Tonight is Music Ally’s Future Music Marketing event in London, where we’ve gathered a panel of opinionated experts to give their views on whether a selection of technologies are hits or hype – or a bit of both – for helping musicians reach fans.
The first topic up for discussion was messaging apps: Snapchat, Line and more. There was an introductory presentation by Music Ally’s own head of digital training Claire Mas, followed by the panel debate.
Our panellists for the night: Sammy Andrews, head of digital, Cooking Vinyl; Dino Burbidge, director of innovation and technology, WCRS; Niamh O’Reilly, digital director, Sony Music; Katie Ray, digital marketing consultant, Modest Management; and Jessica Roe, CEO, Level Theory. The moderator was Music Ally’s Eamonn Forde.
Mas noted that Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp woke the market up, with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger now having 700m and 600m active users respectively. But neither has done much with music, noted Mas.
“WeChat from China and specifically Line from Japan have been doing an amazing job,” she said. Mas talked about Line’s mix of stickers, artist profiles and its acquisition of MixRadio from Microsoft, while also revealing plans to launch a streaming service in Japan. She noted that artists like Paul McCartney and Taylor Swift have millions of followers on Line – between 8m and 13m for big artists.
Then there’s Snapchat with its huge teenage audience swapping disappearing snaps, but also following artists and creators within the app. Its Our Story feature gathers snaps from certain places and events – the Coachella festival for example. But Snapchat also has its Discover section, with a range of media partners – from Vice to National Geographic, but also Warner Music Group in the US, and even a Madonna video premiere. And Snapchat’s own channel in Discover has been promoting emerging musicians too.
Over to the panel. Who has used messaging apps in their marketing? O’Reilly kicked off. “The power of messaging apps for artists is twofold. It’s obviously the popularity amongst young, global audiences. And they’re no longer services, they’re platforms. We’ve seen what Facebook have done recently with their third-party app… it’s about how we use them,” she said.
“And when you look at companies like BuzzFeed, they have teams of people whose sole responsibility is to think about how they distribute media on messaging apps. So we should take inspiration from them… for artists we can’t just stick their content up there.”
Andrews said that some artists are more willing to engage than others. “We have had some pushback from some artists, specifically on Snapchat, saying ‘Isn’t that where people go to send naked pictures of themselves?‘,” she said. But she explained these apps’ advantages: “It’s about the intimacy. We can’t just feed them the hard sell all the time, that’s not what they want to see.”
Burbidge agreed. “It’s how can you be a friend of theirs and not get in their way,” he said. “How do you talk to people, how do you get the message to them?” Andrews noted that “people just don’t want to be bombarded with things that they don’t think are relevant”, which is why text-message marketing hasn’t really worked. But she noted that people are opting in to more of a degree with messaging apps.
“I’m seeing pushback from artists on the exact same thing. They’re either using it, it’s a personal thing, but it’s not something they see as a platform to engage with their fanbases on,” said Ray. “And everyone wants exclusive content and there’s only so much to go around. Is this platform worth driving everyone to for 24 hours?”
“I think there’s a big danger of people like us killing those apps as well,” said Roe. “The second the marketers jump on board and start selling stuff to people, it kills the app dead… and when the app dies and they’re not getting any feedback from anybody they realise they’ve wasted a lot of time investing in that platform… I remember someone saying Diplo is doing really well on Snapchat, and I said ‘it’s not just people sharing dick pictures’. And then I looked at Diplo’s account, and it’s mainly him sharing pictures of girls twerking.”
“For every artist at Sony we will look at where that audience is, and we have a fantastic consumer insight team who are properly embedded in the label,” said O’Reilly. “They’re developing ideas with the labels to think about: ‘Ella Henderson, your audience is on Snapchat, so let’s not release the new single but let’s maybe do a remix’. She did it with her Ghost campaign and it was fantastic: there was intrigue… and it ran over 10 weeks, and she followed back all those kids who followed her. So it was appropriate and relevant for her… If the audience are spending most of their time on Snapchat and Line, what can we give them to share?”
Ray said that “young people are very aware when they’re being marketed to… it is about eventising things like remixes, and curating the chatter online. By eventising it is isn’t a straight sell like ‘pre-order this’. But it’s creating something for them to have a conversation about… and then we’re effectively empowering the fanbase to do the marketing for us.”
What about artists’ own apps? Something that was once hyped, but has fallen out of favour in recent times. “The big challenge we have with apps is how do you create demand with an app, as well as everything else,” said O’Reilly. The data and relationship with fans you can get through an app is excellent. “But it’s just that challenge with how do you create demand for that, as well as the album and the stream and everything else.”
Andrews: “People don’t want 20 band apps on their phone. They want one app where they can go and consume everything and find out, which is where it falls into the social element.” And O’Reilly said the key is often for artist’s management to maintain the presence across these various apps and social platforms. “It’s about artists who are genuinely into the app, genuinely get it, and the part they play in it cannot disappear after a week because they’ve got bored of it,” agreed Ray.