In 2016 the rapid adoption of streaming services and always-on nature of social media changed the way musicians and record labels released new music. The decade old, tried-and-tested formula of rolling out a new album through a combination of radio, TV and print was flipped on its head as artists struck streaming exclusives, teased content on Instagram and made their albums available via Twitter.
Online song distribution platform SoundCloud witnessed real uptake in the number of artists and audiences embracing streaming platforms in 2016, according to vice-president of marketing DeJuan Wilson.
“We’re seeing more and more up-and-coming artists proving successful in establishing their profile online and the music industry continues to transform, empowering fresh, new talent to explode onto the scene practically overnight.”
Home to artists including Hot Chip, The Last Shadow Puppets and The Kills, Domino Records’ biggest recent successes on streaming site Spotify have come from its deep catalogue and non-single tracks chosen for playlists, according to marketing manager Brooke Salisbury, who describes 2016 as the year artists and labels began to truly recognise the value of streaming.
“What’s unique at this time is that most artists are signed to album deals and the traditional album cycle still very much exists, but this year’s headlines were all big singles driven largely by streaming. There was scarcely a big hitting quarter four album to be seen,” she says.
“With the path to purchase having splintered significantly, how we market music has adjusted to a model that looks to connect and engage at every key point in a campaign – not just the week of the album release.”
Given Spotify now has more than 40 million subscribers worldwide, streaming is too large to ignore and actually offers big opportunities for classical artists, according to founder of classical music marketing agency Nouvague, James Fleury.
“The brilliant thing for classical music is that it’s struggled with CD sales for years. Even the major record labels are losing their distribution influence in overseas territories, so streaming offers a realistic alternative to millions who ultimately can’t afford the £20 or £30 it costs to buy a classical music release.
“But most crucially, the insights platform behind these streaming platforms consumes a vast amount of data on our audiences – where they are, how often they’re listening and a host of demographic information.”
In 2016 high profile artists continued to carve out exclusive deals with streaming platforms. The big album releases of 2016 from the likes Radiohead, Frank Ocean and Beyoncé were all debuted on streaming sites such as Apple Music and Tidal.
Yet despite their popularity, exclusive streaming deals are being questioned by major global record labels. In August it was reported Universal Records was halting exclusive distribution to streaming services, criticising the practice as limiting the number of consumers able to enjoy the music.
“Album exclusives is an approach some of our competitors have adopted, however it is not something that we advocate as a strategy for engagement,” says Sulinna Ong, vice-president of marketing at streaming service Deezer.
“Ultimately it is consumers who lose out with this approach and we believe that there are better ways of giving consumers what they want, while simultaneously continuing to support the artist.”
Ong argues that streaming services are now the major way consumers listen to music and therefore represent a significant driver for marketing campaigns. In the past year Deezer has moved beyond simple streaming to implement full-scale campaigns for artists ranging from girlband Little Mix to metal legends Metallica.
Album exclusives is not something that we advocate as a strategy for engagement.
Sulinna Ong, Deezer
To coincide with the release of Metallica’s new album ‘Hardwired to Self-Destruct’ in November, Deezer launched a three-phase campaign aimed at sustaining streams beyond the album launch period.
The campaign integrated push notifications and email, with social media, playlists, advertising on Facebook and YouTube, and an outdoor campaign in France based on Deezer’s user data. Banner and audio ads were positioned on the site’s ‘freemium’ tier. Fans were also offered meet and greet opportunities and a live recording from Metallica’s forthcoming tour will be made available on Deezer.
In March, streaming rival SoundCloud also entered the subscription service fray with the launch SoundCloud Go. Available in a variety of countries from the US and UK to New Zealand and Germany, the service offers users access to a catalogue of more than 135 million tracks, with the option to listen offline and ad-free.
As musicians often premiere new music on SoundCloud before other platforms, Wilson sees big opportunities for brands to partner with new artists on their releases, presenting a “cobranded experience”.
“As well as enabling new artists to build a profile very quickly, this continuing phenomenon is really good news for brands, who are keen to partner with talented creators to execute innovative campaigns that make a big impact with consumers,” he adds.
