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Music Marketing

What Next For Music Marketing?

What Next For Music Marketing

Much has been made in the music industry recently of the impending death of the traditional album and sales cycle, and the effect that that will have on music marketing. My colleague at Motive Unknown, Darren Hemmings, recently wrote an excellent piece outlining some of the hazards that the industry is facing due to the current seismic shift from album sales to streaming playlists. The launch of Apple Music in particular is making us all nervous, due to the inevitability that it will either convert or cannibalise download purchasers; while at the same time,  you have bands like The Prodigy announcing their plans to stop releasing albums altogether. So what does this all mean for music marketing?

The music industry’s big white hope is playlists on streaming services. Playlists are the new frontier, our saviour, what’s really going to move the needle in helping artists to get discovered and driving plays for everybody – or are they? Can anyone actually prove that playlisting activity alone can break artists and drive truly significant play counts? At Motive Unknown, our experience to date suggests not. Pitchfork’s Marc Hogan published an intriguing piece on the effect that playlists may have on the future of music last week – it’s a great read, but what struck me most about it was how it raised more questions than answers as to exactly what the impact of playlists will be. The truth is of course that nobody really knows; playlisting as a content and marketing strategy is still very much in its infancy, and we’re all scrabbling about in the dirt desperately trying to dig up answers.

A big part of this problem remains the lack of easily accessible, accurate data on playlist additions, play counts and the effect that those plays have on an artist’s wider campaign and catalogue. Although platforms like Soundcharts enable you to track playlist additions, they don’t exhaustively track every single playlist out there, so cannot be relied upon as a definitive source of data. Plus, while it’s useful to be able to see which playlists tracks have been added to, as yet Spotify doesn’t seem to be sharing data on play counts with anyone; and so there remains a gaping chasm of disconnect between artists, labels and marketers eagerly pitching their tracks for inclusion on the hottest playlists, and the data that they get back on whether or not those playlists are actually having any effect on the bottom line.

It feels like artists, labels, managers and marketers have been promised for years that streaming services will unlock a goldmine of data in terms of them to identify their fans and superfans and how their audiences interact with their music — how often they listen, what they listen to, how/when/where they share that music and so on. And yet, so far, the gates to the goldmine remain securely locked. It’s been a frustration of many of us music marketers for some time now that streaming services constantly push artists and labels to spend time creating their own marketing strategies and building up their followers on their platforms for what currently seems like very little return, in terms of data in particular. And yet, if that data was only accessible, it could help to prove the value of playlists and streaming to those in the industry who are still skeptical, and be a huge PR win for streaming services at the same time.

And there’s another area in which playlists need to be pushed forward: professionalisation. Kobalt’s David Emery recently wrote a brilliant analysis of how and why Spotify should professionalise playlist curators on the platform in order to win the war against the likes of Apple. He’s absolutely spot-on – professionalising curators in the way that YouTube does and enabling money to flow into this space would add value and provide an essential marketing platform for curators, artists, labels and brands alike. I wrote about the need for music marketing to shift from social networks to streaming services two years ago; if artists are interacting with fans in the time and place when they’re listening to the music, they’re much more likely to be able to forge a more meaningful connection with those fans, and to be able to convert them into a superfan. Features like Spotify’s Activity Feed and Apple Music Connect are a start, but professionalising playlisters could take that so much further.

Opening up the possibility for playlists and curators to become and to build brands in their own right, and to partner with existing big brands – just as they have done on the likes of YouTube – would enable the rise of playlists and curators with the reach, the audience and the influence to genuinely break artists, and to provide the exposure that smaller, up and coming artists and independent labels so desperately need. This is one area that labels should now be focusing on – how to break and market artists on streaming services, and how to identify and work with Spotify’s superstar curators in the same way that brands work with native stars on the likes of Vine, Snapchat and Instagram. As Gracenote’s Ethan Kaplan noted recently, the trick now is “nurturing an audience month-over-month to drive loyalty and increase returns on streaming services.”

