Is a Last.fm Powerplay Campaign Right for You?

In my previous post on Last.fm, I promised to follow up with the results of my Powerplay campaigns, which target a set number of radio plays to a particular group of users. Four packages are currently offered: $20 for 100 plays, $100 for 500 plays, $200 for 1,000 plays, and $400 for 2,000 plays. Since the per-play price is the same ($0.20), I opted for the cheapest.

Powerplay results

I record electronic pop with hints of classical piano under the name Color Theory. To help determine my target demographic, I created three Powerplay campaigns, staggered over three weeks. The first was aimed at fans of The Postal Service (the electronic side project of Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard). I also included two indie electronic bands with young audiences: PlayRadioPlay! and Owl City. I chose my song “We’re Not Getting Any Younger,” which had already proven itself by winning #1 in the Electronic category at Ourstage.

Campaign #1 Results: The Postal Service, PlayRadioPlay!, Owl City
77 Users listened to the whole track, and of those Users, 1 Loved the track
23 Users skipped the track or did not listen to it to the end, and of those Users, 0 Banned the track

Next, I targeted the same song to fans of Depeche Mode, which tend to be closer to my age (or to put it in music industry terms, “old”).

Campaign #2 Results: Depeche Mode
68 Users listened to the whole track, and of those Users, 2 Loved the track
29 Users skipped the track or did not listen to it to the end, and of those Users, 0 Banned the track

Finally, I targeted “If It’s My Time to Go” to fans of Yazoo, who haven’t put out an album since 1983. The song was named Grand Prize Winner in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, so I believe it’s at least as strong a track as “We’re Not Getting Any Younger.” Yazoo fans appear to disagree. One even banned the song.

Campaign #3 Results: Yazoo
62 Users listened to the whole track, and of those Users, 2 Loved the track
38 Users skipped the track or did not listen to it to the end, and of those Users, 1 Banned the track

While the three sets of results aren’t dramatically different from each other, it’s probably safe to say that college kids are at least as enthusiastic about my music as their parents are. Still, would it be smarter to target my efforts at the generation of fans who still buy CDs? Since Last.fm users can stream almost anything for free, do they even pay for music anymore? Should I worry about selling at all, or position myself for a stream-on-demand future? You ask a lot of questions!

OK, so a Powerplay campaign can help you choose which songs to promote to which audiences, but will it generate more unpaid plays? Is there any hope of recouping the cost in sales down the line? Based on the numbers I’ve seen so far, the answer to both questions is no.

Last.fm listeners

My new album was released in November, but didn’t reach iTunes until the end of the year. From the beginning of the year through the first campaign launch on March 2, I averaged 150 unique listeners per week. In the four weeks since, I averaged 225. 75 extra listeners per week times four weeks equals 300, which is exactly what the three campaigns paid for.

Factoring in other stats muddies the waters. Radio plays are up, but on-demand plays are down. Plays scrobbled is way up, but I’ve been consistently scrobbling the album overnight. What I can say for sure is this: I can’t trace a single sale, e-mail, or friend request on any network to my promotion efforts at Last.fm.

So is a Last.fm Powerplay campaign right for you? That depends. If you’re an established artist, paid promotion might not make a dent in your numbers. If you haven’t released anything yet, you should probably wait to launch the promotion as part of a broader effort. If you’ve got an album or two under your belt, but low numbers on the site, it might be worth paying to jump start the process. Still, you’ll get more bang-for-your buck at Earbits or Jango.

11 thoughts on “Is a Last.fm Powerplay Campaign Right for You?”

  1. Do any of these online radio sites at least pay royalties via SoundExchange/ASCAP/BMI?

    I think online radio from Last.fm, Pandora, Jango, MySpace, Facebook, etc. might be replacing peoples need to buy music, not foster it. Mozart Khadaffi got like 15,000 plays in a week because a very popular artist on MySpace featured a track of his on their profile. But, no bump in sales. If MySpace would at least pay royalties that would help. But, even with hundreds of thousands of plays online, if everything is free, free, free, it’s just a popularity contest. I guess a case could be made to promote now while it’s cheap so if Internet radio ever does start paying your fans will continue to listen to you via online radio.

    Monty

  2. If you’re curious about whether college students will buy your music… I don’t know any of the actual relevant statistics, but speaking as a member of that demographic (and not the only one with my tastes), I can say that I strongly prefer buying music over just listening in places like last.fm. The reason is that while places like last.fm are great for seeing how an artist sounds, the only way to get the full album (legally) is to actually buy it. And most people who like music enough to pay for it to begin with like it enough to appreciate an album as a complete work of art. I haven’t bought an individual song in years, but I pay for full albums all the time, whether in CD or digital form.

