As streaming services grow, how can labels adapt their marketing to take advantage? That was the subject for the first session in CMU’s Music Marketing Is Broken: Let’s Fix It strand at The Great Escape conference in Brighton today.
Spotify’s director of label relations, Will Hope kicked off with some tips gleaned from his service.
“This is what our biggest problem is: everything that came before no longer really applies: how you set up a release, even down to the timelines, was quite short-termist,” said Hope, citing the traditional focus on marketing around an album or single’s release, and the judgement of those campaigns based mainly on short-term metrics.
“One of the biggest issues we’ve had at Spotify working with labels is trying to get away from that. We’re constantly trying to make the old way work for the new way, and it doesn’t really,” said Hope.
“We should think about success in a different way: we should think about fans. And we still haven’t nailed this,” he admitted. “In the past it was a lot easier to think about a fan essentially as a sale… They’ll go and buy it, that’s it, and you don’t have to worry about them ever again. And it means that every fan equals the same thing.”
And now? “Now a fan equals someone who’s going to play something a lot over a long period of time, and the economic value of each fan is variable,” said Hope. “It’s a far, far longer-term scenario. It’s not just down to specific units and smaller chunks of time. It’s something that happens slower, but can be far more impactful… We get to a new situation where marketing objectives have to change.”
Hope suggested that while labels’ marketing strategies are changing, the process needs to be faster. “You need to get more fans and you need to keep them engaged,” he said. “That all sounds new and scary, but actually I think it’s a massive opportunity.”
Spotify is pitching labels on its ability to help them find those new fans and keep them engaged with their artists’ music. He explained what the service is doing with artists and labels on this front.
“The two main things that streaming can offer is that fanbase that’s readily available, and easy to find and communicate with, and this longer period of monetisation… it now can last a year and a half or two years, so we structure our plans around that,” said Hope.
Those plans include developing-artist program Spotlight; a Partnership program for established artists who aren’t superstars yet but are returning with a new album; and a Superstar program for the biggest artists.
Hope cited Hozier as one recent artist to benefit: a mixture of exclusive sessions and “power-seeding” in Spotify’s playlists. 46% of his first plays in 2014 on the service came from Spotify’s playlists, while 25% of total plays between December 2013 and January 2014 came from Spotify’s Spotlight playlist.
“The stuff we can really claim is the first listens: how we drove discovery of Hozier on the service,” said Hope. “We had a strategic relationship with him, management and the label… Spotify strategic artist marketing can break artists and lengthen campaign periods.”
Hope also talked about what a hit track looks like on Spotify – “the DNA of a hit on Spotify” as he put it. He showed a graph showing the source of streams for a viral hit: Mura Masa’s ‘Love Sick F*ck’, showing the impact of programmed streams on Spotify-curated and chart playlists, as well as from users’ own “My Music” collections, social features and artist pages.
“You had early adopters getting into the track at the beginning: they’re streaming from artist pages, they’ve searched for it and then they’ve put it into their own playlists,” said Hope. “Then we found out about it: ‘This track’s responding, so we should start playlisting it’. And that brought it out to a bigger audience.”
“Getting into people’s music libraries is still really key,” he added. “If this life-cycle of a track or album or artist is going to be 18 months to two years, you need it in people’s go-to playlists that they’re not changing that much.”
His second example was a Spotlight artist: Kygo, with a track called ’Stole The Show’. The track was added to Spotify’s playlists early due to the strategic relationship with label and management, which in turn spurred more people to add the song to their collections, which then led to a new round of editorial staff putting the song in other Spotify playlists.
Finally, a smash hit: Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk’. “You can see a track that’s already popular with our Spotify editors and which is being saved a lot in My Music as well,” said Hope. “Something like this is going to be really popular in people’s libraries, and popular with our editors too.”
Conclusions? “Libraries are still key, although I can see that changing a bit,” said Hope. “As we get more mainstream, and as people start changing their user behaviours with Spotify, I think we’ll see programmed playlists becoming more and more influential. Especially as you get more and more people who would have only listened to radio before coming onto the service – they’re bringing that use case with them.”
Hope was then joined by a panel of experts: Adam Cardew, digital director at Absolute Label Services; Joe Parry Independent Music PR at Division Media; Leah Ellis, Head Of UK PR at Warp Records; and Sammy Andrews Head Of Digital Marketing at Cooking Vinyl.
Cardew talked about working with a range of artists, and noted that attitudes towards streaming vary. The first thing Absolute does is ask what the artist is trying to get out of a campaign: discovering new fans for an emerging artist, for example, which involves pitching a track in to the right playlists at Spotify and similar services.
“But it is sometimes about achieving that first-week sales still,” he admitted, for established artists. “There’s different aims that we’re working towards now.” He noted that different things influence one another: for example Shazam’s tag charts influence radio playlisters, and airplay on their stations leads to spikes on streaming services.
