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Improving The Artist-Fan Relationship

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There’s never been more ways for artists to tap directly into their fan bases than present day. However, actually understanding those same audiences hasn’t scaled at the same rate with the times. My guest on Trapital this week, Denisha Kuhlor, is out to solve that pain point with her new music tech startup, Stan.

 

Denisha’s company wants to take a more scientific approach to understanding and growing an artist’s fanbase — from the casuals to the “stans.” Strengthening the artist-fan relationship will create better fan experiences, or as Denisha calls them, “moments of magic.” 

 

One way to create that magic is through live performance, but not necessarily at music festivals, argues Denisha. She thinks artists are mistakenly prioritizing quantitative metrics (attendance and performance-fee sizes) rather than the qualitative. While this might provide a short-term boost, it hurts in the long term since artists aren’t connecting with the “stans” that are paying to see them and them only.   

 

Denisha has observed this effect among Africa-based artists. The continent has produced a number of new stars, who generally “cut their teeth” performing at smaller, but more intimate venues like a club or even a wedding. Denisha has more insights into the rise of Africa’s music scene, the state of touring, and more. Here’s all our talking points in this episode:

 

[2:44] The Downside Of Performing At Music Festivals

[8:52] Followers Aren’t Your Fans

[12:51] African Artists Model The Way For Growing A Fanbase

[14:11] Benefits Of Instant Feedback Loops When Performing

[16:47] Cardi B’s Unique Approach To Touring

[21:28] Deeper Message In Kendrick Lamar’s Partnership With Cash App 

[26:52] What’s The Future Of African Music?

[28:07] TikTok’s Influence In Africa’s Music Scene

[31:42] Differences Between Performing In US Vs. Africa 

[33:55] ‘Elasticity” Of An Artist Like Future

[38:41] Denisha’s Start-Up Stan Is Reimagining Fan-Artist Relationship

[40:19] How An Artist Can Leverage Stan

 

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | SoundCloud | Stitcher | Overcast | Amazon | Google Podcasts | Pocket Casts | RSS

 

Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co

 

Guests: Denisha Kuhlor, @denishakuhlor

 

Enjoy this podcast? Rate and review the podcast here! ratethispodcast.com/trapital

 

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TRANSCRIPTION

[00:00:00] Denisha Kuhlor: I really think that music coming out of the continent in a lot of ways, it really does like describe like the tastemaker culture. I always hear the songs first in Ghana. I learned about I’m A Piano in Ghana, even Peru, I was in Ghana back in August. And that’s when I first heard the song. Like, I think because of the just diaspora nature, right? So people like myself or other first or second-gen folks going home and saying like, oh, wow, like this is the next big thing out here and kind of taking it back allows for that to happen. 

[00:00:31] Dan Runcie:  Hey, welcome to the Trapital podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from executives in music, media, entertainment, and more who are taking hip-hop culture to the next level. 

[00:00:58] Dan Runcie: Today’s episode is all about fans, specifically as it relates to music festivals because the people that see you perform at music festivals are not necessarily the same people that see you perform when you’re on a tour. And on this episode, I was joined by Denisha Kuhlor, who is the founder and CEO of Stan, a company that focuses specifically on helping artists make better decisions based on their fan engagement.

[00:01:24] Dan Runcie: And we talked all about what it’s like for artists that focus on music festivals and while music festivals can be a great way to reach new people and a great way to get a good check, especially if you’re a headliner performing at one of the big ones, it doesn’t replace the things that don’t scale and doing the hard work of building a fan base, and going out there, and meeting the people that actually want to see your music and see you in person.

[00:01:50] Dan Runcie: So we talk about that. We talk about some of the current trends in the trade-offs and what Denisha is currently seeing, specifically in Africa with artists like Burna Boy, and Wizkid, and Davido and others that have really made the most of the constraints that they’ve had, but how it actually helped improve their careers as well.

[00:02:08] Dan Runcie: We also talked about the music investment landscape, specifically in Africa, some of the opportunities there, some of the differences as it relates to music streaming. And then we chat a little bit more about Stan and what Denisha is building towards. This is a really fun combo. I hope you enjoy it. Here’s my chat with Denisha.

[00:02:26] Dan Runcie: All right. Today we’re joined by Denisha Kuhlor, who is the founder and CEO of Stan. And Denisha, you recently wrote an awesome guest piece in Trapital about the downside of music festivals. So why did you write this piece? Let’s talk about it. 

[00:02:44] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. So it’s been something that’s been in my mind for a long time. I think even on the consumer side, I’ve changed, I guess, how I patronize music and seeing artists and really just wanted to talk about like, how that impacts my relationship with the artists. I think we’ve been really conditioned and excited as consumers to attend festivals that optimize for seeing as many artists as possible.

[00:03:09] Denisha Kuhlor: But what I think about some of my favorite music moments, frankly, they weren’t at a festival, always a show that the artists headlined themselves. And so when I think about the impact and the touring coming, kind of coming back, you know, since restrictions, because of COVID, I think it was really important to explore from both an artist and somewhat a fan perspective.

[00:03:28] Dan Runcie: Yeah. One of the things, I think, you highlight as well, especially on the artist’s perspective too, we could easily get caught up in the allure of festivals. People always want to see who’s headlining Coachella and what does it mean. And there’s not going to be as much of a headlining or newsworthy thing if you’re doing your own festival, but in a lot of ways, that’s where you really meet your fans everywhere. And in a lot of ways, that makes much more of a difference in the long term even if the initial check size isn’t as big, which you called out. 

