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Last weekend ‘The Power of Love’ sung by Gabrielle Aplin – the tune featuring in this year’s John Lewis Christmas TV ad campaign – went to number one in the music charts. The way it got there reflects one of the biggest changes in music marketing since the advent of pop.
Recording artists often need to have an online profile before they attract the attention of DJs, while labels now use platforms as diverse as YouTube, mobile phones and TV ads to give songs exposure.
Aplin’s story epitomises one of the new models for breaking into the market. After beginning her career by releasing songs on her own website, the 20-year-old singer-songwriter from Bath was signed by EMI-owned label Parlophone. It then secured a deal for her version of ‘The Power of Love’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood to be the soundtrack for this year’s John Lewis Christmas TV ad, which swiftly propelled her to Radio 1’s ‘B list’, earning her 10 to 15 plays on the station per week. From there, it was a short journey to becoming number one.
Breakthroughs like Aplin’s are fast becoming the norm. Parlophone president Miles Leonard explains: “We signed Gabrielle to the label because she had already released two EPs on her own label. She was reaching her audience through YouTube and Facebook and was building a loyal following, which got our interest.”
More often than not artists are using these social networks to develop their own careers in the early stages, he says. By using videos, they are getting a direct audience reaction to their music, which is a good indicator for their market potential as well as their suitability for radio airtime.
“When one of those artists comes through and starts making waves, that’s when a label can become interested,” says Leonard. “That’s when we can analyse with our marketing teams the stats of people that are interested in that artist and their relevance in the marketplace.”
Self-promotion is clearly important for unsigned acts, while for marketing and A&R (artists and repertoire) executives the internet is taking the place of small live music venues for noticing new talent. Without keeping their ears to the ground on social media, A&R departments will not have a full picture of the music scene and marketers will be unable to understand the audiences they are capable of reaching.
But it is not only self-published content that music executives must pay attention to. Blogs and media companies are also providing new online platforms for bands to air their music. One example is Noisey, owned by Vice Media, publisher of irreverent content aimed at teenagers and students. Noisey is a YouTube channel that hosts music videos from established and unknown acts and was commissioned by the Google-owned video site earlier this year (see case study).
All record labels more than ever are looking for brands to partner up with. The holy grail is to get a John Lewis TV ad
Vice series producer Alex Hoffman says bands and labels regularly approach Noisey, seeking exposure on the channel. Hoffman used to work for TV music channel MTV, which he says was once an influential force in breaking new music, but he argues that all traditional media have been usurped by internet platforms such as Noisey for the purpose of finding an audience for new acts.
“It’s safe to say that the tipping point has been and gone. In terms of people who are new music fans, that has definitely moved over to the internet. As a music geek, people would always say to me ‘Where do you hear about all this stuff?’ and previously it would have been mainly magazines and radio. Now it’s very much websites, blogs and – more and more – video.”
Once a new act has gained a public profile, the label then has the challenge of marketing the music to fans. Like its discovery of artists, the industry’s processes of understanding the market have also been disrupted by digital platforms, as well as by consumers’ declining willingness to pay for music. Consequently, new methods have emerged.
For the past two years Sony Music has been employing research communities – groups of consumers who can be quickly asked for qualitative feedback that is used in honing content and marketing messages.
Before opting for the community approach, Sony had already segmented its audience, identifying 28 different groups that characterise consumers within the areas of the music market it covers. Through research consultancy Promise, Sony then recruited a community representing the full range of consumers in its segmentation, including those classed as ‘indifferents’, who make up 35 per cent of the UK population but only 14 per cent of the total value of the market.
According to Sony Music insight director Daniel Hall, the label has the community permanently on standby so it can be consulted “to respond to the needs of the business in real time”. He says Sony uses the insights derived to plan marketing campaigns, test executions of videos and ads, and for strategic projects – for example direct to consumer sales, getting more from its digital catalogue and digital gifting.
