Catalogue marketing used to mainly be about the 20th anniversary box set (with some demos and a couple of new photos added in) or about the same 15 songs in a slightly different order, popped in a slightly different sleeve and called a “best of”. Streaming has changed that completely. Plus, with popular music now of pensionable age, the 50th anniversary is becoming all too common. Putting the release in a proper context and finding ways to draw in new listeners makes the whole process more complex but also infinitely more interesting. We speak to those tasked with shining new light on both the unfamiliar and the overfamiliar to learn how catalogue marketing itself has come of age.
In 2020, more than ever, the music industry has become obsessed with the relentless march of the new. Every few months, we are told, artists need to release new material, which should come dressed in a flurry of social media noise. This, needless to say, is exciting; but it presents an interesting challenge for those working in catalogue marketing for whom “new” may mean 20-year-old demos or a niche audio remaster.
Out of limitation, however, comes innovation. The past few years have seen marketing campaigns around everyone from 2 Tone to Led Zeppelin that use the latest digital tools and modern thinking to tell the tales behind classic album releases, reinvigorating them for older audiences and – theoretically – introducing new fans to these classic works.
“Catalogue is relevant to new audiences,” says Tom Herbert, director of digital marketing and strategy, global catalogue, Warner Music. “They just maybe haven’t been exposed to it yet. Our job is to put it in front of the right audience in a way which is contextually appropriate and then join the dots for them so that they can learn why this track, album or artist is relevant to them.”
Tall tales: getting the narrative in order
Speak to catalogue marketers about their job and what tends to come first is the importance of connecting with the listener. “I always start my thinking around the story of the album/anniversary/artists and what will connect with the listener in the world that they live in,” says Atlantic Records VP of marketing catalogue, Tom Mullen.
“It’s not about the shiny cat toy idea, but something that will resonate with them personally and in their voice. It could be an article, the artwork, a story from the past reimagined, a podcast and so on. If it’s a good story, it will get retold; and finding those points with an album and artist is the creative side I can’t get enough of.”
Podcasts, as Mullen mentions, have become increasingly popular for this. Ignition Records launched a four-part Oasis podcast, Listen Up, around the 25th anniversary of the band’s debut album, Definitely Maybe, in 2019; meanwhile Sony Music teamed up with Consequence Of Sound in 2019 on a podcast series – as part of The Opus brand – to mark the 40th anniversary re-release of The Clash’s London Calling. Clare Byrne, senior marketing manager at Ignition, explains that the idea behind the Oasis podcast was “to present new content and document the album’s [Definitely Maybe’s] impact on the music scene and its wider cultural impact” rather than to tell the already well-trodden story of the making of the album. The podcast, she explains, included interviews with fans, musicians, industry figures and media who were around the band at the time, mixed in with studio and live recordings, plus band interviews from the archive.
There have also been a rash of YouTube documentaries, including Google Play’s Audio Ammunition marking the re-release of The Clash’s catalogue in 2013; a “minidocumentary” around the 50th anniversary of Traffic’s debut album in 2017; and Automatic Unearthed to accompany the 25th anniversary of REM’s Automatic For The People.
Anniversaries, as you can see, feature a great deal in catalogue marketing. But labels don’t always have to mark the anniversary of the album itself. In 2019, Universal Music Catalogue took advantage of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing to re-issue Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks, which was originally recorded to soundtrack Al Reinert’s Apollo documentary, For All Mankind. “Sometimes it’s about identifying appropriate moments in time and culture, such as last year’s anniversary of the moon landings,” UMC co-MD Richard Hinkley explains. “We knew that the world’s attention would be on the Apollo landings, so it was an appropriate moment to celebrate Brian Eno’s Apollo work.”
To do so, UMC agreed a deal with NASA itself to access its visual archive. “We worked with Brian and the NASA archive to create a beautiful and thought-provoking video that spoke of Brian’s concerns about the climate and our misuse of the planet, interwoven with the music, and a key piece of that was published on Noisey ,” Hinkley explains. “The message and the moment are of keen interest to a generation that wasn’t born when the original music came out, but we presented something compelling to them.”
Old shouldn’t mean tired
For Rupert King, group head of marketing at Blue Raincoat Music, which owns the rights to the Chrysalis Records back catalogue, the key to a successful catalogue campaign is that it mustn’t look old, outdated or irrelevant. “We are making sure that the quality of everything that we use [in a catalogue campaign] is incredibly high, so that it does stand toe-to-toe with other release campaigns from frontline labels. We don’t want to look like we are stuck in the past,” he says.
This kind of approach, he explains, can mean anything from using frontline methods in your marketing to making sure that your promotional video clips are not grizzled and grimy. “It has to have the same glamour and the same high-resolution as a Taylor Swift music video; we have to publish equally high standard [content] as you would do on a new release,” he says. “We don’t want to use old methods [of promotion] and we don’t want to rely on old crusty footage.”
A similarly forward-facing logic applies to social media, although it can be a dizzy dance for marketers to navigate between which platforms work for their artists, which could work and which will only inspire a sinking raft of “OK, Boomer” quips and humiliation.
“No artist has just one type of fan and that’s where social media can be so effective: users on Facebook are different to users of Instagram, and Instagram users who use Stories are different from those who don’t,” says Hinkley. “Creating the right content ideas, delivered through the right social channels will engage the right audience.”