  3. Monty, I know Last.fm, Jango, and Pandora pay royalties. I’m not sure about MySpace and Facebook. I’m hoping for Spotify to take over the world and pay us directly. Until one site establishes itself as utterly dominant, it’ll probably continue to be a mess.

    Caius, your outlook is very encouraging. Thank you!

  4. We (Eight to Infinity) did two Powerplay campaigns for 2000 users when we launched Aether in 2007:

    “Travelogue”
    1598 Users listened to the whole track, and of those Users, 14 Loved the track
    405 Users skipped the track or did not listen to it to the end, and of those Users, 12 Banned the track

    “Say You’ll Come”
    1233 Users listened to the whole track, and of those Users, 12 Loved the track
    771 Users skipped the track or did not listen to it to the end, and of those Users, 67 Banned the track

    Of all the statistics the only important one was the “Loved the track” stat, which increased the number of streams by almost exactly that amount per week.

    So 660 euros bought Eight to Infinity 26 extra streams per week. We never get stats for our record company, and so I’ve no idea if that translated into sales. I suspect not, and even if it did, @ 100% success rate, it would have cost more than we earned.

    If there was some way to scale it up though, it suggests that of everyone you play your track to, .75% love it. Your revenue comes from that .75 % . how many of that less than 1% are going to make a purchase ? My guess would be about 10%, tops.

    So you can only lose money with Powerplay IMHO. I suspected as much when I did them, but I find the %age of loves per track a useful guide as to how “sticky” your music really is.

    The target audience we used was every popular and underground electronic vocal band we could find, From DM down to B! Machine.

  5. What would be more useful would be to actually get demographic breakdowns. We can only guess that the fans of Postal Service and PlayRadioPlay! who use Last.fm are college students. Sure, they are bands with a traditionally younger demographic, but then again, I also use Last.fm and have listened to streams of both those acts and I think I’m in your age bracket. So for all we know, the DM listeners and the Postal Service listeners could’ve been a lot of the “same” people.

    Honestly, given our own demographics (we’re both approximately 30-something middle-class white guys) and the kind of music we make (something electronic and poppy) I think it’s probably a better bet to grab a die-hard (albiet small) cult audience in favor of a more initially lucrative but more fickle collegiate audience. And for that, in my opinion and limited experience, ad campaigns really need to be microtargeted. Instead of “fans of DM” it becomes “fans of DM, Claude Debussy, and Visage” or something even more ridiculously specific.

    Or, you could just write geeky pop songs and tour with Jonathan Coulton or TMBG and be assured of nerdly-love and slashdot press forever. :)

  6. I agree – demographic breakdowns would be nice. I get good demographics on my mailing list subscribers through ReverbNation’s FanReach 360, which I’ll be writing about in a month or so.

    Microtargeting would be great. I’d try something like “fans of Depeche Mode, David Sylvian, and The Blue Nile.”

    I’m all for geeky, but I can’t pull off funny. I’ve always found music much too serious.

  7. Just heard on the CD Baby Podcast some interesting statistics for teens. Physical and digital sales are down 20% for teens. Online radio usage is up 33% for teens. This was compared with the previous years numbers. Also, when a teen finds a song they like on myspace they go back and listen to it over and over again. However, only 1% of teens actually buy the song.

    This clearly says to me online radio is the future and it’s going to be all about streaming.

  8. I think Eric is right on the money. With the amount stats-gathering algorithmic know-how available to last.fm, they could make the Powerplay promotions much more useful to artists by not only letting us “microtarget” our promotions, but also in providing more granular info as feedback. For example, I’d love to know what the top 10 artists were for those who listened, skipped, love, or banned a track. Even just letting us know the top ten artists for those who loved or banned a track would be truly helpful in future promotions. For example, if 90% of people who banned a track were fans of Band X, I’d love to know that so I’d stop trying to reach that demographic. I’ve made that recommendation on the forums here:

    http://www.last.fm/forum/6666/_/557650

    If you think this would be a useful addition to Powerplays, please speak up!

    BTW Brian – my wife’s definitely a fan of your work, and she is, indeed a HUGE DM fan. :-)

  9. I agree. That info would be VERY handy. Jango has better stats control, in that you can target certain demographics. If I want only girls 18-24 in Wyoming to hear a song, I can do that. Unfortunately the follow-up is difficult if not impossible, as their communication tools need some work.

    Say hi to your wife for me! :)

  10. Same experience with last.fm – still wolud be a loss of time and money even if it was 10 times cheaper. Maybe a good marketing tool for some big sharks – just to test songs, but certainly not for indos.

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