[00:04:01] Denisha Kuhlor: Exactly. And in a weird way, festivals have almost become like very industry, I guess, and everything leading up to the festival, right? The politics behind being picked, where your name is on the flyer and, and what that represents. And while they’re all great, I guess, points that can help an artist in the right direction, I think there’s other ways to do it that maybe don’t initially come with some of that fanfare. I totally agree. 

[00:04:25] Dan Runcie: So what are some of those ways? 

[00:04:27] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. So I really, to, I guess, put a tech or venture lens on it, but the great essay of like, doing things that don’t scale, right? Like, I think so often as an artist or as an aspiring artist, it’s really easy to look up to the really big things. Like you said, those are the things that are newsworthy, those are the things that are covered, and that people like see as amazing. But I, I think that artists right now have like a really unique ability to just play around, right, and play around with what that means. So I think a lot about Burna Boy’s interview in Billboard recently. And even though he just like headline MSG, is the first Nigerian act to do that, and has been breaking a ton of records. Like, he just kind of was like, the next big thing for me is touring in like, avant-garde venues or venues that you typically wouldn’t.

[00:05:11] Denisha Kuhlor: And while he’s a big star, that’s something that’s really feasible for small artists as well, right? You know, venues, venues and tradition. And that’s why I love what, like Sofar Sounds are, is doing or other platforms. But I think so often it’s easy to have like a uniform idea of what a tour looks like, or even what connecting with your fans looks like.

[00:05:31] Denisha Kuhlor: And I think sometimes just bringing together, like, even 20 or 25 people that want to see you, that are willing to take their time. And like this world of an attention deficit, like someone giving an hour or two hours of your time just to appreciate your art is really amazing. And I think that artists are so used, like, just sold out a thousand, a thousand seats or 2000 or 3000. The quantitative numbers kind of don’t allow them to connect on a qualitative level. 

[00:05:57] Dan Runcie: Right. And everyone has to start somewhere. But I feel like in this era where there’s so much instant gratification, people don’t always want to go through the steps of shooting in the gym or any of that to get to that point.

[00:06:09] Dan Runcie: And I think part of what makes it tough, even if they’re willing to do it, sometimes the optics can be a bit scary just because of how things are set up. I think one of the things that you mentioned in the piece and we were talking about afterward is just how, if an artist gets booked on a festival, everyone may not necessarily be there to see them, even the people that are standing there, but there’s this optic of look at me, performing in front of these 8,000 people that are immediately in front of me, right? But if they go and do their own show and they can’t sell a thousand tickets, or if they have one of those things where they’re performing and you could see so much space in between the people that are standing in the audience, then there’s a bit of a vanity piece where it’s like, are you comfortable with that even though, you know, that that’s how you build a fan base. 

[00:06:57] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. Yeah. So true. You know, as we were talking about that point, I thought a lot deeper about it, and a dynamic, I think, that’s also really important is almost like how social media accessibility also plays from a peer perspective.

[00:07:12] Denisha Kuhlor: And so these artists, while you can be a smaller, newer, upcoming artist, you can, I guess, be or feel like your peers with artists that are way larger than you just for proximity to that artist. And as a result, you almost kind of feel, like, embarrassed, if you will. It’s like a freshman hanging out with a senior, right?

[00:07:31] Denisha Kuhlor: They’re going to do senior things, whether it’s going to prom or what, like whatever, but there’s, like, really levels and social media. And I guess just other mediums have kind of taken away some of those levels. And as a result, like Issa Rae’s quote, people are so busy, like, networking that they’re not networking across. And as a result who or what they compare themselves to creates a false sense of reality when it comes time for their own careers. 

[00:07:54] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think that if you’re on that stage, you think, okay. Yeah, I’m here, but you’re really not. There’s a huge difference. And as we both know, festivals get sold by the headliners, and yeah, the further, the smaller your font size is, for better or worse, the more interchangeable you actually are. And I think an instance of this, I know I’ve written about this recently, was looking at Coi Leray. And a lot of people had made a bit of noise about where things looked like from her perspective and her numbers because she had so many things that were coincides in her favor, in terms of being signed a Republic, she had songs with Nicki and Lil Durk. She performed on Fallon, BET awards. Benzino’s daughter, over 6 million Instagram followers, but when it came time to sell her album, we’re talking 11,500 units, which is around, I mean, less than 20 million streams in a week, which isn’t that much.

[00:08:52] Dan Runcie: There’s plenty of other legacy albums that get more than that. And then they recently announced her tour and she’s doing a mix of festivals and tour stops, but her tour stops, they’re cities with less than 500 capacity venues. And I don’t think it’s just her necessarily. I think this applies to a lot of people, but it’s just such a big difference where, okay, your followers are not necessarily your fans. And I think the distinction between touring and doing, you know, festivals highlights that more than anything. 

[00:09:24] Denisha Kuhlor: I think she’s been a really interesting one to watch if only for all the things you mentioned. She’s a great example of kind of a new artist these days and it begs the question, like, if attention at all, even really equals any type of conversion to, like, true patronage. And something I find is that like in a digitally native generation, they don’t view attention, or maybe even we, like, we don’t necessarily view attention in a positive or negative sentiment. Just because in a way you’re willing to give your attention to something doesn’t mean in any way it’s potentially in your favor when the time comes that that attention will convert to something really tangible.

