Image: Chvrches manage all their own social media communications. But is all music marketing as authentic…?
Oh, music marketing. The backlash really is biting down hard. There have been plenty of thought-provoking recent articles highlighting the depressing decline of music marketing into mediocrity, and the increasing inefficacy of social networks as platforms via which to market music. I found myself nodding in agreement with Motive Unknown‘s Darren Hemmings’ assertion that “it is becoming a race to the bottom”, and even more vigorously when I read the piece that inspired that quote, as James Penycate of Ooh Brilliant lifted the lid on how the sheer scale of music and online noise means that these days, even established music websites are struggling to drive traffic for artists and catch the attention of fans. With an ever-increasing amount of music and other content available online, the levels of noise have reached a deafening level, and one where — curation or no curation — it’s harder than ever to discover quality artists & music, to engage with the artists & music that you like and to really make any kind of meaningful connection with music at all.
One thing that really needs to stop is the ‘me too’ attitude of some music marketers, and the industry-wide obsession with meaningless numbers of online followers and streams. It’s all too common for a marketer to look at their closest rivals and think: “Why and how are they doing so well and achieving such high number of followers and streams when my artist isn’t? Why can’t I have that too?”
The sad truth is that the ‘rival’ may well have bought most of their ‘success’ in the form of their online followers, and possibly streams too. The even sadder truth is that said music marketer will more than likely then rush to follow suit and put money towards advertising and/or buying ‘likes’, plays and followers in the hope that they’ll achieve a similar level of ‘success’. And the saddest thing of all is that as long as the industry continues to judge the quality of artists and their music by vanity metrics, this gaming of the system and obsession with numbers isn’t going to stop anytime soon.
This doesn’t just apply to followers and streams, of course; it has become increasingly easy for music marketers to be complacent and lazy when it comes to content creation. Instead of focusing on creating standout content that will genuinely interest and entertain fans, it’s oh-so-tempting to rely instead on putting advertising spend behind spammy and sales-y content to try and boost its reach and conversion rate. And what are these forms of music ‘marketing’ achieving? Certainly not a great experience for either artists or fans, or any kind of meaningful connection between the two – just an inexorable slide down the slippery slope of marketing mediocrity.
Meanwhile, those artists and labels who ARE doing a great job of original music marketing still sometimes find themselves struggling to achieve the impact that they’d like. A large part of the problem is that social networks simply aren’t the best platform for marketing music. Tony Hymes of Whyd wrote a great piece about the impact of social media on music, and it’s hard to argue with his theory that the more information and music you have access to, the less you actually pay attention to. Yes, social networks still have immense power in the form of amplifying word of mouth, but as a platform for actually reaching fans and making a genuine connection with them? Nowadays, not so much.
1. What’s the way forward?
2. If you’re an artist or a label, what can you do to make sure that you’re cutting through the noise and connecting with your fans?
To answer question number 1, when it comes to improving the experience of discovering and consuming music via social networks, we’ll see a move towards smarter sharing, exemplified by Ian Rogers’ statement that Beats Music won’t be using frictionless sharing. As Music Ally pointed out, music sharing via social networks will move away from mindless spamming of every song you’ve ever listened to and towards signalling that “this album/artist is bubbling up among the friends and tastemakers whose opinion matters to you.” Subject-specific platforms are also on the rise, as reported by Pando Daily; it’s possible that more music-only platforms will pop up and become the place where niche fan communities can engage with music and artists on a much deeper level.
However, I think that where we’re most likely to see that happen is on streaming and listening platforms themselves. We’re already seeing a seismic shift in the form of music marketing moving towards music platforms and away from social networks, and big steps taken in this direction recently from the likes of Spotify, Rdio and more. As Bandpage’s J Sider wrote for Billboard, these are the platforms where fans genuinely go to listen to and engage with music, rather than be bombarded with updates from family, friends, their cat and their favourite TV show of all time.
And if artists are interacting with fans in the time & place when they’re listening to the music, they’re much more likely to be able to forge a more meaningful connection with them and convert them into a more engaged fan. Data is also a key factor — via these platforms, artists and labels can tap into more detailed data about their fans to build up a more accurate picture of who they are and how they interact with their music — how often they listen, what they listen to, how/when/where they share.
