Are mobile apps just for super fans? At a MidemNET discussion on monetizing mobile apps hosted by Mobile Roadie CEO Michael Schneider, a question from the audience brought up a question that was also on other people's minds.

Duncan McRae of Street Quality Entertainment, a Vancouver-based label, asked Schneider if consumers are being expected to deal with multiple artists apps when music services -- and the Internet as a whole -- is becoming increasingly interconnected.

Schneider responded that most people would have six artist apps. So they're not expected to download and constantly use apps for every artist they like.
They use the apps only for a small number of their favorite artists.

It's a fascinating issue that gets to the core of today's new music business. With so much emphasis being put on wringing more money out of the super fans, how does the industry monetize the casual fans? YouTube and Internet radio are two good examples, but those are not the business models that are getting the most attention at MIDEM. The music services for the hardcore music fan are seen as the industry's Holy Grail. Targeting the casual fan often seems like an afterthought even though the casual fans far outnumber hardcore fans.

To the side of Schneider's presentation, the question immediately sparked a conversation between myself and Jon Hull and Anne Driscoll from Ning and J Sider from RootMusic. If a band doesn't rank in a fan's top six, it shouldn't expect the fan to install and use the app. The worst result for developing artists is a winner-take-all market in mobile apps in which relatively few artists are getting installed.

The keys, we agreed, are how to target the casual fans and how to monetize the casual fans by converting them into hardcore fans. "Too many people are trying to just find the money," said Hull. "If something's not popular, how can you make an argument to monetize it?"

To explain his point, Hull described a recent online marketing campaign by his band, Jones Street Station. The band had just recorded a new song and created a splash page with links for people download, stream and share. The key to gaining fans, he said, was to make it incredibly simply and easy. In a week, the band's email list increased by 20% because social media traffic was driving people to the band's website. Posts at the Huffington Post and Spin resulted from the campaign. If you have a song you're proud of, Hull told me, put it out there and let people experience it. "I'm done with being coy," he said of his marketing approach.

After the discussion ended, I asked Schneider about McCrae's question. "There are many roads to reach fans," he told me. "Mobile apps are one of them." And within mobile apps, there's more than artist apps. Schneider pointed to Mobile Roadie-powered apps by The Fillmore, the Grand Ol' Opry and Fader Magazine. These apps, he explained, can be used by super fans to spread the word to more casual fans.