Creator Stories

Portugal The Man uses Rally to Keep Their Community Close—and Their Core Fans Closer

By Rally Community Team September 1, 2021

PTM

Over the past decade, the Portland-based band Portugal The Man has played over 1,600 live shows all across the globe. They’ve also celebrated an RIAA-certified gold album, Woodstock, and a GRAMMY award for their single, “Feel It Still,” which hung out as the #1 track on alternative radio for a mind-blowing 20 weeks. 


The band’s members—John Gourley, Zach Carothers, Kyle O’Quin, Eric Howk, Jason Sechrist, and Zoe Manville—are rock stars, to say the least. But the refreshing thing is, they don’t act like it. Instead, the band has made it their longstanding practice to treat their fans like friends, and to go out of their way to keep their community top of mind with everything they do.


This sense of commitment to community is exactly why Portugal The Man used Rally to launch $PTM, their Coin, back in December of 2020. In just a handful of months, they’ve leveraged Rally to bring their core fans even deeper into the fold, using a private Discord channel to offer up perks like archival access, music lessons, and intimate watch parties to Coin holders. And, they have even bigger plans in the works.


Below, we spoke to Rich Holtzman, PTM’s manager, to find out exactly how the band has nurtured their community over the years, and how they’re building on this legacy with their very own Coin.

So, you’re the manager of Portugal The Man. What does your job entail?


As manager, I act as CEO for the band's enterprise, for their touring, for their records, and for their outside endeavors (if there's a creative element to it). Ultimately, it's my job to make sure that they function both as a band, and as a business.


What's been PTM's approach to community engagement over the years? It’s inspiring to see how active and enthusiastic your community is, on social media and beyond.


Since the band's incarnation, they've been very progressive on social platforms. We were on Facebook before it was open to the public, back when you needed a .edu email address to sign up. We were also one of the first bands on Twitter and YouTube. So, we've always been early adopters.


From the beginning, we liked that real community connection that social media provided us with. We never looked at it as an opportunity to promote or hype ourselves; we always looked at it from a connection angle, like, "These people are into the same things that we’re into. So, let's get to know them." Early on, it was a way to meet people after shows and hang out. And that still happens now. The band’s done over 1,600 shows at this point, and they've always been very open, like, "You can't pay for a meet and greet, but you can come find us. We're probably in the alley back there, or at the bar around the corner. So just come and hang out with us."


The band's been around for quite a while at this point, but still, fans that we've met 16 years ago come to the shows. The difference is that now, they're our friends. Sometimes we’ll meet them for dinner before a show, or sometimes we invite them to something we're going to. Over the years, the relationships we’ve built have been incredible.

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Portugal The Man

Portugal. The Man uses Rally to Keep Their Community Close—and Their Core Fans Closer

What do you think are the defining qualities of the Portugal. The Man community? What makes them special? Or, what makes you want to hang out with them? I feel like a lot of musicians wouldn't want to necessarily do that with their fans.


I think the difference with Portugal and their fan base is, we've never been fake. We're pretty damn real. Who we are is what you see. They're a really caring, emotional, giving bunch of people. So, we attract a certain type of fan. We never thought of ourselves as untouchable rock stars, and we never acted that way. When you put a bunch of security around you and a bunch of barriers to connect with you, you create this sense of separation. We never created that separation. In fact, we brought that separation down. Most rock stars or pop stars act like, "I'm untouchable. You can't find me, you can't hang out with me. I'm in my Lambo at the private club,” or whatever. We've never done that, so our fans have stuck around over the years, and that's why we want to hang with them.


And it hasn't become too overwhelming? I feel like it could be a lot of conversations and questions to always be managing.


No, it's not. A lot of times with our community on Reddit or Discord or wherever, we’ll see a conversation going on and I'll chime in or one of the band members will chime in. Then, if a similar question pops up elsewhere, those people will take it and say, "Oh, I spoke to Rich and he says this." So in a way, it makes things easier.


That's a good level of trust to have where people in your community can answer things on your behalf and you don't have to do all the work.


Yeah, that's the great part, and it gets to how we built our Rally. Essentially, it's the same concept, where we identified a handful of people who are our super core fans who've been around forever. When we started $PTM on Rally, we gifted those core fans a bunch of Coin and said, "You're our core. We’re giving you a bunch of these because we care about you and we want you to grow with us. But, also, you guys are our network. You're our pipeline. You're our captains.”


