From now until Midem this June, some of the world’s most respected label executives — our 2016 Label Ambassadors — will be speaking out here on midemblog about the state of the industry today. First up is Adam Cardew, digital director at Absolute Label Services. He is interviewed by Lucy Blair of Motive Unknown, who’s coordinating this series of posts. Take it away, Adam!
midemblog: What are the best things about your job, and what have been your career highlights to date?
Adam Cardew: The best thing about my job is working in an environment where people are driven by their love of music and dedication to acts we work on. I’m very fortunate to work at Absolute, a company with a flat structure – where anyone can contribute an idea for a project, and a culture of delivering beyond expectations runs throughout the team. Specifically on the Digital side of things at Absolute, I can honestly say that I’ve never worked in a team of people so committed to finding new, better ways to do things and we’re all constantly learning from one another.
How this benefits the artists and labels that work with us is that they are supported by a company who cares about achieving their specific campaign goals – whether that be fan acquisition, merch sales or chart placing. Nothing is done to a template, and each project has its own specific strategy. And in a music industry where it’s becoming more and more difficult to cut through the noise and connect with a fanbase, it’s important to have the support of a team who are going to give it their all, no matter what your goals are.
Career highlight to date is a difficult one as I’ve had the pleasure of working with some incredible artists during my time at Absolute, including McFly, Dexys, Krept & Konan, Crystal Fighters, Def Leppard, Lethal Bizzle, Backstreet Boys and more. The most recent one that stands out though is the Jack Savoretti campaign with BMG Rights that went gold certified in the UK in January. To be involved in a campaign like that one, where the artist involved had been through the major label model and ended up achieving by far his greatest album success through a label services model, has been extremely satisfying. I joined Absolute five years ago and it feels like in that time, the label services route has become a much more credible and viable option for artists like Jack to successfully release their music.
> What advice would you give to people looking to start working in the music industry today?
Play to your strengths. Hopefully you’re going into the music industry because your passion is music. No matter what role you end up in, make sure you know your stuff in your genre of music, because you never know when it’s going to be of use. At Absolute, we have experts in genres throughout the company – so no matter how senior a person is, if they have a valid contribution to make and they know their stuff, then they’re going to get heard.
The same rule applies for the area of the music industry you decide to work in. I recruit for the digital team in Absolute and one of the key questions I’m likely to ask an interviewee is how they consume music and other media. The type of response you get usually helps to indicate how technical the person is. Skills on the job can be taught, but the nature by which people do everyday tasks, like catching up on the news, will suggest how natural they’ll be dealing with technical digital tasks and how suitable they are to join the digital team.
> What do you predict will be the key trends for music consumption and marketing in 2016?
In terms of music consumption, I think 2015 showed the beginnings of what we’ll experience this year. We’re going to see continued strong growth in streaming, at the cost of the digital download market. The growth of Apple Music has been really impressive and we’ll see Spotify numbers continue to grow steadily as they cross into the mainstream. A key challenge this brings to those marketing records is how to shift from traditional sales-based marketing practices to reflect a split marketplace where some fans will still purchase albums and others will want to stream.
Just one way we’re shifting our marketing strategies to deal with new consumption methods is our approach to segmenting fans properly. Serving all fans (from super-fans to casual) with the same link and same product offer is a wasted opportunity. A great way to consider this, is from the outset of a campaign: why would you want to serve one of your most loyal fans with a simple download or CD pre-order link when they’ll snap up whatever you offer them? Wouldn’t it be better to have a list of those fans who click on every mailout link, every piece of Facebook content and serve them with a deluxe/experience/superfan package? Conversely, serve the casual fan that high-end product link and you’ll lose them – they are at a different point in the fan cycle, and it calls for completely content to get them engaged.
You get the picture. Not all fans are the same, and so to run a great marketing campaign we use Mailchimp, Facebook and other retargeting platforms in a far more detailed way to segment different fan groups and hit them with the right offer at the right time.
> What is the one innovation that we should be the most excited about?
It’s a term being bandied around a lot right now but I’m genuinely excited about what full-stack music can deliver for the industry. When the Songkick app launched on Spotify a few years ago I immediately saw the benefit it could bring for bands and labels, large and small. Using this app, I was suddenly getting emails telling me that a band I’d listened to 3 times a year ago was playing near me. Now Songkick is more deeply integrated into Spotify and I get the feeling that we’re only at the beginning of how that partnership can be leveraged.
Streaming is about attention – not just in terms of monetisation but also in terms of opportunities. Being able to identify those fans who are spending the most amount of time streaming your music and offering them something that rewards them makes sense, but not just with gig tickets. Maybe at some point if you stream all three albums of a favourite act in one week you suddenly unlock the ability to get an exclusive t-shirt from them at a great price? That’s exciting from both a marketing and fan perspective.
> And what do you think are the biggest challenges facing the music industry this year?
It sounds throwaway to say this, but I really think we need to keep artists inspired. There’s a lot of bad press around what a streaming market offers them and its concerning to think that some of the most creative and intelligent musicians may take up some other profession upon hearing that they won’t get paid fairly for their art. I really think we need to focus on the success stories and demonstrate to emerging artists that they can build a sustainable fan base from streaming.
What’s more, I often see faces go pale when I talk artists through the various social networking hoops that need to be jumped through in order to get support across the industry – focus on numbers instead of engagement. We don’t need more social networks – we need more concentrated and meaningful fan relationships that bring more money back into the industry. I think a cohesive effort is needed across the industry to focus the digital activity we expect artists to get involved in so that the connection they have with fans is more valuable for everyone.