By Emmanuel Legrand
In the mid-80s, Island Records – then still independent and owned by Chris Blackwell – sent to all its affiliates around the world a poster which showed a colourful drawing of an island with a coconut tree surrounded by the sea. The tag line was: “A terrible thing happens when you don't promote...” The answer came in the form of one word in very small font size: “…nothing!”
There is no reason to believe that what was valid three decades ago does not apply today. It would be a mistake to think that because some music exists, it will find it audience just by the simple merit of being available. Now, as it was then, something terrible happens if you don’t promote…nothing!
And today, it is, in many ways, more difficult than ever to get heard and it is therefore vital to reach out to music fans. Ian Rogers, co-founder of Topspin Media, remarked at Musexpo 2009, “Marketing is getting increasingly important because there is a lot of white noise out there so getting above the noise is crucial.”
On Oct. 22, at the MaMA conference and festival in Paris, I moderated a session on ‘Marketing, promotion, auto-promotion: the new tools box’. It focused on how to access consumers and music fans, and how could acts, especially up-and-coming bands, get above the white noise.
In the good old days when the music industry was discovering marketing (in the 60s and 70s), the mix was quite simple: get the act in the studio with a good producer; hope for good music, with at least one or two hits (if you were lucky you’d have a great album); then take the music to radio; expect a few positive reviews in the press; make sure the album was well displayed at retail; and if the act went on the road, make sure they got lots of coverage.
With the 80s and the advent of the CD came the era of mass marketing, with massive $$ spent in advertising, big budget videos, and radio and MTV dictating what would be hits. For many in the industry, these were the golden days: not only could you spend a fortune, but you could also make a fortune (not only artists – think Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince – but record company executives too!). It was all about shipments, chart positions, heavy rotations on FM radio and spending big bucks (at some point, virtually no single could be launched in France by Universal without a TV advertising campaign).
That was the model that dominated the industry for about 20 years, until the turn of the century, when suddenly all things went, well, in all directions. A few years ago, London-based management consultant Belden Menkus made a presentation at a conference and produced a slide (which I reproduce below) that I have been using ever since to explain the world before and after, say, Napster.
Speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Yes, it’s a mess, it goes in all directions, and as Dylan would say, there’s no direction home! But is that a good or a bad thing? Overall, the old system was playing in the hands of the dominant powers, and those who had the chequebooks were the ones who had the power, and these were the major labels.
The MaMA panellists were unanimous in saying that the new era is far more complex but also far more exciting for new bands, and even for established bands – as recent examples from Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails have proven – because there are so many different ways to reach out to the consumers.
With consumers/fans in the driving seat comes new way to look at promotion and marketing. Radio, press and TV still have a prevalent role, as do live shows, but they’re all part of a bigger mix than in the 70s or the 80s.
The panellists agreed that all the new tools available nowadays open a new era that is extremely fertile for artists and record labels. However, they all warned that there was a real risk to be drowning into a very complex matrix of tools and that a lot of good sense and prioritising needed to be done before taking action.
The crucial point made by all the panellists was that we were definitely in an era where the relationship with fans was the start of everything. To quote Ian Rogers again (in a June 2010 interview with Larry LeBlanc for CelebrityAccess: “At a reasonable cost, you can create real fan connections so you can deliver products that are of real value. I believe that is the future of the industry.”
As moderator of the panel, my role was to establish “ten tips for aspiring marketers and promotion agents” based on the panellists’ comments. These tips have no scientific value – they’re simply based on observations and on experiences from the speakers. But they certainly draw a picture of what can be done if you are trying to build a career in music today. So there you go…
Point 0: “Make good music”
Sounds basic but this is where it all starts. If you have good music (although the definition is loose), you will find your fan base, argued Iain Watt, founder and MD of British company Machine Management, which counts Mika, Friendly Fires and Goldfrapp among its acts.
Point 1: “Do your homework”
Learn about your market, find who are the key gatekeepers and the enablers, explained Dominic Cook, founder of British marketing and social media agency 33 Seconds and former marketing and content director for MySpace UK. Once you have identified the targets, set goals and apply a strategy using web 2.0 tools. What you also need to do is evaluate your budget and see what can be done and at what cost.
Point 2: “Build a relationship with the fans”
For Guillaume Déziel, a partner in Montreal-based company Mr. Label, which looks after the electronic/jazz band Misteur Valaire, fans are the No.1 priority – they are the most coveted asset and the foundation to the business. Describing himself as a “music strategist 2.0”, Deziel said that the whole point of today’s promo and marketing efforts was to aggregate fans and turn them into active agents for the acts – and eventually monetise the relationship. Even at major labels, courting the fans and building the relationship has become the norm, especially for up-and-coming acts, explained Natacha Krantz Gobbi, marketing manager at Sony Music Entertainment France’s label Columbia. It can start with a page on MySpace and on Facebook, a web site, etc. The artist(s) are key to build this relationship. Panellists advised that the relationship was stronger if the messaging originated from the act rather than from minders or PR people. Authenticity is paramount.
