Marketing Music with Twilio

Twilio Marketing Ideas from Past Projects

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This week I found myself fielding three different campaign concepts which directly involved or could take advantage of Twilio. If you aren’t familiar, Twilio provides an extensive set of communication APIs which developers can use to integrate SMS, Voice, Video, and Authentication functions into their apps. These sorts of projects land on my desk because I’ve used Twilio many times in my career. In an effort to further inspire my clients, I like to provide past examples of projects and breakdown the basic mechanics that were involved in building the concept. As I mentioned in a recent LinkedIn blog, I try not to clone previous concepts but I’m all for remixing past mechanics. I thought it might be helpful to provide this same info publicly.

I’ve seen lots of artists purchase phone numbers through Twilio or another provider and entice their fans to call or text in either via a social post or perhaps via a purchased real world billboard. The experience typically involves a recorded message or series of text messages which tease content or reveal a bit of the narrative surrounding a music release. This is a great starting point and may be all your campaign really needs. However, with a bit more code and ingenuity, you can turn something that is interesting into a concept that is damn near magical. Let’s go through a few examples.

Visualizing Callers

Two years ago, I helped Run The Jewels build a Twilio campaign which visualized callers in realtime on a map which was hosted on their website. This all centered around the band’s latest single and music video, “Call Ticketron.” As users called in to hear a message (and receive texted content) from the band, a UFO would appear at their location and slowly hover towards New York. We were really trying to play up the disaster hotline alien invasion vibes. 🛸

Visualizing callers is a great starting tactic when expanding your telephony campaign as it shows the overall impact of your campaign and encourages more users to participate. In order to do this, you simply need to send an event as soon as each call begins from the server to the client. This event should contain the information you’ll need to pull off the visualization. In our case, we needed the user’s location. Since you’ll already be scripting the incoming phone call logic, you can add a library such as Pusher to pass the provided city parameter to your website. From here, I used Mapbox Geocoding to turn the location into coordinates which were then passed to the Mapbox powered map.

Playing Voicemails

Recently, I launched a campaign for Trivium to promote their new record What Do The Dead Men Say? It allowed a user to call a phone number and leave a voicemail. That audio was then manipulated using reverse reverb to sound like it was coming from beyond the grave and played back in near realtime on an awaiting live YouTube stream. The stream itself consisted of a static TV which visualized each incoming voicemail. Our goal was to engage fans around the theme of the new album and give them a meeting place to get hyped.

If it fits your theme, playing back voicemails in realtime can be a great way to get all your fans involved and contributing of themselves to a group experience. This can be done pretty simply by using the <Record> verb Twilio provides as part of their really sweet TwiML markup language. The <Record> verb comes with an action attribute which you provide a URL. Once the user finishes recording, Twilio will post the recording url to this action. From here, you can once again use Pusher or another web socket solution to channel the data from your server to the awaiting web app. Once you have the recording url in the client, you can play it back in any manner you wish. In the case of Trivium, I used Web Audio to manipulate it before playback.

Syncing Call with Browser

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I’d say the most famous of my Twilio campaigns is the project I built for Little Dragon back in 2014. This experience consisted of a website which contained a looped video of the lead singer waiting patiently by a telephone. Beneath this was some instructions and an input field, “Yukimi has something really important to tell you but she forgot your phone number.” Once the user inputs their number, the video stops looping and Yukimi picks up the phone and dials. Then, their phone in the real world rings. As soon as the user picks up, Yukimi’s mouth begins moving on the video but they hear her voice through their phone. Billboard called the effect magical.

The purpose of this campaign was to try and create an intimate connection with the band but at a great scale. Rather than getting Yukimi to call every fan personally, we faked it using technology. Unlike the previous examples which required the user to place a call, this experience calls the user. It is through this initial step of obtaining the phone number, we can create an “identity” for the user and use it to sync the actions of the call back to their browser as events. For example, we would send an event as soon as the caller picks up and use it to start the video of Yukimi speaking. Once again, I would use Pusher to orchestrate the events.

Syncing Key Presses with Browser

I built a Trivium campaign for their album Vengeance Falls seven years ago which allowed fans to navigate the expansive album artwork by pressing keys on their phone whilst on a call. This experience once again required that the user input their phone number first so we could sync the actions they performed on the call to events on the browser. In this case, we mapped a simple controller interface to their keypad so 2 was up, 4 was left, 6 was right, and 8 was down. Using TwiML’s <Gather> verb, we were able to send each of these key presses back to the user’s browser and have it navigate the awaiting visual. If I built this one again today, I might try and crowdsource the interactions so the experience was more of a group effort rather than a solo endeavor.

Text Message Narrative

In addition to these call based concepts, you can also build out SMS campaigns very easily using Twilio. As an additional part of our recent Trivium campaign, we also allowed users to text into the number to reveal more teasers about the upcoming album. The client’s wish was that the an evolving narrative would be revealed after each subsequent message until all teasers were provided. Using Twilio’s API and their excellent Functions product, I was able to write a script which checked to see how many times the texting number had messaged our number previously and serve up an appropriate message. Here’s what that function looked like.

exports.handler = function(context, event, callback) {
let response = new Twilio.twiml.MessagingResponse();
const message = response.message(); let client = context.getTwilioClient(); client.messages.list({
from: event['From'],
to: event['To']
.then(messages => {
switch(messages.length) {
case 0:
message.body("Message one.");
callback(null, response);
case 1:
message.body("Message two.");
callback(null, response);
case 2:
message.body("Message three.");
callback(null, response);
callback(null, null);

Customized Video Experience

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Twilio’s mission is to build the best APIs for communication and that goes beyond the telephone and into Video also. I’m sure we’re all tired of Zoom calls at this point but back in 2017, I built an interesting project for Dan Tyminski which used Twilio’s incredible Video SDK. This project allowed users to join a sort of conference call from their laptop or mobile browser. However, the visualization was far from Zoom. In our case, users found themselves as a reflection in a mirror hanging from an old tree. As Dan’s new album played, the tree rotated to reveal more mirrors and more faces. These were the faces of other fans also listening to the record. We kept the audio muted to prevent any distractions from hearing the music.

The idea was to create a digital version of a silent disco so that you may look into the faces of other fans experiencing the album for the first time. To be honest, I think this went over the heads of a lot of Dan’s fans but I certainly still love the concept and hope to revisit the technology in future projects.

Written by

I develop websites for rock 'n' roll bands and get paid in sex and drugs. Previously Silva Artist Management, SoundCloud, and Songkick. Currently: Available

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