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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 Industry

Gender Equality In Music: The Next Steps

Gender Equality In Music

Last year, I was delighted to be asked to speak on a panel at Brighton Music Conference. However, I was a whole lot less happy to find out that I was one of only two women speakers in the whole 2-day programme. So, I decided to do something about it, and put myself forward to be a member of the 2016 BMC Advisory Board – in large part to improve the gender equality of this year’s conference, and get more fantastic female speakers involved. I am privileged to know many, and determined that their talents be seen, heard and showcased. In the months leading up to BMC 2016 (which took place on 14th-15th April 2016), I worked alongside conference director Shino Allen to help get as many talented speakers on board as possible, both male and female – with the result being that women were represented in 90% of the conference’s panels. We still have some work to do – but it was a huge improvement on last year’s event, and I’m really proud of the changes that we achieved. 

As part of the BMC 2016 conference programme, Shino asked me to speak on a panel entitled ‘Gender Equality In Music: The Next Steps‘. My fellow speakers were moderator Carly Wilford (DJ and presenter), Alison Wenham (chairman and CEO of AIM), Ralf Kollmann (co-founder of Mobilee Records) and Halina Wielogorska (music and entertainment lawyer at Clintons Solicitors). The panel was aimed not only at analysing what the issues surrounding gender in music and beyond are, but also at what actions we can take in order to implement solutions, what more can still be done, and what a more gender-balanced future might look like. Given that this particular panel was included in the programme because the under-representation of women is still such a big problem at music industry events, I wanted to highlight some of the issues that were discussed, and shine more of a spotlight on some possible solutions for achieving gender equality in music. Issues such as:

1) Does the music industry still suffer from a lack of gender equality? What exactly are the problems that need to be solved? 

Unfortunately, yes, it does – even the fact that we still need to have the conversation is proof that we still have a problem. Of course, gender inequality and bias, sexism, misogyny and other intertwined issues aren’t just confined to the music industry – they are still ingrained in our society and our culture at an implicit, subconscious level, and rooted in their very foundations (more on that later). However, being an industry that’s still very male-dominated, music has more than its fair share of gender issues. You only have to look at the outpouring of stories about sexism in music sparked by Jessica Hopper of Pitchfork last August, the allegations of sexual assault by multiple women against music PR Heathcliff Berru in January this year, or the Girls Against campaign to end sexual harassment at gigs to see that sexism and violence against women in the industry is still a huge problem.

However, although it’s a hugely positive development that a spotlight is being shone on sexism and how to address it, it’s very far from being the only gender-related problem in music. Intertwined are several critical gaps between men and women that impact negatively on women’s careers, in music and in every industry:

1) The gap in the number of men and women at executive-level positions. McKinsey & Company’s 2015 Women in the Workplace study showed that women are still under-represented at every level of the career ladder — with the biggest disparity occurring in senior leadership roles.
2) The gender pay gap. In the US, women earn 76 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In the UK, women are likely to earn £300,000 less than men over their working lives, and the gap in average full-time annual salaries between men and women is 24% – more than four decades after the Equal Pay Act of 1970 was introduced. Worse still, the gender pay gap widens significantly as women get older, and can become a lifetime penalty for women who have children.
3) The credibility gap. While there’s no shortage of brilliant women entering the music industry, there’s still a lack of them in certain fields, such as engineering, production and label management. The problem isn’t a lack of interested, talented, technically-skilled women; it’s how women are viewed and treated at every stage of their careers. Where women take on more technical, or more traditionally male roles, there is still a credibility gap that comes from deeply-entrenched gender bias.

2) What does progress look like, and what initiatives are being implemented to effect change?

Even the fact that conversations about improving gender equality are so much more frequent and visible than just a few years ago is a measure of how far we’ve come, as women and men find their voices on the subject, and the confidence to address it publicly. There are also some fantastic initiatives for women in music, which are providing opportunities for networking, training and highlighting the achievements of women in the industry. For example, SheSaid.So, Music Week’s Women In Music AwardsAIM’s Women In Music initiativesPRS’ Women Make Music funding scheme – to name just a few. With women still so badly under-represented on DJ lineups and at festivals, there are now a multitude of schemes which provide training and support for women in electronic music, while feminist DJ groups like Discwoman are putting on their own festivals to showcase female talent.

