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fan engagement

Music Marketing

Storytelling In Music: The Next Chapter

Storytelling In Music

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. Once upon a time, there lived an industry of music marketers, who were told that the key to their job was storytelling. We’ve realised that stories are what people relate to, so effective and engaging marketing should take the form of telling that story. Whether you’re a musician, a brand, a fitness guru or simply a wannabe social media star, if you have great content as your starting point, all you need to do is communicate a compelling story to your audience. Thanks to social media, we’re all creators now, and we’re all constantly engaged in storytelling – Snapchat Stories, Instagram Stories, relentless self-promotion. After all, if we tell our stories well and often enough, someone out there must and will care, right?

OK, you got me. It’s not quite as simple as that.

STORYTELLING TRANSCENDS SONGS

Whilst working on the marketing campaign for a forthcoming album last week, I started thinking about what content, formats and mediums I could use to tell the story of the artist and the music. Was the answer streaming services, social media, advertising? How could we communicate that story best, reach the widest audience, get the biggest reaction? The more I thought about it, the more I realised that I was thinking about storytelling in a silo – only from the perspective of the artist. And I don’t think that I’m alone in doing that. Yes, the artist is already telling a story through their songs. Yes, it’s important to tell their story to put the music into context, and try and engage fans with who the artist is, what they’re about, where they’ve come from and where they’re going. But in order to engage audiences on a much deeper level, the artist’s story needs to form part of a much larger narrative – one where the listener’s story intersects with their own, and where the listener is the one who writes the next chapter. We’re obsessing over how to tell the artist’s story, and missing the point that the real value lies in knowing how listeners are relating. If there are two sides to every story, why are we so obsessed with just one? Instead of engaging in storytelling as one-way broadcasting, we should also be listening to the audience. As media strategist Nick Susi wrote in his excellent recent piece on building an artist identity in the streaming era:Music is not about the artist – it is about the stories being lived by the listener and how they relate. Stories transcend any specific artist or song.

UNDERSTANDING AUDIENCES

I mean sure, as music marketers we realise that a campaign isn’t just about getting the music out there and promoting it, it’s about how people are reacting to it. So we feverishly keep track of who is streaming and buying that music, where they are, how and where they discovered the music, how often they’re listening for, and so on. However, those listeners still form one big mass of mostly unknown quantity. We’re able to segment them into broad brushstrokes by demographics, age, location, likes, listening habits and so on. But we don’t really know the how and why of what causes a listener to interact with the music, or artist; what triggered that behaviour in the first place; why they do or don’t come back to listen again, or become a fan. That’s the missing piece of the puzzle.

What we should be looking at is how a story makes the listener feel; how how it intersects with their life; and how they continue the original story through their own. The music and tech industries are already working on this, to an extent. Much of the popularity of apps and platform like Musical.ly and YouTube lies in the freedom they give the individual to interpret music and stories in any way they like. Streaming services are constantly refining their algorithms and data science to serve up personalised playlists based on context, mood and timing. Advertisers are developing ever more sophisticated ways in which to tailor ads to your browsing behaviour. And there is certainly more to come. For example, streaming services and DSPs could and should enable much closer artist-fan connections, and artist-fan experiences. I’ve been writing about the need for more music marketing to take place on streaming services since 2013, and highly recommend Mark Mulligan and Bas Grasmayer’s excellent recent articles outlining how this could be done. Spotify is working on all of this and more, as confirmed by Matt Ogle in his keynote on solving music problems at ADE last October:

