In 2017, Sarah Beth Perry developed the idea for the “fan engagement” platform With The Band while she was studying Entrepreneurship and Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville. The app and website, launching in January 2021, “enables artists to create their own ‘fan crew’ – our modern-day version of a fan club”, says CEO Perry. The platform creates a new revenue stream for artists, who can offer exclusive content for a variety of paid-access tiers.
Perry founded the platform when she noticed how digital spaces to mobilise and communicate amongst fan communities had vanished.
“With social media, fan forums disappeared. I remember fan groups creating fan projects which became a fairly informal thing on Twitter. When I tried to find platforms that would enable fans to create a community, I couldn’t find anything. We wanted to rebirth the idea of a fan club.” To launch the platform, Perry organised a fan activation with 16,000 signs reading, “Thank you for coming back to us” being held aloft at Jonas Brothers’ comeback show in Nashville in September 2019.
On the back of that success, Kacey Musgraves’ management team reached out to coordinate an experience for her show in Nashville, turning the crowd into a rainbow during her song of the same title. The coronavirus pandemic hit With The Band’s first events planned in New York and L.A., but Perry said that many managers and labels’ heads of digital reached out to explore what they could do “besides Instagram Live streams”.
So the team spent the summer building out a fan engagement platform that could be described as a convergence of the community focus of Reddit or Discord, with the subscription payment models of Patreon or Only Fans.
Crucially, With The Band is both a platform for artists to drive revenues from their fan community, and a platform for those fans to create a community to chat, share and create fan-driven experiences like local meet ups.
Artists can offer as many or as few payment tiers as they like, and have complete control over pricing. Setting up a Fan Crew is free – and once a fan purchases a membership to a Crew, 75% of that revenue will go to the artist, 21% to With The Band and 4% to the payment processor. For comparison, OnlyFans’ revenue share is 20%, while Patreon’s comes in at 5-12%.
With The Band argues that their model offers a modern, all-in-one solution: “While there are other membership tools like Patreon and Memberful, these are used by small indie artists who need to make a supplemental income. With The Band is targeting the medium-to-larger tier artists … these artists’ current “fan club” options only include a simple newsletter, an outdated forum website, or an expensive custom mobile app.”
Centralisation of these fan community experiences is also important: many artists using Patreon also set up a Discord channel to let fans communicate – a communication feature that is baked into With The Band.
The platform will feel familiar to users: fans can access an artist’s feed of exclusive news and content, and artists can create different, Slack-like channels – whatever they like. On the example Fan Crew that Sandbox was able to look at, there were channels called #ArtistPosts, #Backstage and #Setlists – and in these channels, artists can post status updates, images, videos, polls, and even host livestreams or virtual meet-and-greets.
Here’s where artists can encourage fans to pay for different tiers of access: each post or livestream can be made available to fans depending on their level of subscription. (It’s akin to the feature on Facebook where artists can make certain posts only available to followers with a “Top Fan” badge.)
One of the most interesting use-cases here is the ability to individualise posts for different locations.
For example, if an artist wanted help to promote a song on local radio, a post could encourage the local fan crew to call in and request the song.
Fan groups are sometimes called to do this via Twitter, but it might feel a tad too “promotional” in such an open platform. However, in the exclusive environment of a Fan Crew – where the artist knows only the most engaged superfans congregate – the artist can take control, incentivising fans to help with promotion and leverage these highly-motivated street teams.
This direct-to-fan ethos extends to artists being able to send push notifications to their Fan Crew, so that the most important supporters always stay up-to-date with what the artist has going on. CEO Perry says: “We want to make sure to teach artists how to use their fans to promote their music, as not enough of them do it. Once you start a Fan Crew, you can have a monthly meeting with your account manager so we can help you pan out ideas.”
Fans can communicate amongst each other in these channels, which is where the platform becomes more like a Reddit thread or artist-focused Discord channel. Artists can turn the ability for fans to post themselves on or off for each channel, leaving some channels exclusively run TOOLS by artists – and others that encourage interaction between the fans.
The platform plans to allow fans to create their own channels in the future – although at the moment they can get together in groups for direct messaging. The platform’s dashboard gives insights into revenue analytics and fan data: the number of members, where paying fans are located, the number of fans in each tier, and their activity within the Fan Crew. Fans can be filtered by Crew engagement, and artists can see top engaged and highest spending fans. This data is owned by the artist and can be used to create Lookalike Audiences / Similar Audiences on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube – helping them grow an audience based on their most valuable and most engaged fans.
Some of the platform’s features could arguably also be used in a similar way on a platform like Instagram: artists can create a Close Friends group to send DMs to – and fans have long been able to chat beneath posts. However, a Fan Crew creates a safe space for fans, far away from social media trolls – and is an exclusive community that the fan can enjoy feeling part of.
In the future, the company will add more live-focused features when the industry restarts, and they are already working with artists (usually around 150k-1.5 million followers on Instagram for size reference) to launch Fan Crews in time for the platform’s January launch
Founder Perry is a passionate fan, and member of fan communities herself, and is a firm believer in the unique feelings and powerful experiences that they bring: “I’ve met so many of my best friends through music – and I wanted to enable this for other fans through With The Band.”
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