Friday, June 21, 2013

On the Business of Art, using the case of Jackie Evancho's official website

Lately the official fansite of young Classical Crossover singer Jackie Evancho has fallen into
disrepair. The site has been refusing to add new members for nearly two weeks--without explanation. There's no sign that anyone's moderating discussions. Concerts are announced on the artist's FaceBook page, and then may or may not be also announced on the official website. 

Many members of the site have been complaining vociferously. Particularly since many paid for the premium membership in order to enjoy the perk of being able to get tickets for concerts several days before they go on sale to the general public. 

I get the impression that the artist's parents have decided that the official FaceBook page does just as good a job as the official fansite, and it's free, while they have to pay a hosting company for the official site--a fee based in part of the average number of users. Hence, possibly, the ban on registering new members. 

But a FaceBook page is, while necessary, not sufficient. A major artist needs an official website in order to build the "brand" of that artist.

I posted the following proposal on the official fan site, making the case to this artist--and, really, any other who's shooting for a major presence--to hire an internet presence manager.

Here's my entry:

I don't want Team E (mostly Jackie Evancho's parents)  to invest in the official fansite because they're obligated by the fans' loyalty and support. Or because we're just so darn likeable.

I want them to invest in this site for the sake of Jackie and her brand--her business, in which she's the co-founder, manufacturing manager, and will at some point be the CEO.

That is, putting time and money into Jackie's online presence would be a good BUSINESS decision. Obviously Mike and Lisa have other priorities, both inside and outside the business. That's fine, and their priorities are not our business. But as fans of Jackie who want her brand to thrive, our collective input is valuable, just as many forms of market feedback are valuable to any business that has customers.

Many performers put out as many albums as Jackie has, only to fade away. Many people still respond to us bringing her up by saying "Who?" or, not much better, "Oh yeah...that was the girl who was on AGT a few years ago, wasn't she?" The performers who scale the mountain are both immensely talented AND work hard AND play the game. They can play the game with complete integrity or without, but play it in some way they must.

Here, it should be obvious that part time/volunteer help running the site is not enough to make it functional from a business viewpoint.

And one point I haven't brought up in this thread is that this site is organized around promoting a child performer--the doll, the trinkets paying members get, and even the somewhat heavy-handed parental vibe of the site's management, back when it was being actively managed. All this may be fine for a child performer whose audience is mostly other children, but it was never appropriate for a performer like Jackie who has never actually competed in the "child performer" market, whose audience contains a very small percentage of children, none of whose albums are really child-oriented. Even when she does ostensibly kid-oriented songs (like the themes from the movies for children that she's done) she performs them in a way that's much more likely to garner a wide adult audience than the bubbly upbeat treatments most kids prefer.

All which contributes to why Team E needs someone who works for them full-time to function as their two-way fan interface. Another name for this person could be OPM or Online Presence Manager.

Team E is no longer putting out CDs itself. The team contracted with Sony for that--meaning they hired Sony; they gave up a large percentage of their take from each album sold in order to sell more albums, hoping that the increase in total volume they could only get with a major label would make them more money and build the Jackie Brand more than being a bigger frog in the little puddle of PTAD-type projects.

This is no different. You give up a measure of direct control and a portion of the profit from each product (albums and concerts mostly) in order to build the brand.

Another point I haven't raised before is that when Team E is mostly Jackie's parents, how do you go on vacation? I've known people who went on vacation only to wind up in their hotel room with their laptop and wifi access, doing business while the rest of the family vacated--so to speak--without the missing member.

They need someone who doesn't have to choose between being the parents of the four Evancho children and running the family business day in, day out. The parents can do plenty to pull their oars. Their roles don't have to require them either going at it without letup or neglecting the brand when they go off to be a family.

This is not an argument for buying luxuries on borrowed money--"luxuries" including the small army of sycophants some performers gather around them. Or hiring gofers to do stuff most people can do for themselves easily. Like, you don't need a chauffeur unless you can't drive a car (too young or too many tickets usually).

But the online world is not only complex--it's evolving rapidly. And when your customers ring the planet, it's a world without clear time boundaries. The ideal person to work in this environment is someone without much in the way of outside responsibilities; someone who is extremely extroverted in a high tech sort of way; and someone who really, really, wants to be part of the performing arts world without being a performing artist themselves. This doesn't describe Jackie's parents, nor does it describe anyone who could do this job for years, reliably, for free.

Business is about taking calculated risks, striking the right balance between being overly cautious and being foolhardy.

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224
(of course Brutus himself lost big time...)

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