Sometimes, these initiatives can seem like a double-edged sword, highlighting gender as an identifier, and seeming to provide women with special treatment. However, it’s crucial that they exist if we are to work towards achieving gender equality. Why? Because they provide opportunities for women to build their networks, their confidence and their skills, and because connecting with other skilled and successful women can open up a plethora of new opportunities. They also provide a safe space for women to grow and develop without fear of judgment, or the intimidation of being within a male-dominated environment. And the more examples we have of skilled women being successful in every field and at every career stage, the more we will inspire and help the next generation of women to follow in their footsteps. Plus, by bringing together and growing the community of women in music, one day, we will no longer be a minority. And when that happens, we will achieve the goal that AIM’s Alison Wenham stated on the BMC panel is the aim (no pun intended!) of all of the women in music initiatives that she organises – to make themselves redundant.

It’s also encouraging to see some of the big players in both tech and music taking action to close the gender pay gap, and provide more balanced parental leave and support for families. In 2015, Spotify announced that it will offer all staff globally up to six months’ parental leave with 100% pay, in recognition of the importance of a healthy work-family balance. Perhaps most importantly, Spotify said it will guarantee that a culture in which parents can take advantage of generous parental leave without negative consequences at work. Flexible working is also key to providing better support for parents, and enabling them to balance work and family commitments. On our BMC panel, Ralf Kollmann gave an example of having hired a single mother to join the Mobilee team, and then ensuring that the company provided her with flexible working conditions so that she was able to do her best both as a mother and as an employee.

Outside of the music industry, initiatives such as HeForSheWomen Not Objects and the Everyday Sexism Project are doing great work in bringing men and women together to fight against sexism, misogyny and gender inequality. In addition, the (male) bosses of companies such as Facebook, Salesforce and MasterCard have all publicly implemented initiatives aimed at achieving gender equality. At the end of last year, Facebook announced that it would be introducing four-month parental leave for every full-time employee of the company, regardless of gender or location. It has also gone on record as saying that it doesn’t have a gender pay gap, and that male and female employees doing the same work earn the same. MasterCard not only practises pay equity and provides generous parental leave – it also aims to accommodate new parents’ transition back to work. Just a couple of weeks ago, MasterCard’s president and CEO, Ajay Banga, proposed allowing employees to come back for half days at first, and to be able to bring their children to the office as they re-adjust to a work routine. Quite rightly, he also said that “both genders have to take ownership” of childcare and parenting.

Meanwhile, to get women on an equal playing field, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff directed the company to perform a comprehensive assessment of salaries to determine if men and women were being paid equally for comparable work. After finding that 6% of employees required a salary adjustment, Salesforce has since spent nearly $3 million to eliminate significant differences in pay; and reported that this adjustment has led to a 33% increase in the number of women promoted at the company in the last year.

And when Google increased paid leave from 12 to 18 weeks, the rate at which new mothers left fell by 50%.

3) Beyond the progress that has been made to date, what more can be done to achieve gender equality? 

While change is in effect in many areas, we mustn’t get complacent. There is still so much more work to do in order to close the gender pay gap, the credibility gap and the gap between men and women at every career stage. And in order to do so, we need to work together. Just as gender inequality isn’t a women’s problem, nor are the benefits of a more gender-balanced world limited to women. This is about achieving equal rights for everybody, and benefiting not just men and women, but our economy and society as a whole. Research has shown time and again that diversity is good for business and the economy. Closing the gender pay gap in the UK would not only boost female earnings in the UK by £80bn; if the UK could match Sweden’s 60% female employment rate, it could boost GDP by 9%, or £170bn.

Yes, there is more that women can do for themselves on an individual level. Women need to believe in themselves, have the confidence to advance their careers in the way that they want to, and to negotiate salaries that reflect their skills and experience accurately. But this isn’t a problem for women to solve alone; and it’s certainly not the case that women just need to ‘Lean In’ more (sorry, Sheryl Sandberg). Just as we need as many positive female role models as possible, we need more men to step up, and follow in the footsteps of Spotify’s Daniel Ek, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, MasterCard’s Ajay Banga and Mobilee’s Ralf Kollmann. These men are helping to achieve gender equality by making it a priority within their businesses, supporting male and female employees equally at every career stage, and working to be positive role models as business leaders, colleagues, fathers, partners, peers and friends.

