"The only way to survive is to have a stable and growing fan base"
Mobile Backstage is a revolutionary new platform that brings fans and
their favourite band together, the ultimate digital fan club. Can you
tell us a bit more about Mobile Backstage?
Paavo Bäckman: We at Mobile Backstage want that the artists can reach their fans globally. When we think about the music biz we think about the connection between the bands and their fans first, this is the main goal for us. So the artist for example can take his mobile phone and he can easily start to spread the news he wants via that. As soon as he has taken this action, the fans get the information to their phone no matter where they are. The fans can share this material among each other as well. All the features you can find on Mobile Backstage help bands and fans to boost this connection and to keep them updated with the latest news of their idols.
Suiciderock: Is Mobile Backstage the Fan club of the future so to say?
Paavo Bäckman: In a way yes. There is this basic idea of a fan club as people might know it from the older days but nowadays we have the opportunity to provide these amazing features along with this basic idea. Years ago people didn’t even dare to imagine what we can do nowadays with those special features.
Suiciderock: Mobile Backstage is a place where you and your fans can create and post exclusive and original videos as well as pictures and audio material. How exactly does that work? What do I need to do so?
Paavo Bäckman: It is very easy for the bands who decided that they want to use Mobile Backstage. So if a band decides that they want to be part of Mobile Backstage they don’t have to do anything at the very beginning as we do everything for them. The band signs up, than they have to tell their fans for example on their official website or wherever that they use Mobile Backstage now, than their followers can download it at different appstores for free and get the latest news and information.
Suiciderock: Would you say it is very easy to use for everybody?
Paavo Bäckman: I would say so yes. The key point of the whole system was and is for us that it is very easy to use. If an artist wants to send something to his fans it takes just a couple of seconds. Also if the fans want to share something it goes very fast. It was interesting when we tested Mobile Backstage. One of our first customers was EMI UK and a band called “You Me At Six” when we got them as our first customers we told them to send just one single email to their fans to tell them that they are using Mobile Backstage and so they did. They got around 2500 registrated users within only the first month. Also in this first month, in this small tribe was over 2 million mobile page views. The fans of this band used it a lot, they posted a lot, all different kind of things like pictures, they shared news and all you can imagine. It is really really simple. It also addresses only people who are interested in the band. That means your news and your post reach only the people you really want them to reach.
Suiciderock: Is there any restriction or can bands and their fans upload anything they want?
Paavo Bäckman: Luckily we haven’t had any of this kind of problems with undesirable material so far. When we started we also thought that we will have this kind of problems very often so we decided to have this moderator system. If for example a fan posts something that the band doesn’t want to be seen in the news they can click a certain button and the unliked post will disappear immediately from all mobile phones. Or let’s say a band has some kind of crazy wild party and they film all that weird stuff they do at the backstage and put it online but the next day they wake up, think about the whole thing again and it turns out not to be such a great idea as it might have been a couple of hours before they can delete it again. Even though it has already been posted and their fans has already seen it. There is still some kind of control behind the whole thing. But I have to say that non of the bands who use Mobile Backstage have used this moderator service yet. We haven’t had any kind of problems so far.
Suiciderock: People are also able to buy merchandise, tickets for different shows, they can download music. How is the payment for those things handled? How can they actually buy them?
Paavo Bäckman: Merchandise is not available yet, but of course you can buy music via iTunes and we are connected with all ticket operators globally. When a band goes on tour, our system updates automatically ticket sales to all gigs. Then you can also buy the tickets via that. For example if it is a gig in the US the system selects which operator sells the tickets for this particular show and you will be able to purchase it from their then. You can pay the tickets via credit card for instance. We will have all different kinds of payment systems in the future though. We want to make the whole thing as easy as possible for the users. If you think about the great payment options Apple has invented for example for iTunes. It should be really easy.
Suiciderock: In February this year, Muse selected you as the winner of an exclusive App challenge. How did that feel that they chose you?
Paavo Bäckman: It was great. We have that poster in our meeting room signed by Muse. However, I have to say that this kind of things are a much much bigger happening for a company that takes his first steps. We are not one of those so young companies anymore. We don’t have to advertise us through those bands anymore. We have won quite many awards like that in the past. It is important for us that the companies and the bands we are working with are convinced of what we offer.
Suiciderock: Before Mobile Backstage was officially available you had it tested by a couple of bands such as Michael Monroe. Was it easy to gain their interest for those tests?
Paavo Bäckman: Well, yeah we had to face a bit of scepticism but after the bands we have tested Mobile Backstage with started using it they were convinced that this is a great idea. Michael Monroe and his band are using it quite a lot nowadays. It is very easy to convince someone about our idea as long as he or she understands that the fan-band contact is very important nowadays. Mobile Backstage is the best tool for it at the moment. On the other hand there are also those big bands and they think that they are already huge stars and well known by anybody on this planet. So they don’t feel the need for a tool like we provide it. They don’t feel like they need to have this relationship with their fans. Of course, we agree with them in that kind of situation that they really have no use for Mobile Backstage but luckily there are still many bands who value their fans out there and for them it is just the best opportunity on the market at the very moment.
