People are increasingly attuned to the need to look after their mental and their physical health – and music can and does play a big role here. The gym playlist is one thing, but acts crafting albums for meditation apps and artists working with a new generation of fitness brands is something else entirely. We look at how music – and music marketing – needs to move with the current trends and how to avoid showing up with all the gear but no idea. 

Music isn’t just beautiful, emotional and exciting, it’s also pretty damn useful: a soundtrack to our daily commute; our afternoon workout; and our early morning meditation. It is no surprise, then, that as people have started to increasingly look after themselves better in mind, body and soul – from the rise of yoga to the boom in gym memberships – the music industry has found itself contemplating marketing opportunities in the wellness and fitness sectors that would have seemed pretty fanciful 10 years ago.

These opportunities are many and varied, from trance act Above & Beyond hosting live yoga events and workout app Aaptiv offering bespoke Bebe Rexha playlists to meditation app Headspace offering a bundled Spotify subscription. “Mindfulness is all about being in the moment. And when we are, we get so much more enjoyment from music,” Headspace founder Andy Puddicombe said as his company launched the bundle deal.

You need to Calm down tracing the origins of the trend:

The rise of meditation app Calm typifies this shift. The app launched in 2012 and was named Apple’s app of the year in 2017. But it wasn’t until March 2019 that it really caught the music industry’s attention when Moby released his new album, Long Ambients 2, exclusively through the app. In July Sigur Rós followed in his footsteps, launching a Liminal Sleep playlist within Calm and in October 2019 the company then took the intriguing step of appointing a head of music: Courtney Phillips, formerly director of brand partnerships at Universal Music Group.

Phillips tells music:)ally that Calm offers something unique for artists and listeners. “We’re not a traditional music platform – we want to help make the world happier and healthier and we want our content, musically and otherwise, to help achieve that goal for our community. So we’re excited to showcase unique music and help tell artists’ stories while providing artists with robust marketing support.” 

In her new role Phillips oversees “everything music related” at Calm. “One day I could be meeting with labels to talk about artists ready to make something special and the next day I can be listening to new submissions and working with our engineering team to set up a launch,” she explains.

Phillips says that Calm has had a lot of inbound interest from labels, publishers and artists – and you can see why. It’s not just that Calm has deep pockets – in February 2019 the company was valued at $1bn – and a strong user base, it is also a natural fit for certain types of music, which may not traditionally be very marketable.

Motive Unknown director Tom Packer, who brokered the deal between  Moby and Calm, said that it proved a success for precisely this reason. “Putting a very ambient, four-hour sleep album in front of 40m Calm subscribers via their channels – email, in-app messaging, app home screen etc. – was a huge win,” he says. “It’s hard to have an instant impact with an album like this with no easy route in. Very few of the usual marketing tools apply.  There is obviously a huge market there on streaming platforms for this kind of work, but with the editorial being controlled by their own playlists you need to find another route to people looking for this.” 

By getting in quickly on the meditation trend, Moby benefited from being an early adopter, as music:)ally marketing executive Marlen Hüllbrock explains. “For some artists this is a nice way of reaching an audience in other platforms, rather than just trying to scream the loudest on the biggest platforms,” she says. “Calm has 40m subscribers. When they are all opening the app and Moby’s is front and centre, with something that’s unique for the community, that is a big opportunity.”

Meditating on the future of the album, the single, the mix and the playlist

Calm also provides a useful home for the album format, right when the music industry is starting to fret about the future of the long player. Phillips says that full albums “are regular listens for our community and in response, we’re working on future album-related projects”. Some of these will involve custom-made pieces of music, with country star Keith Urban currently working on a bespoke project. But they don’t have to be so involved: Phillips says the company also uses “Calm remixes of well-known tracks, like Sabrina Carpenter’s sleep version of her single ‘Exhale’”, while the platform licenses music that naturally fits well, such as the Sleep mix  of Sam Smith’s recent ‘How Do You Sleep?’ single.

