23.11.09

Buying Robbie Williams


Robbie might be onto something by selling himself off to private investors. While the recent publicity around his proposed intentions might be a bargaining chip / cry for help from EMI, his manager is correct in saying that Robbie dosent really require a label anymore to co-ordinate his career. Marketing, touring, distribution - all could be outsourced to various third parties.

As Robbie Williams is now an established brand, he no longer needs the umbrella of a label to nurture his career. And his brand has strong investment potential - with a proven track record and fan base.

I guess what is missing is the trajectory - where is his career going? Whilst Madonna could guarantee Live Nation that she could generate returns on her mega-tours (even despite any potential flagging album sales) - and Bowie's "bond" strategy was aligned to his constant innovation (although they faired as well as his subsequent material ...) - Robbie has been a bit hit and miss lately.

Certainly the prospect of him reuniting with Take That would send the price of Robbie shares rocketing - but without this carrot venture captialists might be wondering how they will recoup their investment. Still it poses food for thought - with artists increasingly in control of their own catalogue, finding good business partners could be more lucrative than being tied into contracts with unsupportive labels.

Image from Flickr by fortyseven

7.11.09

The New Public Relations

I noticed a copy of NME sitting on the shelf at Tesco the other day. I was actually quite shocked that it was even still in print. Do music fans still read these magazines?

For the past few decades, the only way to find out about new music was through the radio, tv or newspapers and magazines. Of course there was word of mouth - the most powerful of all mediums - but this was largely unquantifiable - labels couldn't measure effectiveness or spend their budgets on it as easily as they could on the trusty stalwart of PR. As a young pup I was a devout reader of NME, Spin, Melody Maker, Select and Rolling Stone. I consumed the stories in these bibles without fail, every week/month. It was how I kept in touch with artists - the only way I could access information about them. Those stories wouldnt have been there without the industry's PR gurus.

The music industry has always relied heavily on PR. If you didnt have a good PR, you didnt have a career. But what was this magical power that these PR people weilded?

PR as "public relations" is essentially the manipulation of public perception through story telling via media. The PR professional creates the story - sells it to the press by convincing them that the story is worth telling - and voilà, a story appears. The story is used to sell the various media, so the more fantastic the tale, the more likely it is to be spun.

The power of public relations was therefore in the ability of the PR to spin a big hype-filled ball of yarn, alongside the relationship they had with the hack who was responsible for getting the story to press. Labels still spend oodles for this service. The tactic relies on the premise that winning over the press will result in an endorsement of your artist, and the public will follow.

In reality today, the service is media relations, not public relations. The relationship that the public has now with press is quite a different beast. The internet has allowed us to discover music in an entirely different way. Artists can create their own PR and build a community of fans without a journalist ever hearing about them. In fact these days, the journos are most often the last to write about new acts. Magazines and newspapers are struggling to survive. TV no longer has a captivated audience, and radio is being revolutionised by services like Spotify and Last.fm. Media relations has become the ego PR that rarely results in any audience connection.

"Public Relations" - real PR - is now something totally different. It is the relationship that an artist or label has with its audience. It is how an artist tweets back to a fan, or the comments it places on its Facebook group page. It is interacting with bloggers who become tastemakers for the life of a project, rather than just writing a story once to fill column inches. It is speaking directly to the people that are interested in their work, rather than relying on a salesman to force it into a journalists intray. Finally public relations is becoming a genuine interaction between the makers of music and the listener.

1.11.09

Still Paying for the Naughties


The piracy debate took an interesting twist today when the Independent on Sunday revealed that those that spend the most money buying music are, in fact, the same individuals who are most likely to download music illegally.

It's not really rocket science to think that people that are very passionate about music would use the convenience of the internet to gain access to what they wanted to hear. Analysis of the survey finds that those that file share do so as a "discovery mechanism"; something that most artists and labels have come to rely on in order to spread the word about their work.

After my blog on the proposed new anti-piracy legislation earlier this week, I thought I would research any current studies on the psychology behind file sharing. For me part of the answer to this issue lies in the reasons behind why people genuinely do not seem to have a problem with downloading and sharing music. I didn't get far before discovering this article from Esquire from last year.