CHANGING THE MEASURES OF SUCCESS

However, even those developments won’t go far enough on their own. It’s only when we reach the point of understanding the triggers, the emotional behaviours and cultural contexts behind an individual’s interaction with an artist or story that we will be able to deliver genuinely unique experiences. Therefore, it’s time for the music industry to take machine learning and behavioural data further, and to let fans take centre stage. A recent article on Strategy+Business.com outlined the need for marketers “to learn to view audiences as a group of individuals, each with their own motivations, cultural context and behavioural triggers“. We have access to more data than ever before, and yet we still don’t really understand our audiences. What motivates them to become a fan? What triggers their behaviour when they listen to a piece of music, when they stream an artist on repeat, when they add a track to their personal collection, when they buy a gig ticket or piece of merch? Until we can access those answers, we can still only really analyse audiences in large numbers.  And therefore, we’re still focused on measuring success by numbers – numbers of streams, of sales, chart positions, source of stream percentages, ticket sales. What if, in the future, we learned to measure success by how artists made their audience members feel, and placed more value on knowing what makes someone react to a story? Right now, we’re living in an era of mass personalisation – it’s time to move music marketing forward, from one:many to one:one.

Speaking of which, someone told me a story last week about an artist who, in an effort to avoid cut and paste reactions to his forthcoming album, decided to invite journalists to his house to listen to and talk through the album personally, one on one. Through giving each individual a unique opportunity to hear his story, to experience and relate to it on their own level, and to interpret it and share it in their own, individual way, he is empowering his listeners to take his story into their own hands, and to make it their own.

WRITING THE NEXT CHAPTER

Once you put a piece of art out there, you can’t control how it’s experienced, interpreted or shared. It’s the fans who will decide that for you. The fans have more of a voice than ever – they’re the ones who will tell you what works.  They’re the ones who will take your story into their own hands, continue to write it, and ensure that your story lives on. Isn’t it time that we learned to really understand what motivates our audiences; to understand how the artist and audience’s story intersects; and to empower listeners to write the next chapter? If streaming is about the long game, then storytelling should take both creators and audiences alike on a journey.

To be continued…

 

Disclaimer: the views expressed in this article are my own personal ones, and do not represent those of The Orchard.

 

Music Marketing

Digital Marketing For Musicians

Digital Marketing For Musicians

In a digital world dominated by social networks, artists are more often than not judged on their popularity and success by their social media and streaming stats. But as we navigate the slippery slopes of peak content, and struggle to be seen and heard in the attention economy, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ensure that your digital marketing cuts through the noise, and to successfully build an engaged fan base. With that in mind, I’ve put together a guide to some of the biggest challenges in digital marketing for musicians, and how you can overcome them.

1) HOW TO FIND YOUR AUDIENCE

First of all, you have to know yourself, know what you stand for, and know what value you can provide for an audience. In a streaming-dominated attention economy, the challenge isn’t to reach more people, and nor is it to increase the amount of people that you sell to; it’s to make people care. This isn’t about what your audience can do for you – it’s about what you can do for your audience.

With quite literally a whole world of content to choose from, the listener is the power player. Therefore, you have to start with your listeners, and put them first. You have to give people a reason to care about you, and to follow you – because the most important factor in any potential fan’s decision as to whether or not they want to support you is how you’re making them feel. Try to find a unique voice, one that people can relate to, in order to express who you are and find your audience. Ask yourself: what makes your music so great? Why should people listen to it? Why should they bother about you? These are the questions that you need to be able to answer in order to successfully find and build a fan base.

Once you’ve figured out what value you can deliver for your audience, think about which digital marketing platforms you’re going to use. Don’t fall into the common trap of thinking that you need to be across them all – you really don’t. Work out which platforms are right for you (where you can post content that best fits your style, your personality and your schedule) and your audience (think about where, when and how your followers best engage with you), and then concentrate on building a community there. Don’t worry about the rest. It’s far more effective to build a genuine community on one or two platforms than an empty number of followers across multiple channels who never really genuinely engage with you at all.

2) HOW TO GROW AND INTERACT WITH YOUR AUDIENCE

Thanks to the dominance of streaming and social networks, artist-fan relationships are becoming fickle, casual and short-term. Because we’re bombarded with so much content across so many channels, social media has become a game of diminishing returns, where audiences are less emotionally invested than ever.

