Browsing Tag

social media

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

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.