Herbert says that social media “is fantastic for identifying new potential sets of fans”.
“The targeting within Facebook and Instagram, for example, enables us to really clearly identify our audiences and we’ve seen great success in finding them and engaging with this new set of fans,” he says. “Aside from that, we want to ensure our artists and brands are accurately portrayed and appeal to modern audiences; and to do that they have to embrace all relevant social platforms and channels, which we do with their cooperation.
Talking about the 50th anniversary re-issue of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper… in 2017, Apple Corps. and Universal told music 🙂 ally that Facebook was the biggest social platform for The Beatles, with over 41m fans worldwide, but Instagram was the fastest growing. They used “organic content with Sgt. Pepper frames” to create a “campaign narrative” within the Instagram feed, as well as vertical Snapchat ads to target a potential new audience “and reach beyond the hard core and lapsed fanbase on a platform that the band previously had no presence on”.
Similarly UMC decided that, given the visual potential of Eno’s Apollo reissue, launching an official Eno Instagram account was key. “We worked with Facebook to ensure that the profile was immediately verified and promoted across its music pages,” the UMC team told music 🙂 ally at the end of 2019. “The profile provided a flourishing home to the visuals created during the campaign and a place for creative, younger audiences to start engaging with Brian.”
Byrne says that, when using social media and other digital tools, it is vital that the platform is suitable for the audience. TikTok, as one might imagine, should be used with caution. Herbert says, “[TikTok] is a key service which is driving catalogue discovery; it’s up to us to figure out how to turn huge usage and exposure within that service into actual consumption within streaming services.” He also points out that catalogue tracks are often used to soundtrack TikTok videos. Matthew Wilder’s 1980s hit, ‘Break My Stride’, for example, recently got a new lease of life on TikTok thanks to the #BreakMyStride challenge.
For Oasis, however, Byrne was less convinced. “TikTok is hugely popular, but it may not be as relevant to a guitar band with an older core audience,” she says. “As an alternative, we encouraged fans to do cover versions. We made a new video of the sheet music for the classic album track ‘Slide Away’, inviting fans to share their recordings of the song [using the hashtag] #SlideAwayChallenge and we added these to a dedicated playlist on Oasis’s YouTube channel.”
Fanning the flames
For the Definitely Maybe anniversary, Ignition faced the dual challenges of no new music (having reissued the album with bonus material five years previously) and no active band. As such, the company decided to involve fans as much as possible, inviting them to share their stories about the band – a tactic that leant itself to social media.
Byrne says that the company mapped out a schedule of Definitely Maybe-related content to share on the band’s social media every day from launch of the campaign until the anniversary date, including rare assets from the catalogue archive such as set lists and tour itineraries, “giving fans something to talk about and help generate conversations”.
Ignitions also launched a closed Facebook group where fans had to request access to become members, while the company used the hashtag #DefMaybe25 across all official Oasis social media to pull together the assorted online content. “Tools that require direct fan interaction worked well, like quizzes and polls, and we created shareable assets such as a Facebook frame of the album artwork launched on the day of the album anniversary,” Byrne adds. “These assets helped us identify our re-marketing audience.”
In certain cases, marketers may have to go right back to the basics for social media. “We had to do 2 Tone’s official social media from scratch when we first acquired the catalogue,” says Blue Raincoat’s Rupert King. “A big part of that was tidying it [the catalogue] up in a digital sense, everything from sloppy metadata on Spotify, [social media] profiles being unverified or even not having a profile. One of the first steps was seeing what wasn’t out there, then getting them set up.”
Naturally, there are a wealth of new digital tools beyond social media that catalogue marketers can avail themselves of. Rhino UK commissioned WMG’s Firepit Technology to create Instagram and Facebook AR filters based on the artwork for various Pink Floyd albums as part of the promotion for the The Later Years album and box set, while Ignition created a lyric video for Oasis’s ‘Fade Away’ as well as an Oasis GIPHY channel.
Spotify Canvas is another popular tool for catalogue marketers: agency Fame House created six Spotify Canvas videos to promote the 10th anniversary of Pearl Jam’s Backspacer album, while Byrne says Canvas can help drive engagement on the DSPs.
Data, and the various tools that surround, has proven another key weapon. Mullen, for example, favours “data upon data”.
“I use our internal systems to look at what’s working, what isn’t with our content, advertising, messaging, et cetera,” he says. “Also, [we use] Spotify Analytics and Music Connect to help tell the story past the ‘frontline’ phase and really look at the weeks/ months after a release and continue to find ways to market that music. The tool is no secret – it’s data. Use it, play with it and keep looking past the obvious.”
Ultimately, Byrne says she learned the importance of patience for the Definitely Maybe campaign. “Always allow as much time for planning as possible,” she says, even if this may sometimes prove impossible.
“The bulk of the campaign was planned quite far in advance; however, we decided to do a podcast at relatively short notice which proved challenging in terms of turnaround times. We had a strong response from everyone we approached to contribute and ended up with over 18 hours of interview content so editing was obviously a huge task for the production company [Cup & Nuzzle]. And we then needed a very quick turnaround on approvals.”
Do all this, though, and the results can be spectacular.
“People really got on board with embracing the celebration and fans’ reactions were amazing,” Byrne says. “We anticipated good engagement but some of the stories about what this album meant to them were very heart-warming and the campaign was widely embraced, exceeding expectations.”