Earlier this week, we reported on Kobalt’s campaign to get fans of Laura Marling to “pre-save” her next album ‘Semper Femina’ to their Spotify collections and playlists ahead of its release in March 2017.
We thought Kobalt was taking advantage of a new feature made available to labels by Spotify, but that wasn’t the case. Instead, the company’s Kobalt Music Recordings team (formerly Kobalt Label Services) built its own technology to do the job.
“We’ve built a layer of technology on top of their API. Their API lets you add releases to someone’s library if they authorise it,” David Emery, VP of global marketing strategy at KMR, told Music Ally. “We’ve added a layer on top of that to do that when a future release comes out.”
For Emery, this is an attempt to solve the perennial music-marketing problem of ensuring fans know when an artist they like has new music available. Not to mention the newer challenge of turning streams into an ongoing connection with an artist.
“If someone listens to a track on Spotify, you can try and encourage them to follow the artist’s profile, but that’s a whole other sort of process that I’m not sure if people are 100% used to,” says Emery.
“Even if you do follow an artist, you don’t necessarily get a notification when a new song or album comes out. It might show up in your Release Radar playlist or it might not. Its a bit disconnected.”
In this case, the campaign relies on fans visiting Marling’s website and logging in there: they won’t see an option to pre-save ‘Semper Femina’ within Spotify itself – for example if they visit her profile page. Could Spotify add this kind of feature to its service for all artists and labels to use, though?
“I’d like to think so. It’s great that we can do this: that we have the power to build the infrastructure for our artists. But the bigger picture is that it would be great if streaming services could build in this functionality,” says Emery.
“People are used [with album pre-orders] to this way of engaging with music. If it was built in, you could be able to go to an artist’s page, see that a record is coming out in two months’ time, and say ‘I want that’ and pre-save it.”
(Kobalt is working with Spotify in other ways for the campaign though: this morning I received an email from Spotify titled “thanks for being a fan” offering early access to tickets for Marling’s upcoming tour – the latest example of the streaming service enabling music companies to tap its data to market to ‘superfans’ who’ve been listening to an artist lots.)
For now, Kobalt is building the technology itself, and only for Spotify. Emery said that he’d love to expand pre-saves to other services, but that depends on how their APIs evolve.
“At the moment, Spotify is definitely the service with the most fleshed-out API, but I’d love to be able to do this for other services: Apple Music in particular. At the moment their API isn’t as fleshed out,” he said.
The strength of the tool built for Marling is that by getting fans to save her album to their collections and playlists, it should help drive streams of the music in the long term – beyond any initial spike from publicity around its release, and placement on Spotify’s own playlists.
“When we look at streaming data, which obviously we do every single day, you can see a real difference in terms of repeat listens and engagement: that comes from people listening to music in their libraries,” says Emery.
“And of course people are also listening to music in [Spotify-curated] playlists which is equally valid, but that listening is not necessarily engaging with an artist. You want to be able to convert that into ‘I want to listen to the album, maybe go to a show’. That comes from being part of their music libraries.”
“Streaming is all about long-term plays. Short-term plays are great, but you really want to have an established day-by-day stream count that’s really ticking over. You only get that by being in people’s collections.”
The Marling pre-save campaign follows work that Kobalt did for David Gray earlier in the year, when it launched a “dynamic” Greatest Hits playlist on Spotify for David Gray. The playlist changes once a week, in response to the popularity of his songs on the streaming service.
“It is really interesting: we are getting to a place where we can programatically affect the form of music and how people listen to it,” said Emery.
“If you look at things like Kanye West changing the tracks on his album after its release, that’s along similar sort of lines. The album is not just ‘a thing’ any more: it can change over time. The Greatest Hits doesn’t have to be the same forever.”
Emery has been watching with interest the launch of personalised, algorithm-driven playlists on Spotify (Discover Weekly, Release Radar, Daily Mix) and Apple Music (My Favourites Mix, My New Music Mix).
“The potential for that personalisation is fascinating, and if there are ways that artists can engage with that as well, whether it’s through APIs as with Laura or through other things, then that’s worth exploring.”
One of the simplest things about the Marling campaign is that fans can type in their email address as part of the signup process – although they can opt not to do so. It’s a reminder that for all the evolution happening on streaming services, mailing lists remain important tools for artists.
“Email databases are massively underrated I think. I’ve always had a suspicion that it’s because how many people you have on your email list isn’t public,” said Emery.
“People are obsessed by public stats: how many followers you have on YouTube or Likes on Facebook. But an email is the most direct connection you can have with a fan. When Laura’s album comes out, we can send people an email saying ‘it’s out, click here to play it on Spotify’ and send them straight to the playlist they decided to add it to.”
This, like the overall campaign, isn’t flashy use of new technology for the sake of it. It’s focused on two goals – saves and email signups – that can make a long-term impact for Marling.
“There is always a tendency for people to get excited by new technology for the sake of new technology,” said Emery. “I’m much more excited about new technology that can change what we’re doing or promote real engagement. It needs to work.”