And at a business and a government level, there needs to be further development in providing both men and women with equal pay, equal parental leave, and equal opportunities for career advancement. Because while the aforementioned companies are doing great work, they are still the exception, not the rule. And even companies committed to improving gender equality still have a long way to goat Salesforce, women still represent just one third of the company’s total staff, and fill only one in five technical roles.

Clearly, there is no blueprint for achieving gender equality. In the short-term, highlighting the issues we face as a society regarding sexism and gender equality, raising awareness of them, and encouraging both sexes to tackle them together is a good start. But discussion is not enough; we need action. We can only succeed in achieving a better gender balance if we all take it upon ourselves to be responsible for solving the problems we face, to work together in order to do so, and to make gender equality a priority. It’s down to individual people and companies to commit to fostering change and diversity; but if we come together in order to do so, we can amplify the impact that that change will have. We must inspire, educate and mentor each other, as well as future generations.

And it’s those future generations who will reap the biggest benefits; because in the long-term, if we are truly to solve the issues surrounding gender inequality, we must effect a seismic cultural shift in the gender attitudes that we instil in our children. It goes without saying that this is a huge challenge, and one that will take generations, but we must teach them from the earliest age that both boys and girls can grow up to do and achieve anything that they want to – whether that’s in music, STEM or any other discipline or industry that they choose – and that as a society, men and women are equally responsible for achieving gender equality.

Many people who are far wiser than me have spoken eloquently on this subject, but one recent speech really hit home for me. Ken Lay, former Police Commissioner of Victoria, Australia, worked as a police officer for 41 years, dedicating his career to responding to – and trying to eradicate – family violence. Speaking at the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in November 2015, he outlined how disturbing attitudes towards gender are instilled in very young children, and the cultural complacency that allows those attitudes to develop. You can read the transcript of his full speech here, and I highly recommend doing so – it’s an incredibly insightful, inspiring, disturbing, moving, passionate and sometimes painful read.

Referring to recent research that demonstrated all too shockingly the consequences that the aforementioned cultural complacency can lead to, Mr. Lay discussed our “…poisonous and deeply entrenched ideas about gender”, the “…attitudes that are so embedded that we don’t challenge them, and the fact that “…we can’t challenge them because at times we can’t see them.” He highlighted how we develop male privilege early, while simultaneously encouraging deference in girls to that behaviour; and the ways in which “…as a society, we make excuses for boys, and subtly encourage girls to do the same…we are sympathetic to boys’ behaviour and more suspicious of girls’…we ask women to define themselves relative to men…we possess double standards. Standards that are deeply ingrained, and that are a damaging outcome of our attitudes.”

4) What does the future look like?

Here’s hoping that one day, we’ll get to a point when we will have eradicated the unconscious (and conscious) bias that leads to the problems outlined above. When women will no longer be under-represented or patronised at industry events. When women in music initiatives will be redundant. When people are just people, and it’s their skills and experience which truly determine the best person for the job, as opposed to their gender, race, religion, or any other discriminatory signifier.

As Ken Lay put it, when it comes to gender equality, “We need to set the bar much higher than we are.” And whenever the issues of sexism and gender equality are raised and discussed, the most important question we need to be asking ourselves is: “What are we doing about it?”

Music Marketing

Music Marketing In 2016: 6 Key Trends

Music Marketing In 2016

New year, new start, new stats. After a rollercoaster ride through the ups and downs of digital music in 2015, new figures from the BPI and Nielsen Music indicate that revenues are on the rise, bolstered by the latest reports that Apple Music now has 10m paying subscribers, and Spotify 25m. And in the UK and US recorded music markets, the growth of streaming seems to be outweighing the decline in track and album sales,  So far, so good – but of course, there are always dark clouds to darken digital music’s silver linings. The music industry still has many urgent issues to solve – such as safe harbour, putting payouts and royalties to rights, and taking paid subscription streaming truly mainstream. With these developments heralding big changes in how music is released and promoted, let’s take a look at what these latest reports mean for the music industry, and ask: how will 2016 change music marketing?

1) VIDEO IS THE SOCIAL MEDIA STAR

Thanks to ever-increasing innovation in video technology, and an apparently unquenchable thirst among consumers for video content, video will be the key format for music marketing in 2016. As live-streaming and interactive video experiences go more mainstream, it will be crucial for the music industry to isolate and understand exactly what opportunities video presents – and how best to monetise those opportunities.

