Lee Martin was the developer of what we crowned the ‘Best Listening Party’ in our Sandbox 2020 best music marketing campaigns report – for Future Islands’ album ‘As Long As You Are’. This innovative campaign was the catalyst for Martin building his own platform, Listening Party, which lets artists and podcast creators throw listening parties for their fans.
Martin previously worked at Silva Artist Management, SoundCloud and Songkick, and has developed custom music experiences or listening party solutions for many artists, including for the recent new version of REM’s “Monster”. However, his Listening Party web platform – which has been in beta since the beginning of the year – aims to make this kind of activation more accessible.
At the core of the platform are the three components Martin sees as crucial for a good listening party: the audio stream, a chat, and promotional links. (You can view a demo version of the platform here.)
The chat delivers a social component right next to the album stream, a feature that we know well from YouTube livestreams. At the moment, the chat room is enabled by a Twitter login, to identify participating fans. The artist’s Twitter account is highlighted so that it is clear in the chat when the artist is joining in. Martin says he chose Twitter as it’s easy to access and is a network often used to discuss real-time events. (Fans’ messages on the platform won’t be posted as Tweets.)
Other useful features include promotional links under the stream that link to whatever else is important in the campaign: Pre-saving, buying the album on the official store, YouTube videos, tickets, newsletter signups, and so on. To get a feeling for how active the listening party is, there’s a real-time ticker showing how many people are currently listening.
Some other customisation is possible: besides the release artwork, a main page colour can be chosen, plus an image or short looping video can be uploaded – Martin describes it as, “the Spotify Canvas area of Listening Party.”
The audio component is the biggest point of friction for a platform like Listening Party. In the beta version, the client hosts the audio files – and the stream itself is powered by the technology Martin created for the Future Islands campaign. This mechanism keeps all listening fans in sync, ensuring the stream is at the appropriate point when a user arrives. This means it’s a communal, simultaneous moment, and fans can discuss the release together while it’s being revealed.
There are some advantages to the music being hosted MP3 files as opposed to from a DSP: the stream is accessible to everyone, including fans without a premium streaming account. As Martin puts it: “They only need to click play and it works great from any device. This harkens back to the days where an artist could simply send a simple URL and be confident all visitors could listen. Crazy thought!” Even so, Martin is gathering feedback as the platform develops and he knew the main feedback was going to be the suggestion that the platform is built onto a DSP, and thus driving streaming numbers as the app is used. Martin has plenty of experience building DSP-powered platforms, and he notes that there isn’t much clarity from the platforms on what third-party developers are allowed to do when it comes to building a commercial offering onto a DSP.
There is hope for DSP integration: Apple Music’s response was that there will probably not be any issues – as long as labels are okay with it – and Martin has already built a version based on Apple Music’s streaming API that he may eventually launch.
Spotify’s solution for developers is a little more complex: streaming music from its Web Playback SDK only works on certain desktop browsers, and its Connect Web API acts a bit like a remote control for a user’s open Spotify app – not necessarily the simplest solution for fans.
However, if Martin can find clarity and agreement from DSPs, he will create a Listening Party that allows fans to choose to stream via Spotify or Apple Music – beneficial for artists as this removes costs associated with hosting the music files and adds towards their streaming numbers.
Regardless of possible DSP integration, Martin makes an important case for the self-hosted MP3 solution: the Future Islands activation happened before the release of the album, so it wouldn’t have been possible to stream it from a DSP. “We were trying to create a ‘moment’ before the record, serving as a commercial to drive all of these actions that were important: such as pre-saves. MP3 [streaming] is an important use case, which is why I built it first. So many people complain that these streams aren’t worth anything – if that is the case, do the streaming yourself, and make the experience accessible, and use it as a means to drive other value. Your music is the moment.”
This argument can also be made for teams concerned with driving sales of a physical deluxe version or a tour, which is when the in-built features on Listening Party become really important. Music Ally agrees that there are ample opportunities to use this to engage fans and promote the artist’s music – just as free livestreamed shows do. You could also work with snippets of unreleased music to drive anticipation and pre-saves.
There are a host of other features Martin may build into the service that will be of interest to artist teams. He’s considering a reactions function, other chat authentication options, email capture, donations and tips, and further customisation features. One idea that interests Music Ally is a “VIP chat” – where a fan can pay to be in a chatroom with the artist, capped at, for instance, 20 fans. It could also become a private chat experience for a group of friends who are all fans of an artist.
Martin says there’s been a lot of interest already. Some indie artists have already been set up on the platform – although this happens in collaboration with Martin during this early beta stage.
The pricing of the platform will depend on the end solution. His plan is to make the platform as accessible as possible, although technical solutions around the delivery of the music will make a difference. Martin says he welcomes any sort of input to help him learn what people want: “I’ve been doing listening parties for almost two decades now in some form – I really love the problem and am really curious to know what kind of solutions exist, to drive value for the artist. I care and am going to develop a solution for this.”
*If you’re interested in joining the beta stage of Listening Party, sign up here – or email firstname.lastname@example.org. His blog has news of the latest platform developments.
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