To help launch our exciting new foray into streaming, we sat down with NoiseTrade co-presidents Derek Webb and Chris Moon for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. Read on to find out what’s all involved in our new platform shift from downloading to streaming, our fantastic new mobile experience, why fan accounts provide the smoothest and easiest use of the platform, and much more.
NoiseTrade: To set the stage for this interview, can each of you give us quick synopsis of your history with NoiseTrade and give us a little peek behind the curtain at what your main roles and responsibilities are today and how they’ve evolved over the years?
Derek Webb: I backed into starting NoiseTrade by giving my own music away in exchange for data back in 2006. I saw how it completely changed my career and immediately realized that I had a solution for other artists who were willing to give away some content in exchange for fan information that they could use to make a living. So a few friends and I got together to hatch a plan to create this platform. For a handful of years, it wasn’t even a business. It was just an idea, but it worked.
We actually went live during the July 4th weekend of 2008. At the time, there were a lot of companies trying to solve problems in the music industry and we thought we’d be out-developed, out-thought, and out-funded by all of them. But here we are nine years later and NoiseTrade has grown into a legitimate business with thousands and thousands of artists who use this model to build their audiences and engage directly with their fans. Over the years, I’ve always maintained a voluntary role with the company because I make my living as an artist. But just a few years ago I took a few years off from music to focus my time more specifically on NoiseTrade and it’s growth. Currently, I’m back to doing a handful of things in both of those areas.
Chris Moon: While being aware of NoiseTrade as it was evolving over the years, I came into this from the artist management perspective. I was able to see the power in getting in front of a dedicated, captive audience as the NoiseTrade community began to build. When I came on officially to help bring new artists onto the platform, we had right around 250,000 people and now we have over 1.2 million in the NoiseTrade community that we’ve built over the last 4-5 years. It was fun to be able to see it from the artist’s perspective initially and to see how gathering fan data allowed you to build and nurture a relationship with your fans and how that can impact an artist’s career. There’s absolutely no other platform that allows for finding fans and having a direct line of communication with them like NoiseTrade does. That’s a really powerful component.
Webb: At this point, Chris and I have equal roles as co-presidents and we partner running the company. So we lock arms and we get this thing done.
NT: Since its initial widget-based beginnings, NoiseTrade has gone through quite a few technological upgrades. What’s all included in this newest round of reinvention?
Webb: NoiseTrade started pretty simply and the core mission and spirit of it has always been exactly the same: we help artists trade content for connection with fans. We started with what the technology of the day in 2008 allowed for and then we’ve adapted several times over the years by continuing to streamline parts of it and add new features to make it a more useful and relevant tool. As we continue to have our eye on the future and the behavior of music fans, we though it was really important to make a meaningful move into streaming. It took us a minute to figure out what we could bring that would be beneficial to artists and be a good experience for our community. We wanted to make sure that we did it right and did it in a way that was true to the NoiseTrade model and spirit.
I think we’re going to have a lot of happy people in our community with this shift to high-quality streaming, mostly because it’s such a streamlined process and also because it’s fully mobile-compatible. We’ve never really been able to do that before. From the minute you get our email of curated artists, all the way to hearing the high-quality streaming music will be the best NoiseTrade experience that we’ve ever offered. We’re super stoked about it.
Moon: This new streamlined experience gives us the opportunity to put the focus back on the artist. There are also two other components to this. Obviously, taking the whole platform to streaming is the driver, but we also have over 600,000 fan accounts that we’ve grown over the last few years and the experience of streaming with a fan account is going to be a one-touch opportunity. Most of our email opens occur on mobile, so being able to stream music with just one or two clicks – as opposed to having to put your email address in, go back and check your email, and then go to your computer to download – all that is going away. It gives you the opportunity to dig right in.
Webb: Fan accounts are not only simple – it’s easier to create a fan account than it is to download an individual record from NoiseTrade – but they are free as well. It’s the best experience NoiseTrade has ever offered.
Moon: Also, as we developed the streaming component, we redesigned the album page as well. We made it more focused towards the music piece. That’s still the primary focus of what we do.
NT: Let’s talk about fan accounts. What’s the main idea behind offering them and what are the major selling points for a NoiseTrade user who doesn’t yet have one built?
