Producer’s Hub Series: ToneDen.
Loved by many, and equally despised, free download gates – through which users trade an action (e.g., SoundCloud follow) for a track download – are a subject of much excitement and controversy.
Ok, these things aren’t exactly new, and their main use case – linking from SoundCloud – is arguably becoming less and less relevant as that platform continues to struggle.
But irrespective of your stance on the issue, one thing is clear: these gates work. While some fans are perturbed by them, and are thus less likely to engage in the action(s) required to download a track, it’s undeniable that artists have been able to add in many cases hundreds or even thousands of fans by using download gates.
As a result of their immense popularity, a multitude of companies began to create proprietary gates, leading to dozens of major competitors in this space. ToneDen, which gained its notoriety as one such company, however, is so much more than just a download gate creator. Above all else, it’s a multidimensional social platform which connects artists to their fans. And we really like it, so we’re going to explore in this piece what exactly it does, and why we think all indie artists should be using this platform or others that have its functionality.
To drive the point home, we’ll be using our artist management client Laxcity as an illustrative case study.
So, without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about ToneDen! Let’s start with its functions:
Social Unlocks: Grow Your Socials and Email List
As mentioned, ToneDen’s marquee feature is its “social unlock” capability which allows one to specify an action fans must take (e.g., SoundCloud follow and/or repost) – many of which have the additional benefit of capturing contact information for you to use in building an all-important email list – in exchange for a track download.
And there are some cool under the radar capabilities here too; for instance, I love the fact that they’ve enabled a donation-for-download version of the gate where fans can make a charitable contribution towards a cause of the artist’s choice in order to unlock a song.
As an example of a gate in work, Laxcity’s “Your Own Company” has accrued ~150 downloads since its release:
The above engagement obviously led to a significant amount of new followers, but more importantly, it captured about 100 new emails for us to use as part of our expanding Laxcity email list.
Email lists are an absolutely essential, tried-and-true form of marketing that is often overlooked by novice artists. Compared to such platforms as Facebook which algorithmically show content to as few as 1-3% of your followers, emails reliably attain open rates of over 10%. Antiquated as it may seem, email isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and non-spammy email lists can really work.
User Analytics: Understand Your Audience
Although not a function per se, ToneDen’s “audience” analysis allows you to visualize and analyze the demographic data you accrue in some pretty awesome ways.
Laxcity’s fans, for example, are primarily based in North America, as can be seen by the following graphics:
Meanwhile, his fans have been shown to prefer Spotify as a streaming service – data that has been accrued through FanLinks, which are discussed in detail in the next section – and are best reached at 11am EST for maximum engagement.
FanLinks: Directing Your Listeners to Their Favourite Online Destination
FanLinks are a subtle but extremely effective tool to find out which music platforms your fans prefer, and direct all the latter to the former at once. The ability to customize the look of the landing page, as well as the option to add a custom option such as a link to a ToneDen social unlock, is a nice touch.
For Laxcity’s EP, we tried to direct as much traffic to Spotify and iTunes as possible, so we decided to include neither SoundCloud nor ToneDen’s native DL gate as options to stream/download the tracks.
Although the clickthrough rate was subsequently lower than it might’ve otherwise been, the results were exactly as we’d hoped: the FanLink led to $35 of directly attributable purchases on iTunes, as seen below:
Note that we included this FanLink as a SoundCloud “buy link” for all of the EP’s original singles, and we also used this link on all of Laxcity’s social media.
Here’s what the landing page looks like:
And here’s what the EP, which includes “Failed Exams,” the single shown above, looks like in Spotify’s browser:
Contests: Generating Buzz and Promoting Socials
ToneDen’s contest feature seems an underrated one: I’ve only seen one or two major artists give it a shot, but the results seem always to be quite promising. Basically, fans increase their chances of winning whatever is at stake by taking social actions, much in the same way as they would with a DL gate, and this can lead to great results.
When we held one such contest for Laxcity merch, we received 30 entries, of which 15+ led to both Spotify followers and Facebook shares, both of which are sometimes hard to come by.
Native Email Marketing: Reaching Your Fans’ Inbox
Disclaimer: Unlike the rest of the above features, this one requires a ToneDen pro plan which costs $50 US/month. (Although one could, in principle, pay this as a one-off fee: pro users can export email lists once the first payment has been made – plan could be cancelled thereafter if this price is prohibitive.)
We decided to take the plunge and give email marketing a go with ToneDen’s native platform, and the results were fairly promising. Although the open rate was a little disappointing (20-30% would be a realistic target, and much stronger), we attributed this mostly to inactive emails associated with certain SoundCloud accounts.
Of the people we got through to, clickthrough rates were encouragingly high (3% is decent, generally, and much more impressive in context of lower open rate).
The interface is slick and the emails it generates are too, although the price is admittedly steep.
. . .
A few of the features not explored in depth include “Lasso,” a brilliant little plug-in which allows you to embed a particular campaign widget – e.g., email list sign-up – within your own website. Secret Shores, for example, uses this to collect emails on select landing pages (e.g., “about” tab):
Another one would be automatic social media ad buying, which incorporates ToneDen’s proprietary analytics to generate Facebook ads, for example, that will reach a highly specific target audience. This, however, comes at a premium: it requires an advanced pro plan.
. . .
Overview: The Kicker
This piece is about ToneDen specifically, but all of the marketing principles herein apply to artists more broadly. Collecting emails to build a list, using smart links to direct fans to desired destinations, analyzing demographic data of listeners, and running innovative contests, are just some of the things that all artists, big or small, should be considering to undertake.
Marketing is all about creativity, patience and persistence. Leveraging technologies like this which can help you to market yourself – at no cost, in many examples – simply expedite the process.