Andrews agreed that attitudes can vary: Billy Bragg and The Prodigy have “really embraced streaming” for example, on Cooking Vinyl’s roster. “But some people don’t. I’ve spent months sometimes sat in rooms with managers who just don’t get it. Some bluntly refuse to engage with the streaming platforms. But it’s trying to make people understand about earning past the point of sale: longevity is where streaming really comes into its own… more and more we’re seeing people want to do it. They’re starting to get it, definitely.”
Parry said that streaming has “completely” changed public relations for music. “It’s a lot more about profile-building in the early stages and trying to find ways in which to engage a potential audience,” he said. Ellis gave Warp’s perspective: “10 years ago we’d have all the assets in up front and it would be a straightforward three-month campaign, now it’s about thinking what can come after the album?” she said. “What can we do online which is getting the whole album across?”
She added that traditional media “always want to pinpoint around a release or a reissue, and that model really does need to change – particularly in print press”. Parry said some traditional outlets are more savvy, finding ways to engage their own audiences online, but agreed with her main point.
“As Leah said, a traditional three-month campaign doesn’t work in a climate where you can shift your whole campaign partway through. Gone are the days when we started a campaign and laid out targets: ‘this is what’s going to happen at this stage in the campaign’. It’s a lot more fluid, and that doesn’t really play well with the three or four-month lead times of many print magazines.”
How do labels cope with these longer, slower-burning campaigns, with marketing budgets having declined? Cardew talked about the need for smart marketing that plays to the medium’s strengths – for example, creating a profile for the curator of a grime compilation so they can create playlists that contain not just music, but audio commentary on the tracks and artists.
Andrews said that Cooking Vinyl is making a point of engaging “very early on” with streaming services rather than simply kicking into gear as an album comes out. “If we haven’t got the fanbase there ready for week one, it won’t have any impact,” she said.
“You still need the singles. Radio’s still really important. That model still works. And sometimes it can fuel Spotify or streaming services, and sometimes the other way round,” she continued. “You can’t just throw something out there now and hope for the best. Because streaming does reward longevity and we want those albums to thrive, we need those consistent singles along the way… We’re not necessarily chasing the singles chart any more, but the singles are still an important part of the campaign.”
“Having a single gives you the opportunity to have other content, like if you’re announcing a tour,” agreed Parry. “These things all feed into the bigger picture.”
Who gets most involved with all this: labels or managers? “Both,” said Andrews. “It’s a mixture of the artist, the management company and the label,” agreed Cardew. “It’s not just everybody working together, but having a greater understanding of everybody’s role,” said Parry. “It used to be a manager ringing up saying ‘do yer job’. Now it’s ringing up saying ‘do yer job, because I know it won’t work for this reason or that reason’.”
The conversation moved on to whether streaming services could be sharing even more data with labels. “It would be nice for the streaming services to give us a little bit more access to the fanbases we’re pushing their way,” said Andrews.
“We are fuelling all these platforms with our content, and we have great relationships with them, but it would be great if we could contact some of the people that are there, because we’ve taken them there. It would be lovely to be able to drop an email into the inbox of someone’s who’s been listening to my artist’s album! I’d love to be able to email people who’ve listened to the album 20 times and tell them we’ve got something else going on.”
Will Spotify do that? “On the one hand users probably wouldn’t be thrilled if you started throwing emails their way. There’s data protection stuff. But creating more channels to talk to them? Yeah. It’s just beginning: there’s loads more to do… That ability to talk to people and know better and better what they’re about? That’s what we’re building towards.”
Apple is rumoured to be adding in Facebook-style profile and update features for its upcoming streaming services, enabling artists to post updates photos, videos and gig information, and fans to comment on it. Would that be a desirable feature for labels and artists?
Andrews welcomed the idea, but warned against seeing Apple’s service as a Facebook-killer. “Fans are not going to start hanging out and chatting in iTunes over Facebook necessarily. But it’s brilliant to be able to communicate with people,” she said. “I don’t think a platform being a jack-of-all trades is what’s going to work here, but a place that can draw the mainstream in on the basis that it’s a one-stop shop for every way they want to engage with that artist? Yeah!”
Hope fielded a question from the audience about whether independent labels have enough clout with streaming services, in terms of getting on to playlists and working with companies like Spotify.
“Spotify is inherently more… it lends itself to people discovering more music, and as a platform it puts the power in your own hands,” he said. “In terms of actively pushing content? If you look at the Spotlight on 2015, about 40% were indie artists. Obviously there’s a lot more music coming out of the major label world, but we’re very serious about supporting indie artists.”
Cardew had a request on how indie labels can judge this kind of thing: “It would be really good if we could get some feedback in an automated way on ‘your song is being featured in these playlists’,” he said. “We agree, and we’re working on it,” said Hope.