Fresh from a night of seeing marvellous concerts at by:Larm – IRAH, Sandra Kolstad, Pikekyss, Tirzah and Endlings, since you ask – Music Ally hosted a conference session on the digital marketing trends that are helping artists find audiences.

The panel included Luke Ferrar, head of digital at Polydor Records; Hannah Overton, general manager at Secretly Group; Lucy Blair, director of international sales and marketing at The Orchard; and Sulinna Ong, VP of artist marketing at Deezer.

Music Ally’s Eamonn Forde moderated, kicking off with a quick montage of inventive music marketing campaigns from 2016 – Little Mix, Alan Walker, Daughter, MØ, Aurora and more. The panel then talked trends.

“A big shift in the way the industry is going with streaming versus ownership is we tend to be working campaigns on a much longer basis,” said Blair. “We have one artist we’re working with whose album came out last June, and we’re still working on that campaign.”

A single might now have three ‘impact’ dates now: the first it will be on new-music / breaking playlists, second comes flagship playlists for its genre, and third will be the context/mood-kind playlists for longer-term streaming.

“Not just taking a short-term approach: it’s all about a much longer strategy,” said Blair.

Overton agreed. “Rather than rushing into an album and working it after release, we’re looking at doing a lot of setup before the album comes out: tracks and EPs,” she said, before noting that streaming live video on Facebook – via its Facebook Live feature – is being experimented with a lot.

“Not just Facebook Live but Periscope and Instagram too. We went live with Take That for the first time last week: we went live on Twitter and Instagram at the same time,” said Ferrar, who also agreed with Blair on the longer cycles of music marketing in the streaming age.

“We’re working records for a lot longer: we’re not as confined by radio playlists… historically we’ve been confined to six-week cycles of radio. Now it’s a longer game, and we’re working records on a global basis. Dua Lipa has got six singles out at the moment! You can work several records at the same time, and it’s an always-on strategy.”

Few artists can afford to disappear for a year or two between releases now: even Drake is releasing singles at a regular rate, outside his album cycles. “It’s about reach and monthly listeners now, rather than about the singles chart,” said Ferrar.

Ong gave a streaming service’s perspective. “We get an incredible amount of music that hits us every single day. Yes it’s true absolutely that our partners are looking at a longer campaign. That’s good for me and good for us: that’s always been our argument,” she said.

“Traditionally we’ve had very short lead times and people only focus on ‘can you get us onto this playlist?’. That’s not the ideal way to do it. We need to sit down and go through what the plan is for the next six-seven months, and develop a campaign… We’re a marketing platform, and the shift is that people are realising that… How do you turn a casual listener into a music fan by looking beyond the playlist?”

Ong talked about some of Deezer’s artist-marketing campaigns, including its work with Metallica – you can read more about that in our recent interview with her.

The campaign moved from instant-grat singles to a takeover of Deezer’s metal channel; playlists from the band members; an interview with the band’s James Hetfield; a logo-maker; and an outdoor advertising campaign in the metal heartlands of France, as well as identifying top fans of the band and sending them to a concert in Copenhagen.

“We like to call up the top streamers and say ‘You’re seeing Metallica next week: we’re putting you on a flight!” she said.

Blair talked about the need for – “I hate this bloody buzzword!” – authenticity in digital marketing: often through artists creating their own posts for the various social media channels, rather than relying on a marketing team.

“You don’t have to spend a ton of time and money creating all this different content,” she said. “When you try and force an artist to be across all different platforms all the time, it doesn’t work either… If they’re comfortable with Snapchat, make the most of that. If they’re more comfortable on Facebook, go with that.”

Overton talked about the strain on artists. “It’s quite stressful for artists today in the modern world: there are so many things you could do… It’s very important to get the artist to focus on what they’re naturally good at. If they’re not good at Twitter, don’t make them do Twitter, but maybe they’re good at taking photos, so they can do Instagram,” she said.

“It’s important that the label and management team around the artist looks at each social media platform and decides where to focus.”