[00:10:04] Denisha Kuhlor: But I also in, you know, in her case being signed, you know, being signed to Republic, I think it continues to, like, push that conversation of what A&R should look like now. You know, reading a lot about how A&R has evolved and having conversations with people in the industry. I think before or, or now it’s evolved, right, to, like, leveraging data, right? And so many people talk about data. You can, of course, leverage data to find these up-and-coming artists, but then once you do or decide that you want to invest in this artist and work with this artist, what do those conversations kind of look like early to promote that strategy and kind of sometimes force the artists to, to go slow before they can go fast.

[00:10:41] Denisha Kuhlor: I mean, we’ve all seen documentaries of artists from decades ago and kind of all the pre-work they did before even being pushed to being allowed to release a single or being allowed to perform a song. And that looks very different now. It almost seems like things are backwards, but not in a reverse engineer backwards. It’s more just like, this happened and so now let’s capitalize on that. And I think that we’re kind of seeing some of the negative effects of premature success if you will. 

[00:11:08] Dan Runcie: Yeah, for sure. I think that, on a more recent level, I think about Olivia Rodrigo here in the US, everyone saw how big Sour was and they were like, oh, well, you could go tour arenas now.

[00:11:20] Dan Runcie: And it sounds like her and her team talked about it. They’re like, no, we’re going to stick to the halls that we have. And it looks like she’s performing in venues that have, you know, roughly several thousand, you know, capacity. At least that’s what I saw here when she came through in San Francisco. And I think she may have done like Radio City or some of the others I would have to check, but I feel like that makes sense. You know, just given that, but I think this dynamic is even more pronounced in Africa, which a lot of the artists, which have recently become superstars there as well. And you talked a lot about that in the piece and Burna Boy, who I think is a great case study on this. 

[00:11:55] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve, one, just loved the music coming out of the continent. And two, I think it’s really fascinating in the way artists have to position their careers to really succeed both in the continent and on a global scale. You know, part of it in a way probably comes from socioeconomic factors and then as well as just having like really migrant diasporas.

[00:12:16] Denisha Kuhlor: But because of that, artists are like really, I think, forced to prioritize performing in the beginning. And when you look at the audience, right, it is kind of those things that don’t scale. It’s the weddings, it’s the really small club performances, it’s the open mics, like things that used to be very common for artists everywhere.

[00:12:37] Denisha Kuhlor: But seems like, has kind of, kind of slowed down. And so as a result, I think, without having an A&R, they kind of do their own a A&R, right? You’ve heard stories of artists who would come to a country once and like nobody came to see them. And then three years later, the show was sold out.

[00:12:51] Denisha Kuhlor: And so, artists are not only able to refine their performances. They get quick feedback loops and they do it in a way that I think is authentic to them and their sound. And it forces them to win people over, right? If you’re performing at a wedding, the percentage of people that might like you could be high, could be low. But ultimately you want to walk away with more fans, right? These people are giving you an opportunity to convert them or at least to try. Whereas now I think, unfortunately, a little bit of entitlement that comes with some artists, right? Even from being upset when the audience doesn’t react a certain way, and that’s just like a humility that I think African artists have, have embraced.

[00:13:28] Denisha Kuhlor: In terms of converting, converting the fan or the listener. And I think you see that even more when the artist really begins to take a global approach. Everybody from, you know, Davido shutting out the power of, the power of New York, or why music from the continent has been able to get so big as of recently.

[00:13:46] Denisha Kuhlor: And so I think that African artists are a great example in terms of looking to, to kind of do that slow climb, and that slow work to be able to get to the point where they can sell out arenas today. 

[00:13:57] Dan Runcie: Right. It’s like the constraints that the industry has forced them to do the things that don’t scale and because they exactly did that, that’s how they’re in the position they are today. And that’s why Burna Boy’s selling out Madison Square Garden, right? 

[00:14:11] Denisha Kuhlor: Exactly. Exactly. And it’s a safe space, if you will, to get feedback. I think, you know, so often as an artist, you’re of course refining who you are in creative direction and all of that, but there’s just some things that come from experience with being a performer and constantly just having those feedback loops to, to iterate on what songs work, what transitions work. When you see a Beyoncé at Coachella, that’s years and decades of being able to study crowd reaction of how certain things flow, what works, what doesn’t work to put on a show like that.

[00:14:44] Dan Runcie: Yeah, the feedback loops piece is key too, ’cause obviously that’s going to be harder to get from a festival because you don’t even know if half these people are just, you know, burning time until the headliner comes, but you can actually see what the folks you’re trying to reach resonate with. And this is something that I always thought about.

[00:14:59] Dan Runcie: Tyler Perry, of course, this isn’t music, but with his place, he would always talk about this, how he would switch things up. He’s going on this large tour across different parts of the country. He’s going to use certain jokes or use certain lines that are going to work in the South, that aren’t going to work in the Northeast and aren’t going to work on the West Coast, and things like that.

[00:15:18] Dan Runcie: And anyone that is performing that actually sees how the people that they are reaching, interact with the stuff while they’re doing it. It almost always leads to a better product so that when they are doing the movies or when they are doing the mass thing, they can hit the ground running. 

[00:15:34] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, that’s really true. And you know, as you’re talking, it makes me think about like, maybe there’s even a certain archetype of artists and like, one that doesn’t, like, heavily involve performance. Like, I think a lot about comedians and what the, what a comedian looks like now. You have your Instagram comedians or, you know, TikTok comedy is as it’s referred to, but not many of them are thinking about going on tour doing standup. And so maybe in some ways, even all-encompassing performer is different now. 