We can expect to see more experimentation with live-streaming within streaming platforms, and live-streaming simultaneously on multiple platforms, as Universal did last autumn with their ‘This Is Dance 2016’ launch party. This multi-platform approach represents a win for both fans and the label / artist that I expect to see others replicating – enabling the former to access the stream on the platform of their choice, and the latter to increase their chances of reaching the widest possible audience. In addition, if mainstream platforms such as YouTube and Facebook introduce features to make live-streaming much more of an interactive experience – such as virtual tip jars, messaging, and the ability to up-sell merchandise and music – then we could see new opportunities for monetisation and audience development start to open up. But when it comes to making the live-streaming experience truly immersive and interactive, virtual reality holds the key.

2) VIRTUAL BECOMES REALITY

While VR may be a long way off mass adoption, it’s not for a lack of trying on the part of the music and technology industries. Oculus has announced that its Rift headsets will ship from March for £499, while Universal Music plans to create a series of virtual reality concerts this year. Details have been few so far, but it will be fascinating to find out exactly how these concerts will be accessed by audiences. It’s easy to write off initiatives like this as gimmickry, but VR is about the long game. In a few years’ time, VR-capable technology will be commonplace, while mainstream media platforms like Facebook and YouTube already support 360-degree videos, and anyone with a smartphone only needs a cheap Google Cardboard-style housing in order to have a VR headset on their hands.

2015 saw plenty of initial flirtation with 360-degree, interactive and experimental video formats, such as The Weeknd’s ‘The Hills’ remix VR experience, and Years & Years’ DeepDream ‘Desire’ video. We’ll see many more labels and artists move into creating interactive video experiences this year – although budget may prove a sticking point for some. And while the creative and marketing potential is huge, creators and advertisers alike must beware the risk of alienating fans with content that’s seen as a simple gimmick. Only by focusing on creating compelling experiences, which are tailor-made for each platform and each audience, can virtual reality truly go mainstream.

3) REDEFINING YOUTUBE’S ROLE IN MUSIC

As the dominance of streaming and video in digital music grows, so too does that of YouTube. Firstly, there’s its cultural impact. As music industry analyst Mark Mulligan has highlighted, YouTube has become the single most important content destination for younger generations. So much so that YouTube stars are creating a whole new youth culture, and reinventing the star-fan relationship as we know it. YouTubers are creating successful careers and revenue streams both on and off the platform; wannabe stars should aim to be the next PewDiePie. Artists need to think more like YouTubers do, and attract and build audiences by creating regular, episodic, bite-size content that is not only perfect for short attention spans and mobile consumption, but also for getting audiences addicted. As with all streaming platforms, artists and labels must play the long game and focus on developing a relationship with their audience, building a community, and keeping those fans coming back and consuming as much content as regularly as possible. Only then can that content and that audience be monetised.

Which brings us on to YouTube’s commercial impact. YouTube generated $9bn in revenue last year, significantly more than any other music streaming service; and video streams grew faster than audio ones. This means that the music industry must turn video from pure promotional tool into revenue-bearing product, by following in the footsteps of the YouTubers. We may see more big acts take an audio-streaming-first approach to releases this year, as the likes of One Direction and Ellie Goulding did last year, but that alone won’t dent YouTube’s power – so artists must ensure that they are monetising the platform as effectively as possible through their music marketing. The launch of YouTube Red should provide another incentive to create more content on the platform, although there is a huge question mark as to whether even the likes of Google can persuade people to pay for content that they’re used to getting for free. And it’s telling to note that YouTube isn’t just relying on music to drive subscription sign-ups, instead using the incentive of original, exclusive content from some of its best-loved creators such as gamer PewDiePie, producers and writers The Fine Brothers, comedian Lilly Singh and more.

4) TAKING STREAMING MAINSTREAM, AND THE BIG MUSIC BUNDLE

That problem of how to drive subscriptions is one of the biggest issues facing digital music in 2016 and beyond. Streaming is finally starting to make up for the decline in single and album sales in the UK; Apple Music now has 10m paying subscribers; Spotify is rumoured to have at least 25m. And of course, that’s all cause for celebration. However, we should be cautiously optimistic; the struggle to take streaming truly mainstream, and to drive subscription sign-ups, is still all too real. Despite these positive developments, the market for music subscriptions still isn’t that big; and as yet, it’s not clear whether Apple’s sign-up success is at the expense of other services, or whether it really is growing the overall number of paying subscribers. The hard fact is, many listeners aren’t interested in paying £120 a year for music. Nielsen Music’s latest 360 report shows that a worrying number of consumers still think that streaming is too expensive, this being the main barrier to them signing up to a subscription. Perhaps even worse was that “I can stream music for free” was #2 on the list of reasons why people would not pay, and that that 78% of respondents said they were ‘somewhat or very unlikely’ to pay for a streaming service in the next 6 months.