Author Chuck Klosterman raises one of the most intriguing perspectives I have heard in the debate. By raising the question of where the billions not being spent on the music industry have gone from the economy since file sharing became a norm, he has come to a simple conclusion.

We're still paying for the music we bought over the past decade.

It's true. Think of all that cash you slammed onto your credit cards during the boom at the turn of the millenium. I used to spend £100 a week on vinyl alone, some of it which still sits unplayed in my record boxes. The reality for many is a big fat balance on credit cards - only now they choose to pay off their debt rather than rack up more CDs.

We were addicted to music consumption. Getting the last single by a new or favourite band was a symbol of status and part of a shared cultural experience. We needed to acquire music as much as we wanted to actually listen to it.

That passion hasn't died - music is just as popular as ever - but with the digital era crossing over to a new generation, the need to consume has begun to vanish. The physical relic of the plastic medium no longer required for a new audience that has access to digital content. Downloading is fast, convenient and readily available - even accessible on-the-go through mobile devices. So why wouldn't a music fan take advantage of the best resource that gives them access to what they love?

28.10.09

Lord Mandelson Declares War!

Interesting piece on Channel 4 news tonight about Lord Mandelson's anti-piracy proposals.

And my first introduction to the Featured Artists Coalition - a lobbying group set up by musicians (such as Ed O'Brien from Radiohead - featured in the interview) who are campaigning for changes to copyright.

While most of their argument centres around the way royalties are controlled and split between labels and artists, O'Brien was on hand to face Jon Snow's questions regarding the government's proposed legislation, which involves threatening those that upload files for sharing. Three nasty letters, and you could be barred from the net.

O'Brien spoke with clarity when he admitted that new artists rely on the internet to get noticed, and "build their profile". I wonder how Lord Mandelson would classify bloggers who have become our new broadcasters - spreading the word through their recommendations, and helping to launch the careers of many artists? Are they criminals, or an essential element to a new industry?

The report is below. Thanks to the internet, I can share the film clip with you. If you enjoy it, you must just watch Channel 4 again. Or tell a friend about it.

That's the joy of new media.



25.10.09

The Artist - Customer Relationship


You - the listener - are being blamed for the death of the music industry.

Every time you download something for free, a big giant finger is pointed directly at you. You are stealing - taking the hard earned pennies straight from the hands of the artists who slaved away to create what you selfishly devalue. Your activity should be monitored and any infringement noted and penalised.

How about another perspective?

You are the customer, and the musicians are working for you. You are the saviour of music.

In days of yore, music was not a commodity. It had no physical form, so it could not be bought and sold in the same way. Composers had patrons - the wealthy lovers of the arts who sponsored the creation of new works. It was very much a B2C relationship - with the composer selling directly to a customer.

This worked for centuries, until we discovered that you could capture sound and package it up in plastic.

The music industry was born, and suddenly the relationship changed. Composers needed companies to make the plastic that would carry their works. And those companies wanted big returns on their investments. They saw that they could create a whole network of money making opportunities. They needed distribution to ship the plastic all around the world. And they needed shops to sell the plastic to customers.

The relationship changed from B2C - to B2B. Composers now had no business relationship with their listeners. The plastic was all that mattered - pressing it up, shipping it around, selling it in stores.

Fast forward again. A digital world realises it dosent need the plastic anymore. Suddenly the entire network is under threat. The business relationship that relied heavily on the physical manfiestation of the music no longer has context.

Its time we went back to the B2C relationship.

Artists are working for the listener. They make their art for a global patron - their community - which they must build, get to know and demonstrate a commitment to. In return they are supported for their efforts by their community. This is the key - like any business, the artist must find out what their customer wants to pay for. Some communities might still want a plastic souvenir to take home and own - which they will create demand for. As (thankfully) the joy of experiencing music has not changed over the centuries, the artist will always have something else to sell - the live experience of their music. And now that we have a global method of broadcasting - the internet - with a more reliable way of keeping track of what is being performed, the artist can continue to expect royalties for how their work enriches the experience of other businesses - the element of a healthy B2B relationship that still remains.

