The rise of Discord in the past year has seen the platform become increasingly important for building direct artist-fan relationships.
Founded by an ex-YouTube team, Levellr is a start-up that’s helping artists and labels build fan communities via instant messaging platforms such as Discord and Telegram. It also enables artists to gather data and create new revenue streams.
BRITs nominee Fred Again.. and his team at Atlantic Records used the platform’s tools and community specialists to identify fans who might be willing to host a listening party for the Actual Life 3 album launch. A listening party host would agree to become the ‘owner’ of the party in a particular city and share information with other fans in the Discord server.
In total, there were listening events in 18 cities with virtual appearances by Fred Again.. The artist and producer also took part in a Discord Q&A session, and there was even a bike ride through London with fans including a play of the album (pictured below).
As well as Atlantic, Levellr clients include Warner Records, 300, Island, Geffen and Interscope.
As it continues to grow, Levellr is set to employ around 20 staff. A seed funding round is planned for 2023.
Here, CEO and co-founder Tom Gayner opens up the opportunities with Discord and other instant messaging platforms…
How is community becoming increasingly important to artist campaigns?
“We’re all in the midst of a shift from open networks to closed, safe spaces. We can see this in the growth of platforms like Telegram (now in the Top 5 most used apps in the world) and Discord (used by more teenagers in the US than Facebook). Habits have shifted towards messaging apps which have evolved into the modern-day fan clubs, while social platforms have become increasingly algorithm-based and content rather than conversation focused. Social is not dead, but it is changing and platforms like Discord are increasingly going to become a central part of an artist's social arsenal.
“If an artist can harness platforms like Discord properly, it can provide significant opportunities. Labels and artists need to know their audiences better, work with ambassadors, encourage appropriate user-generated content (UGC) and create work with, not just for fans.”
What role does access to data play in these communities, and how can it benefit artists?
“One of the great disconnects of the music industry is that artists and labels often don’t know who their super-fans are. Platforms like Spotify, Ticketmaster, YouTube, TikTok and Instagram don’t provide access to first-party data. Unlike social media platforms where the focus is on scale (eg how many TikTok followers can I get), the goal with messaging platforms like Discord is about quality and inviting your most engaged fans into one space. In closed safe spaces, where artists feel they can be more open, direct and transparent, we are seeing them rally fans in a format some artists are less likely to do on open social platforms.
“Getting UGC out of social media platforms is a challenge, particularly as an artist's fanbase increases. Artists can now request the use of reams of powerful content that can be used on social media, at shows, in campaigns, and in turn it makes the fanbase feel like they are really a part of the artist’s journey. For example, Fred Again.. asked a fan called Grace in his Discord community if he could use a video she’d taken of him at a show. She agreed and it was used by Fred as his Spotify visual for his single Bleu.
“Historically, fans were served artist content. Singles drop before an album is launched, the hype dies down and fans then wait patiently for the next music release. Discord is changing this. It allows an artist to make fans a part of their journey outside of campaign moments that would normally stretch across a six to nine month period. This can include shaping albums via votes, calling for track and album title suggestions and co-creating other material with fans as well as offering exclusive experiences and access.
“When it comes to one-off transaction items like tickets, merchandise or limited edition vinyl, the audience that wants to buy these things is conveniently in one space on a Discord. Maisie Peters sold out priority tickets for her UK tour in 30 seconds with the help of her community on Discord, and we are seeing artists start to drive revenue from communities.”
How integral was Levellr to the Top 5 album position for Fred Again - how did it help his reach and engagement?
“Fred and his team leant on Levellr to help them maximise the community, and gather deep insights on not just who Fred’s fans are, but what they really care about. Fred’s really made his fans part of his journey and this can be seen in his creative writing process, working with fans and their content in live shows and across social media platforms.
“This approach is also underlining the culture of growing an audience digitally. Traditionally artists have experienced that cultural moment, that bonding experience, by being with an audience in a venue. By working with Levellr and collaborating with fans, this cultural moment is augmented. It’s a new ‘touring cycle’ - where fans are part of something and in turn driving the culture of how to grow an audience when there are so many demands on their time.
“Fred’s most recent album was a hit with fans because of the way it was released. The plan included listening parties around the world in different time zones. Normally this might be hit-or-miss on wider social media platforms, but the engaged and intimate experience was made easier by working with super-fans on Discord. By hosting these listening parties for free at a range of venues, fans of Fred Again.. are rallying behind him and demonstrating how committed they are as a community. In return, fans are given the chance to be part of Fred Again..’s team and hear the album before it is publicly released, elevating the fan experience.”
Fan involvement in artist campaigns is not a new idea - how does Levellr take it forward?
“Artists and labels can now use data to drive campaigns. Levellr helps artists understand who their most engaged fans are, where those fans are based and what those fans want by using keyword tracking and sentiment analysis. It allows label teams to scale fan engagement as performers grow their public profile.
“While access to new data insights are exciting, activations like the Fred Again.. album launch are another key component to Levellr that helps artists via human connection and moderation. A community will wither away and die without strong moderation, and it is one of the challenges of a platform like Discord that is always on. Levellr uses tools and community specialists to help artists find their most engaged fans are then asked if they would like to become moderators themselves. Mods, as they are known in Discord, can now get special access and exclusives from artists whilst essentially becoming a team member to increasing community growth.”
The goal with messaging platforms like Discord is about quality and inviting your most engaged fans into one space
What kind of partnerships are you building in the music industry - what is it that Levellr can provide?
“We’re focused on servicing and helping artists at major labels. We’re really proud to be working with artists at Atlantic, Warner, 300, Island, Geffen and Interscope. The conversation with major labels is totally different to a year ago when Discord was a new and unknown entity. Today, they realise the importance of building that core fanbase, something platforms like TikTok can’t do. They don’t see Discord as a replacement for all other social media but as an increasingly key part of an artist’s social make-up.
“With better access to data insights and analytics that the major platforms haven’t provided in the past, they can now own a more direct-to-fan relationship. Accessing data is one thing, but labels also call on Levellr to help grow, manage and retain communities. Building out servers from scratch from artists, our tools and community specialists are on-hand to help keep communities healthy and consistently growing.”
What are the ambitions for the company in 2023?
“There are a few big things we’re focusing on for 2023. We’re now a profitable business, but we’ll be doing a seed funding round in 2023 to help us grow faster as more and more labels and artists from across the globe turn to Levellr to help them build community.
“We’re incredibly focused on building a product that is a non-negotiable essential for labels, management and artists. That means we're spending a lot of time going deep on what our customers need, and that’s filtering through to our product roadmap. We’re really focused on fan growth, retention and happiness in communities, and we’re building out some really exciting functionality that allows artists to reward and encourage fan engagement through our product. We know how busy artists are, so we’re seeing real interest in how our feature set can drive fan engagement without calling on artists to give more time to another platform.
“On top of this, the major labels are looking to Levellr to start integrating with existing systems across CRM, merchandise and tickets so we can get granular data and insights from artist communities. We continue to see Discord servers drive genuine revenue opportunities for artists, and as customer acquisition costs continue to increase in the digital ad space, we’re going to see more and more artists and creators turn to organic sales via communities. We want to help them understand who, where and what that revenue is coming from.”
Click here to read our interview with Atlantic's co-presidents.