In the run-up to Midem 2015, we’ll be featuring a select crew of up-and-coming label executives, sharing their views on how the industry is changing today. Today, Mom+Pop Music‘s digital marketing manager tells midemblog about music curation services, limited-edition products and the value of music. Take it away, Jazz!
midemblog: Tell us about yourself, your background, what you do and who you do it for?
Jazz Atkin: I oversee digital marketing for Mom+Pop Music, an independent label based in New York. I joined the company two years ago, moving over from London for the position, where I’d previously managed digital projects for the wonderful people of Wichita Recordings, following a stint handling digital marketing and social media for VICE.
> What are the best things about your job?
My job is ultimately about helping artists to connect with their audiences, and seeing those connections happen will always be the biggest reward. Now, with so much of the process of music discovery and consumption taking place online, I can literally watch in real-time as fans fall in love with a record. We’ve had some incredible successes here at Mom+Pop — Flume, Courtney Barnett, and Lucius to name just a few — and each success can be quantified in terms of record sales, or press acclaim, or touring stature. But sometimes the gratification of a seeing a single fan share their excitement can feel even more rewarding than all of that.
Find out more about Creating Shareable Content for the Music Industry in Midem Academy, here!
> What advice would you give to people looking to start working in the music industry today?
As the music industry grows more digital, it needs people who are creative, driven, and technology savvy. My biggest piece of advice: learn how to use the internet. I mean, really learn how to use the internet. Learn how to use it practically: teach yourself how to code, even if only on a basic level. Understanding the structure of websites and apps will better equip you to understand what is actually possible when it comes to using them. In a more conceptual sense, learn how to use the internet to your advantage: establish a presence for yourself online, follow people in your field of interest, strengthen your connections, and don’t be afraid to articulate your tastes and opinions. After all, the fundamental requirement for working in the music industry is a genuine love of music. Why else would we be doing this?
> What do you predict will be the top trends for music consumption and marketing in 2015?
We’ve reached a point where streaming services have become the de facto standard for music consumption. In his controversial lament for music snobbery, Dan Brooks asserted that thanks to the ubiquity of Spotify (or in his case, no thanks to it), we now technically “all share the same record collection” – and as the service is happy to inform us, this record collection of ours is growing by 20,000 songs per day. The focus now, for streaming services and marketers alike, is helping fans to navigate that collection.
Apple, Google, Spotify, and Rdio all snapped up their own music curation services in the last year, but I think through 2015 we’re going to really start seeing the benefits of these acquisitions. Playlisting is going to get better, it’s going to get smarter, and increasingly more fans are going to opt for this lean-back approach to listening. Meanwhile, as these platforms better learn to interpret their users’ data, and intelligently use that data to personalise their offerings, they are going to become formidable avenues for music discovery.
Across the board, personalised experiences like these are going to be a huge priority this year. Internet users understand the trade-off they make for free services, and as they become more willing to exchange personal information, there also grows an expectancy to see that information used to better their experience. With so much data at our disposal, it’s now our responsibility to personalise our messaging, (re)target our advertising, and better understand our audience.
> Are labels, distributors and publishers still the most viable route to market for artists, given the proliferation of direct-to-fan platforms?
The proliferation of direct-to-fan platforms has led to an even greater proliferation of new artists. In an era where anyone can create music and easily broadcast it to the world, naturally more people are doing so. With more artists competing for attention, not to mention all of the non-music content competing within the same space, the opportunity to really connect with fans is becoming more difficult. I think more than ever, the relationships maintained by labels, distributors, and publishers are going to be critical in elevating artists above the noise.
> With music sales in decline, how can artists address the challenge of monetising their fanbases in the streaming era?
There’s certainly success to be had in using limited-edition product, or exclusive merchandise additions, to incentivise purchase within a core fanbase that is still willing to pay for a tangible record. However, we do need to be cautious that this doesn’t become a business of selling tchotchkes, which can undermine the value of music even more than giving it away for free. As an example, The World Is a Beautiful Place made their recent album pre-order available in the form of a 9-inch plastic serving fork. It would have been amusing, if its rapid sell-through hadn’t so depressingly demonstrated that fans literally place more value in throwaway cutlery than they do in music. As it stands, artists can’t realistically make a living from streaming revenue itself; monetising a fanbase that has grown unaccustomed to paying is going to be about engaging them beyond the impersonal in-platform experience, and developing a relationship that establishes you as having more worth… than a fork.
> How do you think streaming can address some of its key issues – such as sustainability, growth, pricing, windowing, transparency – in the next 12 months?
Obviously streaming platforms need to focus on converting free users into paid subscribers. Currently, the only real downside to Spotify’s free service is the ads. But in the modern age of “banner blindness”, is the irritation of advertising truly enough to incentivise purchase? People will pay for convenience, but the free service is pretty damn convenient as it is, so why opt-in? The disparity between the paid and free tiers on mobile is much greater, and as mobile grows to account for the majority of Spotify’s usage, this does bode better for conversion possibilities, but ultimately it’s going to be difficult for Spotify to change the attitude of a user base that has become accustomed to the convenience of a free service. Which, as a label executive, is an issue I’m all too familiar with…
> Would you persuade Taylor Swift to come back to Spotify? If so, how?
Taylor Swift wanted a record-breaking album, we all wanted her to have a record-breaking album, and to do that she needed sales. Her decision to pull away from Spotify will certainly have contributed to those numbers — which ultimately were record-breaking — and the conversation it sparked about the value of music was an extremely important one to have. However, as preference for streaming continues to grow, the long term economics of resisting such a vital consumption channel are going to stop making sense very quickly. Swift referring to Spotify as a “grand experiment” was a low-blow, but break-ups are painful, and we all say things we don’t mean. I have every faith that those two can work it out.
This is the latest in a series of posts from leading label executives, who’ll be posting regularly here on midemblog between now and Midem this June. The posts are sourced and curated by Motive Unknown‘s Lucy Blair; and you can find them all here!