So in the end, it is the plastic that not only created the music industry, but lead to its downfall. And as you - the customer - now have the power back, you should be respected for the part you play in helping musicians to bring their art to life.

17.10.09

Deal With God - A Video

More proof of why the internet has revolutionised music.

Last year Buffetlibre DJs contacted us about doing a cover version for their REWIND2 project. They found us via MySpace (I think ... or maybe it was through our email newsletter via Gaymonkeyrecords.com). They are based in Spain - we've never met, but we're virtual mates.

We of course covered "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush. The Buffet boys then create a fantastic site with the rest of the cover versions - essentially a digital album.

It is offered free to anyone. They promote it, gaining the kudos of cool, and we get some promotion to a new audience. We are introduced to their community.

Months later, a guy named Martin in Peru (!) gets inspired and makes his own music video for the track. He posts it up on YouTube, and a new community of Kate lovers is introduced to us.

A decade ago this would have been impossible.



12.10.09

REM - Green Again


It's nice to see the penny dropping for other bloggers on the music industry's environmental impact.

Drowned in Sound ran some editorial on the campaign this weekend by REM, who have released their latest material as a giveaway with The Times. This isn't new - the weekend press is usually littered with freebies. Precisely the point - the free CDs and DVDs have a disposability that inevitably see them ending up in the bin.

Labels have been increasing this practice - recall that Prince launched his last album in a high profile deal with the Mail on Sunday two years ago. The idea was panned by many as contributing to the downfall of the industry. The question remains over it's effectiveness - does it attract new listeners to the artist, and in fact is anyone listening to the material at all? If we can't measure the intention of the consumer, do we assume they have purchased the paper for the music, or the news?

REMs campaign is different. Rather than offloading a CD, it involves a code for downloading the new material. It's not rocket science, but here's why it's smart:

Less Waste - and less production!
Lower costs for the label and newspaper - and the unwanted CDs won't be consigned to the landfill. Can you believe this campaign is the "first of its kind" in the UK?

Targeted Marketing
Putting CDs in the paper is the same as loading them into a shotgun - not targeted at all. By asking the listener to download, you are opting them into the campaign. It's permission marketing with the reciprocity of the free music.

Retention
REM - and presumably the newspaper - now have valuable info on the listener. What if instead of just new material, the listener was opting in to a whole new space with merchandise, exclusive info and ways to interact with other fans? Building in a way to continue to engage after the initial download is potential worth investing in.

Affiliate Revenue
Music revenue through album sales are in decline. So let the advertiser pay. Not disruptively (like the Spotify model) but through the paper and via the download portal. This is a win for all parties - the artist/label gets royalties, the paper gets ad sales, and the advertiser gets access to a target demograph.

This is the type of thinking we need to see more of across the media industry. The assets are there - the business just isn't using them wisely. And when a viable opportunity to benefit the industry and the environment are presented, we need to make it happen.

Image by zeusface on Flickr

7.10.09

Fragmentation


A digital world of infinite choice has resulted in many of the things we've known and love breaking up. Some have even disappeared altogether.

The best example of this is the news. For generations now we have relied on a trusted voice to bring us stories of what is going on around us. Newspapers - then joined by television - became the authority on the news. But even this is changing in the digital world.

We don't need a single voice to bring us the news anymore. RSS feeds can filter in stories from multiple sources from around the globe. Even Twitter breaks news faster than a traditional paper, or waiting for the ten o'clock edition (look how the story of Michael Jackson's death spread ...)

What I find most exciting is that my news is personalised. I pick what feeds I want, who I follow on Twitter, and what volume of information I receive. The authoritative voice - which particularly in the UK is frequently clouded in bias - is gone. In fact my world feels lighter without the burden of the doom spun by mainstream media. We might question who the "trusted" voice is - where do we go to find the facts. Wikipedia has demonstrated that collectively we have the ability to piece the fragments together, to build the facts ourselves.

Whilst newspapers and tv stations struggle - and some close shop altogether - surely we benefit from fragmentation. What it gives us is the ability to personalise our media.

