After building an audience of over 100,000+ weekly active listeners, Clark Dinnison has to chase away investors ready to throw cash at his “art project,” Noon Pacific.
Every Monday at noon PST for the last five years, Clark has shared a mix of songs from emerging artists with his listeners. They can listen to these mixtapes on the website he built or on their app for iPhone or Android.
But what started as a weekly mixtape release has gathered the built-in audience he needs for a revolutionary undertaking: launching a brand new music label that puts artists first.
Access to Clark’s fan base and growing label is something investors would love to have. But Clark has no intention of jeopardizing the authenticity and trust of the Noon Pacific community by accepting VC funding for the label.
Instead, Noon Pacific is poised to become the first community-based record label in the world.
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We sat down with Clark to learn how he leveraged a community of music lovers to turn his weekly mixtape into an active group of supporters who find new artists, fund their music, and drive ever-growing view counts.
Clark launched Noon Pacific with three subscribers. Now they have over 100,000 listeners active weekly. And in a few years, Clark hopes to scale Noon Pacific to millions of users.
His first subscribers were “basically my brothers and a couple of friends.”
But since Clark was into coding and had a presence on several tech blogs, he shared the new website with them.
“A writer for Lifehacker picked it up and they thought Noon Pacific was cool, so literally in my second week, there were 5,000+ subscribers. It just got a ton of traction, because at the time it was a novel concept. Nothing like Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ or any of those playlists really existed,” he explained.
After that, Noon Pacific’s audience continued to grow by word of mouth. Subscribers loved that they could listen to “cool, new music” without digging through blog posts and spending hours looking for the right sound.
“You might be passionate about the music,” he added, “but it’s time-consuming to go and find the new stuff. We wrap that up in a nice package and send that to you every Monday, so it’s a time saver for a lot of people.”
Getting past those first 5,000, however, took an investment in technology.
Clark wanted to improve Noon Pacific’s technology from the beginning, but it was just a hobby, and he had no way to fund new development initially.
Six months after his first mixtape, his co-worker put together an app for iOS and Android phones. “It wasn’t a solid app yet,” he admitted. But it got Noon Pacific on listener’s phones and set the stage for their second version.
One of Noon Pacific’s fans, Alex Givens, offered to build an iOS app that was tricked out for Clark’s listeners. “He reached out and said, ‘Hey, I’d love to build this for you,’ Clark said.
Initially, Alex was hoping it would be a paid project. But when he learned that Noon Pacific was a labor of love for Clark, he reconsidered.
“He came through and said, ‘You know, I just want to help out.’ And that’s been the way it’s worked,” Clark recounted. His contributions and dedication are why Alex is now Noon Pacific’s co-founder.
The resulting app allowed them to reach approximately 40,000 active listeners just a year after the first mixtape dropped. That experience helped Clark realize just how valuable your audience and community can be.
“I realized that people just want to build cool things and be part of cool projects. We’re all doing it for the artists and getting a really cool experience,” said Clark of the fans who help him.
In fact, Clark set up the famous Slack channel to keep his volunteers organized. He now has access to a “couple thousand people” on the channel who can help with things like development, marketing suggestions, and graphic design.
Now, he and Alex constantly collect ideas from fans about how to improve the site and mobile app.
Takeaway for creators: Don’t be afraid to ask your community for help. You might have experts in your audience who would be willing to help for free just because they love what you’re doing and want to see it succeed.
Taking his time and adding features at a manageable pace helps Clark balance his responsibilities at Noon Pacific with his day job.
“You always want to make sure you’re creating the best experience, but at the same time, we’re admittedly slow to put out updates or features. It’s taking us like a year to build a simple feature, mostly because we have other jobs and we’re focused on other things.”
But Clark looks at the bright side: “It’s kind of fun growing up slow because you have time to think about the right way to react. You don’t have to do it super quick.”
He even takes inspiration from his freelance business as a programmer and UI/UX designer. Ever since the beginning, he said, “I would learn things on the job and then take those over to Noon Pacific and try to improve the experience there.”
Managing his time and letting the fans help him out is exactly how he likes it for now. “From the start, Noon Pacific has been a community thing,” he explained.
Takeaway for creators: You don’t have to grow quickly to be successful. If yours is a ‘50+ year art project’ like Clark’s, treat it that way.
To recap, Noon Pacific’s growth was spurred by a few key developments:
- Offering a service (weekly playlists) that met a need (time required to find new music) well enough that it could grow by word of mouth
- Finding non-traditional media outlets (like tech blogs) to spread the word
- Making access to the playlists easier by adding a phone app
But for Clark, Noon Pacific’s success as a weekly mixtape was just the beginning.
To make the impact on the music world he wanted, he focused on a totally new direction for growth: the Noon Pacific record label.
Takeaway for creators: Get to know your audience and find out where they spend their time, then bring your work to them.
While Clark was able to work without funding for the first few years, launching a record label changes things. You can’t pay artists well for their music without some source of funding.
And while most in Clark’s position might have taken the easy route – VC funding – he and his cofounder, Alex, chose a different path.
At first, Clark and Alex spent hours talking over different methods – VC’s, Kickstarter, Patreon, and more – before deciding to pursue alternative funding.