[00:16:03] Dan Runcie: Yeah. Yeah. I do think that for the people that are doing things live, it is easier to see it. I think that honestly, for people that write or podcast, it could be tougher because you, any type of feedback, there has to be at least some level of intent to let me reply to this email or let me follow up. I do think it’s relatively easier for someone that has a newsletter to be able to do it relative to someone that’s just writing standalone on a website. But I do think that when podcasters have live events and that is attracting people to a certain area, like, that’s how they’re able to get around this. But everyone, I think most creators, the more IRL things you have, whatever it is that you create, you’re going to get more value out of that. 

[00:16:45] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. I totally agree with you there. 

[00:16:47] Dan Runcie: Yeah. the person that I think actually kind of challenges this with some nuance perspective is Cardi B, especially at the highest level, just considering that we’re now, it’s been four years since Invasion of Privacy.

[00:17:00] Dan Runcie: I think it’s been five years since Bodak Yellow came out, which is wild to say, but I think there’s a few things. One she’s yet to do a true formal tour. And she’s been the first to say that with, Hey, I’m getting seven-figure guarantees to go do stuff over in Europe. And sometimes I even get those checks here in the US to perform in headline festivals.

[00:17:21] Dan Runcie: Why would I go through all of the things that are involved with touring? And to be fair, there are some challenges that many artists have with touring, whether it’s okay, making sure that the lighting and everything is set up right. And the production looks great on that first event that you have, because if that doesn’t hit right, then that’s going to impact the sales for everything else.

[00:17:40] Dan Runcie: So even though we know that, yeah, that’s part of doing things that don’t scale. You have to do it. Some artists are fearful of that. And I think sometimes she may, you know, or at least she’s alluded to her avoiding that, or even just the cost. Like, she even talked to herself about how the first time she did Coachella, it cost her more money than she actually got from the events of doing it just because of how much she spent on those things.

[00:18:01] Dan Runcie: And, you know, she, at least, of her perspective sounds like she wants to be able to build up leverage likely in order to command a, you know, 40, 50 plus city arena tour that would likely match up with her star power. And I feel like that’s part of the thing because I remember there was this debate going on, where people were wondering, okay, you know, if she does, like, what she would do.

[00:18:26] Dan Runcie: And of course you’d all the Nicki Minaj haters were being like, oh, well she’s not doing a tour ’cause she can’t sell out a tour. And it’s like, okay, I don’t think it’s that, you know, egregious. You all can, the barbs can relax a bit. But I do think that, you know, part of what I think makes it kind of tough, especially from a, a social following perspective, which I know is something that we’ve talked about before is that with certain artists, the reason that people follow you, you mentioned this earlier, isn’t always because they’re, like, vibing with your music.

[00:18:57] Dan Runcie: I mean, Cardi B puts out a lot of, you know, beauty shots to show off her fashion to show off her glamor, and some people may like that stuff and they may have not even listened to WAP or any of the, you know, bigger hits she has so how do you quantify that? So I’m very interested to see, one, what this next album looks like and what her next live performance strategy looks like.

[00:19:19] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. You know, if, if I was like thinking about what would be interesting for Cardi B, I think ultimately it’d be kind of a hybrid experience, right? Like I think you nailed it on the head in the sense that Cardi is a lifestyle, a lifestyle brand that has many different pillars that stand for many different things.

[00:19:36] Denisha Kuhlor: And people really resonate with her, but for all types of things. And so, you know, you see more artists creating their own festivals and I don’t know if there’s a potential to, like, pilot what that, like, hybrid concept could look like maybe in the Bronx or somewhere unique to her.

[00:19:50] Denisha Kuhlor: But I think that ultimately it will need to encompass everything that she represents. And so while the music will, of course, be one of those pillars, I feel like it could be, or would be so much, so much more. And given that she has so many brand deals and endorsements with companies that really appreciate her for the lifestyle brand that she is, I think it could be really, really unique.

[00:20:10] Denisha Kuhlor: Even a partner with a festival promoter, you know, Rolling Loud is working with Chris Brown and Lil Baby as they go on tour. Like, even to, to have that partnership in a way that’s really authentic and unique to her, I think is going to be fascinating. I feel like she’s the artist that can kind of push the envelope in terms of experiencing her or artist in a way that we haven’t necessarily thought of. You know, so often I think about, I think about like the rise or, of nightclubs and like branded parties. And right now you kind of see like two things, right? There’s like really popular nightclubs that will just exist by virtue of like being a marquee name, whether that’s the LIV and LIV on Sunday, but then you also have parties, right? And the parties exist without the, the venues. What I constantly think about is, like, everyday people is the party. It’s not about where everyday people is or more, or more so where they’re going. And so I think that’s like a similar thing, that Cardi brings and the ability that she’s so much of the brand, that it’s more so about what she wants to do and where she’ll bring people to that medium versus following the traditional way things have been done before. 

[00:21:11] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think the branded piece, it, especially being able to have some type of partner with the concert or with the tour more broadly, would be big because I’m thinking about some of the recent ones we’ve seen. And even some of these are just slight nuances, like Kendrick Lamar partnering with Cash App for his Big Steppers tour.

