During the first decade of the new century, which of the following was the top tour attraction in North America?

  • Celine Dion
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • U2
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Dave Matthews Band
  • The Eagles
  • Paul McCartney
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Madonna

In the music industry, community has long been a cornerstone for branding purposes. After all, that is what the legacy of Woodstock is all about.

Building your brand through community is something that the iconic band the Grateful Dead so naturally leveraged and so well communicated through its community-oriented business model. Long after the band ceased to exist, it’s community continues to thrive. The community of “Deadheads” not only still buys its music, it also supports the various collaborations and solo careers of its members. The Deadheads led the way for many artists and bands to market themselves by building community and the free exchange of music and material.

Rather than fighting to protect the sharing of its music, the band and its management encouraged it.

The Grateful Dead’s model is replicated by other music artists, including Phish, yet none has succeeded at it better than the Dave Matthews Band, which is why the Dave Matthews Band finished at the top list.

Building your brand through community

Between 2000 and 2009, loyal fans of the Dave Matthews Band purchased over 11 million tickets. The Dave Matthews Band offers a model of success for other businesses interested in the brand intention of community. In fact, companies eager to engage their current and potential customers are duplicating many aspects of its approach, including open sourcing, crowdsourcing, or immediate access and media sharing.

Early on, the band played for free at universities, colleges, and local events, building a community of followers and fans.

It managed its brand much as the Grateful Dead did. The band has freely allowed fans to record its music. Until the mid-1990s, the members allowed people to record directly by sourcing from its sound system. Much like the Deads, its hardcore fans are willing to travel significant distances to see the band play. As the size of the venues grew, the Dave Matthews Band offered reasonable ticket prices to make attending multiple shows a!ordable and to encourage its community to grow.

In 1998, in response to and in service to the fans and market of the band, a merchandising and ticketing hub and fan club called the Warehouse Fan Association was formed. The company, which is housed in a large business and distribution center in Charlottesville, Virginia, is the creation of the band’s manager Coran Capshaw. The first manager of the Dave Matthews Band, Capshaw had a history with the Grateful Dead and saw the tremendous opportunity to build the band’s brand through community and the then newly burgeoning Internet marketplace.

The Warehouse immediately leveraged the capabilities of Internet-based commerce and created an interface with its customers through which communication could occur directly. Capshaw’s astute business model was designed to eliminate much of the traditional ticketing and merchandising minutia of the music industry.

The Warehouse allowed the band to control the selling of its own merchandise, music, and, most important, the band’s merchandise and ticketing prices, which increased its ability to control and maximize profitability.

building your brand through community dave matthews band

It’s model delivered other benefits.

The community of Dave Matthews Band fans, hungry for more music and merchandise, could now buy directly from the fan association.

Live recordings soon became available through the site, creating additional revenue sources beyond the traditional sale of albums and replacing music that had previously been available through community members at no cost. The company takes preorders, allowing for efficient production and inventory management. Fans can also register for presale ticket offers, most of which are in high demand and subject to lottery distribution.

All of this creates greater levels of business efficiency, increased leveraging of the community brand intention, and profitability.

The model Capshaw built soon attracted other great artists and the company began marketing its fan clubs and merchandise, which resulted in a new entity, Musictoday, which eventually grew to manage over 500 fan clubs for a wide variety of artists. In 2006, Musictoday was purchased by the concert promoter LiveNation. By then, it was grossing over $100 million per year and growing.

In early 2010, LiveNation merged with Ticketmaster Entertainment, which now controls event ticketing on a global scale.

Music is art. Business is art.

Without the art of business, music would not sustain and grow as an industry.

Going forward, the key to the success for the Dave Matthews Band is its ability to create great art and purposefully sustain and grow its community brand intention, although it is now managed through an increasingly complex model. It requires the band’s ability, in direct interface with its customers, to convey the emotional aspect that motivates them.

In other words, the customer should always come first.

Building your brand through your community: Whether a company is a group of eight people or 60,000, the basic principles of brand intention alignment, and the alignment to the customer, is a key to success.



Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email: edgar@edgarpapke.com

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