Merlin’s Executive Interview Series is a monthly series featuring executives from across Merlin’s dynamic and diverse worldwide membership, discussing some of the most pressing topics, developments, and innovations in independent music today. This month’s piece features Morgan Mills, Marketing Director at CmdShft.
Building a fanbase is a gradual process for any artist. Other than relying on playlisting, what are some of the ways artists and label/distributor brands can build fanbases and why are they equally as important?
We always reinforce the idea that playlisting is one part of the strategy, but should never be the primary focus. Playlist placements come and go, but growing an authentic connection with your fanbase is something that doesn’t easily go away. They are the loyal ones that will stream your music, engage with your content, proudly wear your merchandise, and fill the room at your shows. The strategy around building a fanbase should have connection as its main focus, and will be a career long pursuit. Artists, labels, and distributors alike all have to look at it as a marathon and not a sprint, where thinking macro versus micro also helps with morale as consistent growth is more easily perceived from a wider perspective.
Creating and growing these connections can be done in a number of ways, and it’s important to cover all bases. Artists should be touring to connect with fans in person, advertising on multiple platforms, organizing press campaigns around key moments, consistently updating merchandise, collaborating with other artists and brands to cross promote creatively, and taking full advantage of social media as a free platform to reach new people. I know there are some eyes rolling right now, but it is true, like it or not.
We’d love to dive into your thoughts on social media. By now, everyone is aware of how important a social media strategy is for artists, as well as labels/distributors. How do those strategies differ and what ways can these strategies work in tandem?
The strategies for artists, as well as labels / distributors, do not have to differ much actually. Right now the most impactful metric is the quantity of posts and the consistency of posting. With all platforms relying on algorithmic reach these days, the number of times you’re connecting with followers is crucial. We have seen accounts be penalized for lack of content, and we have seen them be rewarded for consistency. It can feel like a rat race at times, but at the end of the day, teams need to view it as a FREE opportunity to connect with new fans and grow their followings… and they can do it from the comfort of their own couch! The perspective shift should be that they GET to use social media to connect and grow their followings / fanbases, not that they HAVE to.
Artists, labels, and distributors tend to showcase their highlights via social media, as they should. We started out with paper resumes to display our achievements, then it moved to websites, and has now evolved to predominantly social media. It has definitely become a “highlight reel” for everyone. However, I do think it is important for people to remember a key tactic in successful social media strategy, which is providing value to the end user. Artists can do this in many ways, for example: brightening their followers day by making them laugh, inspiring them by posting a song lyric or quote, making them feel seen by posting their latest song with the relatable story behind it, etc. Labels and distributors on the other hand, can add value by educating, whether it be streaming service updates that highlight new platform features, or tracking trends and new ideas in the modern music industry, all of which provide value to artists and fans alike. All of this aside, authenticity in your content should be the most important strategy for everyone.
CmdShft is a distribution and financial management platform that has pioneered revolutionary tech that genuinely supports artists and labels. What is the importance of artists staying independent and what are some of the advantages for an independent artist working with CmdShft?
Staying independent is more powerful now than ever. We pride ourselves on equipping artists with the support and tools they need to establish a successful business based on their creativity. We are not anti-label, we are just pro artist. Our core pillars are transparency, honesty, technology, and true partnership. At CmdShft, artists and labels will never be locked into lengthy, unfair agreements that have become all too prevalent in recent years. We have no term agreements because we don’t believe in sacrificing ownership of art, and this promotes an authentic partnership with our clients where we work together collaboratively for collective success, not because a contract says we have to. We are all about open communication, so all artists have direct access to our support staff where we pride ourselves on timely problem solving and intuitive solutions. Our dashboard has a suite of tools built to empower independence, including an integration with Feature.fm for pre-saves and smart links, a robust automatic expense recoupment system, and comprehensive analytics with raw reporting to ensure accurate accounting. Our marketing team provides artists and labels with industry expertise to complement promotional efforts, including consulting on release strategy and best practices. We actively advocate for fair opportunities from our partners to level the playing field for independent artists across the board.
What first drew you to marketing? Can you tell us a bit about your journey to CmdShft?
I have a strong passion for creation and innovation. I get to design and consult on some amazing campaigns for clients; campaigns that convert real fans and provide tangible results. Starting out solely as a singer / songwriter, creativity has always been a part of my being. Using bigger picture storytelling in marketing is similar to writing music; It’s communicating a message to make the listener feel something – enough that it’ll inspire them to take action, and to increase their brand loyalty. Humans have been telling stories forever and our brains have evolved to love them. It’s just a fact. I am also a big proponent of therapy and there is an intriguing psychological aspect that drives behavior, and what makes a difference between a successful campaign and one that fails.
I started my own marketing company 9 years ago while in music publishing. My business growth model was based on my reputation and word of mouth, and I was very fortunate to work with some amazing companies that spanned multiple industries. CmdShft was expanding their marketing team and when the owners, highly respected industry veterans Sonny Findley and Jarrod Cooper, asked me to join the team it was an easy answer. I had already worked in so many facets of the music business, why not try distribution? This month, it’s been a year since joining the team as Director of Marketing and because of the team, our mission, and clients, it’s easily been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
What are some of the ways Merlin has supported CmdShft in its mission?
CmdShft’s partnership with Merlin has been a driving factor in our mission of true independence within today’s music economy. By alleviating the time-consuming process of negotiating competitive and fair deals amongst numerous global digital service providers, Merlin has leveled the playing field for boutique music companies like ours, enabling us to provide the highest level of service to our clients. Merlin has been instrumental in assisting our marketing department with more pitching opportunities for our roster, as well as keeping us equipped with educational resources to aid in our efforts. Merlin is truly for the independents and we are grateful for our partnership!