[00:21:28] Dan Runcie: He has coming up. I saw The Weeknd has one of these crypto companies. I think it’s Binance. Yeah, Binance is doing his tour and he’s doing like a big stadium tour for this run that he has coming up. And I think that just opens it up to be like, yeah, you could have many other folks. It doesn’t always necessarily have to be, you know, Visa credit card holders to get the pre-check or whatever it is to get the early thing. You know, you can actually have, you know, other partners that are aligned with many of the brands and partnerships that Cardi has already had relationships with. 

[00:22:01] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. And I really thought, you know, the Kendrick and Cash App partnership was fascinating to me because of, I feel like, the message it sent, right? Like, to me, it almost said like, let’s make this tour accessible to all our fans versus the barrier to entry, you know, while it’s nice to have an Amex Platinum, not everyone does so like versus the barrier to entry. And I think that’s another really important thing with touring, right?

[00:22:25] Denisha Kuhlor: Like controlling the barriers to entry in which your fans get to see you. And so, you know, it just really symbolized to me that, like, in a way, Kendrick, like, wants his biggest fans there and he’s going to remove the barriers to entry to do so. So that was a, I really enjoyed seeing that partnership.

[00:22:43] Dan Runcie: Yeah. That’s a great point because I think one of the challenges that we’ve seen over the years with live shows and live entertainment pricing for events is artists that are trying to price things in a way to give fans a fair chance. But also understanding that the reseller market is going to, you know, take it up to a crazy amount and then you have artists buying back and then trying to sell it themselves as resellers. And I know it could just get so messy when you see that. But I think it’s clearly done because they want to be able to make sure that the actual fans can do it. But yeah, if you’re just giving it to like Amex Platinum and Black Card holders, then it isn’t going to work Like, we’ve all seen the dynamics of how Cash App grew. Cash App grew because of hip-hop fans ’cause of hip-hop influencers pushing this, and then that’s how they’re able to grow in the South and grow in places that Venmo didn’t grow. So have it all lined up if you’re trying to reach those people.

[00:23:37] Denisha Kuhlor: Exactly, exactly. You know, in, in the years to come and especially with the rise of tech and really probably as a result of rising customer acquisition costs on Facebook ads and other platforms. Partnering with tech companies is going to be a great source, a great source of revenue.

[00:23:52] Denisha Kuhlor: And I think just authentic partnership for artists. And ultimately it’ll come down to their methodology behind choosing the right partners and what it says about how they value or how they desire to connect with their audiences. So I’m excited to see more, more partnerships, especially, I guess not just in the FinTech space, but consumer technology space overall. And I think we can tell, you know, even just as regular fans, whether it’s authentic or not. Cash App made so much sense, everybody was like, of course. And I think the best part about it was people were like, oh, I have an account. Like, I’ve already done X thing. And so this just naturally fits in with my lifestyle. 

[00:24:28] Dan Runcie: Yeah, definitely. And I, I think we’ll see more of it. I hope we continue to, I know a lot of these companies have been US-based, but I’m really excited to see what’s going to be coming from Africa specifically because there’s so much music activity.

[00:24:43] Dan Runcie: We already talked about the artists coming through and how the artists themselves in many ways will have better chops just because of the constraints that you know, are there that currently existed that we talked about earlier. What are you seeing in the space? What excites you?

[00:24:57] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, I’ve been really excited about everything coming out of the continent, both from a music standpoint and venture standpoint.

[00:25:04] Denisha Kuhlor: It’s interesting because for a long time telcos have been heavily involved in underwriting artists, artists careers, right? So a lot of performances and even festivals are heavily sponsored by telcos on the continent. And so they’ve always had a role and I think kind of understood the value in investing in partnering with, with artists early. I think what’s evolving is the amount of money coming to the continent, especially as it relates to startups and funding tech companies.

[00:25:31] Denisha Kuhlor: And so as a result, like they realize the value as well and investing in music. And you see a lot of those partnerships. I mean, Chipper Cash is partnered with Burna Boy, right? So, like looking at, like, one of the most valued FinTech companies in Africa and one of the biggest artists in Africa, I think we’re going to continue to see those relationships and those partnerships. I also think that it’s going to evolve to a natural progression that we saw here as that artists want a bit more, a bit more of the pie. And so while, you know, speculating, I think a lot of these deals are, you know, cash, maybe a small range of cash and a little bit of equity.

[00:26:06] Denisha Kuhlor: I think we’re going to see artists want to become a lot more hands-on, especially for projects that are commoditized. And in a lot of ways, remittances or some of these FinTech products are, are really dependent on your ability to have a license. And so as artists maybe get to start to be able to navigate that landscape and bring together teams, I would be, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them launch products of their own in similar spaces.

[00:26:30] Dan Runcie: Yeah, it’s exciting. I mean, there’s so much, I also look at what’s happening in music specifically. Of course, as we know all the major record labels have a presence, not just in the, you know, continent overall, but in the different areas. I mean, it’s huge. You can’t just, you know, have a presence in South Africa and think you’re going to cover everything happening sub Sahara or everywhere else.

[00:26:52] Dan Runcie: Like, you need to be focused on what’s happening in a particular area. And I think too, we saw earlier this year in Andreessen Horowitz had made its first investment in that mobile games company, Carry1st, I think we’re going to see more and more of that. And I do think that we’re going to see even more innovation in African music.

[00:27:12] Dan Runcie: I know that all the streaming services have been trying to acquire more subscribers and more listeners in those places. But yeah, the dominant listening in many ways is still downloads of the companies that have been able to focus on that. So there’s so many unique aspects that I’m excited to see play out.