Suiciderock: Especially in times that the record sales are going down and everybody is talking about the bad shape of nowadays music industry…
Paavo Bäckman: Exactly. That’s what I mean. I have been to many conferences and you could hear from all the people who spoke there that it is very important to have a good contact to your fans and the only way to survive nowadays is to have a stable and growing fan base. When we started to tell exactly this years ago, no one wanted to believe it but nowadays you hear exactly the same stuff no matter where you go.
Suiciderock: The company was found by you and Jussi Ruusila. Where did the idea come from?
Paavo Bäckman: The actual idea came when Jussi and I started to think about fan communities and the power of the fan base. Year was 2005. We wanted to see how well we understand the logic of a fan base and we got the idea to sign one band, which is totally unknown. We wanted to find out how quickly we could promote this band without using that much money. So we signed Bloodpit back then and we told them not to tell anyone about this kind of special deal. When we started, Bloodpit had a proud fan base of 19 fans. We had the email of these fans and a marketing budged of all in all 80 Euros and we also had the idea that the band had to be number one here in the Finnish charts. We focused on that 19 people and the fact that it had to become on top of the charts and in the end it worked out as we wanted. When we had done direct-2-fan marketing with very good results in web we thought it would be even more effective to engage fans and offer them something really special in mobile. Then we started to develop Mobile Backstage.
Suiciderock: How did you do the marketing for Bloodpit?
Paavo Bäckman: We really focused on this 19 fans only. The band didn’t do any radio interviews, any kind of other public promotion like adds in newspapers and so on. We decided that we don’t do any of those things we usually do when we start promoting a band. The main thing were these fans and the fan base started to grow very fast because the fans started to work for the band. Imagine when we released their first CD you could see long queues outside of the record stores. After the band had its first number one position in the charts the media started to call and asks for interviews. I was manager of the band back then and we could even decide which magazine we wanted to talk to. All this happened with the help of 19 fans only. This was really unbelievable. The same happened for Bloodpit in other countries as well. When the band headed to play in clubs in Berlin or Moscow the gigs were sold out.
Suiciderock: I can imagine that you need to have a lot of technical knowledge to develop an idea like Mobile Backstage?
Paavo Bäckman: We had the idea how the whole thing should look like and what it should contain but we didn’t know anything about the technical side of it. After the concept was done we had to find partners who could help us out with the technical things. After we have found the right partners we developed the whole Mobile Backstage thing for two years. Nowadays we are a technical company as well. It’s really great that we also have those technology guys in our team. But the whole process hasn’t changed a bit. We first think about the idea and than we present the vision to our tech guys and they have the honour to put the vision into reality. Sometimes we bring them to their limits and they tell us that they can’t do that because nobody ever has done something like that before but that’s not a reason not to try it. You can also be the first to do something, be a pioneer. I mean if they tell me that there is only one guy who can change the illusion into reality and he is living in Guatemala, no matter we will fly him in.
Suiciderock: If I understood right, the company behind Mobile Backstage is “Steam Republic”. Exactly about two years ago, Steam Republic became an independent company. Before it was part of Backstage Alliance where you also have been the CEO / Managing Director. You have also been the owner of Merceedees Production long before even Backstage Alliance was found. But you decided to leave artist management and booking behind to go a completely different road. Where did that decision come from?
Paavo Bäckman: That’s true. We merged Merceedees Production and a couple of other companies. The idea for Mobile Backstage was developed within Backstage Alliance but at the same time we knew that we will split those companies one day. We had the plan that we will do that after two years and so we did. The companies are separated now but still we own parts of Backstage Alliance as well. We thought that if we want to be number one globally with Mobile Backstage we need to have a team that can concentrate on that sector only. So we decided that I will go for the Mobile Backstage and Virpi Immonen will take care of Backstage Alliance. In my opinion it was really positive for both companies.
Suiciderock: Though Steam Republic has grown out of the music industry you are not afraid of conquering new territories. I read that you are also planning to work within the sports and film industry as well.
Paavo Bäckman: Yeah, our next step will lead us into the sport sector. But this is music of the future. At the moment we want to concentrate on the music biz as we understand the bands, we understand the logic behind the whole thing, we know our partners we are working with. But the sport sector is also an interesting thing, the interest is there, there is also a huge huge fan base for all different kinds of sports. We will take this step in the future but first we want to grow fast in the music biz.
Suiciderock: When you browse the Mobile Backstage site you can’t miss the very own logo. What’s behind that? Who had the idea for it?
Paavo Bäckman: That is a very long story actually. Steamrepublic / Mobile Backstage has a mascot which is our key. You have to see me as the Prime Minister of Steam Republic. Then we have our leader and he once went mad and he wanted to invent all kind of new innovative things. In the logo, the key, you can see his face including his eyes. The logo should tell you that you can see different things through our company in a different way, that you can’t see anywhere else. It is actually more a inside story within the company. We want that our team, our workers think different and new ways. We want that they are creative and that the idea comes first. We don’t want them to think if something is possible or not, we want them to develop their own creativity without any limits.
Suiciderock: What advice would you give to a young band out there?
Paavo Bäckman: That’s a tough question, as tough as the music biz itself I would say. You have to be very original and you should always remember that there are many great tools nowadays that you can use but there is not a single tool that does everything for you. No matter what you have to remember that you need to stay in touch with your fans out there, you have to stay in touch with the media and you should always remember that these people are individual persons. You should focus on this individuals, not on the mass. Offer something special for them because after that they might be willing to do something special for you as well. Keep the contact with your fans out there.