For the music industry, this has been perceived as a threat. Consumption has changed as people move away from buying whole albums in favour of downloading single tracks. Mainstream radio faces competiton from bespoke services like Last.fm.

The threat of fragmentation is an opportunity for any artist - who can realise that they too have a chance to have their work heard. And most of all for the audience - who now have unlimited choice to access what they want to hear.

Image by Rick Heath on Flickr.

6.10.09

"Tongue" by MaJiKer

The new video by MaJiKer - "Tongue" - is out today. And it is fantastic.

This is the type of thing that makes me very proud to be involved in music - to be able to work with very talented people to realise a creative goal. The video is a true achievement in storytelling and direction - by the fantastic Raphael Neal - and embodies the brilliance of MaJiKer's work.

Let us know what you think of it.

22.9.09

Pirate Rantings


The past week saw a handful of artists join the outspoken ranks to rant about piracy. In addition to Lilly Allen gobbing off, Darren Hayes used his MySpace page to say a few words on how illegal downloading was destroying the industry before our very eyes. Judging by the comments on his page from his loyal fans, his words were hitting home - even enlightening those who hadn't realised the consequences of their actions.

Hayes suggests that ISPs should be ultimately responsible for coming down hard on illegal downloading. Not a new argument - we've been having this debate for months now and it simply isn't going to change behaviour.

The simple fact is that the industry cannot blame illegal downloading for it's "collapse". Everything about the industry is fundamentally changing. When Hayes was in Savage Garden he would have relied on the old machine - major label, traditional media relations, the touring mafia, compact discs sold in massive chain record stores. The digital revolution has turned that entire world upside down.

If we value the freedom that the Internet has given us, we cannot blame it for change. The artist can now publish, release, promote and interact with more automomy than ever before. Hayes uses social media to connect himself directly to his fan base - something that would have been impossible in the old regime. He has effectively been running his own career - thanks to the independence of the digital world. Would a major label still be supporting his solo career? How would he continue to reach an audience without the benefits of the net?

The business model of music needs to evolve. But if money is all that an artist cares about - indeed if that is all any individual cares about - they need to reconsider their priorities. The new industry offers any artist the opportunity, for the first time, to connect with a global audience. Surely that is reward in itself.

18.9.09

A New Revolution

I've been away from this blog for a few weeks. A much needed holiday back home to Canada gave me some time to reflect on wisdom from my business partner and good friend on where this particular channel was headed.

I've been writing for over 18 months now - over one hundred posts. Even in that small time the blogosphere landscape has changed massively with the disruption of Twitter. Despite this blogs remain a critical companion. As writers, the need to find one's own voice is more important than ever.

That's the hard part really, and it has taken me this long to recognise my focus for writing this. While I started as a means of just commenting on anything, I've realised I do have a unique voice on the music industry. I'm an artist / (semi retired) DJ / producer / manager / booker / marketer / digital media officiando / long tail rider / independent label boss / publisher / leader in the music industry's climate change debate. I'm not sure there is anyone else that can offer this perspective, and I hope it can help others who are passionate about creating a new music industry.

So thank you to @shamsandhu for your words of wisdom. And to the other gurus - Seth Godin, Chris Anderson, Daniel Priestley, et al. (not forgetting Gladwell, of course). Here's to a new chapter of revolutions.

19.8.09

Music Saying Nothing


No bands have anything to say right now 
- Adam Ficek, Babyshambles

This evenings' London Lite carries a quote from the Babyshambles' drummer. I'm sure he is probably reflecting on what he perceives to be lacking in inspiration in the current indie music scene. But he has a point - artists don't seem to have much to say for themselves. Unless you are Bono - of course.

Which is odd considering the level of interaction and airtime that any artist can have thanks to the Internet. They no longer need to call a press conference or stage a bed-in to get attention. But rather than use this brilliant tool to discuss the merits of their music, most mainstream performers tend to rant about their media profile (see Lilly Allen or Calvin Harris for Twittertips).

