New models for music promotion?

I have spent the last six months talking to many seasoned artists and music industry professionals about music promotion  for live events and for music products. I’ve been thinking about this subject for a few years as some of what I see and hear makes no sense to me. In my other life I work internationally as a consultant, so my brain is naturally geared towards problem solving. I make no claims to have any magical insight into a perfect formula for music promotion, but it does occur to me from everyone I talk to that there is lots of scope to rethink many strategies that are not that effective.

In one of my discussions one producer who had previously worked for a major record company commented that in days gone by the company would have A list artists, medium level artists up and coming talent. These days he observed that with the same global company the focus was solely on established acts and there was zero interest in investing in any acts that would require some level of “business risk”.  My discussions led me to the conclusion that traditional models of charging for events and products and now increasingly ineffective and there’s a genuine need for new thinking. The established artists from days gone by still seem to have some useful momentum for success in music and event sales, but its far tougher for newer artists.

Many of the most popular artists are not especially my taste, but I have a healthy respect for anyone who can create music that reaches a large audience as clearly they are doing something that resonates with a large part of society. Clearly they are doing something that is working in terms of musical delivery. Inevitably there will then be people who have issues with such folks and even try to make a buck out of negative attacks. This n my opinion does little to promote musical creativity and credibility. I read recently about an attempt to raise money for a book entitled “Ed Sheeran is shit, and other musical malfunctions”  Interesting that the writer still leverages the popularity of Sheeran’s name in trying to  promote his own artistic aspirations. Some may think of this as a touch hypocritical of course, while others will no doubt consider it a worthwhile cause to support.

Music delivery system trends

In these tougher economic times, people are understandably more cautious about how and where they spend their money. This caution is reflected in changes for how people are listening to music. 

Digital Music news noted

“Audio streams have also reached a new high this year, landing at 179.8 billion, up 58.5% over last year. People have also jumped behind paid subscriptions on services like Spotify and Apple Music. Paid subscription streams grew 69.3% and accounted for 78.6% of total audio streams in 2017. This number went up 73.6% over last year.

Spotify now has 50 million paid subscriptions. Apple Music has “well over” 27 million paid subscribers since its launch two years ago”

Interesting observations about formats and the fact that vinyl and CDs are not going to disappear anytime soon

“Confirming multiple media reports, vinyl album sales have seen a huge increase, up 20.4% over last year. Also proving the medium won’t die, CD album sales went down a paltry 3.9%.

So what’s going on? For starters, Record Store Day had a huge hand in helping push up CD and vinyl sales. On April 22, combined CD and vinyl sales went up 6% compared to last year’s Record Store Day on April 16. That same day, vinyl album sales went up 14% at independent music stores.

Actually, Record Store Day scored the single largest vinyl sales day for the entire year. On April 22, 224,000 more albums were sold over last year.

On the cassette side, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 became the biggest selling cassette album with 3,934 sales. That’s 3 thousand, not million, but hey: it’s a cassette.”

Charlotte Gunn from NME Digital editor commented

“There are so many ways musicians can interact with their fans now and I think we’ll see a lot more creative, engaging musical releases in 2017.”

One of the boldest examples of music promotion in recent years was by Prince who decided to totally buck the trend and give away a CD in a UK national newspaper. Inevitably this created a massive amount of publicity for him and some concerns for music executives.

Time magazine reported 

“When Prince’s new album Planet Earth was released in the U.K. on July 15, almost 3 million people picked up a copy. Normally, that kind of news conjures up images of record industry execs high-fiving each other and fans streaming into record stores to empty the shelves of their hero’s latest offering. But in this case, the record industry execs are livid. And it’s true there isn’t a single copy of Planet Earth in any store in the country — but only because they were never there in the first place. In fact, Prince didn’t sell any copies of his album in the U.K. He gave them all away.

In an unprecedented deal, Prince granted British tabloid the Mail on Sunday exclusive rights to distribute his new album as a freebie. Cutting out record stores, online sellers, and even his U.K. label, Sony BMG, he decided to take Planet Earth straight to the people, and all it cost them was the paper’s $3 cover price. “It’s direct marketing,” the pint-sized popster said when the deal was announced three weeks ago. “And I don’t have to be in the speculation business of the record industry, which is going through a lot of tumultuous times right now.”

Live events, festivals etc

Discussions strongly suggest that people are becoming more selective about booking for festivals and live events. Many festivals have had big problems in recent years and some have folded for financial and other reasons. In my discussions I was interested in what people looked for when booking to attend events.

Key considerations include

  • Ticket price and booking fees (booking fees are usually not seen as an attractive additional cost) Options like “Pay as you feel” are increasingly attractive and popular for customers
  • Accommodation/travel costs – depending on the location of the event these additional costs can really make a difference
  • Food and drink options – increasingly customers expect to be able to have these options. Its also smart to look after these needs if you want to maintain a captive and happy audience
  • Entertainment value and quality of performances – these need to be of a high standard and people need to feel they have value for money in terms of set times.
  • Developing a niche audience – artists increasingly need to have a multi dimensional delivery platform for music that includes social media, video and other mediums

Pricing for events is always a filter for attracting different kinds of people. I did some research recently asking what they would expect to pay for an evening of acoustic entertainment (not an A list artist) and the overwhelming favorite option was the fifteen pound mark and/or pay as you feel. 

Its useful to remember that for some niche musical genres, music is not the primary focus of the festival, its a social meet up. This is not my personal preference, but there’s a place for such activity, although it tends to be for relatively small groups of a few hundred customers rather than thousands. 

Added value is one of the keys to success

Smart businesses appreciate the need for added value. In the cinema world Everyman Cinemas are expanding in the UK. Everyman are masters of added value in offering more comfortable bookable seats, better screens and far better food options. All this makes it a better overall experience for the customer. Musical artists appreciate the value of adding value to what they offer to customers. One of the successful strategies is to offer a more personalized service so the fans are able to feel really connected to the artist and the music.

Final Thoughts

I’m currently beta testing some of these considerations this year and in 2018. The proof will of course be in the  results, but already the evidence suggests that many of these and other considerations not mentioned here cumulatively create a far more substantial and viable model. I was alerted today that a very well known musician from Leeds was running a strategy for a new project that was amazingly similar to something I am running at present. I find this somewhat reassuring in that I’m not the only person who realizes that its time for substantial change.some rethinking. 


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