Point 3: “Get the email addresses”
Deziel said the biggest assets for act are the email addresses of their fans. With them, you can build a two-way relationship, send info, and identify where these fans are located (through geolocation sites such as Maxmind, which in turn will allow to strategise more efficiently. Deziel said that if an analysis of the Misteur Valaire’s fan mail showed that in Australia, for example, they had more fans on the East coast than on the West coast, it would make sense to start touring on the East coast first. Similarly, knowing that the band had fans in France helped him organise a sold-out gig in Paris, at the Batofar, without any visible promo.
Point 4: “Create the buzz”
The strategy of silence is not the most efficient, especially if you are an up-and-coming band. Cook explained that with about 4 million bands and artists with pages on MySpace, you have to constantly create the buzz, in order to build the link with the audience, keep the fans hooked, and rise above the white noise. It can be through secret gigs, with new music available for free, remixes, videos, mash-ups, etc. It is important to map up the various elements at your disposal and roll them out strategically, said Cook. What matters is to create a footprint and encourage the audience to engage.
Point 5: “Give access, give content”
The natural link to the previous point: providing access to the act, or giving away content in all forms (from free songs to a mobile app) helps building the connection with fans, and ultimately give the possibility to monetise the relationship with the audience. Deziel explained that he and the band made the decision to offer Misteur Valaire’s music on their web site as a pay-as-you-wish model. In exchange, he would collect email addresses. Overall, 65% of the user selected to not pay, while the 35% who paid invested on average CA$7. Two direct benefits for the band: cash revenues and email addresses. From that moment on, he built a momentum and a database. He argued that what mattered to him was converting people to the band’s music, which would lead them to spread the word to friends and start spending.
Point 6: “Identify the filters, the enablers and the tastemakers”
The digital eco-system is very vast, and there’s a myriad of online services that can be used to build a profile, reach fans, provide tools and help monetise the relationship with the audience. Markus Kuehn, founder of radio station Flux FM in Berlin and co-founder of marketing consulting company m2m, said that the key to avoiding the white noise was to use filters such as recommendation tools, but also media such as radio providing they had an open programming philosophy.
To support the “access to fan” strategy, there are services such as Topspin, Bandcamp, which helps sell music and merch to fans, FanBridge, which provides tools to manage email listings, or ReverbNation, which acts as a full service tool kit for artists. Also worth mentioning are, on the media side, Pitchfork to create the buzz (http://www.pitchforkmedia.com); Sonicbids for gigs; or Soundcloud to build a following within the music community. (These are only a few of the notable sites available)
Point 7: “Analyse data”
It is extremely important to analyse the data provided by the various services, confirmed Ben Oldfield, regional manager for France and Benelux and music aggregator and digital distributor The Orchard. Data is key to strategic decision, said Oldfield (which also means that to be tracked efficiently, it is important to have proper metadata for the music). Data services can help identifying IP addresses (Maxmind), or evaluate the online traction of a song or an artist (MusicMetric, currently in a beta format, is self-described as the “most powerful music analytics platform”). For traditional media, Nielsen provides, among other services, downloads tracking from legal web sites and also radio monitoring both in the US and Europe (radio monitoring is also provided by Belgium-based Kollector, currently in beta format). For online activity, Big Champagne has a wide range of measurement and tracking services.
Point 8: “Keep messaging simple”
For Krantz Gobbi, it is necessary to keep the message simple and direct, straight to the point, since complex messaging does not necessarily translate well online. For her, the online environment is very competitive in which fans are already bombarded with messages from all sources. She also advises to renew and adjust the messaging according to the various stages of development and maturity of the projects. And there has to be some coherence with all the various marketing and promo actions. Do not pretend at one end to be an alternative band and at the other end to be a mainstream act. It will only result in consumers turning their back on the act.
Point 9: “Do not neglect traditional marketing and promo”
It’s all about money! There are many online activities that can be set up with limited costs. But when it comes to reaching “the next level”, as they say in record labels, there is still a need for the good old marketing methods, with marketing expenditures and serious radio push. For that, it helps to be signed to a major label, but not necessarily. In Europe, companies such as PIAS or Cooking Vinyl through their affiliate Essential Music & Marketing have set up companies that provide “a la carte” services, from traditional distribution to advertising and marketing, as well as promo, online marketing, etc. Recently, artists such as Grace Jones or The Prodigy have used these services with significant success.
Point 10: “Be creative!”
No need to say more…
On a final note, as we were leaving the beautiful room where the panel took place, in the 19th Century Trianon, Deziel opened his bag and pulled a pack of CDs of Misteur Valaire and started to hand them to the panellists. Never miss an occasion to plug your act!
PS1: For more info, you can also have a look at the study on ‘The Real Cost of Direct to Fan’, produced by Good Lizard Media on the Midem web site.
PS2: Another MaMA panel that I moderated focused on indie labels, presented by French independent labels' organisations UPFI/SPPF. Former Cocteau Twins Simon Raymonde, co-founder of Bella Union, made a brilliant case for labels driven by an artistic vision. Raymonde started the label because he wanted to put out music that he wanted to listen to, and in doing so, has created one of the most respected and commercially successful indie labels of the decade. His comments were refreshing and uplifting. It was a real treat.
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