While the Grateful Dead didn’t mind recordings being made of their concerts, most musicians are a little less enthralled with the idea.
Not Rob Thomas. Whether it’s at his solo shows or his gigs with Matchbox 20, fans can pick up a copy of the live show they just attended on the way out the door – and do with them whatever they’d like.
The concerts, which are sold on Flash Micro SD wristbands, are just one of the digital tools Thomas is using to promote himself and his music these days, making him one of the industry leaders of digital marketing.
“Fans on the Web site are trading their favorite nights,” he says. “Some fans have gone so far as to make their version of a live greatest hits album. When you see that sort of application, you get closer to your fans.”
The wristbands not only bring in a little extra income, they help fight the inevitable. With cameras and recording equipment so small today, bootlegging is one of the facts of concert life. Fighting it is essentially repeating the industry’s folly with downloaded music in that it can alienate fans. Embracing (and quietly controlling) it, though, establishes a bond.
“With YouTube, you can’t shy away from bootlegs,” says Thomas. “I’ve done a show and on the bus, I’m able to see parts of it on YouTube before we leave the venue. [But] I’ve got a great band and I’m proud of what we do. When people see it on YouTube, they say ‘oh I’d like to go see them live’.”
Beyond the wristbands, Thomas has also established a partnership with Research in Motion to launch the Blackberry’s first mobile artist app. And he is the premier artist on Atlantic Records’ Fanbase app for the iPhone, where fans can listen to clips, read lyrics, leave him voicemails, chat with other fans and see a feed of both official and unofficial news and photos. Coming soon are a pair of games: “Inner Beauty” and “Reverse Barbershop.”
All of this is on top of his regular stream of Twitter postings and Facebook page.
“Being afraid of [online] today is like being afraid of breathing in this world,” he says. “I’m definitely not a techie. But tech today is so easy that you don’t have to be. Tech is made for the layman.”
The Fanbase app is an extension of a desktop version of the service. Thomas says he expected only his most die-hard fans to download it, but it has found a wider audience. That, in part, inspired him to explore more digital marketing venues.
While his focus today is on the tour that kicks off in September (supporting his new solo album “cradlesong”), he’s already thinking about how to incorporate new digital tricks into the next Matchbook release.
For instance, the digital book that comes with CD downloads, he thinks, is an area that hasn’t been fully exploited yet.
“It would be really great if that was completely interactive, like if each page had its own little game,” he says. “Now, you’re only limited by what you and the people around you can come up with.”
Despite all the new tech ventures he has his fingers in, Thomas admits he’s most impressed with Twitter. He was particularly amazed at how it has transformed itself into a tool to convey information that’s relevant to the real world, as it did during the post-election protests in Iran.
It also has professional uses beyond being able to communicate in real time with fans.
“We’re just using the fringes of what it can be used for,” says Thomas. “Right now I’m selecting what my next single will be and I’m checking the tweets and seeing what he fans say who have heard the entire album.”
(Despite the collection of hits from Matchbox 20 and Thomas’ solo career, you won’t hear them on any of today’s music themed video games. Read Thomas’ thoughts on this over at The Cut Scene.)