Music and Your Message (In the Hour of Chaos)

Been thinking about posting an article about Music Marketing 101 for ages, in two minds to post it. For one, marketing and advertising as Hicks said IS the devils work – and I should know I work in this world. Why should I help Satan’s Little Helpers?

The other is that as someone who hasn’t marketed his own music is liable to get people saying ‘but you haven’t been at the coalface’ which I accept. I have though been promoting my own stuff (events, podcast, mashups, talents) online for years and been heavily involved with social media, and have been a rabid music fan since 7 years old.

The reason I am posting is the whining from record labels, industry staff, PR people etc. that music doesn’t sell, traditional formats don’t sell, it’s all going to hell in a handbasket – and this is used as a reason to clamp down on ‘illegal’ practices like sharing and mashups and the like. This pisses me off, as I can see most of ’em are severely missing a trick with social media and interactive media, and blatantly not doing their job and blaming their ineptitude on others (talking mostly corporates here, although I think indies could also learn a little). So if the Lamb lies down with the Beast and listens to it’s iPod for a while, so be it.

So this is an open letter to the music industry managers and marketers and such bods. Doubt they are listening, and some of it seems obvious but is well worth restating, but anyway here goes:

1. Time of the season

In this age of 24 Hour news and ecommerce, why does it take 3-6 months to release a track or album? OK I know lead times for traditional press and getting a physical product out there are immovable (something like 6 weeks for magazines, and dunno about CDs/vinyl now but guessing 1-2 months or more depending on artwork/specialties), but when you’ve got iTunes and digital releases there’s no reason to create all that buzz for a track you cannot even get or legally download…this feeds Hype Machine and music blogs such delays – as the longer the delay, the more likely the fans will get bored of the track or go find it illegally. Why not have the track/album available digitally immediately? Why tease for months, this is the old way of thinking – we want stuff we can listen/share NOW.

2. Oh so special

‘Physical formats don’t sell’. BULL. SHIT. I’ve bought physical formats recently, special imports I’ve hurried to buy and awaited eagerly for the postie to deliver. Now I admit amongst a younger age group the physical CD holds less sway, but 30+ age bracket still prefers it…and those CDs I bought? Special limited editions – one was a CD of an album I already had on MP3 but with a hand-sprayed 7″ collectable – the handmade part is important. Make your releases special in this age of digital cloned conformity, make them artworks, make them unique, handmade, craft objects. Limited edition and special – totally the way to go. I thought the music industry KNEW this? Seemingly not in most cases. Create a boring physical product that conforms and looks like everyone else’s CDs and guess what? No-one will care much for it. Artists know this (both visual and musical) – listen to them.
And even the MP3s can be made distinct and have thoughtful nice touches – one of the things I loved about NIN’s free Ghosts LP is Trent commissioned a unique graphic for each MP3 of the album from an artist. That is cool.

3. Live n’ direct

Buying direct from the artist gives a warm, fuzzy feeling…there is NO reason why artists can’t sell direct in this age, and it’s a major plus. All fans would rather give their money to the band/artist they love rather than some spotty chimp who just put the CD in a rack and doesn’t really care if it’s The XX or Michael Buble in the box. NIN knows this, St Etienne knows this, Shut Up and Dance knows this, even Radiohead did this once before wimping out. No reason why unestablished acts can’t do it either.

4. Everybody wants a piece of the action

In this Web 2.0/Social media world it amazes me that media companies still tell people to want a passive experience. Or give them a token interaction (no, texting inane comments or competitions or a token remix competition for a record voucher does not cut it anymore). Talking about DJ Hero recently on GYBO reminded me of this – Activision and Freestyle missed a trick there, they could have used their deep pockets to license and involve the DJ/mashup community by licensing existing popular mashups for the game or releasing some of the parts into the wild and including those as downloadable content for the game with credit to the mashers – who of course will be so pleased with the attention they will promo the game for free. Or doing what Frets on Fire is doing and allow people to create their own levels, and share them (even without the tracks if that was a problem, but just instructions for which track/album to use).

The top-down idea of entertainment is so 20th century, and is changing. So do what Lily Allen did and include your album parts on your album (and thus had loads of free advertising in mashups everywhere), make your videos remixable (how I go through hell to find high quality vids for my mashes) or create forums for people to remix your work as NIN has – and then don’t sue/threaten them if they use the work in unexpected ways, because that will happen, but will probably be to everyone’s benefit.

5. Everybody’s free (to feel good)

Free is not evil – free is good. Singles do not sell in the main unless you are Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber or some such crap – so why not give them away for free to promote the album? Or at least don’t snap at the blogs posting MP3s giving you free publicity – they are music fans too and would most likely want to see the album and band/artist do really well – especially if they are actually posting tracks with permission! Also pay what you want seems to work well, like the direct model (or in tandem) people want to see the artist do well – what they hate is the money going up exec’s noses or for people who add very little to the chain – they are not stupid, the excess and waste (and high CD prices) of the industry hasn’t gone unnoticed. Neither has the money thrown at frankly terrible projects and bands that anyone with sense, an ear and not directly related to them would’ve not given the time of day.

Oh and Creative Commons is your friend.

6. Release Me (and Let Me Love Again)

Following from the last point is the hardest part – releasing something good. Now I’m not going to fall into the old fogey trap and say pop music is crap today (it was ever thus, sadly – with some notable and honourable exceptions) but producing music that people care about, rather than something for ringtone or advertising sales, pays dividends. Treat all music as throwaway and guess what: your audience will do likewise. This doesn’t mean serious singer-songwriter bores need to rise apparent but meaning in music has been lost somewhere in between all the branding meetings; lack of risk taking and the one-album syndrome mean artists never develop beyond the surface; concentrating on one niche ADHD demographic will not only lose everyone else, it will probably lose that too because ‘giving people what they want’ only works so far until those people get bored and listless – people don’t KNOW what they want until they hear it. The shock of the new, and all that.

Sticking with what they know and a tried and tested formula is short-sighted and just leads to disinterest and apathy. Try behaving more like a mashup artist – mix up the genres, fuck it up, put the country next to rave next to electro next to death metal and see what happens. Feed stuff to the ‘wrong’ audience and see what happens. I just know people will love and buy music that moves them, you just have to surprise, shock, woo, involve and connect with them, resonate with them. I think a lot of that is to break down the walls between artist and audience – Twitter is already doing this in it’s inane way – and take out the marketing bumpf and production fluff, which adds nothing.

I hope these comments come of use to provoke a few thoughts…it does seem from the outside the creativity and innovation in promoting bands is lacking – especially in the realm of social media, bar a few key people who indeed ‘get it’. A lot of this is corporates acting as corporates do – and still not heeding Cluetrain Manifesto that came out over 10 years ago – the principles of transparency and letting people get direct access to those people they need to talk to and not letting bland marketing smokescreens get in the way are still not there.

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