How Iron Maiden turned piracy into paying customers

Credit: ceedub 13 via Flickr

Update and correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Iron Maiden used MusicMetric's analysis to plan its South American tours. MusicMetric did not work directly with Iron Maiden. The analysis described in this article was carried out without the band's participation or knowledge, and we have no confirmation that the band ever saw or used it. CITEworld deeply regrets this error, and we apologize to our readers.

A corrected version of the article is below:

For more than a decade, musicians have battled rampant music piracy that has put labels and record stores out of business at a rapid pace. Unlike the shift to Amazon that did in the book store chains, record stores are suffering from outright theft, and the migration to iTunes or Spotify streaming isn't making up the difference.

Between 2003 and 2009, about one-third of all independent record shops in the U.S. closed their doors, according to the Almighty Institute of Music Retail, a California-based marketing firm. That translates to 3,700 stores. The one bright spot is that the trend has slowed since 2008.

In England, it's worse, with 70 percent of independent record stores disappearing in the last decade.

But some bands are dealing with the issue in a unique way. A U.K. company called Growth Intelligence aggregates data on U.K. companies to offer them a real time snapshot of how their company is performing. They capture everything from real-world data, like hiring of employees, to online indicators like email to online discussion.

Its stats were compiled for the London Stock Exchange "1000 Companies That Inspire Britain" list. On that list were six music firms that outperformed the music sector, one of them being Iron Maiden LLP, the holding company for the venerable heavy metal band. (Another company on the list was Shazam, which we recently profiled.)

Enter another U.K. company called Musicmetric, which specializes in analytics for the music industry by capturing everything from social media discussion to traffic on the BitTorrent network. It then offers this aggregated information to artists to decide how they want to react. Musicmetric noticed Iron Maiden's placement and ran its own analytics for the band.

Credit: MusicMetric

"Having an accurate real time snapshot of key data streams is all about helping inform people's decision making. If you know what drives engagement you can maximize the value of your fan base. Artists could say ‘we're getting pirated here, let's do something about it’, or ‘we're popular here, let's play a show’," said Gregory Mead, CEO and co-founder of the London-based firm.

In the case of Iron Maiden, still a top-drawing band in the U.S. and Europe after thirty years, MusicMetric ran an analysis and noted a surge in traffic in South America. Also, MusicMetric saw that Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, and Chile were among the top 10 countries with the most Iron Maiden Twitter followers. There was also a huge amount of BitTorrent traffic in South America, particularly in Brazil.

Iron Maiden has done a great job of going where its fans were, even if those fans were pirates. The band has focused extensively on South American tours in recent years, one of which was filmed for the documentary "Flight 666." After all, fans can't download a concert or t-shirts. The result was massive sellouts. The São Paolo show alone grossed £1.58 million (US$2.58 million) alone.

And in a positive cycle, Maiden's online fanbase grew. According to Musicmetric, in the 12 months ending May 31, 2012, the band attracted more than 3.1 million social media fans. After its Maiden England world tour, which ran from June 2012 to October 2013, Maiden's fan base grew by five million online fans, with a significant increase in popularity in South America.

While the band did not use Musicmetric's analysis directly, Mead notes, "Maiden have been rather successful in turning free file-sharing into fee-paying fans." Other bands could take a lesson from the heavy metal band's success.

So bands now have a new tool to try and make up for the loss of music sales. Emphasis is now on touring and t-shirts as CD sales dwindle. "If you engage with fans, there is a chance to turn a percentage into paying customers. You can see that through various bands using the BitTorrent network in a legal way to share content," said Mead.

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