Simply put, streaming services will have to keep changing their models in 2016 and beyond, and diversifying into new revenue streams in order to achieve any kind of mass adoption. Prices will need to drop, more niche platforms may well emerge, the battle for content exclusives between the streaming behemoths will reach fever pitch, and it freemium may suffer the consequences of all of the above. In order to convert more casual listeners into paying customers, recorded music will increasingly be bundled with other content; and at the same time, the role of music streaming services may well change. Will streaming services look to emulate the success of platforms like Netflix by becoming original content creators themselves? An interesting by-product of this would be the potential for streaming services to replace, or at least lessen the reliance on, traditional record label services. It seems likely that we’ll see more content creation partnerships between streaming services and big-name artists; however, this will only further the superstar economy, and create more walled gardens, when getting people to pay for one subscription is tough enough. The ultimate solution to this could perhaps be that a platform like Spotify gets acquired by Netflix, and itself bundled with other entertainment content. But what would that mean for music industry revenues, for artists, for labels?

5) STREAMING COMBINES BIG DATA AND BIG IDEAS

As download sales decrease and streaming dominates and evolves, it will be more crucial than ever for the music industry to figure out what does and doesn’t work in streaming, how to make money and how to open up new revenue streams. The more that streaming moves towards making Ian Hogarth’s concept of ‘full stack music’ a reality, and becomes more tightly integrated with live music and radio, the more marketing opportunities and revenue streams will open up for the music industry. Streaming services could also introduce more marketing and messaging features, and perhaps ones like artist subscriptions, but the potential for further innovation goes much deeper. For example, in the wake of Facebook’s announcement that Messenger now has 800m users, Music Ally suggested that AI chat bots could live within streaming services themselves, helping you to create playlists and find music that you’ll love. How important playlists are will be another key question to answer in 2016; if Spotify was to follow up on calls for it to professionalise curators on the platform, this would add value for curators and creators alike.

The key to all of this – and the real value of streaming – lies in data. The implementation in 2015 of new artist analytics platforms by the likes of Spotify and Pandora was a good start – but we’re still only taking baby steps towards being able to access the kind of data that will help the industry to understand who fans and superfans are, where they are, how they listen to artists, what drives streams and repeat listens, what drives a casual listener to become a fan, what drives listeners to buy tickets, merchandise and so on. Services like Spotify are data companies above all, and could still do more to help artists to build and reach audiences on their platforms, to develop communities on those platforms rather than via external social networks, and to drive repeat plays, engagement and time spent. 2016 looks set to be the year when we start to see exactly how all of this information comes together, and exactly how streaming data is influencing the way that music is released and marketed, and tours are planned.

6) MUSIC MARKETING GETS ANTISOCIAL

It’s time for the music industry to re-evaluate its social media strategy, which has become a game of diminishing returns for artists and audiences alike. It’s time to end the obsession with meaningless vanity metrics, and instead focus on building sustainable artist-audience relationships, the best ways of bridging the gap between sales and streaming, and metrics like customer lifetime value. After all, millions of followers don’t translate to millions of sales, or streams. In an always-on, streaming-dominated attention economy, artists don’t sell their music anymore – they sell themselves.  An artist’s most valuable asset is their time. And releasing one album every couple of years is not enough – younger audiences like to snack on content. Therefore, artists should focus on creating more frequent, short-form, bite-sized content for their digital platforms. And that goes for music, not just social media content. Many artists would do well to follow the example set by the likes of Drake and Gucci Mane in 2015 of creating and dropping multiple mixtapes, albums and other releases on a more frequent basis – more content, and less promo cycle. Yes, Drake is at a level that most artists can only dream of, but his strategy of releasing constant content saw him become Spotify’s most-streamed artist globally in 2015.

