Building a Band Brand Using Social Media with David Ellefson

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NamesCon 2018 saw over 1,100 attendees over three invigorating days of keynotes, talks, and workshops. Here, we revisit one of our keynote sessions.

NamesCon 2018 opened with a bang: David Ellefson, Grammy-winning bassist and co-founder of legendary thrash-metal band Megadeth, shared his journey through rock’n’roll, entrepreneurship, and parenthood, a journey fundamentally shaped by the internet.

The rocking started early. “I was playing semi-professionally,” said Ellefson, “meaning someone paid us at least 50 bucks to play, by the time I was 13.” In 1983, Ellefson formed Megadeth with his then-neighbor Dave Mustaine, releasing their first record on Combat Records. 35 years later, Ellefson has relaunched the label.

Ellefson recalled a Capitol Records staffer suggesting that Megadeth launch something called a “website”, the first of its kind for a band. “This thing was pages deep,” mused Ellefson, lamenting the now-mesozoic user interface. Megadeth threw a chatroom party for an album launch in 1994, when the web was still a novelty to most people. The band became associated with high-tech at that point, and it’s a label Ellefson wears proudly: “That thinking has always carried through in everything we do.” In being addicted to the chaos of emerging tech, Megadeth managed an as-yet-unheard-of feat: mixing geekiness with heavy metal. “Those were the building days of the band, the building days of the brand,” he said. The band owned its name and imagery, which gave them tremendous freedom in changing record contracts.

That first “Welcome to Megadeth, Arizona” website has evolved into #35YearsofMegadeth, a hashtag whose very existence would have been unimaginable in the mid-Nineties. “More than anything, in our world [the fans] like to see us being engaged,” said Ellefson, which reflects Megadeth’s brand as “everyman’s heavy metal.”

After experimenting with MySpace, Megadeth tried out a new thing called Facebook. “With Twitter, I had to use @ellefsondavid, because another Dave Ellefson had already started tweeting under @davidellefson. (Apparently the other Dave isn’t a very metal guy.)

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Photo by Natalia Stupnikova

Social media branding starts with the name, said Ellefson, noting that he hardly ever visits his own website. That’s because, today, the web has become home to social media sites, which are worlds within worlds of their own.

“Probably the biggest thing you want is engagement,” said Ellefson. “I think the trick is to have a very organic feel to it.” It’s not just about getting big follower numbers, but authenticity.

“I go and grab domain names all the time,” said Ellison, briefly lamenting his GoDaddy bill. “My motto is, if you can dream it, secure it!” He sees potential in the nTLDs such as .music. He particularly looks at food-and-beverage domain names, as he runs a coffee business of his own: “All of a sudden my world has opened up—coffee isn’t just for breakfast anymore.”

The Download Era means that there’s far less money in selling music than would have been the case in previous decades. 130,000 plays on Spotify netted Ellefson a cool $1.03: “Spotify is making all the money, we certainly aren’t; we’re the ones who helped them build their business!” This means brand maintenance is even more important: touring is where the money is, so it’s key to keep relevance with your longtime fans while earning new ones: “I guess we are now ‘classic rock’, if you can believe that!” Technology has not changed the love we have for live music experiences.

(Still, Ellefson reckons “Steve Jobs saved the music business” when launching the iPod and its attendant iTunes Music Store. This set the world afire in creating a legal alternative to Napster, the big download portal at the time.)

Ellefson signed a young all-female band called Dollskin, setting them up in the studio to record an EP. During that process, he kept the public up to speed through social media. Dollskin were quite savvy as well, securing permutations of their domain name and pumping up excitement before a show. “Often times it’s about asking a question, so people will engage with you,” he said, especially on Twitter. Then you learn about your audience: “You can see who’s a lover and who’s maybe a hater, because not everyone’s gonna like you!” You want to push out a band and grow a rock band, but—especially working with a female band while having a daughter of his own— “you also want to keep the creepy people off to the sides.”

While Dollskin is a Generation-Z band, Megadeth has a longer legacy of followers. Demographics and the dynamics of a social-media platform can—and should—shape the way you share a particular thought. As Ellefson said, “As you’re building your brand, building your name, you’re looking for nuances.” You also have to be ready to adjust your strategy on the fly, because response from fans is immediate, one way or the other.

Social media is a tool for building awareness, engagement, and connection to a record- and merchandise-buying group. Ellefson considers Facebook to still be the industry standard for engagement: “It’s the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal of the celebrity arts.” Megadeth has to think global, making sure their posts will reach fans in the right time zones. While Mustaine loves Twitter and has a good feel for it, Ellefson isn’t as enamored of the little blue bird—he’s more of an Instagram guy.

No matter how this next wave of tech breaks, nothing can replace people getting together and enjoying some music, said Ellefson: “Ones and zeros can’t do what the heart can do.”

Key Concepts

  • Social media
  • Personal branding
  • Curiosity in new technology

Take Action

  • Secure your own name on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
  • Be real, be you. Pandering for big follower numbers always looks like pandering for big follower numbers.
  • Don’t just be ready to talk on social media—also be ready to listen.

Grammy Award-winning Megadeth bassist and co-founder David Ellefson is the author of several books, including the autobiography “My Life With Deth” (Simon & Schuster)) and music business how-to book “Making Music Your Business… A Guide for Young Musicians” (Hal Leonard). He is also the owner of EMP Label Group/Combat Records and Ellefson Coffee Co.
Twitter: @ellefsondavid
Instagram: @davidellefsonbass

Andrew Allemann is the founder and editor of Domain Name Wire, the longest-running blog covering the business of domain names.
Twitter: @domainnamewire
Facebook: Domain Name Wire

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