When it comes to social issues, the silence is almost deafening. At a time when companies are under increasing pressure to be more transparent on their stance on the environment, and are even using the challenge to improve their offering, artists seem to have nothing to say. In the last issue of the PRS members magazine, the spokesperson for Julies Bicycle (the industry body on climate change) revealed her frustration on finding a UK artist to publicly comment on the issue. Perhaps they are afraid to make a statement because they are realising the impact they have. Or maybe they just don't realise they have a responsibility - or the opportunity - to affect change?

It seems like music with comment is as taboo as an artist with conscience. 

Image by kozumel on Flickr.

17.8.09

Twisted Words of Free


Radiohead have made some recent revelations: a "leak" of their new track (and subsequent official free release on their website), and the possibility they might not do "albums" anymore.

The intentional distribution of the "These Are My Twisted Words" isn't a big surprise. Why not follow up the pay-what-you-want concept of In Rainbows by trying out free? The hype of the "leak" made little difference - a bolder initial statement would have had more impact than a transparent gimmick. The band have set the bar for innovative distribution - we now expect them to continue the trend.

Turning their back on the album format is more shocking. Radiohead have always been an album band - that is to say, the body of a period of work aligns comfortably into a collection. The single isn't really their format. Thom Yorke alludes to a series of EPs - which could be an interesting strategy for the group.

Albums are like books. Sometimes a chapter works on it's own, and sometimes they feel more like a collection of short stories. But for great artists they provide the listener with an amazing experience. Despite the industry struggling to find a model to move quantities, the album remains a valid way of packaging music for those that want more than just a three minute fix.

Incidentally I recall reading that Calvin Harris wanted to shun the album in favour of a string of singles. "I'm Not Alone" was to be a stop gap track to keep fans happy in the meantime. Clearly too much of a risk for Sony - the single appears on the new album in traditional style along with his collaboration with Dizzee Rascal. No doubt the cost/benefit analysis by the men in suits of trying something new was simply too daunting (though apparently pressing to double vinyl was warranted ... )

16.8.09

The Icons

The National Portrait Gallery is exhibiting a Gay Icons series - ten prominent gay "selectors" are asked to each name six individuals whom they regard as inspirational. The icons are not required to be gay, but rather the show provides insight into who - and what characteristics of an icon - influence the lives of todays prominent gay figures. The portraits themselves are secondary to the stories behind the inspiration.

You couldn't see the exhibition without questioning who has been instrumental in your own life. Here are a few of my own ...

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Neil Tennant
Stylish, ground breaking, and with seemingly endless stamina. Neil Tennant has always provided musical inspiration via the Pet Shop Boys - but beyond that obvious link he has been a pop culture icon on every front. Where he stands above so many of his contemporaries is through his inimitable dignity. He is a trusted and respected voice of British culture and the world is a better place because of the joy he has brought through his career.


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James Dean
Those who leave the world prematurely often have iconic status thrust upon them. James Dean was a pop star in his own right. His skill as an actor was evident despite appearing in only three films. What would he achieved if his time had not been cut so short? Though we must decipher his true life story from the legend it appears he was an outlier in every aspect - it is no surprise that he continues to inspire new generations.


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David Bowie
Bowie is a true genius. His songwriting skill is unparalleled, as is his talent for invention of all aspects of his world. He takes risks and in doing so has been an influence on probably anyone making music today.


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John Cage
For some reason I have been fascinated by Cage from the moment I became aware of him. Odd considering my love for pop music and melody! He was a many of layers of complexity - philosopher, composer, artist, activist, Buddhist. Yet everything he did was with consistency and conviction. He gave me silence and for that I will be forever grateful.


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Barrack Obama
Because very few individuals actually give hope to the world. It's a gift that we should never take for granted. Obama has only been with us for a short while but already he has achieved so much - the simple act of his rise to the top is overwhelming. He is the only politician I have ever believed in - he can actually change the world.

2.8.09

You Have No Right To Someone's Attention


Marketing used to be about shouting at the masses. In a music context, this was a blitzkrieg involving above the line advertising and buying oneself to the top of the charts. This is no longer effective - nor is it acceptable. In fact it can be a complete waste of time.

The best communication now involves an invitation to join into a dialogue (with a gentle nudge now and then). Permission is key. Most important of all, to get an audience for your message you need to have one that compells them to listen in the first place.