As Sider says, you can then use context-driven targeting to engage fans on a deeper level and with other products such as ticket sales, merchandise and more. We’re already seeing streaming services making bigger and better moves into curation, editorial, exclusive content and merch – for example Spotify’s new Spotlight and Landmark features, plus their integration with Songkick gig listings, and Rdio’s recent exclusive of MGMT’s new album & video and the Red Bull Stratos documentary. And with Beats Music due to launch soon, featuring its widely-reported integration with Topspin, there’s no doubt that we’re going to see engagement of fans on streaming services taken to a whole new level. More music and brand partnerships, for example the Rdio and Red Bull tie-up, will surely follow suit.
Social is and will continue to be a hugely important part of the marketing mix, but the creation of unique music marketing experiences is increasingly better suited to the platforms where music consumption itself takes place. Plus, although social networks are still hugely powerful when it comes to driving buzz and engagement around artists, they don’t tend to be effective sales channels; it stands to reason that music streaming and retail platforms have the potential to drive more conversions.
Having said all of that, a note of caution; it’s worth bearing in mind that streaming services still currently have a relatively tiny user base compared with social networks and music retail platforms. As Mark Mulligan pointed out in his excellent recent blog post, their sophisticated features and “tyranny of choice” mean that such services are as yet still not accessible enough to mainstream music consumers to achieve widespread adoption.
While that’s sure to change in time, artists and labels should be looking to develop their own websites and mailing lists and delve deep into customer data gathered via their own platforms rather than relying solely on someone else’s. In the wise words of Darren Hemmings: “I’d love to see a world where the bands control their own audiences, plugging those into the services of their choosing without surrendering control and access in the process.”
It sounds obvious, but there’s been a definite trend over the past few years of artists’ websites becoming nothing more than a landing page containing a plug to buy their latest release, plus links to their social networks. Instead, they could be taking inspiration from those who are using the APIs of external platforms to create immersive, engaging experiences via their own websites, such as these recent campaigns powered by the SoundCloud API.
The industry also needs to make changes to the criteria with which it defines success; I couldn’t agree more with The Orchard’s Scott Cohen that “the music industry is obsessed with measurement… but may be measuring the wrong things.” It was fascinating to read in that article how little correlation social network activity has to sales behaviour amongst music fans. But this analysis of music consumption amongst fans and the behaviour that drives it is the direction that we now need to take; instead of focusing on just top line numbers of total followers, plays and so on, the music industry must continue to delve deeper into consumer behaviour.
Music marketers need to know why their fans engage with certain artists; how, why and when they form an emotional connection to the music; what drives them to stream music from their favourite artist; what factors are at play when they buy music and go to gigs.
James Penycate featured a great quote from Ruth Saxelby of Dummy Magazine in his blog post where she said: “I don’t think sites need clicks, I think they need engaged interaction by a reader. I think we forget a click is made by a person and not by a computer…” That really resonated with me. Fans aren’t robots, built to click on command whenever you have something that you want them to ‘like’ or buy. Instead of taking fans for granted, we need to understand the very human emotions and impulses that connect them to music and then ensure that we’re meeting those emotional desires and needs.
Which brings me neatly on to answering question number 2. As ridiculously clichéd as it sounds, it really is as simple as being yourself. Whether you’re a label or an artist, don’t farm your social media updates out to a manager, intern or agency. Do it yourself – take inspiration from Chvrches, who have been quoted as saying: “It has always been important to us that we communicate directly with people who care about our band through the social networking sites we run.”
Talk to people. Treat your fans like humans. Don’t be all “me, me, me” and use your social networks only as a one-way broadcast to spam fans with the latest thing that you want them to mindlessly click on and buy – Steve Aoki’s manager Matt Colon gave a great interview where he talked about switching their social strategy from promotion to entertainment (hyperlink: ), and the huge increase in engagement that that achieved.
Use data from your own and external platforms and talk to your fans to find out what drives the connection between them and your music. Don’t worry about what your ‘rivals’ are doing. Focus on what makes you you, your music, and the unique talents that you have to offer your audience. Create original content that taps into that, and amplifies the connection with your fans. Think about what your fans want from you, and how you can give them more of that. What kind of journey can you take them on? What kind of standout experience can you create for them?
Who knows – if you actually focus on really telling your story and genuinely entertaining fans along the way, you might just find that more people are talking about you organically – and hey, you haven’t had to pay for it…