Rollo & Grady Interview :: Ian Rogers – Topspin Media

ian rogers profile

At first glance, Ian Rogers doesn’t look like the CEO of a cutting-edge music technology company. He has long blond hair and tattoos on his fingers, is an avid skateboarder, and loves hip-hop music. Rogers happens to be one of the music industry’s brightest visionaries and one of the most passionate people I’ve spoken to regarding the future of music and marketing.

He runs the Los Angeles based company Topspin Media, a direct-to-fan marketing and retail software company founded by Peter Gotcher and Shamal Ranasinghe in 2007. Rogers joined the company in 2008, the same year Topspin was named Indie Visionary of the Year by Billboard Magazine. Prior to working at Topspin, Rogers was the GM of Yahoo Music for five years. In the 90s he managed the Beastie Boys and eventually became the President of New Media for their label, Grand Royal.

Rollo & Grady Interview :: Ian Rogers   Topspin Media

Rogers practices what he preaches: the direct-to-fan CEO is also direct-to-critics. He is not afraid to defend his company on message boards, in person, and on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and blogs. He recently interrupted his family vacation in Hawaii to explain the company’s decision to shut down the San Francisco office.

I caught up with Rogers to discuss the Topspin platform and its popularity with over 4,000 artists, which includes diverse acts such as Odd Future, Drive-By Truckers, Paul McCartney, Blitzen Trapper, Neon Indian, Sigur Ros, Lil’ Wayne, and Gillian Welch, to name a few.

topspin logo

R&G: Can you tell me a little bit about your company, Topspin?

IR: At Topspin, what we’re really trying to do is to build a tool set for marketing and retail. The notion from our perspective is that the costs of production and distribution have come down, but that marketing takes a lot of effort, to say the least. Factors such as empowered consumers with unlimited choice require heavy lifting, plus the act of just getting content to people takes managing that content and building campaigns, measuring the success of those campaigns. Sometimes you’re giving content away, sometimes you’re selling it, and sometimes you’re doing both of those things with the same content. You have tools to do these things and to run your business. What we’ve been trying to do is to build a software package that gives you an integrated platform to do all of the activities that you do with both marketing and retail. Perhaps most importantly we help you tie those two things together: the activities that you’re doing as you’re trying to build awareness and create fan connections and build trust with your fans fit together with what you’re doing when you’re vending with fans, when they’re buying something. We released a new platform in March that is a self-serve version of the platform that we’ve been building for three years and using with roughly 4,300 artists of all sizes over the previous three years. Even when we went self-serve, the majority of the artists on the platform were small artists, but we just had opened it up to where we were marketing it and saying, “Come one, come all.”

R&G: You offer three platforms: Topspin, Topspin Plus, and Topspin Enterprise. Can you discuss benefits of each platform?

IR: Our goal was to make it affordable to anybody who wanted to have it, so we have the Topspin, which is $100 a year. That’s good for any artist just starting out. The only limitation there is that it only covers up to 2000 fans. We wanted the entry point to be super simple for folks, but it’s got the complete platform including the ticketing software, through which you can book your own shows. You can check people in at the door with our iPhone application. Widgets do marketing and collect email addresses; they give media in return for an email address. It’s got an integrated store-builder; it calculates tax; it pays on a regular basis. It’s the full platform. The next level up gets you up to 20,000 email addresses, makes the offering really price-competitive with email software like MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc. There’s also, in the Topspin Plus version, a tool for doing automated pre-sales. Part of the reason for including that is a) that it’s a more advanced feature b) it’s a feature you shouldn’t use unless you’re pretty serious about what you’re doing. It’s a sharp knife; put it that way. We really wanted to make that something that’s part of the Plus offering. Then the Topspin Enterprise includes features that are really for labels or other people that are running a business based with a number of artists and they need fancy accounting.

ian rogers

R&G: There were some ease of use issues with the Topspin platform in the past. What efforts did you guys make to address these concerns with the new offerings?

IR: We took what I would say is a first swing at it. When you first log into the app, the first thing you’ll see is a video giving you a tour of the app. We have one of those videos in every single section so that people can get an idea of what the section is about and why you would use this section, the kinds of things you would do there, etc. We changed some of the ways the software works – buttons in different places, tabs for different things – trying to make it fit more to what your flow is. The flow, as you come into the app, is: you start with your stuff, which are your products. From there, you move on into promoting those products. Once you’ve promoted them and built up a little bit of a fan base, then you can sell. That’s its own section. Once you’ve promoted and sold, presumably you have some fans and you want to manage those fans. Once you’re selling, you need to fulfill. We’ve kind of tried to build this flow where you start by uploading some stuff and you end by shipping out and doing customer service. We’ve tried to match the software itself to the actual life cycle. There are definitely some things that we want to make easier to use.

R&G: There are several players in the Direct to Fan marketing space. Why should an artist go with Topspin over your competitors like Bandcamp or Nembit or ReverbNation?

IR: Topspin is really the only solution in that it pulls all of the marketing and retail features into one. Some of the ones you mentioned don’t even have any marketing features. They’re just sort of retailers. Some of them don’t have retail features; they’re just marketing tools. There’s no one else that pulls together the catalog management along with the bundling and the way that the bundling is done and the way that the accounting is done on the back of the bundling and the way that that is integrated with fulfillment. There is integrated fulfillment: we will ship for you, we will do customer service for you. Nobody else that you mentioned has a ticketing app, where you can check people in with an iPhone. No one else that you mentioned has a membership product where you can do fan clubs and other types of advanced membership features. Topspin is really the only solution that has all of the functionality that you would need to run a real business, but that also levels up with you. I think if you’re a small artist, spending $100 a year on your career to have a great toolset that has beautiful streaming players that lead back to your website – not to Vimeo, not to YouTube – plus the ability to do the email from media type of thing – where you can gather 1000 to 2000 email addresses and have that be connected to an email marketing tool that shows you how much revenue each one of your fans has spent. That alone is a good investment, even for an artist just starting out. But then we do level up, all the way to artists at the Paul McCartney and Linkin Park level. It’s really a tool that’s going to grow with you, the same way that a ProTools or a Logic is going to grow with you a lot more than a GarageBand is.

You can follow Ian on Twitter: @iancr
Ian also hosts the online interview series, “This Week In Music.”


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