You have to feel a little bit sorry for the music industry. Few others can say they have been hit by as much change as it has in recent years. In the span of just one generation, we have gone from buying music on vinyl to streaming it via a range of devices. It’s not only music consumption, but also the way that labels and bands try to reach listeners that have changed dramatically.
In their Global Music Report the IFPI Organization state that record companies spend anywhere between US$200,000 – $700,000 on marketing for newly signed artists. The majority of this money is spent on digital channels and targeting specific audiences. How artists are marketed these days is the trickiest nut to crack. People have so much access to new music via many different channels, so grabbing a consumer’s attention is no easy task.
If you are a big act with a devoted fan base, you can get a little more creative. Both Frank Ocean and Arcade Fire promoted their new albums with cryptic clues or unexplained video snippets. Ocean didn’t even give a release date and kept fans guessing about what he was releasing until the day the album was made available. That’s great if you are one of the most prominent musicians in the world, but what about the smaller acts?
Hardcore/experimental rap duo Death Grips have an arguably smaller fan base than the likes of Frank Ocean. For their latest record, The Powers That B, their marketing strategy was nothing short of genius and all that it cost them was loads of free music. The argument of what the actual music is worth these days is an entirely different blog. For Death Grips, their double-album promotion was preceded by roughly two other whole albums worth of free music which left clues to the release of more. The plan worked. It created hype, scored the duo some new fans as people could heavily sample their offerings, and it sold 9000 copies in the first week of release, debuting a number 72 on the Billboard charts.
The Music Marketing Manifesto website ran a survey of its 10,000 musician subscribers and found that 24 percent had e-mail lists with less than 50 subscribers. In this digital age, it seems weird that a musician wouldn’t work to build a sizeable digital following that is quickly, and cheaply, contactable. Facebook, which gives you a handy little counter as to how many fans you have, no longer falls into this category. In 2007, when Fan Pages were created, you could post as much as you like and every single fan of your page would see it. This was too good to be true however, and by 2012, organic (or free) posts were only hitting 16 percent on average of followers. The bad news is, it’s continuing to drop. Social@Oglivy did a study in 2014 and found that the number sat around 6 percent and they predict it will one day hit zero.
To further confuse the issue, there is another form of marketing that while quite rare can be very successful – having quality music. In 2011, Melbourne artist Nick Murphy (a.k.a Chet Faker) released a cover song online. The track, a chilled soul/jazz version of the Blackstreet hit No Diggity, was quickly shared around by various sites and blogs making its way to the top of the Hypemachine chart. The site, which measures the popularity of tracks based on their online presence, is primarily a go-to for what is cool. Murphy claims that he only sent the song to one blog and from there it went viral. A dream story for any artist, akin to winning the lottery, in which one e-mail results in internet fame with little to no promotion work behind it. But hey, it’s a great cover, and Chet Faker backed it up with even better originals.
The environment will continue to change faster than it can even be analyzed. The only certainty is that remaining stagnant, refusing to evolve or adapt, these are the worst things any marketer can do. Thinking outside of the box and being creative with campaigns is the best way to get out in front of the pack and for musicians, good songs will always be far more effective over time than cool advertising.