What we're seeing lately, however, is that just asking for permission to grab someone's attention isn't enough. This is evident in what has happened with MySpace. By sending someone a friend request, bands thought they then had permission to engage them as often as necessary. They also assumed that the "friend" would take some responsibility for keeping the relationship going.

Once MySpace started to take off, a deluge of bands masquerading as wanna-be friends started to bombard music fans. The result was a population of people who just stopped listening. The MySpace principle of quantity of fans over quality seems to still be in place. I wonder now how many "friends" of bands are actually still active users of MySpace - or indeed, have any interaction with the artist once the initial contact has been made?

Three things are required for permission now:

1. What's the glue?
Why should the audience care? What do you have in common? This is the glue that connects you. I personally don't give a toss about Cambodian gabba folk - which is pretty obvious if you took the time to find out a bit about me. Also - I don't live in Texas so I'm probably not interested in your gig. You've just wasted your time and I'm not listening.

2. What's in it for them?
This is crucial - the basic principle of reciprocity. All relationships have give and take. If you want to take up some of their time and attention, what do they get out of it? If you are letting them into your world, make sure you are giving something back. And make those actions visible so new audiences can see that you will respect their attention. I'm not suggesting you give your back catalogue away for free - for starters, a simple thank-you will suffice.

3. What do you want them to do?
What is the ask, and how can they get involved. Passive relationships are pretty dull - how does their attention make a contribution? Facebook groups are great for this, allowing a high level of "fan" interaction. But avoid tokenism - keep it genuine, and respect the time that the fans give you.

We are all bombarded with thousands of brand messages daily. To make an impact you have to do more than just stand out - you have to give the audience a reason to listen in the first place. And if you don't respect the time they are giving you, you might find that they stop listening altogether.

28.7.09

EQ: Mogul in the Making


Clubbing in London has reached the bottom of its dip. A pattern I have noticed over the past few years, the fickle tastes of Londoners - and recently, the redevelopment of areas where clubs have been located, have seen many of the best nights shut down. Add that to the generational shift, and you have a displaced audience who wants to go out, but are left with very few options.

Enter EQ - the electronic pop night hosted by Raj and crew. A sideline to his blog, the monthly event features new talent offered up in the bucket loads.

What's refreshing here is the smorgasbord of acts presented. The night revolves around the performances of multiple acts (this month - no less than nine!) - it's the equivalent of a mini festival. Never mind the fact that it's free.

Its surprising then, at a time when people are starting to value live performance more, there isn't more nights like EQ. Raj is on to a winner with a perfect extension to the EQ brand. The success lies in his very obvious love and devotion to the music. Each act is handpicked from his treasure trove of demos and MySpace discoveries (with the odd major label audition thrown in for good measure).

Refreshing to have such a genuine figure emerging on the UK scene.

The next EQ night is this Friday 31st July at Underbelly in Hoxton Square, N1.
Visit the EQ blog here.
And join the Facebook group here.

27.7.09

Worry and Fear

Worry pretends to be necessary. It serves no purpose.

My tweet today was inspiration - as always - from Eckhart Tolle. Sound advice. I try to live without worry as I have come to realise that it is truly one of life's most useless emotions. Worrying about something has never helped me to resolve a situation - it has only ever made things worse.

Certainly there are some things that cause me concern; climate change, paying that outstanding invoice, whether or not we'll sell all that stock in my studio, etc. But as soon as it moves into worry stage, ie that incessant noise in your head that stops you from seeing things clearly, I push the thoughts aside. Only then can you come to a creative, rational solution.

It seems so simple, yet for some reason society has become obsessed with worry - to the point where worry turns to fear. Some even capitalise off of it: drug companies, Republicans, and most of all, the media. Nothing sells more than fear, terror or the latest pandemic.

Dan Gardner has done a fantastic job of dissecting the politics of fear in his book Risk. He examines the reasoning behind our minds' ability to succomb to worry and fear, and dispells some common myths with rational argument based on simple statistics. One of the most compelling being an analysis of Americans post-9/11 fear of flying, which resulted in a shift of people driving long distances rather than taking a flight. The result was over 1500 people being killed in car accidents as a direct result of not taking that flight that they would have booked.