But of course, streaming going mainstream doesn’t just affect recorded music – what impact is the shift from sales to streaming going to have on live music? Industry analyst Mark Mulligan recently debuted new research showing that streaming is leading to more casual artist-fan relationships, which in turn could lead to a decline in live revenue for individual artists. However, last week TechCrunch reported on a new study by EventBrite, which showed that 51% of concert-goers buy tickets to shows of artists they discovered through streaming. If Josh Constine’s assertion streaming turns listeners into fans is true – and the music industry as a whole had better hope like hell that it is – then that only serves to further underline the need for the likes of Spotify to unlock data in order to enable artists and labels to use context-driven targeting to engage fans on a deeper level and with other products beyond recorded music, such as ticket sales, merchandise, experiences and more.

Of course, Spotify already features integrations with the likes of Songkick and BandPage, and yesterday’s announcement that you can now link your Spotify and Songkick accounts to get notifications when your favourite artists are playing in your town is a nice touch. But imagine if they took that further and partnered with the likes of Dice.fm, so that artists could reach all of their fans, promote upcoming gigs and tours within the Activity Feed, and enable fans to purchase tickets directly from within Spotify. Here’s hoping. I’d also like to see Music Ally’s prediction that we will see artist subscriptions baked into streaming services come true, and provide another additional revenue stream for artists.

All that being said, it remains a fact that big hits are going to be big hits no matter what, and that the traditional ways of breaking artists – particularly radio and TV – remain more important than ever. For now, streaming alone can’t have the same impact, and there are no true overnight successes. Plus, while streaming is undoubtedly on its way to becoming the dominant form through which music is consumed, we have to remember that we’re still very much in a transitional period, and that there are still huge numbers of music listeners and fans who aren’t on streaming services at all, and can’t be reached through these platforms. As yet, there is still a very big question mark over whether or not audio streaming services like Spotify will ever go truly mainstream, and whether or not those services can convince enough users to pay £120 a year. At this stage, all evidence points to the more mainstream music fan being happy with the plethora of free music that’s available.

And it’s not only TV and radio that are more important than ever; so too is another old skool concept, that of owning your own data. Companies like Disciple Media and Freeform are licensing technology to labels and artists, who can then use their platforms to distribute music, videos, lyrics and merchandise, generating income through monthly subscription fees, and /or converting free users into paid with upgrades. The model is inspired by the freemium one that video games have used to great success over the past few years; release content for free, use the power of free digital distribution to get your content seen and heard by as wide an audience as possible, then focus on monetising the small subset of most-engaged users and give them the possibility of spending as little or as much as they like – the same principle that Nicholas Lovell wrote about in his excellent book ‘The Curve’.

Plus, these apps offer an interactive, two-way channel between artist and fan through instant messaging features. And with an epidemic of social media fatigue sweeping the digital landscape, and organic social reach fading faster than a midwinter sunset, owning your own data and being able to reach as much of your audience as possible through platforms that you control yourself is more crucial than ever. With the plethora of social and marketing platforms proliferating on what seems like a weekly basis, and the reach and ROI of each of those platforms dropping even quicker, it’s harder than ever to truly reach and engage your audience. Never mind streaming leading to more casual artist-fan relationships; ironically, it feels like social media marketing is having the same effect.

Even the likes of Justin Bieber and Calvin Harris’ management companies are investing in apps like Bkstg, which aims to become “the single destination for fans to connect with their favorite acts across all platforms”. Whilst I admire that principle, which is spot-on, it feels like too little too late; at this stage, it will become just another platform to add to the plethora of those which need endless updating, and deliver an ever-diminishing return on investment. Instead, artists and labels would be better off focusing on the power of the humble website and mailing list; it’s a hard fact that they remain the most powerful platforms at a music marketer’s disposal. Plus, only on the platforms that you truly own and control yourself will you have full access to all of your audience and all of your data.

