“The most important thing in this world is you can no longer bullshit a bullshitter. So just make good things.”

Sony Music’s Fred Bolza offered a sharp take on why music marketers should not get carried away with new technologies and hype, but should instead focus on being the “connective tissue” between artists and fans, in a panel at the FastForward conference in Amsterdam today.

The panel also included The O2’s Emily Scoggins, Kilimanjaro Live’s Karma Bertelsen, and The Orchard’s Lucy Blair. Record of the Day’s Liz Stokes moderated.

Blair kicked off by talking about the importance of “storytelling” in music marketing. “As marketers it’s easy to get sucked in to just thinking about the artist’s story… but actually the most interesting part of an artist’s story and trying to tell it is looking to the audience. What’s their story?” she said.

“We’re still a bit too focused on one side of the story: just the artist side of the marketing, but not knowing enough about the audience… what motivates them to be a fan, and to come back and keep listening to the music?”

Scoggins gave a venue’s perspective. “It’s what it means to people. At the moment we’re doing a big piece of work… looking at motivations to come to a show. I think it’s really easy for those of us who work in music or who are afflicted with this awful thing called fandom – which we all are! – but fans have different motivations for going to shows,” she said.

“We’re trying to uncover how different people approach ticket buying, and uncovering data like that there are certain segments of our audience who buy according to a specific date. They come in looking for gigs on a certain date: it’s an anniversary or it’s a birthday… People come for hen dos and stag dos, or they come with their families.”

Bolza talked about marketing and emotions. “We’re not helped by the fact that at the moment there is an excessive focus on data,” he said. “On some level, despite the fact that I’ve spent the last nine years of my life developing consumer insight and analytics inside the context of a major label, we have to understand that sometimes it’s there to help our gut work, and sometimes we have to ignore it entirely.”

“The fact that you can know everything doesn’t help you know anything, in the same way that infinite choice makes you go back to the same old shit you listened to before, because you don’t know how to find anything,” added Bolza.

The conversation moved on to streaming, and how marketing is now working with streaming services.

“There could be, and I’d like to see more tools on the streaming services themselves. That’s a bit of a problem at the moment, so that when somebody’s discovering your artist, there’s some kind of features where you’re able to find out more about those artists and connect with them, without having to go to a third-party platform like Facebook” said Blair.

“At the moment that kind of artist connection on streaming services is completely lacking… there’s no context or interactivity around a song on a playlist… There’s a huge challenge there for artists and their teams about how do you go about building that connection on streaming services?”

“This shift is often being talked about: from ownership, the album model, to access, the streaming model. We’re now like in the 50s on steroids. Spotify and streaming services are an environment of song-based distribution and consumption models,” said Bolza, noting that the rise of playlists is leading to more lean-back listening.

“Less than 10% of the active base on Spotify in any instance are leaning in to discovery… Playlists drive loyalty to songs, but our job is to pivot that out to the artists,” he said. “Our building blocks from a marketeer’s perspective is how do we use the song? The songs were the ‘trailer’ for the ‘film’ – the album – but now they’re each their own story: individual chapters in the book.”

Stokes asked about exclusives on streaming services. “We generally discourage them,” said Blair of The Orchard’s strategy. “But across Europe there are territories like Russia where sometimes it makes sense. Apple Music there is growing so fast and is so far ahead of any other service.” So it does make sense to sign up to co-marketing partnerships – exclusives included – with the service there.

Bolza: “Actually what’s quite subtle about some of these things, if we do live in an access economy, ti would seem foolish… to restrict people’s ability to consume. But the instances of people swapping from Spotify to Apple Music on a free trial to get the Frank Ocean album, and then swapping back, is a thing,” he said.

But Bolza said Apple is moving towards a different strategy: original content rather than exclusives, such as working with artists on videos. “There is something about facilitating artists’ creative vision that they’ve been quite smart about,” he said.

Is video becoming more of a focus for marketing? Bertelsen said it is. “When I’m promoting tours, if I post video content: original video content, direct from the artist… the interaction and response we get is just immense. And we can’t get that from normal posts that we do socially.”

Scoggins said The O2 has a social team out and about covering gigs, to make sure it has original video content. “It does wonders,” she said. “Video tells a story more effectively than a photo or a text update,” said Blair. “If you’re smart about it, you can let fans do some of the heavy lifting for you by tapping into the power of UGC… and making sure you’re building this community around you as an artist.”

Is there something to be said for going back to basics, wondered Stokes. “The most important thing in this world is you can no longer bullshit a bullshitter. So just make good things,” said Bolza. “There’s only two things that matter: the artist and the fan. Everything in the middle is just connective tissue.”

He added that it’s important to realise there are different types of content, from the shortest short-form videos to longer-form films. “Beyoncé Lemonade? Releasing a visual album was part of an artistic statement… a way of saying ‘spend a little bit of time, pay attention’,” he said.

What are the metrics for success? “If at the end of a tour, when our fans are happy, when they’re raving about how good the show was on social media, and spreading the experience they had at a show, that’s success for me,” she said. “It’s easier to sell next time round.”

Blair agreed. “It’s much more about how you make people feel. Can you be that dating agency to really connect the artists with the audiences, and can you make them fall in love and bring them together?.. Really make them [fans] feel something that makes them want to spread the word.”

The panel were asked about their ‘far-out’ ideas for marketing and how they pitch them in. “If the artist isn’t into it, forget it,” warned Blair. “You’ve got to get an artist buy-in when you’re pursuing an idea. And if you don’t get it, don’t pursue it.”

“It has to feel right and it has to genuinely be something that binds the artist and audience, otherwise it doesn’t work. It never does,” said Bolza.

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