Its just one example that makes you shake your head and wonder why we can't see through the fog of our own irrational fear.

Both Tolle and Gardner are highly recommended reads. Just think how much more creative and productive we would all be if we stopped giving away precious time to useless thought?

20.7.09

Brand Madonna


The 2009 Superbrands have been announced, with the likes of Microsoft and Google (not surprisingly) leading the pack again this year. Skimming through the list my suspicion was confirmed - not a single position given to anyone in the music industry.

This is perhaps a reflection of why the industry struggles. In days of yore, labels operated more like a traditional consumer brand. Buy a Motown record, and you knew what you were getting. Trust was established, and an expectation of the Motown experience was assured. The music industry seems to have turned its back on this strategy. In comparison, the gaming world is lapping it up - with Nintendo and Playstation holding positions in this years' top 100.

None of the major labels today exhibit characteristics of a strong brand. Rosters are sporadic, constantly changing and have no glue connecting the artists they release together. But most of all the labels fail to create any emotional ties with the consumer - in fact most music fans probably couldn't tell you what label their favourite artists are on. There are a few mid-weight labels - like Warp or Modular - who have managed to achieve brand status (though sadly not to the level of the Superbrand ... yet!).

Where the big labels fail, many artists have certainly risen to become brands in their own right. The best example of this is of course Madonna. What lets her down on the Superbrand scale is inconsistency - her policy of reinvention and desire to court controversy means she loses trust. And though she maintains a loyal following she has struggled to attract new consumers to brand Madonna.

A consistent experience is what has lead Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys to become successful. Quality, strong image, believable - they are certainly groups that have used their brand to maintain an audience where their contemporaries have failed to do so.

Some people would argue that music shouldn't be tarred with the brand brush, but I believe that artists and labels can create powerful brand loyalty and use this to thrive. Brands are about creating a lasting positive experience which form an emotional bond with a community of ambasadors who spread the message. Music is already a powerful medium, it is made even more addictive when artists are able to capitalise on their brand potential.

Chatting about brands yesterday a friend of mine asked which was my favourite. Without even thinking I responded - Apple (number 9 on this years Superbrands list). I have used their products consistently for over 15 years and am fiercely loyal to them - to the point where I defend any criticism of their work. They are fantastic at creating emotional bonds with their customers, through their customer service and image. And their shit works - I've never had an issue with anything they have ever made. A fascinating, innovative company who have been a true inspiration.

Image by dadawan on Flickr.

15.7.09

Bono's Big Bad Clawprint


It was only a matter of time before U2 were attacked for their latest tour. Even more offensive than the giant claw that adorns their stage is the estimate of the carbon footprint of the 44 date worldwide show.

Bono fans will no doubt let this fact slide - the rare opportunity to see their pint sized messiah in the flesh will be too important to miss. It seems entirely hypocritical for a man who has campaigned to rid the world of poverty not to at least address the impact that his career is having on those he cares so much to save. We know that climate change will have the greatest effect on poorer nations (in fact Bono's primary area of campaign concern - Africa - is already the most effected - see DFID for more info) - does he not consider this before jetting off on a carbon intensive tour? He has acknowledged the issue of climate change in contributing to global poverty when he took to the stage at Davos last year. Perhaps he's becoming forgetful in his elder years.

I'm not expecting Bono or any artist to be a saint. But walking the talk is essential to credibility, and it shouldn't be surprising that the mantra of campaigners like him fall on deaf ears. It is also worth noting that as the business model of the old industry falls away artists will be under increasing pressure to tour to make up revenue. More touring equals a bigger footprint - not only of the artists themselves, but for every fan that travels to see their shows.

I do expect artists who are role models - like U2 - to be innovators and leaders. They should be establishing the blue print for not only a new music industry, but a new way for the world to behave and interact. Bono demanded we make poverty history - I'd like to see him step up and show us how its done.

11.7.09

Who's Zooming Who?


In the old industry, the roles of artist and label were quite well defined. The artist performed, and the label controlled. While the artist may have been responsible for the music element of the product, jurisdiction for all others fell to the label. How it was packaged, sold and presented - and in some cases, even how it finally sounded - was all down to the men in suits.