Obviously, this kind of one-off mix is a lot easier to produce than a whole album of new material and the results can still pay dividends. Capitol Records UK head of digital Maddy Smith explains how Sam Smith’s Sleep mix came about. “When coming up with ideas to promote Sam’s latest single, ‘How Do You Sleep?’, we started exploring how we could use the themes of the songs title in more creative ways,” she says. “We came up with the idea of a Sleep remix, which was as much of a marketing idea as it was an A&R idea, playing on the song title. The more we thought about it, the more we realised it could strategically be powerful in exposing the track to new audiences via sleep playlists.”

Capitol worked closely with Phillips on the initiative, with Calm featuring the track on the app homepage and across its socials and mailing list, resulting in 7.58m minutes of listening by Calm users. But its impact didn’t stop there, with the track also crossing over into mood playlists on DSPs. “It helped us reach new listeners on DSPs by tapping into the peaceful, ambient playlists which Sam’s music usually wouldn’t fit into,” Smith explains. “This saw us reach a new peak during this single cycle in monthly listeners on Spotify [42.7m] just after the release of the remix.”


Sweat equity: music marketing’s exercise regime 

For the moment, the marketing crossover between the music industry and wellness is, rather ironically, making more of a noise than the overlap between music and fitness. However, Lauren Pufpaf, co-founder and COO of B2B music firm Feed·fm, which works with a number of health and fitness companies, says that the music industry is waking up to the fact that fitness is a valuable distribution channel that has not really been used strategically. 

“From a music marketer’s perspective, you’re tapping into a highly motivated audience that is listening intently for 30+ minutes and likely to come back two to three times per week, so you’ve got a great opportunity to expose them to multiple tracks,” she says.

There have, to date, been a number of notable crossovers between the music industry and the fitness sector. Aaptiv, which received investment from Warner Music in June 2018, has worked with Chainsmokers, Sia,Bebe Rexha  and Australian singer-songwriter Betty Who, in promotions that tend to revolve around bespoke playlists for exercise. The Sia promotion, for example, promised “three exclusive trainer-guided classes for treadmill, strength and stretching set entirely to Sia’s music”, while Run With Bebe Rexha served up “two new guided classes set to the music of the billion-streaming, genre-busting phenomenon”.

Betty Who, clearly something of a fitness aficionado, has also worked with indoor cycling workout specialist SoulCycle and athletics clothing brand Lululemon, appearing on the latter’s  Beats Per Moment tour, in which she lead a SoulCycle session then played live acoustically. Julie Anderson, the New York City brand and community maven for Lululemon, told Billboard that the Beats Per Moment tour was inspired by the desire to partner with “musicians who lead these really mindful and health-driven lifestyles”.

Peloton, whose business model involves selling exercise equipment and monthly subscriptions to streamable workout classes, is possibly best known in the music industry for its ongoing battles with music publishers. And yet the company has also worked with the music of Madonna, Paul McCartney and Lizzo – to name but a few – as part of its Artist Series, which it bills as “direct collaborations and partnerships with artists, where the workouts will see the entire soundtrack featuring the tunes of the artist”.

“From a music supervision perspective, authenticity to the intention and approach of our instructors is crucial. We continually work with artists, management, publishing and label partners to ensure that we are able to select the right song for the right moment in every class,” says Tony Calandra, Peloton’s VP of music supervision and programming.

Calandra explains that the company’s artist-dedicated classes work best when tied into related events. “A great example of this was our collaboration with Madonna , as part of our celebration of Pride Month this June,” he explains. “Working together, we created four classes [one for each discipline], which were launched at the top of Pride Weekend.”

As promising as these ideas sound, there remains space for innovation in this field, given the clear crossover between music and exercise. Pufpaf says that marketers should “start thinking of fitness apps as another channel for reach/exposure when you’re putting together a promotional plan”. 

“The music has to make sense in a workout context, obviously but energetic, uptempo music across all genres can work,”  she suggests. “My advice is to start with the apps that make sense for the demo you’re trying to reach and get them on board ASAP so that their trainers can plan workouts or even full-week themes around an album launch.”