Webb: Essentially, once you’ve created a fan account with just a couple of clicks, you’re logged into the site and you can just click and confirm to get the music, instead of typing in your info each time for each album you want access to. As you tell us what music you want to listen to, we release your email and postal code to the artist and you get access to that music. Additionally, if you like tipping artists through NoiseTrade, we’ve got a really secure, encrypted platform called Stripe where you can store your credit card info to make tipping quicker and easier, if you want something like that. There are a lot of cool features with fan accounts. Basically, it’s simple, it’s free, and it’s easily the best NoiseTrade experience.
NT: The mobile experience has always been a big discussion point for NoiseTrade. What advancements can users look forward to in that arena?
Webb: Previously, we’ve been bound by the limitations of the technologies we’ve been using. On an iOS device, which a lot of our users use, we can’t deliver music to the phone. Apple just doesn’t let us do that. There are ways to do it with other platforms like Android, but it’s cumbersome. Also, most people don’t want locally stored music files on their phone. The market has clearly spoken that people want access over ownership. Since most of users access our emails on their phones, they’ve only been able to go so far in the process on mobile. One of the huge advantages of moving to streaming is the sampling option to see if it’s worth it to connect with the artist and then you’ll be able to consume the music through a very high-quality stream. We think the NoiseTrade community is going to love it.
NT: Basic delivery methods (music files vs. streaming) aside, what do you feel NoiseTrade has to offer to both the artists and the community it’s built up over the years? Also, what are some examples of how someone in either camp (artist or fan) can connect to the other via NoiseTrade?
Webb: In my opinion, the most compelling reason for an artist to use NoiseTrade and have a specific free-content strategy is because if the only two opportunities you give someone are “no engagement” or “paid engagement,” you’re missing the majority of your potential audience that lands between those two steps. You’re losing so much opportunity if you’re not incentivizing people to connect with you. Making meaningful connections with fans and having that data to stay connected with them is inarguably the best way to convert potential fans into paying fans. You have to have a free-content strategy and I think NoiseTrade is the best platform to do that. As an artist, it’s what I use and I promise you that if there were a better one out there, I’d be using that one.
As far as fans go, I see it from a couple different angles. From the super fan perspective, they want to behave in a way that is most beneficial to the artist they love. When I put out a record, I always have people that ask, “In what way do I need to buy this that benefits you the most?” NoiseTrade gives an answer to those fans. Even if you are a fan that consumes music via other services and platforms and has to pay money or be inundated with ads to hear music, you can be assured that NoiseTrade is digging a tunnel under all of those other platforms to connect you directly with the artist. That direct connection is preferable to a lot of music fans, especially if the artist is offering exclusive content and doing a good job of thinking through how they are engaging with their fans.
Moon: From the artist’s perspective, it’s paramount to have that direct connection. It’s really hard to find new fans and we have a built-in community for that. From the fan’s perspective, we’ve developed a community that really drives engagement and rewards discovery. It’s not as noisy or overrun as some other music platforms. We’re more artist-focused than playlist-focused. We purposefully work with a smaller pool of artists that we push and put in front of our community. It fosters long-term relationships between artists and fans and that’s a process that you’ll never find on any other streaming service. NoiseTrade is a pretty special platform for engagement on both sides.
NT: Finally, NoiseTrade has an incredible track record of consistently being a “go to” for discovering new artists before they hit the mainstream. First, why do you think that is? Second, over the entire run of NoiseTrade, who are some of those artists for each of you?
Webb: We work really hard to find and curate great new music that you’ve maybe never heard of. We’ve got countless artists who people have heard about for the first time on NoiseTrade. We love getting behind an artist and being a part of their story, some of them years before they ever showed up on Fallon or Kimmel or anything like that. The key to it all is relationships. It’s something you can’t fake and something you can’t rush.
Moon: I was at Coachella this year and the first band I saw was Joseph, a band that has utilized NoiseTrade and gave away well over 10,000 records of their debut and used that data smartly to develop a relationship with their audience and build a strong touring base. We’ve had other artists like Vance Joy, Passenger, or James Bay that utilized NoiseTrade really early on in their career before any of their songs showed up on radio. We featured Sturgill Simpson well before anyone was really paying attention to what was going on with him. We featured The Lumineers before their first record came out. It’s really fun to see quality music find an audience and to get to play a small role in that.