[00:27:32] Denisha Kuhlor: Totally. Another, you know, another, I guess, thing that’s really interesting to me is the kind of the conversation lately, as it relates to like what type of music has dominated. I’ve seen and talked to a lot of folks who kind of hypothesized that, like the reason music coming out of the continents and has grown so much is because it’s very universal in a way where everybody can participate. Like say, on the dance floor, just experiencing the music versus kind of some of the hip-hop and rap music that has dominated that’s really driven by club culture, and bottle popping culture, and VIP, and sections and, and that whole thing.

[00:28:07] Denisha Kuhlor: And so, I find that, I find that dynamic fascinating as well in kind of the universal sense that it brings. And you see that on like TikTok, like how many, like, dances can you make to a song about like popping bottles versus just like a really great beat? 

[00:28:24] Dan Runcie: Right, right. Yeah. Do you feel like TikTok is having the same impact there on the continent that it is in the US? Are you noticing anything that’s unique or different? 

[00:28:34] Denisha Kuhlor: No. I, I really think that music coming out of the continent in a lot of ways it really does like describe like the tastemaker culture. As someone who’s spent, you know, time in Ghana as well as in the States, like, I always hear the songs first in Ghana. I learned about I’m A Piano in Ghana, even Peru, I was in Ghana back in August. And that’s when I first heard the song. Like I think because of the just diaspora nature, right? So people like myself or other first or second-gen folks going home and saying like, oh, wow, like this is the next big thing out here and kind of taking it back allows for that to happen. 

[00:29:10] Denisha Kuhlor: So in a lot of ways, I feel like I go or spend time on the continent to see, to see what’s new. And then TikTok is probably the biggest indicator of what’s most likely to take off from there. But I would look at, you know, some of these cities, especially around nightlife, as more of the curators and, and the tastemakers and TikTok, just being a mirror of, in some ways, the work that’s already been done. 

[00:29:31] Dan Runcie: Okay. So it’s more so following the culture, not setting it. 

[00:29:34] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. 

[00:29:36] Dan Runcie: Yeah, I think, too, to some extent that’s, I would say maybe it’s, it’s a little different in the US because I do think that what we see on TikTok in some ways does set where people end up following, at least here, right? Because I think you just see so many trends originating from things people do. You’re more likely to see clips from TikTok posted and shared on other platforms, as opposed to what you may see, vice versa. So I feel like, yeah. 

[00:30:05] Denisha Kuhlor: I agree. I think it’s definitely, I think it’s definitely very different and I think it’s what makes being an artist a little, a little tricky because if you are an American artist, for example, and your song is becoming the biggest thing in Ghana, that probably has very, you know, different implications for how you navigate that or how you think about career and how you think about strategy.

[00:30:24] Denisha Kuhlor: And, you know, unfortunately, I guess if you’re an artist maybe who has risen on TikTok primarily in the States, what does that mean when it comes time for touring or time to do a date? How is that attention converted? Because the fact of the matter is American fans just have more opportunities to patronize their favorite artists.

[00:30:42] Denisha Kuhlor: When you look at the amount of venues and just like analysis to, and ways you can interact with artists here, there’s just so many, so many option. And so that conversion rate is high or is harder. 

[00:30:55] Dan Runcie: Yeah. And that reminds me of something else I’ve heard artists say. This isn’t anything new, but they’ve said that they always get more love when, US artists specifically, they always get more love when they perform outside of the US because the US artists, they see plenty of things there or the US fans necessarily, they have more opportunities to see you. So they’re not necessarily as like wilder, they take the moment in as special as it is, as opposed to the artists that are going outside of the USA perform. 

[00:31:26] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. You know, I talk to folks around when J Cole in Nigeria. And I think that was such a great example. Like, he had just released the album that day and was shocked that people knew, that people knew every word. And specifically, I think when artists come to the continent, it’s always an occasion, right? People are really excited.

[00:31:42] Denisha Kuhlor: Cardi B was a great example. People are just like really excited in some ways that they’re like participating. Like, we didn’t go to you, you came to us. You value us enough to do that. And I think, you know, regardless whether it’s Africa or Japan or even Europe, like, there’s just a, yeah, there’s just a different level of, of appreciation.

[00:32:00] Denisha Kuhlor: And people really, really hold onto it as an experience that will, that will be with them. And unfortunately, because of some of these, these festivals, like you can casually see an artist that you don’t even like that much. Multiple times, like, you know, I don’t, I don’t know the numbers off the top of my head, but let’s say if you go to every Rolling Loud festival in New York, just once a year, how many artists have overlapped or how many artists have you seen multiple times?

[00:32:25] Denisha Kuhlor: Just as a result of patronizing that one Fest. And so as a result, the star power, the whole je ne sais quoi, kind of, kind of falls away. But I think you don’t get that same type of, I guess, performance burnout or consumer burnout when you do headline your own tour because it’s something different every time. It’s experiencing, you know, Beyoncé fans, I’m sure we’ll talk about this, but I think the beauty and what her Coachella performance was. Everyone knew the songs, right, we knew the music for the most part, but it, it was now just experiencing it in a different way and in a way that she wanted us to experience it. And unfortunately, I don’t think artists get to do that in the same way with festivals they’re not headlining. 

[00:33:05] Dan Runcie: Yeah. The Rolling Loud example always makes me think of Future. I always say that he has a low-key residency at that. I, I actually went back, and counted this. I forget how many Rolling Louds there have been, but at least 40% of them, he has been a headliner at.