Never mind The Curve – have we come full circle? Genuine audience engagement, and being able to reach, analyse and understand that audience, remains the holy grail for music marketing, and yet more elusive than ever. As always with digital music, data remains the key to unlocking the full potential of audiences and driving new revenue streams across all platforms. And only those who can pass through the gates of the goldmine will succeed.

Music Marketing

How Digital Darwinism Can Drive Dance Music

Brighton Music Conference panel

Still only in its second year, Brighton Music Conference is the UK’s only electronic music conference, aiming to become the British answer to ADE. With a packed two-day schedule of panels, Q&As and showcases attracting some of the industry’s most influential workers, DJs, producers and exhibitors, this year’s BMC went way beyond beats, booze and beach parties to shine a laser-edged spotlight on the state of the dance music industry in 2015.

The stage was set with the conference’s opening keynote, entitled ‘Protecting The Dance Floor’, in which AFEM’s Mark Lawrence outlined the manifold threats facing the electronic music industry. These include nightclubs threatened with closure, fans exposed to life-threatening substances without information or protection, creators and rights-holders denied income that is rightfully theirs, and music stolen on an unprecedented scale. The keynote called for the industry to unite, to create a platform for communication and the catalyst for change, while the rest of BMC 2015 was dedicated to exploring exactly how the industry can continue to invest in A&R, develop artists and create world-class live events and releases in a world of diminishing revenues and returns.

Of course, digital distribution and monetisation – and in some cases, a lack of – dominated the debate. Believe Digital’s General Manager Lee Morrison pointed out that streaming makes up 45% of revenues for some labels, and that it’s key for discovery – which in turn drives sales of downloads, tickets and other products – but was also critical of the fact that a lot of labels don’t embrace streaming like they do downloads. While panellists were broadly positive about the promotional powers of platforms like SoundCloud, they stressed the dangers of putting a full-length track online pre-release: “Once the genie’s out of the bottle, it’s never going back in”.

However, the clock cannot simply be turned back. The streaming genie was freed from the bottle a long time ago, and the time for windowing releases on streaming or promotional platforms in order to protect sales is over. As Merlin’s CEO Charles Caldas stated in this recent interview with Music Ally: “As the value of the streaming market grows, people are starting to realise that consumption is the new sales. Anywhere that people are listening to music is actually the end-game now.” Industry analyst Mark Mulligan nailed it in his post about SoundCloud’s transformation: “The discovery journey has also become the consumption journey but the change is happening so fast that it is easy to confuse the two. This is why we have the paradoxical situation where 10 million streams on Spotify is considered to be x amount of lost sales while 10 million YouTube views is considered a marketing success. Right now a large chunk of digital marketing activity that is driving streams on YouTube and SoundCloud is tactic without purpose. It is marketing for marketing’s sake without a clear enough sense of what the end goal is.”

Promotional platforms such as SoundCloud are becoming destinations where discovery and consumption are monetised; while monetised platforms such as Beatport and Apple are diversifying to become promotional platforms. The music industry has to adapt, and accept that the future of music marketing lies on the streaming services themselves. With new features like Apple Music Connect being introduced, there is a huge, as yet largely untapped opportunity for artists and labels to interact with fans both new and old in the time and place where that person is discovering and consuming their music; which in turn is likely to forge a much more meaningful connection than in a social network feed cluttered with cat videos. With organic reach and engagement on the likes of Facebook and Twitter increasingly becoming a race to the bottom, social features on streaming services will once again empower artists to reach all of their fans on with a simple update or notification. This is particularly crucial since further research by Mulligan shows that the abundance of choice offered by streaming is leading to more casual and fickle artist-fan relationships; features that help artists to deepen that relationship again, to keep fans on streaming services and consuming more of their music, are increasingly important.

