We hear plenty of hype about the Web’s power for artists, but what happens in the real world? That question is doubly interesting now that Topspin, already influential in its early test run, is available to everyone. Atlanta-based artist Tricil joins us for a special guest post to answer just that. It’s a chance to peer in the head of a Topspin power user. (If anyone wants to rebut this with the Bandcamp perspective, go for it.)

I was curious, having followed this solo electronica performer, how his use of Web promotion and commerce tool Topspin was working for him. I was particularly interested in how it compared to another Web tool, Bandcamp, which has a different scope but has also seemed ubiquitous in its use among independent artists. Amidst the galaxy of tools vying for musicians’ attention, these two do appear to be front-runners.

Tricil, aka Johnny Jacobus, answers all this for us. His answers are glowing; he even worried that this might seem a little too Topspin “fanboyish” to post. But no worries here: if people are loving a tool, I want to hear about it. Johnny, take it away. (And readers, have a listen to his music, too – another reason to involve him in this question!)

To compare Topspin to Bandcamp seems a little unfair to me, for the former has a multitude of tools that go beyond streaming and commerce. Both are used by musicians like you and I to “get our stuff out there.” Tim O’Reilly said that “Piracy is not the enemy [of the artist], obscurity is” and I think that’s true. Ed.: Actually, it seems that Seth Godin said that, and Tim O’Reilly didn’t. But Tricil just said it, and someone else might, too. -PK

Be it Topspin, Bandcamp, or even SoundCloud, there are a plethora of ways to get your music out to your fans ears in much more intelligent ways than having a myspace with some tracks or hosting downloads on your own site.

Bandcamp’s charm when they came out in the post myspace-era was an embeddable, music-centric streaming site that had built in social-sharing, almost like SoundCloud with a commerce function. With Bandcamp, you can set up “In Rainbows”-style pricing of pay what you want and even do a free in exchange for an email much like Topspin. The downsides to Bandcamp are a sandboxed site with little to no css customization, so it’s harder to create a more “branded” presence going the all Bandcamp route.

Topspin is different. They seem to be the pioneers of the “email for download” thing, which to me is your first price point. You could host them on SoundCloud, Last.fm or your own site and get 1000s of downloads, but wouldn’t it be nice to tell those 1000 people about your new album with an exclusive offer to download another new track? Anonymous hot-linking downloading is great, but having permission to go Direct to Fan is even better. This is the strength of Topspin’s email platform. Additionally, you can segment your fans so I can holler at my three fans in Peoria, IL about my next show there (TBA). Geo-tagging is done by clicking on a link in a confirmation email, COPPA-compliant. No spam here.

Bandcamp’s real appeal came from the universally embeddable streaming players that work via HTML5 and within Facebook as well. As you can see from a recent Topspin blog post that bizarrely features me, these are coming to the Topspin world as well.

Bandcamp has added email for download functionality as well, but I don’t think its email backend is as robust as Topspin’s. I believe it’s through FanBridge and that’s on a separate site, whereas in Topspin, it’s all self-contained in the same app, along with stats on plays, emails, geodata, and NextBigSound integration. (NBS is amazing, it’s like Google Analytics for musicians). Ed.: Finding the exact answer to this question on the Bandcamp side is difficult, and I think best left to a story that covers Bandcamp specifically. Bandcamp added this functionality in 2008, according to a site blog post, and continues to evolve, too.

Real case scenario: I put up One Day Soon for free download as part of an upcoming Atlanta show promotion on my site. [Ed.: See link above.] I emailed the Atlanta people on my list (about 15%) a link to download the sampler from all three bands and told them where to buy tickets and asked them to share the show info with their friends. I didn’t want to tell the other 85% about a show in Atlanta they can’t go to, so for them I gave them a link to my new song and made up a contest to make the cover art for One Day Soon (right now, the cover art is the flyer for the aforementioned show, and from May 15th on, that’s a little silly). The contest is cool, I think: you post your art on my Facebook wall, and whichever one has the most “Likes” and “TRICIL-ness” wins. One email campaign for one new song, split across the country in two presentable formats.

Speaking of Facebook, Topspin has an upcoming Facebook store that’s going to look a lot like their “spinshops” (which is something they offer for every artist, self-serve or not that works like a splash page for downloaded media, a sort of “while you’re here, maybe buy a T-Shirt?”). Commerce on Facebook, without leaving Facebook. Additionally, you have the option of sharing media for a Facebook Like or a Tweet. You can connect with your fans and grow your networks too, not just via email.

Speaking of T-Shirts, one thing that Topspin does in spades is physical media and merchandise. I know Bandcamp has that BCWax thing, which seems cool. [Ed.: It’s a vinyl label, though with only two releases so far, it looks pretty tightly curated!]

Topspin lets you bundle, say, a T-Shirt with an artist’s entire discography in any format from MP3 to 24-bit wav and lifetime VIP access and iPhone ringtones, if you wanted to. This is exactly what I have setup, and it’s my highest selling item, outselling $2-$4 digital downloads. People still like tangibility and the music experience really is being re-bundled. VIP access is cool, you connect with a network like Google, OpenID, FB, Twitter, AOL, and you’re given access to download specific packages. A way to cater to superfans.

Finally, one last thing that Topspin has in the tangible realm is Ticketing. You print (or save the PDF on your iPhone) and bring out your ticket to a show, and you can use the Topspin iPhone scanner (no love for the Droid or BB folk, sorry) to check in your fans. Sell a bundle with a CD, an instant download, and some tickets and you just bypassed both Ticketmaster and a record label.

So, there you have it. Here’s a bit more reading on the latest from Topspin, and a nice live release to grab. I expect this will cause us to hear from Bandcamp (and others), and hopefully even better, real-world users of those services.

I’d like to hear what you think of the alternatives out there, what’s available and what’s missing, and even if you’ve found ways of working across sites. And I hope in the process, we get to discover some new music, too. Let us know. -PK

Topspin blog:
Major Updates to Streaming Player Coming Soon, Embeddable Store Offers

The Unbundling (and Re-Bundling) of Music – interesting business analysis, including some discussion of SONOIO, the artist who recently won recognition from Topspin and whose DIY synthesizer presents a very different vision of the technology of music distribution! (More on SONOIO soon!)

http://tricil.net/ – Tricil’s own Topspin-powered site