[00:33:23] Dan Runcie: I mean, it’s a high number and to your point, I mean, I’m sure that paycheck’s great. I, I’m not concerned about, you know, Future from a buddy perspective. He is prolific, and, I mean, he had one of the best-selling albums so far this year, but yeah, to your point that is kind of, I think, Future is a model that clicks with that as well.

[00:33:42] Dan Runcie: He’s going to put out music early and often. He’s going to perform, and he’s always going to be there. And I think for him it works, but it’s just not going to be the same thing necessarily as. Beyoncé record or something like that.

[00:33:55] Denisha Kuhlor: You know, I’m curious, how do you think that impacts like an artist’s elasticity, like, of course, with more and more artists selling their catalogs and just navigating the world as an artist very differently, how do you think that does impact their just elasticity in the music game overall? 

[00:34:12] Dan Runcie: I think it’s twofold because I think that to one point, a lot of artists do feel like they have to keep the content machine turning. I think that’s, that kinda line, lines up with Daniel Ek, Spotify CEO, and what he had said that was a polarizing statement at the time of you releasing music every three years, isn’t going to be enough anymore. So I do think that someone like Future has lead into that and say, okay, I have this base and I know they’re going to listen to everything that I put out, whatever I do it. So let me maximize that.

[00:34:49] Dan Runcie: And I think for someone like Future because as popular as he is with a particular demo, one, his mainstream popularity isn’t quite where it was like when like DS2 came out in 2015. So he’s definitely serving more of the large, but, you know, core fans. And I think just given some of the issues that people have about him, and, of course, we’ve all seen the memes about, you know, problematic Future sending, you know, the text to the, to the ex or whatever it is.

[00:35:20] Dan Runcie: Like, I don’t think that he necessarily has the same marketability to let’s say, go launch a, you know, huge, whatever it is, the same way that we see the Beyoncé or Rihanna do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t, he can obviously still has the platform. So I do think for him and even someone like an NBA YoungBoy who, you know, is even younger, then releasing music early and often kind of works for them because they may not get, you know, like, the big deal from whatever company wanting to partner with them, but they could reach their fans directly. So they’re going to maximize that. So I think it’s a little different though, when you are a Beyoncé or you are a Rihanna where, you know, there’s so many other things you’re doing, so when you release music, you do want it to hit because you want it to have this halo effect over everything else that you’re doing.

[00:36:06] Dan Runcie: There’s anomalies to this, of course, I mean, or not anomalies, but I think some folks will do it differently. I mean, Drake is still going to give you a release every year, every other year. Kanye West has likely been doing the same, but I do think that that’s still different than, you know, how like Future’s going about it.

[00:36:23] Denisha Kuhlor: Agreed. Agreed. I wonder 10 years from now or 15 years from now if Future is still touring or even releasing music, what that relationship looks like, and even what a tour would look like given the brevity of music he’s put out. 

[00:36:37] Dan Runcie: Yeah. To be honest, I think he likely will, just a matter of like, you know, what does it look like? How big and like, you know, like, the dynamics there. I recently posed the question on Twitter, which artist do you expect to still be releasing music when they’re 70 plus years old? I don’t think many people mentioned him, but I would definitely put him in that category. I feel like not too far away from 40. I do think that, you know, he loves this, for better or worse, and I feel like he’ll likely continue. 

[00:37:06] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. Yeah. And I think, you know, in, in rap, it’s still so new, which is crazy that we have just seen enough examples of that. And so these probably, or artists like Future will be those, those examples for us to look back at.

[00:37:20] Dan Runcie: Definitely. And I think so much of this, with this whole conversation, we’re talking about the relationship between fans and how fans really help you format what you’re doing and how to really set the framework for your career. And this aligns with the work that you’re doing now. You recently launched and, and announce the company you have with Stan that is helping artists have a more fan-focused approach to their careers. So can you talk a bit more about that? 

[00:37:45] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. Yeah. So I recently decided to go full-time on a music tech startup called Stan, focused on audience engagement infrastructure, so really to help artists understand their audiences at a micro and macro level with the goal of providing better fan experiences. I kind of think it’s crazy in some ways that every industry that wants to encourage a repeatable customer behavior has a loyalty program, but unfortunately, artists have very fragmented loyalty programs. And of course, the rise of NFTs and specific things as it relates to streaming platforms or even email lists. We’ve seen artists make great attempts, I think at doing and running really effective programs, but I really want to add more, more science to the arts to create, if you will, moments of magic on a greater scale. So artists can better connect with their fan bases. 

[00:38:36] Dan Runcie: Nice. Where did the inspiration come from? I’m sure a lot of it is things we talked about in this conversation.

[00:38:41] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, so much of it. Interestingly enough, it has come from writing. I long admired, of course, Trapital and, and other platforms. And really just wanted to explore, like, the conversation of fan relationships. And I think fan relationships have evolved so much, but wanted to kind of like push the, push the envelope in terms of what was being explored as it relates to the fan-artist relationship and also highlight how sophisticated fans are of course, with, you know, the rise of, of stans and how much they’re covered. I think that people think of fans as just like, okay, like a casual listener and then the overzealous fan. And I think that’s such a, that’s such a gap and fandoms operate in such a sophisticated way, that we really needed to push the conversation on what that looked like.