Obviously, these kind of promotions will only work for certain types of artists. A Moby ambient album would be a non-starter for a workout app, while a Chainsmokers banger would be an unlikely tool for sleep. As Packer explains, “It’s about identifying the right artist to pair with the right platform at the right time”.

“We work with lots of artists but very few fit the profile for a collaboration with Calm,” he adds. “We haven’t tried to shoehorn more of them in but when the right things are an obvious match we go for it. After Moby, we lined up the collaboration with Sigur Rós, which again was a completely natural fit being linked through to their  Liminal brand, which is completely focussed on the ambient side of their output.” 

Motive Unknown is now working with French piano artist RIOPY, who has done research into Alpha waves – brainwave patterns associated with deep relaxation – which he integrates into his music to promote calm and sleep, making him an obvious fit for Calm.

How to avoid the “all the gear, no idea” pitfalls 

Calandra says that any music marketers looking to work with Peloton should make sure that their artists’ appeal is clear. “Importantly, before we undertake any special music activities, we ask ourselves, ‘How will this enhance our members’ experience with Peloton?’” he says. “If we can’t answer that question in a single sentence, we probably won’t do it. So, for music marketers considering Peloton, it is very helpful to us if we understand the unique qualities of their music that could drive powerful experiences within our disciplines.” 

Authenticity is also important. On the face of it, Sam Smith might not seem a natural fit for sleep playlists. But, as Capitol’s Maddy Smith explains, “Sam uses Calm and has spoken on their social media about mediation and well-being before so this partnership made sense.” music:)ally marketing and training manager Kushal Patel adds, “For someone like Sam Smith, they have always talked about mental health. It seemed more natural than for an artist that hasn’t engaged with that world before.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that marketers should feel limited in their choices: sometimes, in both mindfulness and fitness, the crossover may not be immediately obvious. “Fitness music is not just EDM,” Chloe Raynes, then director of music licensing & partnerships at Aaptiv and now director of music at P.volve, told Forbes. “Music in a workout can be varied, interesting and complex. Every playlist can represent an emotional journey and tell a story and be as amazing as it is unexpected.”

Peloton’s experience with the Queen back catalogue gives an interesting example of this unexpected crossover. “We created two classes based on the music of Queen: one based on ‘the hits’ and another based on their perhaps lesser-celebrated hard rock side,” says Calandra. “We were a bit surprised but absolutely delighted that the ‘rock’ class outperformed the ‘hits’ class.” As such, Calandra believes that Peloton can highlight different facets of a band’s back catalogue.

With the dual trends for wellness and fitness not disappearing any time soon, it seems inevitable that music industry marketers will increasingly find themselves contemplating campaigns with Calm, Aaptiv  et al. Phillips tells music:)ally that Moby’s Calm campaign “opened the floodgates for inbound artist interest”, with her appointment as head of music certain to have pushed the gates open that little bit wider. 

True, these marketing plans could stand some innovation to take them beyond simple playlists – music:)ally’s Hüllbrock says that events like  Above & Beyond’s live yoga sessions or Max Richter’s overnight Sleep concerts could be one way of tapping into the vibrant live concert market – but this will surely come as interest grows.

Pufpaf remains confident that the music industry will realise the value of the digital fitness sector – “They see the big value in fitness: it’s on people’s radars,” she told music:)ally in August – while Capitol’s Maddy Smith sees the obvious potential in wellness. “Traditionally a lot of the music on these ambient playlists is from no-name artists, so there is huge potential for known artists to tap in to this area in the future,” she says.

As for Calm, Smith says Capitol “would definitely work with them again and are excited about future opportunities as the potential for partnerships develops further.” “To be one of the first artists to work with them in this way was a privilege,” she concludes.  🙂

This is the lead feature from our fortnightly Sandbox magazine, which focuses on essential skills and information for the modern music business. You can download the full issue here


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