Therefore, it’s harder than ever before to grow a following; so if you really want to do it, you need to focus on building a genuine, two-way relationship with your audience. Get to know your followers; ask them questions and for their feedback; know what they want from you, and how they want to support you. Go above and beyond to add value for your audience, and invest time into developing a personal connection with them. Your music on its own isn’t enough to attract people’s attention, or to keep them engaged. A good rule of thumb to live by is that artists don’t sell their music anymore, they sell themselves. Your time is the most precious commodity that you have, and that you can give.

Don’t worry about follower numbers; it takes a huge amount of time and effort to grow an audience organically, and there will be times when progress is slow. Most importantly, remember that follower numbers on their own mean absolutely nothing; they are just empty vanity metrics. Even if you have 100,000 fans, does that mean that you could sell 100,000 gig tickets, or albums? We all know the answer to that.

Instead, focus on retention before growth. How many of your fans are true fans? How many of them really pay attention to your content, truly engage with you, respond when you ask them to, keep coming back for more? How many of them come to your gigs, and buy or stream your music? Rather than attempting to attract more eyeballs just for the sake of it, learn to truly engage the audience you already have.

When it comes to content, yes, there are certain types of content on certain platforms that will outperform others. For example, Facebook is so keen to take a big bite out of YouTube’s video pie that native video on the former can still get you great organic reach and engagement. However, content is no longer king – the audience is. So before you start posting anything on any platform, stop and think: how is your content going to make your audience feel? Is it exciting, interesting, funny, sad, moving…? Will it make them feel an emotion strongly enough that they want to engage in return, and / or share it with others? That’s what you should be aiming for, before you post anything at all.

Aim to think like a YouTube star does, and attract and build an audience by creating content like those creators do. By that I mean content that is regular, episodic, short-form – perfect for short attention spans, and perfect for mobile consumption. Think about how skilled those stars are at drip-feeding content to their audiences, getting them addicted to their thoughts and doings on a really regular basis, and interacting with those audiences constantly. It’s a strategy that adds value for their audiences, and one that keeps them coming back, and consuming content, time and again.

Finally, measure your results. Keep track of data from your digital channels, and work out things like what content, what platform, what time works best when it comes to engaging your audience, and what your audience does and doesn’t respond to. Then use those insights to refine your content marketing strategy over time.

3) HOW TO MONETISE YOUR AUDIENCE

In a streaming-dominated attention economy, it’s not about the instant gratification of a sale, or a download, or short-term profits. It’s not about selling one really low-priced item e.g. a CD or download to a mass audience once every release cycle. And it’s not about increasing the number of people that you sell to. Once again, the key to monetising your audience in 2016 and beyond is to make people care. Because listeners will only want to support you when they care about you.

Therefore, the only metric that you should be concerned about is Customer Lifetime Value. The ultimate goal is to turn fans into high-value lifetime customers who keep coming back, who keep streaming your music, and who keep supporting you, in order to reap the long-term benefits of customer retention and loyalty. In order to do that, you need to know your audience – use a combination of data and engagement to understand as much as you can about your audience, how they want to support you, what they want from you, and how best to monetise that relationship. Don’t beat your followers over the head with sales messages. Consumers aren’t stupid; stop trying to sell them product, and remember that the real value of music lies in the listener’s emotional connection to it – and to you as an artist.

4) HOW TO HARNESS THE POWER OF YOUR OWN PLATFORMS

Once you’ve developed a personal connection with your audience, you can also monetise that relationship through offering content and experiences for super fans, different products, and allowing your audience to support you at all different kinds of levels. Which brings me on to the importance of harnessing the power of your own platforms.

By all means leverage social networks and streaming services for all the engagement, reach and data that you can get out of them, but make sure that you’re not relying on them entirely. You need to be able to reach fans directly and not just through a third-party platform. Most importantly of all, you need to own the relationship with your audience – gather and own as much data as you can, and prioritise the power of your own platforms. Far too often, artists ignore the humble website and mailing list when starting out, and focus all of their efforts solely on social media – but never forget that the former are still the most powerful tools at the music industry’s disposal in 2016. So set up a website (a platform like WordPress is a good start), and a mailing list (MailChimp is by far the best option), and make sure that you focus on building up your email subscribers as a top priority – because they will be the most engaged followers that you have, and the ones who are most likely to support you.

