The artist meet-and-greet, along with the in-store signing, has been part of the music industry’s promotional arsenal for decades. But it has always been reliant on geography, opportunity and logistics – with the number of individual beneficiaries subsequently (and substantially) limited.
A new company, QJAM, is looking to revolutionize the sector by taking it online and making it social.
QJAM is placing itself – and its app – at the centre of a confluence of factors, including the increasing importance and personalization of the fan/artist relationship, the generational acceptance that everything previously thought of as physical (including meeting, greeting and signing) can de done digitally, and the modern desire to share something (especially something that involves celebrity).
Another part of this perfect storm, reflects QJAM’s London-based founder, Toby Harris (also of 100% Records) is the globalization effect of streaming, the fact that any fan from anywhere in the world can quite suddenly, perhaps quite randomly, become devoted to any artist from anywhere in the world.
Barriers have been broken down, but distance, for now, remains a physical reality, so, to be able to replicate, possibly even improve, the fan/artist interface between, say, Melbourne and Madrid, has obvious advantages.
To date, QJAM has brought fans together with artists including Liam Payne, Lennon Stella (pictured), Badly Drawn Boy and Nadine Shah, with more to come.
Here, Harris tells MBW about QJAM’s founding principles, its Liam Payne-driven launch, his long-term ambitions and the benefits for artists and fans across the globe…
What prompted you to launch QJAM – both in terms of the cultural and commercial trends/landscape?
I wanted the excitement and engagement of an in-store signing and to use tech to make it bigger, more global and more accessible.
I was sat in a promo meeting, thinking of ways an artist can connect with fans around the world and give them a more exciting and meaningful experience than a Twitter Q&A, Facebook or Instagram live stream etc.
“Social media is focused on a one-to-many communication, which has a powerful purpose, but I wanted artists and fans to meet one-to-one and make a personal connection.”
It’s become more and more important for artists to build a long-lasting relationship with their fans.
Social media is focused on a one-to-many communication, which has a powerful purpose, but I wanted artists and fans to meet one-to-one and make a personal connection that could stay with a fan for a lifetime.
Have there been similar products/initiatives before? If so, what makes QJAM different?
There’s no other app that fills this gap of hosting an online meet and greet with a queue system, and no other app allowing the artist to sign (or doodle!) on their phone or iPad and send it within seconds to the fan they’re chatting with. Fans leave with a download of their video chat and signed artwork for instant sharing.
“I wanted QJAM to be an event platform; we’re not trying to be a new social media platform.”
I wanted QJAM to be an event platform; we’re not trying to be a new social media platform. QJAM is a place where fans come together to meet each other and meet their favourite artists. They can watch an event without the need to sign up or download the app – making sharing the event one click away.
QJAM is built specifically for artists so we have music embedded and video and buy links within the event.
Can you explain about the specific functionality of QJAM, in terms of what it offers to users?
We can’t keep expecting fans to get excited about generic content. With QJAM we’re creating unique content for fans to brag to their friends about – whether that’s on socials or at school/work the next day.
Fans can chat pre- and post-event in the event lounge – we’ve seen over 40,000 messages between fans before an event starts. On larger events, where a fan has a small chance of getting chosen, they still thrive on getting so close to connect with the artists, being happy for fans who do connect, and being interested in hearing questions from other fans.
Can you also explain the business model and how that works for you and the artists?
Ha, there is no business model! Well, not yet there isn’t.
I’m lucky enough that my initial investors weren’t questioning me about the monetization side of things; they had the same vision as me.
We focused on building and launching a unique and exciting new platform. For the artist it’s about the promotional value we offer, we’re not paying them, they’re not paying us.
Do you think a digital experience like this matches an ‘in-the-flesh’ experience? Does it have advantages?
The advantages of going digital are huge, you can be sat at home, in the studio or backstage and connect with fans all over the world. No travelling between cities or countries, reaching fans in parts of the world that would never get close to them.
Also not needing a physical venue to host the event means artists can consistently meet fans on a regular basis and not just every album cycle.
How does QJAM chime with the social media-driven theme of fans wanting, and almost expecting, a relationship with their favourite artists that is beyond transactional?
The relationship has to come first. From my experience with D2C, I see a huge difference in sales from artists who have built a relationship with their fanbase compared to those that keep a distance.
“OMD did over £75K in merch that night.”
Last month, OMD did a live stream of a show from last year and lead singer Andy McCluskey hosted a QJAM before the show started.
We had thousands watch in while Andy connected with fans right up until the show went live, answering questions and charming his fans. OMD did over £75K in merch that night.
How are you getting QJAM in people’s line of sight and on their phones?
For the first time ever, we can offer a platform that artists can easily use on their own device at home. No special experience needed, they can do it by themselves. Every single artist we have worked with has taken to it immediately.
Can you give us any numbers on how many users QJAM has to date?
We’ve had over 30,000 fans across all demographics experience QJAM already and their feedback has been incredible.
Tell us about your launch event with Liam Payne in terms of how it worked and what the reach was?
He connected with 10 fans from Australia, France, Italy, Iran, Spain, UK and US with over 9,000 fans watching from 67 countries. Fans were chosen at random and received a, ‘You’re going live next!’ message if they were chosen.
I wasn’t expecting the pre-event buzz to be so crazy. Over 40k messages in 24 hours being sent by fans discussing the album and what questions they want to ask him.
How many events have you done since then?
We’ve done events with Lennon Stella, Nadine Shah, Badly Drawn Boy, OMD, Nonô, Lewis Watson and there are more events in the coming weeks, including with Orla Gartland who was just announced.
We just introduced a feature allowing unique code access to join the queue which allows us to host retail partnerships, using the chance to meet the artist as a pre order incentive – just like an in-store signing.
How easy is it to convince artists to participate? And what is it that convinces them?
To be honest, the idea itself has been a pretty easy sell to labels, managers and artists. Most are already looking for new and exciting ways for their artists to build more meaningful relationships with their fans, particularly in the current absence of no in person activity at all.
We’ve been building artist confidence by rolling out successful events and proving the app can deliver what we promise.
What makes the relationship between an artist and a fan more important now than ever, and how does QJAM help improve that relationship?
People are listening to more artists than ever. Streaming gives us so much at our fingertips; we’re not listening to the same CD album over and over again, we’re constantly moving between tracks and artists. For an artist to have fans ‘stick’, they need to give accessibility, build a community between fans and a connection beyond the music.
“For an artist to have fans ‘stick’, they need to give accessibility, build a community between fans and a connection beyond the music.”
I’ve honestly been so moved by how our events have touched the hearts of both fans and artists. Fans talking to an artist who wrote a song that got them through a dark time, and the artist getting to hear and react to their stories has been incredible.Music Business Worldwide