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What Artists Should Know About Headliner.fm

Headliner.fm is a platform for trading recommendations with other artists on Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. You “buy” recommendations using a virtual currency called band bucks, which can be purchased outright for real money or earned by recommending other artists.

Creating a promotion is deceptively simple. You start by writing the recommendation and adding a link:

create promotion

I say “deceptively” because I managed to botch my first one, to the tune of 48,043 band bucks. You’re supposed to put your link in the URL box and then click “shorten URL,” which appends a bit.ly link to the message. I wanted people to see where the link went, which makes it more likely to be clicked, so I didn’t shorten it.

My heart sank when I saw that my first recommender’s status update was missing the link. I immediately withdrew the promotion, which only removes it from the pool of promotions artists can accept. I still had to pay for every pending recommendation, even though some were scheduled weeks ahead!

options

The rest of the options are relatively straightforward. Choose your networks, genres of artists who can recommend you, and any particular artists you’d like to add. To restrict the promotion to a certain city (US only), start typing its name and hope it appears in the drop-down box. You can set the campaign to run for 3, 7, 14 or 30 days.

Surprisingly, you can’t choose how many band bucks to allocate to a promotion, which makes it difficult if not impossible to split test multiple campaigns. Weak!

My Results

I’ve run four promotions over the two months I’ve been using Headliner.fm. The first three are identical (beyond the missing link in the first), hyping a “best of” set I made available for free download through Christmas:

Depeche Mode and Postal Service fans, grab this Color Theory best-of album now, while it’s free! http://bit.ly/ctbohl2

The fourth references a fan favorite from my Depeche Mode tribute album:

Color Theory covers the Depeche Mode classic “But Not Tonight” http://bit.ly/zUbjk8

results

In total, I reached 111,318 “new fans,” as Headliner.fm optimistically refers to those who could potentially see the status update. Those 111K exposures generated 67 clicks, 8 likes, and 1 comment.

You read that right: out of 122 status updates recommending my music, potentially reaching 111,318 people, exactly one person commented.  I would expect dozens if not hundreds of comments, even just “thanks for the link” or “not my cup of tea.” And eight likes – that’s it?

What are these artists’ recommendations worth when their fanbases are so disengaged?

The overall clickthrough ratio of my four promotions was 0.06%. Contrast that with a long-running ad I’ve had on Facebook that’s pretty much identical to my fourth Headliner.fm promotion. It’s averaging a CTR of 0.16% (at $0.16 CPC), and each one of those clicks is a like on my Facebook page!

Based on my results, I don’t think Headliner.fm is worth paying for.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to!

subscription

Simply by connecting Headliner.fm to SoundCloud, I got a six month pro account for free. I have yet to receive my monthly 300,000 band buck allowance, but I started out with over 100,000 band bucks! Check out all these bonuses (click to enlarge):

transactions

It’s a lucky thing too, because to put it nicely, I’m not finding many artists on Headliner.fm that I can genuinely recommend.

Suggestions

I know I’m coming down hard on Headliner.fm, but I really do love the concept. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Measure influence accurately. One small tweak to the formula would account for the all too many artists with artificially inflated like/follower counts: The band bucks an artist receives for a recommendation should be equal to the number of exposures multiplied by the artist’s Klout score, expressed as a percentage. For example, if my Klout score is 50 and I recommend an artist to 10,000 of my fans, I earn 5000 band bucks (10,000 x 0.50).
  2. Let us cut our losses. If a promotion isn’t delivering the results I hoped for, I should be able to cancel it, effective immediately. Watching my band bucks drain away on that first campaign, due to – let’s face it – a design flaw (accepting a promotion without a link), made a lousy first impression.
  3. Review every promotion. I’m often asked to post a status update saying “check out my new song” – with a link to someone else’s song. Amateur mistakes litter the requests feed, making it even harder to find acts to recommend.
  4. Make campaigns flexible. Why limit them to 3, 7, 14, or 30 days? Let me set a daily, weekly, or monthly budget, or set a band buck ceiling. How about “set it and forget it campaigns” that continue running until they’re cancelled?
  5. Dump MySpace. This one’s a no-brainer. It’s hard to take any MySpace partner seriously in 2012. If you want to include a third social network, make it Google+.
  6. Tailor updates to individual networks. Nothing screams “spam” like Twitter hashtags on Facebook. On the other hand, a Facebook or Twitter update referencing a big name band (using @bignameband) exposes my promotion to a vastly larger audience. Let us customize our promotions using each network’s API, to maximize our reach.
  7. Embeddable players. Make a Facebook-embeddable player a la Bandcamp with a prominent “buy” button, that measures plays (partial vs skips), shares, and mailing list signups. People are more likely to listen if they don’t have to click off-site.

Until some of these changes are implemented, or I get my promised 300,000 monthly band buck allowance, I’m done with Headliner.fm.

Have you had better luck? Any other suggestions? Let’s hear about it in the comments!