This summer SoundCloud teamed up with beer brand Heineken to debut Dutch producer Sam Feldt’s new track ‘Shadows of Love’ at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami. The branded track was then immediately posted on SoundCloud where it lived exclusively for two weeks and Feldt’s followers received a new track on behalf of Heineken. Response to the ‘Shadows of Love’ track was strong, with the song generating 77,384 likes, 17,374 reposts and 1,051 shares.
Music in an on-demand world
Whereas a decade ago musicians were well accustomed to the peaks and troughs of the album release schedule, the game has completely changed thanks to the always-on nature of social media and fan demand for constant contact from their favourite stars. Such is the power of musicians on social media that singers Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift have more Twitter followers than outgoing US President Barack Obama.
However, while social media has put artists in the driving seat like never before, it also means they cannot afford to disappear between albums.
There’s an ‘always-on’ feel to many artists that is a direct result of the rise of social.
Brooke Salisbury, Domino Records
“Ten years ago there was a very defined album cycle – it was a few years on and a few years off, driven mostly by external factors such as radio, press and touring,” says Salisbury.
“In 2016 however, there’s an ‘always-on’ feel to many artists that is a direct result of the rise of social. Artists aren’t going away anymore and the traditional cycle is much more blurred.”
Nowadays if an artist has five million Facebook fans it is arguably more valuable to premiere a new photo on social media than saving it for a one-off press usage, says Salisbury, who believes if musicians have the numbers on social they can now act as their own TV channel or radio station.
For the marketing of opera ensemble workshOPERA’s production ‘Boys of Paradise’ in October, Nouvague tapped into the power of influencer culture and traditional press, premiering the opera’s trailer across Attitude Magazine’s social media channels.
“The official hashtag for the six-day production run generated a reach of over 300,000 people,” Fleury reports. “The most satisfying statistic for us was the age/gender split, which showed an even age spread from 18 to 65, as well as 52% female interaction.”
Streaming services too have adapted to keep up with the pace of change demanded by social media. Artists can instantly upload tracks to SoundCloud, while features on the platform allow fans to repost and share content. The streaming service partnered with Twitter to integrate the platform’s ‘moments’ feature, so musicians can share playlists within tweets.
Social media is also driving lucrative brand partnerships. Atlantic Records UK artist Charli XCX saw her awareness increase by 20% across all her core target markets through commercial tie-ups, according to the label. From the brand perspective, Unilever’s Impulse brand noted a 462% uplift in sales of its Charli XCX designed body sprays and a 100% increase in Instagram followers following the collaboration, while fast fashion retailer Boohoo.com sold out of its Charli XCX designed clothing line in three weeks.
The uptake in streaming, alongside the ever-increasing importance of social media, has changed the entire landscape in which we operate.
Hannah Neaves, Atlantic Records UK
For brand partnerships to resonate, however, the content has to feel authentic and reflect the artist’s own tone of voice, acknowledges Atlantic Records UK marketing director Hannah Neaves.
“The uptake in streaming, alongside the ever-increasing importance of social media, has changed the entire landscape in which we operate, so now it’s essential that everything we do feels authentic to each artist and lands at just the right time.
“We encourage our artists to use all social channels to some extent and we avoid using third party agencies wherever possible so that it is always the artist’s own voice that you hear,” Neaves adds.
Home to the likes of Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars and Rita Ora, Atlantic Records develops bespoke marketing campaigns for each act, often tapping into the power of social media.
When Jess Glynne was forced to cancel all promotional plans in the run up to the release of her 2015 debut album ‘I Cry When I Laugh’ due to throat surgery, the singer took to social media and asked fans to help create a lyric video for the track ‘Gave Me Something’. Premiered exclusively on Facebook, the video reached 14 million people, achieving more than 4 million views and driving over 20,000 clicks through to pre-order the album.
“Social allowed Jess to showcase the personality behind the voice and the hits, something that we couldn’t have done as authentically with traditional media,” explains Neaves.
The response from music marketers to today’s on-demand culture has been pioneering, argues SoundCloud’s DeJuan Wilson, who believes their agility and innovative thinking is a lesson to marketers across the board.
“We’ve now seen huge strides in ‘on-demand’ offerings across movies, food, fashion, transport and many others, but music streaming led the way.
“Music marketers have shown huge pragmatism in understanding the changing needs of the consumer and continue to meet these demands by finding innovative ways to authentically connect consumers with music.”