Your social media followers will be largely made up of more casual listeners and observers, rather than super fans – but if you focus on giving them the right kind of content and value, you could convert them over time into more engaged fans, who will then sign up to your website updates, mailing list and so on. Then you can send out exclusive offers, pre-sales, content and more to your most engaged followers via your website and mailing list. Segmenting your audience in this way, and tailoring marketing content and messaging to different types of fans, is by far the most effective way of monetising your audience.

5) HOW TO RUN EFFECTIVE ADS

Of course, there will be times when you do need to send out sales messages, and when you need to monetise through running ads; particularly since every social network is now more ad platform than communication medium. Organic engagement and having a genuine two-way relationship with your audience go hand in hand with effective advertising, and will help you to maximise monetisation opportunities – but you’re going to have to accept that you have to pay to play if you want to reach a wider audience.

Once you’ve spent time building that artist-fan relationship, you’ll be able to set up ads that feel as organic and natural as possible. The best-performing ads are always ones that look and feel most like an organic social post, not like a sales pitch – focus on keeping that emotional connection between your audience and your music, or your live show, or whatever it is that you’re promoting, and why they should care about it.

When it comes to running social ads, start with Facebook. Facebook delivers by far the most detailed targeting options, the most detailed analytics, and the best value of any digital ad platform right now. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on social ads – you can set up a Facebook ad for 20 pounds and get great results, as long as you focus on achieving a clear goal with each ad – for example, do you want to send people to a page on your website? Or to a site like Beatport? Do you want to drive as many views as possible on a video? Do you want to generate as much engagement as possible on a particular post on your page? You also need to make your targeting as specific as possible – do you want to reach more of your own fans, or fans of similar artists, fans of a certain festival that you’re playing at in a certain area? If you have time, it’s well worth getting to know Facebook’s Power Editor in order to book your ads – it gives you features that Ads Manager (Facebook’s more basic ad booking tool), doesn’t. And never ever click on the ‘Boost Post’ button from your Facebook page. Because those ads aren’t defined by a clear campaign objective and specific target audiences, they only ever deliver poor results.

Facebook also offers free tools such as Audience Insights and Audience Optimisation, which will help you to find out more about your followers, and how best to target them with both ads and organic content. They’re simple to use, and will help you to make sure that you’re monetising your audience most effectively.

6) HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF STREAMING SERVICES

Again, you’ve got to be active on streaming services if you’re going to really build up an audience on those platforms. Focus on Spotify first and foremost, which has the biggest user base, and will therefore deliver the biggest benefits for you as an artist. While you don’t need to be on all social platforms, if you’re not active on streaming services then you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to monetise your music.

Recorded music, live music and radio are becoming ever more closely integrated on streaming services, and Spotify is in the process of building much better messaging and social features. Music marketing will start to shift more and more towards streaming services rather than social networks, so make sure that you’re prepared to take advantage. Start by being active on streaming services yourself – listening to music, sharing your releases and music you like with your followers, building up playlists that represent your own style, and then sharing that content via your other digital platforms. You could even use your playlists to replicate your own radio shows, or live mixes. Make sure that you’re using streaming data from platforms like Spotify Fan Insights and Next Big Sound to determine to see who’s streaming your music, when, where and how best to reach them.

7) WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER

In summary, while getting your digital marketing right takes time and effort, working smarter and not harder will reap results. Set yourself objectives for what you want to achieve; use only the platforms that are key for you and your audience; only put out content that is going to add value for your audience and help you to build a genuine relationship with them; and use data to help you constantly evaluate your results, and adjust your strategy accordingly. And above all, always start with your audience and what they want first, and work backwards from that. Because as a wise man once said: “If you’ve created a piece of content, but you haven’t built up an audience first, will anyone be able to consume that content?”

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.