39 thoughts on “What Artists Should Know About Headliner.fm”

  1. Hey Brian, well-put opinion. Likewise, I found myself trying Headliner.fm for a few months till I realized I didn't get the results I hoped – more or less it worked the way you described it; enough time on my side to optimize the message and the links and no result in return, just a few (2-3 in total) new fans. Stopped using it right away, gosh, I even had a 5-buck subscription for a few months.

    The reason why this is happening is quite simple, I reckon. The bands' fans don't endorse the message because this is not why they are following the band for. They don't want to be 'sold'.

    Secondly, a band that accepts all the promotional invitations ends up having flooded wall with useless spam notifications – that's not providing value to fans at all. At least, for myself I tried so make a little research at the band's wall before I choose them for promotion. The results didn't improve and it was time consuming. Your idea about this 'fame currency' looks right to me.

    Anyhow, long discussion. It didn't work for me. I hope some other individuals have better luck with it.

    Thanks for your informational post.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience Thomas! Sorry to hear you didn't get better results.

    You bring up an interesting way to game the system. A band with little or no social media presence could inflate their like/follower count (there are plenty of cheap services that do this), then accept the max number of recommendations every day. They'd rack up band bucks without doing any real harm to themselves, since the messages aren't going out to their real fans anyway.

    That's another good reason to implement Klout. I would go so far as to require a minimum Klout score of 20 to earn band bucks from recommendations.

  3. Thanks for the rundown, Brian.

    I've been experiencing a serious disconnect between the conclusions of other headliner.fm "reviewers" (people who have generally praised the service without offering evidence that they've actually tried it) and the direct impression generated by the lame and inappropriate promo requests that have shown up in my inbox.

    Glad to get an empirical report from a trusted source. Have you had any contact from headliner yet regarding your suggestions?

  4. Hey Brian,

    Great post as always – I similarly gave Headliner.fm a spin and came to the same conclusions pretty fast. On paper it sounds like a great idea, but I think there's just no incentive to make genuine connections with it – the whole point of a recommendation is that it's genuine – taking that element out of it, and just automating the process means that the only people who actually use it are those who have no problem with the soulless nature of it. It seemed to me like the only active users were ones who had essentially set up fake twitter accounts, that were broadcast probably to an audience of spambots.

    I've no idea how they could fix this service, there is definitely a nugget of a good idea in there, but as the execution stands currently, Headliner.fm is a waste of time and energy – essentially just glorified spam.

    Keep up the good work!

    Daniel

  5. Thanks Daniel! Indeed, the more you use the service, the less genuine your recommendations appear, and the less valuable those recommendations become – and we haven't even mentioned the potentially devastating effect on your like/follower counts. I wouldn't put up with that kind of stuff in my feeds.

  6. Made the same mistake Brian with the URL! I figured the same as you… more likely to click the link if they know where it's going. Fortunately I caught the mistake immediately and cancelled the campaign. Also, I hear you with the other bands using "my" in their promo copy. My campaign just began so I'll post my results here when it ends.

  7. Brian Hazard (I need a new Facebook profile pic for stuff like this..) There's lot's of stuff on the Internet explaining the inadequacy of Klout. For example, account for the audience that we can leverage via Music Think Tank or elsewhere as bloggers. Downstream influence (online and offline) is actually hard to measure; I have been looking at awe.sm as part of a solution. Great post by the way. There's certainly a better way to execute on the concept of Headliner. Endorsements (versus sponsorships) need to be transparent and the process has to deliver genuine ( for example: discovery) value to fans.

  8. Good to hear from you Bruce! Awe.sm, Klout, or even just Facebook Insights would all make for a huge improvement. I'd even be happy if Headliner.fm simply blacklisted Twitter accounts following more than 1000 people, because obviously no individual can keep up with that many updates. The only reason for following more than a hundred people is to get them to follow back, to artificially boost your numbers.

  9. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for taking the time to put together this blog post detailing your experience. Even when feedback isn't entirely positive, we always appreciate hearing from our users.

    Headliner is a user-generated recommendation platform. We let all the artists on our site write their own promotion messages and decide which ones to approve and share. As with all user-generated content, the quality varies depending on each user, so we offer suggested messages, as well as email, Facebook, Twitter and live chat support to help artists brainstorm.

    We understand musicians are often on a budget, so we offer the service for free. Our virtual currency, Band Bucks, allows artists to leverage their fan base in place of spending money. When you sign up , you automatically get Band Bucks for registering, for every social network you connect, and for every fan that you have on each network. Additionally, you earn Band Bucks every time you promote someone else. And anytime your promotions are deleted, you get your Band Bucks back.

    In your case, you signed up through our free 6-month subscription offer on SoundCloud. We gave you 50,000 Band Bucks for registering and another 50,000 for the SoundCloud subscription. The 300,000 Band Bucks in your screen grab are the standard offer, so we will consider updating the graphic for this scenario.

    On Facebook you have to pay for your ads, there is no free option for making your page more visible to music fans beyond your own social circle. Had you paid $ 30.00 for a Headliner.fm subscription you would have had 400,000 band bucks. As your blog posts points out, your CTR was.06% so you would have had a CPC of $0.11 cents., better than Facebook ads. As a free user your CPC is $0.00, also better than $0.16 cents. you get on your current Facebook ads. Our main goal is offer artists an alliterative to buying Facebook ads by empowering artists to collaborate by recommending one another. This benefits all artists and allows us to offer a free option for our users–which we think is awesome.