2016 will see a seismic shift from marketing on social networks to messaging apps and platforms, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger (the latter of which now has 800m users), and private groups. In time, this level of communication will surely be expected from brands and artists alike, and will be an ideal medium for bite-sized content consumption. However, the fact that these apps plan to become a one-stop portal to everything on your smartphone suggests that they may well go the same way as social networks – cluttered, noisy and time-consuming. And therefore far from an intimate way for fans and artists to truly connect. Another option could be that Facebook and its peers start to integrate music into their platforms much more effectively, through features like Music Stories, and perhaps even selling gig tickets directly from event pages.

Ultimately, however, the music industry must be mindful of the importance of owning the relationship with your audience. Collect and own as much data on your audience as you can, and prioritise the power of your own platforms. In the face of all the technological innovation in the world, the humble website and mailing list are still the most powerful tools at the music industry’s disposal in 2016.

Music Marketing

Streaming, Social And Damned Statistics

ADE conference

Last week I was privileged to present on ‘Streaming, Social And Damned Statistics’ at Amsterdam Dance Event 2015. To celebrate the milestone 20th anniversary edition of the world’s biggest and best dance music conference, I was asked to take part in a series of special ’20×20′ talks. The idea behind the 20×20 series was for each of the speakers to talk for 20 minutes about a music business-related topic close to their heart.

The Importance Of Our Emotional Connection To Music

I chose to tell three short personal stories that illustrate the power of our emotional connection to music, and the power of music to bring people together. Music lies at the heart of human emotions and relationships; it evolved as a way for us to communicate with each other before we even had language, and it’s a key way in which we identify both with ourselves and with each other. The epicentre of music is emotion, and how and what it makes you feel; and that very primal power is where the real value of music lies.

Despite this indisputable fact, in 2015 we find ourselves in a place where our emotional connection to music is weaker than ever, and music is less valued than ever. The shift from sales to streaming and the dominance of social networks as the channels via which we consume media are diminishing the value of each of these platforms, the value of the artist-fan relationship, and the value of music itself. Discussions around streaming seem to focus solely on issues like transparency, payments, monetisation, curation and discovery, while our emotional connection to music is lost, buried or ignored; and yet, it lies at the heart of solving so many of these problems.

In my presentation, I decided to delve into recent research by music industry analyst Mark Mulligan, which demonstrated that the abundance of music available on demand on streaming services, and the seismic shift in youth culture being driven by the rise of a new generation of YouTube and social media stars, are leading to more fickle artist-fan relationships. Meanwhile, the music industry is still laser-focused on all the wrong things – release dates, campaign cycles and budgets, and the need to sell product right now. We’re still marketing and releasing music in the same cookie-cutter, set-template ways that stem straight from the heyday of the CD era. And we’re more obsessed than ever by meaningless vanity metrics like follower numbers, video views and chart positions. But numbers on their own mean nothing – if you have 10,000 Facebook fans, does that mean that you can sell 10,000 records, or gig tickets? We all know the answer to that.

How To Connect Artists And Audiences In A Streaming Economy

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. Too often, artists and labels seem to approach digital marketing from a perspective of “What can this do for me and my career?” But now, the listener is the power player; in order to successfully build and monetise an audience, 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. The only metric that the music industry really needs to be concerned with is customer lifetime value; artists need to focus on turning fans into high-value, loyal, long-term customers, who keep coming back, and keep streaming their music. But you’ll only succeed in doing so if you get to know your audience, invest time into developing a more personal and direct relationship with them, and go above and beyond to add value for them. It’s a combination of data and engagement that holds the key to successful music marketing in 2015 and beyond.

Yet while many of the ways in which we’re now connecting to music are new, the scary and frustrating thing is that none of the points that I’m making in my presentation are. In fact, they’re all long-established tenets of wisdom in the world of marketing. So why aren’t more artists, labels and digital music services focusing on engaging listeners emotionally?

We need to stop selling product, and start prioritising our emotional, cultural and social relationship to music. It’s time to reconnect audiences to music and to artists on an emotional level – before those audiences switch the lights off on their way out…

NB: you can watch the full video of my live presentation below (apologies for the shakiness in parts, and the fact that the quality isn’t professional – this was shot on an iPhone. The darkness of the room isn’t down to the phone, but rather the choice of the ADE crew, so beyond our control). Thank you to ADE’s Gary Smith for the introduction (some of which has been edited out to make the video that bit shorter).

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.