Digital music marketing trends and best practices (#midem)


2017 is an exciting time for digital music marketing, with a range of technologies and platforms to use. A pair of sessions at Midem this morning explored the potential.

After an introduction from Music Ally’s head of training and development Wesley A’Harrah, a panel including Rock Estatal Records / The Music Company’s Michel Rojo; The Orchard’s Nikoo Sadr as moderator; Despotz Records’ Carl-Marcus Gidlöf; and Hospital Records’ Romy Harber provided their views.

Wesley A'Harrah of Music Ally

A’Harrah first, running through some of the points from the two white papers we produced for this year’s Midem.

“There is a never-ending campaign cycle now, because of digital. With streaming, we’re no longer in the world where you sell a CD, and the transaction is made… the marketing never stops, and the way you reach out to fans never stops. And it has to evolve again and again and again,” he said.

A’Harrah talked about direct messaging, citing Superphone and The Bot Platform as key examples of startups helping artists message their fans without a Facebook feed-filter in sight.

“When we think of direct messaging, what makes Superphone and chatbots and Facebook so incredibly important is they’re how you communicate to friends, and if you communicate to friends through a certain mechanism, that’s probably going to be a platform you’re not going to ignore… we’re getting close to 100% read-rates on these messages.”

A’Harrah talked about crowdsourcing: not just Kickstarter and PledgeMusic, but social apps and Snapchat. “If we see the power of the crowd starting to unlock with digital… we start to see a democratisation of spend, which allows people to spend less, but more of them to spend it,” said A’Harrah.

And Snapchat? Its geofilter lenses, which you can pay to create for Snapchat users to use in their photos, are key: these lenses are essentially ads, but ones that people are happy to create and share with., meanwhile, is spawning its own ecosystem of young people lip-syncing and dancing – some of whom are parlaying this digital fame into releasing their own original music. A’Harrah suggested that the Midem audience look up Jacob Sartorius as an example.

A’Harrah moved on to transparency and data handling, including Facebook’s recent admission that it had been miscalculating the average time people spent watching videos on its service. “As the back-end of platforms like YouTube and Facebook get better, we also start to understand what’s not working,” he said, predicting more understanding within the music and media industries of how these platforms calculate their metrics.

Finally, experimentation: “How would you use a photo-based code for sharing to Spotify? What does that mean?” said A’Harrah, citing the recent launch of Spotify Codes, as well as Shazam’s integration with Snapchat.

Marketing panel

Over to the panel. Rojo talked about a successful campaign for a popular Spanish band’s 30th anniversary, and a live album featuring the band playing with a symphony orchestra. The label created different content for each digital service: Spotify got two exclusive acoustic tracks, while iTunes got four exclusive videos of the concert with the orchestra.

“The services gave us support,” in response, said Rojo. The label also contacted a range of artists who’d worked with the band over their career, recording videos of them sending birthday messages. “We got great engagement with the public,” said Rojo: the campaign was boosted by the audiences of those artists.

Harber chipped in. “If you can show to those platforms that people want to listen to your artists,” he said, of the streaming services and their playlist curation. “You should focus and think about what you’d do if you don’t get New Music Friday or the big playlist addition… It’s almost an artificial boost in streams. What matters is how many people stick around and listen to your music for the weeks after. If you get an enormous spike and then all those people disappear, it’s effectively useless.”

“Sure, you can get spikes, but you want the baseline to increase,” agreed Gidlöf. “For everyone that actually finds the artist on Spotify, you want them to go in and listen to the other stuff, and follow that artist.”

Hospital Records recently released a compilation to celebrate its history, with a blackjack / cards visual theme, which ran across all the marketing. “It became so recognisable with our fans, and hopefully outside our fans, it worked as a really strong leader for the project.”

Harber and Rojo also talked about the importance of doing your own marketing as a label when possible, rather than simply outsourcing (for example) all the advertising to agencies. “You’re building their expertise, not your own,” said Harber.

“It’s the playlists that drive the streams now, but the blogs and the media are still important,” said Gidlöf. “And that’s why marketing is also so important: that’s where I can pay to drive those streams… to kickstart the algorithms, to get the Discover Weekly peaks.”

“If you get that track trending with a low skip-rate. If you get those statistics in there, paying for it or not, that can kickstart the campaign… I want to get people to stream it who are in the target audience. If they don’t like the music, the skip-rate is going to go up… If you can get the algorithms working, you can get peaks every Monday of a few thousand streams, and then maybe on Friday with Release Radar as well.”

Harber talked about replicating ‘instant grats’ across Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer and Amazon – single tracks released ahead of an album. In Hospital’s recent compilation’s case, these tracks went out via the individual artists’ profiles, with the branding for the album to raise awareness of its upcoming release.

Harber also talked about video. “We’ve moved away from doing narrative, big-budget music videos. I personally don’t see the value in them any more… it’s not the MTV era any more,” he said. “We now focus on video content: Q&As, tutorials, tour videos… I encourage artists to film themselves while they’re away. And then you can segment that down and post little bits throughout the campaign.”

Rojo said that when artists are collaborating with a label on building Spotify playlists, it can be a good driver of subscribers to those playlists, which in turn helps streams grow. He also stressed the importance of providing fans with links to all the digital services, rather than forcing them to a specific platform – tools like LinkFire are helping with this.

Gidlöf talked about playlist placements. “The big ones are still driving some traffic, yes, but the most important thing for me is the storytelling, and to get more content for social media… and then use that to pitch to Spotify to make the developing artists relevant.”

Harber said it’s best to be cautious about jumping on to every single new platform. “Before committing your entire catalogue you’ve got to weigh up whether it’s actually going to go anywhere,” he said. But Hospital is encouraging its artists to explore new features on social apps: Snapchat and Instagram stories, for example.

The panel were asked about their digital activity and data capture around live events. Hospital sells tickets to shows around the world, capturing an email address with each purchase. “Most of the time you can find those people on Facebook,” Harber said, referring to follow-up marketing activity. “We did 150,000 tickets last year: that’s quite a large group of people that we know are interested in our event, and like the artist that played those shows.”

Music Ally’s Midem 2017 coverage is supported this year by Music is GREAT, the British government’s campaign to promote UK music exports.

The UK and British Music are represented through the British Music at Midem stand, with the Department for International Trade joining forces with music industry associations AIM (Association of Independent Music), BPI (British Phonographic Industry), MPA (Music Publishers Association), PPL (Phonographic Performance Limited) and PRS for Music.

Together, they will support over 150 UK music businesses and member delegates as they seek to pick up on the latest trends, connect with international companies, sign deals and develop trading and export opportunities.

Stuart Dredge

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