Marketing panel

Ferrar praised Instagram. “Instagram has become a bit of a bookmark of our lives. You organise it based on what you’re into, be it music, sports, lifestyle or fashion, and it acts as a portal to different worlds,” he said. “And artists use it to pool their different interests together too. We never really run an artist’s Instagram for them!”

He talked about Bastille’s recent album campaign, with its central theme of an evil corporation, which provided inspiration for a host of videos and content to spread out across the various social services.

Blair chimed in: “If you’re an artist who’s not comfortable on social media, that can be part of your story. An artist like Aphex Twin isn’t going to be fucking Snapchatting in the studio! And his audience respects that’s how he is, and he’s not going to bullshit.”

Ong talked about how Deezer is working with Jamiroquai and London Grammar. “Those are two artists who aren’t comfortable being on social media, so we’re crafting campaigns for them that don’t involve being on Snapchat… For London Grammar it’s performance-based, and for Jamiroquai we’re crafting emojis based on their new album.”

The panel talked about the dangers of gimmick-led marketing campaigns. “You can’t force this kind of marketing. Yes, if you create something for the sake of it, people are going to see through it. You can’t bullshit an audience any more,” said Blair.

“It’s got to be something that feels natural… It’s got to be right, and if it is a gimmick, and you’re doing things just for the sake of it and to get people’s attention, the audience will see through it.”

Ferrar talked about smaller developing artists, and figuring out how to get them noticed. “We almost avoid Fridays because it’s so noisy: New Music Fridays, there’s so much music coming out and you can get lost in it. Pick a Tuesday, pick a Thursday… when it’s less noisy, and do something interesting that cuts through,” he said.

Ong agreed. “Sometimes, being in the music business, a lot of us assume that most music fans or people who use streaming… are always searching for new music on a Friday. And that’s because it’s an industry thing: because we deal with new music on a Friday does not translate into the consumer usage, in my experience,” she said.

They don’t go searching for new music on a Friday. Those people are actually in the minority. So my job is for people who don’t even think about new music and new artists, how to get that in front of them.”

Ferrar talked about the growing importance of identifying ‘superfans’ of artists, and super-serving them with assets and information around new music’s release. But also the importance of figuring out who are the more casual fans, who might have liked an artist’s first album but then dropped off, and how to re-engage them.”

What is the biggest waste of time and money in digital music marketing, wondered Forde.

“What’s frustrating me at the moment, I think artists are losing a visual identity. We’re almost becoming a bit obsessive about a song in a streaming service with a number beside it,” said Ferrar.

“Arguably we’re focusing so much attention on just these lines in a streaming service, and how they’re moving… I’m an advocate for streaming, but with the streaming services, it feels like we’re losing visual formats from them. The relevance of a music video now is questionable, and I think we need to rethink that.”

Blair continued that theme. “We tend to get a bit obsessed with playlists. The idea of going beyond the playlist is so important,” she said. “When you’re just looking at a line on a streaming service, there’s no interactivity there, and there’s no context there. There’s no story there… It’s harder than ever to go about creating that artist connection.”

Streaming services are incorporating more video, but I want to know where the album goes. Do you make it more visual, do you bundle in more content? What do you do to further the artist-fan connection around an album on a streaming service,” added Blair.

Overton had her say. “We work with a lot of credible artists, we appeal to real music geeks, real music fans, and if you’re only using streaming services now, you have to dig around quite a lot to find out more about the artists,” she said.

I’d love to be able to see more information about the artist on there. Spotify has the profile, but where are the credits? Where are the lyrics? This is still interesting to the grassroots music fan… I think that’s why people still want to go and buy vinyl, because people are missing that. They want to see artwork and lyrics, or long-form words that the artists have written. Thank you notes! These are the things people used to pore over for hours.”

Ong said Deezer is working hard to help emerging artists get their stories across to new fans, from its Deezer Next campaign to promote new artists, to its partnerships around grime to surface not just artists, but bloggers, photographers and others within that scene.

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