“I think the short route would be to take funding, pump up the numbers, get a couple of million people, and sell it off to a major label. That could happen pretty quickly, but it is not really the route that we want to take, and I think that in the long run, that’s not healthy for the artists either.”
Being able to retain creative control and remain neutral over the years is of paramount importance to Clark. “W**e’ve always considered Noon Pacific as more like an art project that we want to do for 50+ years** instead of a traditional business.”
“Noon Pacific has become known as a very independent, non-biased place to find new music. And I think the second you bring in an outside voice, no matter how aligned with the project they are, I think that changes things,” he added.
In addition, he doesn’t want Noon Pacific to be driven by profits. “If someone’s investing any amount into your company, they’re going to want a return at some point, and we don’t necessarily see that point in the future. We want to build this so that it’s self-sustaining and that it helps the artists in the long run.”
Ultimately, Patreon felt like the right fit because of their brand’s emphasis on community participation. “I like the fact that it can be this ongoing support system and make the fans feel like they’re part of the brand.”
While they occasionally mail merchandise and stickers to fans, Clark and Alex offer sponsorship tiers that give fans more ownership over the Noon Pacific brand, such as
- MP3 downloads of Noon Pacific singles
- Access to an exclusive Noon Pacific Slack channel
- Voting privileges on what new music the label should sign
- Livestream sessions, interviews, and (occasionally) live events
- Small commissions for finding new music that’s chosen by the label
The result, Clark says, is that he has perhaps the largest A&R (artist & repertoire) team in the world. Fans who pay $5/mo for access to the Noon Pacific Slack channel “scout for new music and can help develop marketing and social media strategy.”
Other methods he’s used to fund the project are a text messaging system that sends subscribers one new song a day and overhead music curation for businesses.
Funds are then put back into creating a supportive environment for new artists and great new music for Noon Pacific’s fans.
Takeaway for creators: You don’t have to rely on VC funding to do what you love.
If given the chance, Clark would happily work on Noon Pacific full time. They even have a Patreon goal – $5,000/mo – set up for him to quit his day job if and when they get enough support.
In the meantime, they’ll gradually scale the platform and build stronger relationships with their artists and fans.
To understand why it’s so important to Clark and his community to build a new kind of record label, you have to understand what’s lacking in traditional record labels.
A traditional record label, he explained, “will typically sign an entire artist.” They would be responsible for getting that artist’s music “published, distributed, and marketed.” That service comes with a hefty price. Clark says that profits are typically split 80/20 – 80% to the record label, 20% to the artist.
“That’s just completely unfair,” Clark mused. “The artist is the one who’s the genius making this artwork and the record label, yes they’re helping them, but they’re they’re basically owning that art and they’re taking a lot of earnings.”
Back before streaming, this model still made sense for a lot of artists. But because of the way technology has changed, Clark believes the ‘full service’ record label isn’t a good first step for most new artists.
“You just don’t need all the services that a major label provided at one time. You [can] get a laptop where you can create your songs, home studios or places you can rent for a day. It’s very DIY compared to what it used to be and the costs involved five or ten years ago.”
He emphasized that there’s a time and a place for major record labels, but that they’re “skewed for certain stages” of an artist’s career.
Takeaway for creators: Listen to the challenges your community faces. It may give you your next great idea!
Since the Noon Pacific community was all about helping emerging artists, Clark and his army of fans set out to create a label that would better meet their needs.
Their first innovation was to up-end how they sign on artists to the label. “Our model is that we don’t sign the artists themselves, we’re signing individual songs. So we are more of an accelerator or an incubator for an artist. We provide tools and guidance for emerging artists that don’t know how to navigate these waters and don’t have a promotional tool to get their music out there.”
Artists who sign come with demo tapes and leave will a fully produced song, marketing help, and access to Noon Pacific’s growing fan base. “That’s the Noon Pacific newsletter and mobile audience,” Clark added. “We can put it on our mixtape and all of a sudden they have thousands of new fans.”
In addition, Noon Pacific spurns the cryptic, lengthy contracts typically proffered by traditional music labels.
“The contract that we have is the same for everyone. It’s very transparent. It’s 80% to the artist, 20% to Noon Pacific. We flipped the model on its head and that’s been a game changer for a lot of our lives as well.”
Ever a lover of new technology, Clark also established a relationship with stem.is to handle distribution and payments. A traditional record label offers “zero transparency” when it comes time to hand an artist their check for monthly streaming revenue. Stem gives artists a way to keep track of their income from plays.
“Our distributor on Stem is very tech first and they build a platform where each artist that we sign on can log into a dashboard and see exactly how many plays they’re getting on each platform and what the payout is. They just connect their Paypal account and it’s all managed through there.”
The system works perfectly for new artists who want to be paid for their work, but aren’t ready for a major label. For the most part, Clark said, their main challenge is getting more fans.
“They know how to make music. They know how to produce it. They’re probably not at the stage of touring quite yet. They want help with artwork and sometimes branding. Social media strategies. And then at the end of day, it’s really just distribution and promotion.”
Because of Noon Pacific’s massive audience and impressive Slack channel, they can do just that.
As a result, Noon Pacific – the “50+ year art project” – is able to support and promote the artists its community loves.