Since those fans already disseminated information out for us, the idea was that they could also disseminate our Coins. Later, when we opened up the Portugal. The Man archive, you had to have five Coins to get in. Some people had the money to buy the Coin, some people didn’t. At that point, $PTM was a lot cheaper—it has become a lot more expensive over time. We even lowered the price for entry. But, the cool thing was, our core fans had the ability to say, "Oh, cool. This person is a fan, but they don’t really have the cash to get into the archive. I'm just going to give her the five Coins, so she can have access."


In this way, our fans have just networked it out. And, we’ve created that bond among people in the community, where they’re not reliant on us as gatekeepers, and they can support each other.


That’s awesome. If you’re gifting the Coins, though, how do you avoid driving down the value?


We had a finite amount that we minted ourselves to give away in the beginning. But yeah, we're not just going to create Coin and give them all away. Now, people can buy Coins, sell them, or give them to friends. It’s a nice balanced ecosystem.

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Portugal The Man

Portugal. The Man uses Rally to Keep Their Community Close—and Their Core Fans Closer

What are some of the benefits that Coin holders get? Can you explain the archive?


The archive has been in the works for years. It's basically live recordings, for the most part—a bunch of rare recordings that aren't public, some videos that aren’t public, stuff like that. When you tour as much as we do and you actually play instruments, the shows are all unique. And, people like to collect the shows that they went to, or shows they heard were great, and listen to them. 


The archive started with a couple of fans who were working on it, who then reached out to check for permission. They were like, "Hey, we're thinking about doing this. What do you think?" And I was like, "Oh wow. I have an idea." I liked the idea of building the community through the archive. While we could have just taken all the archival material and put it up on a Google Drive somewhere for anyone to download, there's something cool about managing it and parceling it out properly.


It’s also been a cool way to keep fans involved. What we do now is we’ll periodically add new recordings—things like live shows, or covers that haven't come out yet. And at the same time, fans keep adding to the archive themselves. That's the core of what it is. It's built around the Discord community, which has a private channel that is only for Coin holders. The Discord server's public overall, but there's a channel in which you need to hold at least one coin to enter, and the archive is accessible via that channel. 


We also do different activations or “hangs” or whatever you want to call them through the private Discord. One of the band members was teaching people how to play our songs, and taking questions. We have also done watch parties, which we’ve used as a way to live-stream things that haven’t been public before, and during which the band hangs out to chat with the community. We always keep the groups really small, capping them at a certain number of people that feels right for whatever we’re doing. So, the band has a lot of fun with it, and so do the fans.


Do you find that before a cool event with the band, the circulating Coins fluctuate a lot as people try to get in on it?


Not quite yet, but I think that will happen with some of the other things that are going to come in the future. We’re planning things like unique merch and vinyl drops, where you'll only be able to buy and transact with $PTM. There'll be access to tickets through the Coin, too—things like that, that you can only get access to as a Coin holder. As we start dropping new music, we're absolutely going to be using the Coin as a way to give our core fans first access to hear stuff, and to join Q&As with the band, and all those kinds of unique opportunities.


That’s great—it sounds like you’re cooking up a bunch of new ways to connect with your fans through $PTM.


Definitely, it’s been great. I mean, imagine how many bands are using the fan club model of Patreon or Only Fans or whatever. I inherently think that approach is wrong, and this is why: with all of the artists that I've ever worked with, they don’t work to schedules. When you look at an artist and say, "Hey, it's the third Thursday of the month, you got to drop that thing." I think that just stifles creativity in such a terrible way. I mean, if you're capable of delivering on a schedule for Patreon or Substack or whatever, that's great, do your thing—but I don’t think many artists work well on schedules like that.


With most artists, it happens when it happens. With $PTM, nobody's paid any money really. They've taken their US dollars and converted them into our Coin—but they can always go back to dollars if they want out. And, if you bought it early or you bought it at the right moment, you can even make money as a fan. I think the Coin started at less than a dollar, and now it’s at $25 or more. So, that's a pretty good return.


That’s really good. Do you think this will be a lucrative thing for the band down the road? Or is it more of a community-building tool?


I think it will be lucrative at some point, but it's going to need more adoption. Other creators are going to have to do it, too. And, then when we get there, I think it will be a real option for funding our work. But right now, as you can tell, our fan base is what we care about. Launching $PTM is not a money-making scheme—it’s a community scheme.

All image credit to Maclay Heriot.