[00:39:25] Denisha Kuhlor: And as a result, the more I kept writing, the greater, like the problem became to me in the sense of, I think there’s a lot of really, really amazing platforms designed to, you know, be direct to fan and connect the artists to the fan. But for anybody that’s in any type of relationship business, I think it feels a little used car salesman to, like, try and extract money, like immediately, like, Hey, I just met you, like, give me this thing. And so I felt like there was a, an over-focus on the monetization of fan bases. Before fan bases were frankly strong enough to, to survive that monetization. So I kind of wanted to take it back a step to say, if you have a really strong relationship, relationships are everything, right? You’ll be able to survive and not even just survive, thrive, because you can withstand volatility and maybe even turmoil.

[00:40:13] Dan Runcie: So what does it look like from the artist’s perspective? Like, if I wanted get involved, like, what does that engagement look like? 

[00:40:19] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah. Yeah. So we’re currently in the experimentation phase playing around with products and experiments that allow us to hit product-market fit. We’re gearing up for a beta. So I love to talk to any artists that think really intensely about connecting with their fans. But ideally, we love to work with artists that, one, want to create, like, what I call moments of magic. And so like some great examples is J Cole, right? Like, not only the Dollar & A Dream Tour,, but going to, going to this fan’s graduations or how do you actively and naturally involve yourself in your fan’s life in a way that feels authentic and encourages a bidirectional relationship.

[00:40:55] Denisha Kuhlor: As a result, a lot of the work that we’re doing is analyzing artists and their current data as well as tapping into, into new data sets as a result of creating games, as well as just different forms for artists to connect with their fans. So any artist that, one, thinks deeply about this, that wants to understand their data better across multiple platforms. We, we’d love to talk to you, especially as we work with artists on an ad hoc basis to gear up for the launch of the platform. 

[00:41:23] Dan Runcie: Makes sense. I mean, as we both know, this type of need is more crucial than ever, and there’s so much data that can be misleading or misunderstood as you’ve talked about before you can’t just go on a follower account. You can’t just go on Spotify listens. Some of these things correlate, but a lot of them don’t. 

[00:41:41] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, it’s so true. You know, I think Spotify Wrapped is always so interesting to me in the sense that it’s great, right? And what became even more interesting was when fans, fans, of course, post, but then to see artists post, right?

[00:41:54] Denisha Kuhlor: And kind of what that meant for them and the excitement. And so there were things that I felt like off the bat, like, certain artists expected to get, right, you expected to have every country represented when it came to countries listened or just certain things represented, but I thought a lot about it.

[00:42:08] Denisha Kuhlor: And I was just like, that one snapshot into a portion of your fan base. Like, what does that tell you from an actionable data perspective? But I guess before we can even know how relevant or how much you can guide your actions around those results is how much of your fan base is on Spotify? Like you mentioned, in actual, like, a lot of music is listened through downloads or partnerships with telcos and other streaming platforms.

[00:42:31] Denisha Kuhlor: People use Audiomack, and Boomplay, and different streaming platforms. And so without, like, knowing an aggregate, what your Spotify listeners even represent when it comes to your audience? It can also be a slippery slope to make directions based on the most advanced data sets. If they’re not really replicative of your whole audience.

[00:42:51] Dan Runcie: Right. Because I think one of the things that I often see with Spotify specifically is that people will, especially in the US, they’ll use it as like a rule of thumb to say that, okay, you see the data that comes to you from Spotify, either multiply it by three or three and a half or four. And maybe that gives you a rough idea of how big the overall streaming market is for a particular artist, but that works in the US that doesn’t work for artists elsewhere. So being able to see those distinctions, especially considering how global the music industry is, that’s where people can actually make actionable insight. 

[00:43:25] Denisha Kuhlor: Exactly. Exactly. I think, you know, artists are really starting to approach their careers from a global standpoint will be really, really helpful moving forward.

[00:43:33] Denisha Kuhlor: And as they consider the elasticity of their own careers, especially given that, like, smaller markets can be more forgiving, right? And so even if you don’t want to necessarily go through the 50-city 500-person venue tour, what about going to just a smaller market globally and getting that feedback, being able to perform, really connecting with your fans that way too.

[00:43:54] Denisha Kuhlor: I completely agree with you. I think that artists are just going to really have to be global from day one and as a result just because you’re familiar with consuming music in a certain way, isn’t necessarily how your entire fan base is going to do it. So becoming more sophisticated around what that looks like and how you can best work with those platforms will be really, really advantageous moving forward.

[00:44:14] Denisha Kuhlor: Definitely. 

[00:44:15] Dan Runcie: And you’re in a great position to be able to do that. So I feel like the timing lines up well with this. So for you specifically, for the people that either are listening, or whether they’re artists or working with artists, where can they follow up? Where could they go? 

[00:44:28] Denisha Kuhlor: Yeah, yeah. So you can find me on Denisha Kuhlor at Twitter, love Twitter so always on there. And then you can just shoot me an email at d@stan.fan as well. 

[00:44:38] Dan Runcie: Sounds good. Denisha, this was great. I feel like we covered a bunch of things that are happening right now in the industry and yeah, very timely. So thanks again for coming. 

[00:44:47] Denisha Kuhlor: Of course. Thanks for having me. 

[00:44:49] Dan Runcie: If you enjoyed this podcast, go ahead and share with a friend, copy the link, text it to a friend posted in your group chat, post it in your slack groups, wherever you and your people talk. Spread the word. That’s how Trapital continues to grow and continues to reach the right people. And while you’re at it, if you use Apple Podcasts, go ahead, rate the podcast, give it a high rating and leave a review. Tell people why you like the podcast that helps more people discover the show. Thank you in advance. Talk to you next week.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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