Do you have someone to thank for giving you that first break in your career?
For Mike Fiebach, Founder and CEO of Fame House, an award-winning global agency with a modern approach to direct-to-fan digital marketing and merchandising, that person is Josh Davis a.k.a DJ Shadow -- an American record producer and major label artist whose album Endtroducing was listed by Time Magazine in 2006 as “one of the ‘All-Time’ 100 best albums” and has received international critical acclaim.
Fiebach’s passion for the music industry business and entrepreneurship started in 2001, when he was just 17, founding and managing a local hip hop label in Philadelphia.
But his career trajectory really took off when he landed a gig in 2006 as a project, marketing and merchandising manager for DJ Shadow (DJShadow.com). Little did he know that what started out as a part-time job in college would eventually morph into his own business that would help major recording artists sell directly to fans online.
Fame House would also later be listed as one of the top 50 fastest-growing mid-sized companies in Philadelphia and attract the attention of Universal Music, which recently acquired the digital agency in 2016.
Like many successful tech entrepreneurs today, Fiebach identified a market opportunity in a struggling industry and had the foresight to create digital solutions to help shape its future.
An Industry In Transition
Fiebach’s timing to get into digital music sales and marketing couldn’t have been more fortuitous.
The year 2006 was a time of mass broadband internet adoption. Napster, though it shut down years before, had set in motion a series of events that disrupted the album-centric music business model and left an uncertain financial future in its wake.
Meanwhile, emerging social media platforms like MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube offered a new way to engage with and sell directly to fans online. Working for DJ Shadow for five years through that precarious time gave Fiebach a unique perspective on how to build and manage ecommerce and merchandise operations, as well as promote an artist through social media and other marketing channels.
“It was a great way to learn about the new music business, and I discovered that direct to consumer marketing expertise is something recording artists really need in this day and age,” says Fiebach.
After five years, other artists, who had heard about the success of DJ Shadow’s online presence, began approaching him -- asking for the same exposure. Fame House was born as a reaction to a dire need in the market.
“The music industry has transitioned from an album and tour-centric business (sold through B2B partners) to an “artist cycle” business where your audience is always on. So, musicians are always able to directly connect with and monetize that audience,” says Fiebach. “To adapt to this change, artists now need a year-round, multi-channel brand presence.”
Today, Fame House is a 50- person shop which continues to attract the attention of high-end brands.
Artists typically hire the agency to build a custom digital solution to engage with and monetize their fan base. Fame House’s e-commerce platform of choice for doing so is primarily through selling merchandise on Shopify and Shopify Plus.
“Many artists come to us in need of a lot of help with their e-commerce platform. Nine times out of ten, if we can do what we do best to integrate audience acquisition, social media and email marketing with ecommerce, we can greatly improve their business,” says Fiebach. “We’ve seen cases where we’ve 10X’d their revenue, and in many cases, we at least double it.”
Not only has Fame House mastered its end-to-end service to support all facets of e-commerce site development, logistics and promotion, but the company is also helping to pioneer the music industry’s new direct-to-consumer business model.
Defining a Quick & Easy Online Merchandising Process
According to Fiebach, ecommerce merchandising revenue is already becoming a more important line item on a recording artist’s balance sheet. “It will only continue to grow from here,” he says.That’s where the expertise of the Fame House Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) team, led by Director of D2C Dan Conway, comes into play.
Dan argues that there is a growing need for artists to have a direct connection to their audience at all times.
“Artists now have a lot of micro-mandates throughout the year and need to continually tie promotions to specific moments in their careers,” says Conway. “So, we’ve been working with artists to change their merchandising strategies. We help eliminate overhead, and the need to mass produce all of their merch up front and store it in a warehouse.”
To save artists from wasting money on overstocked inventory, the D2C team develops pre-order and pre-sale promotions for a limited amount of time.
Fame House puts the merch designs up on an artist’s site and engages their online fan base through social media to identify what they like. The team then orders the appropriate amount of merchandise to meet that demand.
The music industry is fast-paced and requires innovative solutions to respond quickly to last-minute project requests. To ensure a fast turnaround for e-commerce sites, Conway and his team have built a proprietary, optimized Shopify Plus theme.
“The entire process used to take days and even weeks to produce,” says Conway. “Since we began working with Shopify Plus, we’re able to very quickly take the assets we have and turn it into a store that not only looks great but also utilizes best practices that we’ve discovered as we’ve built the Fame House business.”
A Vision of a Tech-Agnostic Future
While Fame House started out managing just three clients, and one ecommerce store, the agency has quickly grown over the past six years to support 125 brands and manage 80 e-commerce shops worldwide. Likewise, Fame House began managing clients with a cumulative social presence of a couple million fans. That number has grown to almost 400 million fans today.
Essentially, Fame House is now a global, mid-sized ecommerce retailer with international offices and warehouse partners in 4 locations and growing.
The agency manages all of its clients’ customer service and support centrally with the help of Zendesk, along with all brand and ecommerce site promotions.
To meet the growing demands of such a large-scale e-commerce and promotional operation, Fiebach and his team believe they must remain technology agnostic. In other words, the agency selects the best technology on the market to solve a specific customer problem.
“Shopify Plus is our go-to solution for e-commerce,” says Fiebach. “The beauty of Shopify is that we can plug and play apps (like SendOwl for digital content delivery) that help solve an individual artists’ problems. We then customize our own tech stack on top of Shopify to meet the needs of our clients.”
The agency recently published a whitepaper entitled "The Fame House Stack" which goes through its tech agnostic strategy, and the various solutions the team uses to cater to clients needs.
The future for Fame House relies on flexibility and scalability as the agency adds more clients and stores to its roster. Fiebach feels confident that Shopify will help the company to achieve its ecommerce goals – no matter what new technological demands are required down the road.
“Shopify is the best at staying tech-forward which is very important to us,” says Fiebach. “Being able to use the best ecommerce tech without having a huge overhead is essential for us and our artists. To be honest, the other platforms just haven’t been able to keep up with that – they fall behind in some or all aspects.”