G-Eazy

G-Eazy uses Stashimi to announce new songs to his highly engaged Facebook Messenger fanbase.

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“Yo,” a chatbot has recently started asking fans who visit Migos’ Facebook page. “Wanna chat with Migos?”

By clicking on the “YESSIR” option, marked with a fire emoji, instead of “Nah,” the bot responds: “Cool I’ll keep you updated,” allowing fans to then swipe across an array of activities inside the Messenger screen, such as browsing upcoming Migos shows, shopping for the hip-hop act’s merch, downloading or streaming their music or watching their videos.

The hip-hop trio is one of more than 100 major acts who have launched such bots on Facebook Messenger through a Los Angeles-based startup called Stashimi, with labels across all three major record companies signing up their artists this fall. The software is aimed at artists who’ve amassed millions of social media followers, but until now, haven’t figured out who they are or how to talk to them directly, let alone monetize them, with social media companies guarding such data tightly.

“Why should artists speak to every fan the same way? If you’re trying to build a relationship with someone spending money on you, you should be a little more personal," says Stashimi CMO Kosta Elchev. “The new frontier is personalization.”

To engage fans and gather data about them at the same time, an artist’s team can program the bots to ask each fan a series of questions, with each answer leading to a new query.

Marshmello created me to make you happier,” a bot says when a user clicks to send the dance-music star a message on Facebook. “Can I send you messages to brighten your day?”

Screenshot of the Messenger App

Screenshot of the Messenger App.Courtesy of Stashimi

The artist can then see their fans listed by name, location and other characteristics, and target subsets of them with the news and offers accordingly.

Stashimi is selling messenger bots with a full analytics package for about $250 per month -- cheaper than the mass email blasts that the music industry has been relying on for years, notes Stashimi founder/CEO Jürgen Kurz, though he says he may move to a revenue-sharing model down the line.

Kurz launched Stashimi in 2015 because he “saw a real disconnect with fans and their ability to stay up to date with the musician... you had to go to all these different networks -- Instagram, Facebook, Ticketmaster -- and all the streaming services on top of it.” Meanwhile artists are “publishing to Facebook and no one is reading.”

Kurz says they chose Facebook Messenger as a launching pad because of its reach= among 16-24 year olds, with tens of millions of monthly active users in that bracket. Additionally, about 80 percent of bands already have Messenger activated on their accounts -- and simply haven’t been returning their messages.

“Nobody has an answering machine -- it’s a missed opportunity,” says Kurz.

Next, Stashimi could release its bots on other platforms as well, such as Amazon’s voice-activated speakers, with an artist’s voice-bot singing the first part of a song and asking the fan to finish it, for example.

Starstruck Management Group’s Cooper Anstett started using Stashimi for Blake Shelton and Kelly Clarkson earlier this year because “we’re getting, in some cases, thousands of messages every single day -- and Kelly and Blake aren’t [personally] responding to every single message.” He says the bot was Clarkson’s “secret weapon” in getting the votes to win Season 14 of NBC’s The Voice (her bot sent fans recaps of the show) while Shelton used the jumbotron on his tour to encourage fans to follow his messenger bot in order to get exclusive photos, leading to 30,000 additional super-engaged subscribers. Anstett says his team also uses the bots to send auto-tweet links to fans ahead of award shows that are based on social-media voting.

“You don’t want it to feel inauthentic,” says Anstett, noting that Shelton’s bot “mimics him. Grammatically we’re not trying to be perfect -- it’s very light, very fun and very Southern.”

G-Eazy started using a Stashimi bot three years ago, and approves the scripts, sometimes moving words around to maintain his own voice. “I think the fans know it's not really, really him, but it’s close enough,” says G-Eazy’s manager, Matt Bauerschmidt. “It’s not like you’re talking to a 90-year-old lady.”

Capitol Music Group recently rolled out bots for Migos, Lil Yachty and Marshmello and has a host of others in the works, after launching one for Katy Perry to give her fans a “virtual backstage pass” to her Witness Tour last year.

Kosta says the Stashimi team initially built a Drake fanbot (without Drake’s involvement) as an experiment, allowing fans to ask the chatbot any question they pleased. But the team decided to launch the company’s bots with more limited, choose-your-own-adventure-style interactivity, based on what they observed in the test run. “People were asking really strange questions, such as 'How was hooking up with Rihanna?'” Kosta recalls. “We didn’t even want to get into that realm.”

Kosta adds that some artists have been hesitant to embrace such artificial intelligence technology, because more than anything they “want to be authentic.” But, he says, “This isn’t some sort of tech that will replace the artist -- this is about updating your communication channels.”

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