leslie, which sends targeted, personalized messages to fans. For Leslie, it required a pretty enormous software build. That's because these streaming services are pretty limited in the granularity of the data offered to musicians. In most cases, a startup like Bandpage will need to strike an explicit partnership, as its done here with Rhapsody, in order to leverage this listener information. And indeed, this data is among the bargaining chips possessed by streaming music companies like Spotify in their dealings with labels.

Whether or not Spotify will offer up this kind of data to artists, either directly or through partnerships with startups like Bandpage, remains to be seen. What's more likely, unfortunately, is that labels will convince Spotify to make them stewards of this data -- after all, if Spotify gives it up to artists directly, that's just one more way for the labels to become obsolete. And despite Rhapsody's growth and the soundness of Bandpage's theory on monetization, it's going to take a much bigger player in streaming music than Rhapsody for this approach to impact revenues for artists on a large scale. But hey, Bandpage has to start somewhere.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]