Promise senior consultant Tom Hoy says that some of the audience insights that have come directly from Sony’s ongoing community research include differences in the attitudes of fans towards mainstream and alternative acts. This has led, for example, to Sony filming music videos for its mass market artists in ways that appeal more to that audience.
“They like videos where there’s a direct connection with the artists,” says Hoy. “That’s why you’ll often see in Justin Bieber or Beyoncé videos, or any of the big superstars, that they’re looking into the camera. That’s very different from singer-songwriters or indie artists.”
Hoy gives the caveat, however, that formal insight gathering still struggles to penetrate into the realms of A&R. Talent spotting remains “the last bastion of the old way of doing things in the industry,” he says, adding that A&R executives are often former artists who “still view insight as inspiration”. Hall confirms that his team at Sony does not get involved in this area, claiming that research cannot do better than A&R in predicting what will be a hit.
It’s safe to say that the tipping point has been and gone. In terms of people who are new music fans, that has definitely moved over to the internet
He says: “It’s about adding insight to intuition, not replacing it. It’s a creative-led business and it should always be that, but we definitely have value to add to the process in helping decide whom to target and how to position our acts.”
Research and insight are increasingly informing not just music labels but also the platforms consumers use to listen to music. While Vice Media’s Hoffman claims that picking the right artists for Noisey is mostly a subjective process, he admits that numbers of video views do inform the process. Extensive market research is also behind the decisions of what to include on radio playlists, according to Parlophone’s Leonard.
Likewise, data guides the playlists provided by mobile handset maker Nokia on its Nokia Music app, which is preloaded onto all new Lumia phones. The app allows users to stream music and listen to both ready-made and personalised playlists without paying a subscription. Playlists are the main means by which mobile users can discover unfamiliar artists on the app and, according to Nokia vice-president of entertainment Jyrki Rosenberg, they are integral to the company’s objective – to create the “most mobile-optimised” music app on the market.
“When you get to the level of mobile optimisation where there are only two clicks to [get to] the music, what matters isn’t the features or the usability because you’ve gone past it already. Now you’re just listening to music and the question is: is it the right music? Are you discovering the artists that you would like to?”
Since Nokia has global reach, the songs it includes in its catalogue of 17 million recordings need to come from around the world in order to make them locally relevant, says Rosenberg. He adds that this also means consumers can potentially find a wealth of new music they will never have heard before. However, Nokia more commonly associates its playlists with high-profile artists; Rihanna, Lana del Rey,
Lady Gaga and Green Day have all created lists of recommended music by various other acts.
Radio stations have also started to see the inevitable pre-eminence of connected mobile devices in the future of music consumption. Many are creating their own apps and seeking unique selling points that set them apart from online streaming services such as Nokia Music and its competitors, Spotify, Deezer and Last.fm.
Commercial radio station Kiss FM, owned by Bauer Media, has looked to the example of mobile gaming, where consumers are spending increasing amounts of time, and used it as an inspiration for an app that lets listeners download, remix and share songs via social media (see mobile music, page 16). Kiss and its partner labels, such as Ministry of Sound, may not be expecting user-generated works of genius to sell in multi-platinum numbers but the app is likely to offer an alternative way for users to engage with radio playlists, which rarely allow for unpredictable additions.
With the exception of niche programmes and stations, radio is likely to continue being dominated by established acts and squeezing onto the playlists will require an attention-grabbing breakthrough. Increasingly, this means being the soundtrack on a TV ad, as the examples of Aplin and other alumni of John Lewis ads demonstrate. Gaining a big brand partnership will be one of the first moves for any label looking to launch a new act into the mass market.
EMI Music senior vice-president of marketing Mandy Plumb summarises: “We have to be clever and work with our artists in a way that we can help them monetise all the different aspects that they have. Recorded music is obviously a huge part of that.
“Then there are the opportunities with brand sponsorships and with merchandising and live performance. The relationships and partnerships we have with artists mean that we are able to help them with that so they are able to gain the most revenue from all areas of the business.”
Marketers, artists and A&R executives alike will need to juggle all these elements if they are to get the most from the new music market.