DU Alumni

Alum supports musicians by crowdsourcing fan support

Denver’s own Vetta Starr, led by Lamont School of Music alumnus Brandon Meagher, is using FanDistro to connect with its fans.

Denver’s own Vetta Starr, led by Lamont School of Music alumnus Brandon Meagher, is using FanDistro to connect with its fans.

Crowd-funding site Kickstarter has been a boon to movie stars like Zach Braff and Kristen Bell, who famously used the site to solicit money directly from fans for their films “Wish I Was Here” and “Veronica Mars,” respectively.

University of Denver alumnus Michael Penfield (BSBA ’83) is hoping his new website, FanDistro, will bring similar benefits to musicians, though it’s more about raising awareness than raising funds.

“It’s basically crowdsourced marketing for artists,” Penfield says. “Crowdsourcing does not refer to a financial component; it just means that you’re sourcing some business function — in this case it’s marketing — from your fans. What we do is provide artists with a platform so they can enlist their fans to market for them.”

The site has several functions: It allows fans to earn rewards by sharing or promoting a band’s music via social media, and it allows other companies to sponsor bands through the site, thus giving their brand some street cred.

“As a brand, you’re reaching the fan base of a particular artist, and you’re reaching that fan base with the artist’s implied endorsement,” Penfield says. “That’s pretty cool, if you think about who are the influencers in the music industry. The artists are the influencers. If you can tap into those artists pretty effectively in a way that’s not spammy and is going to help out all parties, then you’ve accomplished something pretty cool.”

The site launched two years ago and now has more than 4,000 musical artists signed up, from small regional bands to such well-known names as James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins and Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes. Each artist has a page on the site where fans can listen to music and earn rewards — downloads, signed CDs, concert tickets and the like — when they share the songs on their own networks. Bringing brands into the equation, Penfield says, is a recent development that adds to an artist’s ability to survive in the new music business ecosystem.

“The nature of the business has changed a lot. There’s better music out there than there ever has been, but it’s way harder to find it,” says Penfield, himself a musician who financed part of his DU education playing gigs around town. “People are increasingly relying on word of mouth, which is essentially what FanDistro is. It’s people sharing music in their social networks. It’s going back to the original [method of] music discovery, which I believe is still the most popular way of discovering music, despite the Pandoras and streaming businesses out there.”

Penfield, a finance major who made a point of hiring DU grads when he worked for SG Cowen in the 90’s and 00’s, has carried the alumni tradition with him to FanDistro: Denver-based streaming music site Mad Genius Radio, whose CEO is alumnus Max Fulton (BSBA ’98) is one of the companies that partners with bands via the site; and one of the bands Mad Genius sponsors is Denver’s own Vetta Starr, led by Lamont School of Music alumnus Brandon Meagher (BM ’13).

“It’s a great idea,” Meagher says of FanDistro. “They realized right out of the gate that just throwing your name up on Facebook and saying, ‘Hey, come to my show’ doesn’t work. What they’re trying to do is think, ‘How can an artist’s fan base digitally interact with their favorite band or one of their friend’s bands online? How can they communicate better?’ FanDistro is developing little things to do between the artist and their fan base, instead of the artist just posting. We can offer them personal things, like personal gifts, and they can offer things back to us. It’s a much more interpersonal way to promote yourself to your audience.”





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