Downloads, meanwhile, may not be dead just yet; but as industry journalist, podcast host and DJ/producer Ben Gomori noted, “People are downloading even free music much less than they used to, because streaming is becoming so all-important” – while Dave Clarke opined that “iTunes is done…even Beatport is changing…it’s all about streaming.” And it’s fair to say that nowhere is the growing dominance of streaming over downloads more noticeable than at Beatport. In a clear effort to manage the transition between the two without cannibalising its core business of the Beatport Pro download store, VP of Music Services Terry Weerasinghe confirmed that pre-orders are coming soon, across both the Pro download store and its nascent streaming service. Users will be able to stream tracks and pre-order them for purchase on Beatport Pro; and a pre-order will count as a sale on the day of purchase, not when the track goes on sale. How that will affect the Beatport charts? Will streaming drive download sales, or perhaps the other way around? How much is a stream on Beatport worth to an artist or label, compared to the likes of Spotify or Apple? Only time will tell.

It was also confirmed that Beatport is becoming a UGC (user-generated content) platform, where anyone will be able to upload their own content or a mix and content will be fingerprinted against Beatport’s catalogue. With uploads looming large, and mixes already available on the platform, there is a clear opportunity for Beatport to become as key a promotional platform as something like SoundCloud. Could it be that Beatport will become a cross between Spotify and SoundCloud, with a huge catalogue of promotional, UGC content sitting alongside licensed mixes and fully monetised releases? If anyone call fill that gap, Beatport can; but it needs to follow in the footsteps of Apple and integrate the same kind of direct artist-fan interaction if it’s going to really become a one-stop shop for dance music and maximise all of its monetisation opportunities to their full potential.

And it’s certainly not just Beatport that has work to do. Spotify data economist Glenn McDonald rhapsodised about streaming giving artists the ability to see exactly who’s listening to your track, when, where and how; but let’s face it, the data that Spotify et al currently make available to artists and labels is limited to say the least. Data that enables the electronic music industry to identify their audiences, interact with them and monetise them is where streaming’s core value lies for artists and labels, but streaming services must make it easily and freely accessible. In addition, initiatives like creating proper label profiles on Spotify and making it easier for artists and labels to identify and interact with key playlist curators would also increase the value of streaming exponentially for the music industry as a whole.

So what of streaming’s impact on the dance floor itself? Dave Clarke noted that “in the future, DJs will even stream live in clubs” – but as Weerasinghe pointed out, “DJs won’t switch to streaming until the likes of Pioneer develop the equipment, and that equipment is installed in most clubs around the world.” There’s a long way to go before streaming dominates the dance floor in the same way as it does the mobile device and the desktop – but, in time, could that development open up a whole new revenue stream for artists and DJs? In a panel on AFEM’s ‘Get Played, Get Paid’ initiative, Mark Lawrence noted that “a play in a club is worth roughly 30-50p” – a lot more lucrative than any streaming service, and a rate than could enable labels to recoup their promo investment. However, there is still approximately £100m a year in performance royalties reportedly lost or incorrectly distributed; partly due to incomplete or missing data on what music is actually played in clubs, and partly due to the fact that far too many writers, artists and tracks aren’t registered with collection societies, meaning that the organisations don’t know who to pay. A significant pay packet is being missed out on because, as Lawrence put it, “The biggest problem facing electronic music is that it doesn’t know what its problems are.” That is to say that a large part of the industry still isn’t even aware of this issue, and AFEM and the various collection societies still have a huge amount of work to do in order to raise awareness and educate artists, DJs, labels, managers, promoters, publishers, agents, retailers and broadcasters on how to make the most of this missed revenue.

In this increasingly fragmented and constantly changing digital landscape, the dance music industry faces bigger challenges than ever when it comes to marketing, monetisation and making sure that the music doesn’t get lost in the middle. Nobody has all the answers; nobody can be certain of streaming’s implications for music discovery and consumption; but it’s abundantly clear that in this period of time of transition, innovation and investment in every possible digital revenue stream is the only way to drive dance music forward. Streaming in particular is ushering in a new era of digital Darwinism at an unprecedented speed, and in order to not just survive but thrive, electronic music must not only adapt but also actively innovate in this brave new world. The last word goes to Lawrence: “You have to embrace change, follow up on every revenue stream, but your A&R has to stay true to itself.”