    Regarding the quality of engagement between bands and users, each artist manages their social media differently. Some artists are better at it than others. As for the fans, they can be notoriously fickle when it comes to clicking "Like" or "Follow." However, word of mouth is still the most effective marketing tool and that is why we believe there is value in the reach that we provide. We have over 100,000 artists on Headliner and the reality is that a lot of musicians are as confused by the social web as anyone else. We have tried to put as many support systems and filters in place as we can to help create a robust environment. We have recently made improvements to our algorithms with the specific goal of generating better matches between artists. When users point out "bad" pages or artists connected to our system, we reach out to the owners and in some cases, we close their accounts. We like your reference to Klout and we have been considering ways to build a similar function to identify bands with better engagement scores.

    We are sorry the link shortener didn't work. Before you start any promo, we give you a chance to review and confirm the genres, networks, artists and the start and duration selected for each campaign. This gives you control over how many Band Bucks you spend. Additionally, you can stop any campaign at any time by simply clicking on "Withdraw this promotion." We have no problem crediting people when something goes wrong, so we'll gladly refund you the Band Bucks that you spent on that promotion.

    Regarding adding a BandCamp-style player or widget, our goal is focus on our core function: exchanging recommendations. This is why we don't host uploads or sell music. We want to do one thing for artists right now: help them market each other for free. There are plenty of social networks out there, and we believe many of them are trying to be too many things to too many people. However, we will keep an open mind as we grow.

    Even though you don't plan on upgrading to a paid subscription, (which we respect) we would like to point out that we do have many users who are very happy subscribers. Most of the acts in our year-end top 10 list for 2011 were independent artists who were paying for extra Band Bucks and reach. We can't guarantee the same results for everyone but we are willing to try our best. We hope you will see some benefit from the remaining time on your subscription and we look forward to helping any way we can. You can find plenty of tips, examples and screenshots on the blog, as well as more info in our FAQs and Artist Guide. Here are some links:

    http://blog.headliner.fm/?s=tips

    http://blog.headliner.fm/artist-guide/

    http://blog.headliner.fm/artist-guide/faqs/

    Thanks again for your input and for trying Headliner. We are all music loving geeks here, so we sincerely wish you the best of luck with your music, however you choose to promote it.

    Cheers!

    Jorge

  10. Thanks for your detailed response Jorge! I'm grateful that you took the time, and the fact that you're so open to suggestions makes me optimistic about the future of the service.

    "And anytime your promotions are deleted, you get your Band Bucks back." My understanding is that applies only to status updates that haven't already been scheduled. If you realize there's a mistake in your promotion, as I did with the missing URL, you're still on the hook for all scheduled updates, even if they are weeks in the future.

    The 100,000 free band bucks seems more than fair to me, but since it said 6-month "pro account" I figured all the pro account features, like the 300K monthly allowance, were included. Thanks for clarifying.

    Headliner vs. Facebook Ads. While it's hard to argue with free, I'm at the point now where I need to either buy band bucks or stop using the service. Sure, I could spend some time searching for artists to recommend, but that would only earn me 11K band bucks a pop for all three social networks. If my math is correct, that should generate about 6 clicks, which isn't worth the potential unfriends/unfollows.

    While the CPC for a $30 spend may be better on Headliner, each Facebook click is also a like, which is much more valuable. I'd also be willing to bet that Facebook users are more engaged, considering the lack of likes, retweets, and comments on updates posted through Headliner.fm.

    Hopefully that will change as you modify the engagement scores algorithm. One easy tweak would be to blacklist or penalize Twitter accounts following more than 1000 people, because obviously no individual can keep up with that many updates. The only reason for following more than a hundred people is to get them to follow back, to artificially boost your numbers.

    Whatever you choose, I'm sure it will boost the ratios and engagement, and I look forward to what you come up with!

  11. "Reach" means 47,000 people potentially saw the status update with your link in it. You're probably best off checking your analytics through Headliner.fm's control panel, rather than SoundCloud. If you got 67 clicks from 47K bucks, that's pretty good! I got the same number of clicks from 111K bucks.

  12. I use headliner and I have to agree with your comment on not finding many artists to genuinely recommend and because I work offshore where almost everything computer based has restrictions on it meaning I can't listen to most music sites I have been horrified when I accepted some promotions from offshore and then heard them once I got home – lesson learned – do not reccomend any artist without listening to them first!
    Bax Keith Baxter- baxrecords (Scotland).

  13. Yes, if you have enough fans to get free bandbucks, that is well worth it. Paying for bandbucks only helps Heafliner.fm . It is nowhere near worth paying any amonnt of money for bandbucks!

  14. Hey Brian! I just started using CoPromote after I read your article, I guess that curiosity got me ha ha… so far so good, it’s quite interesting, but as you said, you’ll have a hard finding interesting people to CoPromote, but I think it’s worth the shot :)

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