The new industry is fundamentally different. The label's role now centres around co-ordination. Ensuring that all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, from administration of the artists rights, to planning the strategy of getting the artist connected to it's community.

The artists role has changed as well. They are learning more about how important it is to market themselves, and actively participating with their fans. Social media - like Twitter - is changing the relationship between artist and fan, to the point where fans have started to expect a much higher level of instant interaction. This marketing falls to the artist themselves - something relatively unheardof in the old industry.

The new industry has given power back to the artist. Effectively they can create, market, and distribute themselves. They now have more responsibility, but in a way that gives them greater connection to what they are creating. Finding the right label can give them access to skills and support which can help them reach their community. It's an equal relationship based on collaboration rather than control.

8.7.09

Sony Gets Some Tail


I was invited to attend the launch of Chris Anderson's new book - Free - last week. Alas at the last minute I found that the one thing that was lacking in my life, was free time. Anyways, I'm quite certain that he wasn't about to be giving his latest manifesto away gratis. After the grilling he was given by his peers perhaps this latest endeavour won't be as favourable received as The Long Tail.

One other thing nearly slipped my attention this week. As I was cleaning out my inbox I caught sight of a slice of Music Week spam with news that Sony had bought a slice of IODA - who just so happen to be the digital distributor of choice for Gaymonkey.

Could this be? A frantic Google search led me to an article at Wired (the fabulous periodical edited by noneother than Mr Long Tail himself) confirming that indeed the major label is now involved with a digital distribution arm set up as an alliance of independent labels - with the belief of the long tail at the forefront of their business strategy.

A threat to our indie integrity - or a giant 'told you so' ... perhaps both. Still its an interesting sign of the times considering the last decade has been primarily about the majors protecting their assets and shunning anything that wouldn't draw what they considered to be a commercial audience. Provided IODA don't forgo their own intentions, perhaps we should all just be flattered that the big boys want to come play on our patch for a change.

14.6.09

Lessons in Hype: The Next Big Thing


"Get your hands on the album everyone has been talking about."

This is the strapline from a recent TV ad campaign for a brand new artist. It is running in conjunction with an album launch, nationwide print ad campaign (including billboards and tube posters) and bit of a tour.

Sound familiar? We hear this all the time from the music industry - in fact, its pretty much a standard campaign and message kit. But is it relevant anymore? 

The old way of marketing involved creating The Next Big Thing, with a big splash of hype. Drive the kids to the shops, get them to buy the record FAST - and watch it sail to the top of the charts. 

But now, none of those things matter anymore. The charts are irrelevant, and the kids aren't consuming in the same way they used to. So why do the big guns continue to play this game, and why are they so shocked to see this strategy is no longer working?

The Next Big Thing is now about taking small steps, and building slowly with commitment and belief. Its about building up the artist and community together and nurturing a relationship. One step and a time. Small really is the new Big.

How many times have we seen an artist thrust into the status of Next Big Thing only to fall away without a trace months (even weeks) later? We only need to look at the various Pop Idol/XFactor winners to see that unsupported hype doesn't equal success. 

Seth puts it perfectly in his blog this week:

"A few brands pick out tiny dominos instead. And topple them. And they do it again. They do it so often they create noise, momentum and most important, a sense of inevitability. That's how you win."

13.6.09

Taking Care of Your Genius

Great Ted talk from Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love) exploring the need for all of us to nurture our genius - and how to avoid the crippling fear of the creative process.

I remember trying to express to someone how difficult writing can be. For me the whole process is incredibly private - I go and lock myself away, and when something has taken shape I can begin to talk about it. The bit before - when you are wrestling with what you are trying to express - can be tough. The bit after - when you have thrown this thing you've just given birth to out into the world, opening yourself and this new creature for criticism - can be particularly hideous.

In trying to explain this, I recall being asked why I even bothered if I hated those aspects of it that much?

Simply put - it is that space in between, when you are totally present with the process of creative thought, that is truly the most beautiful and rewarding thing in the world.


11.6.09

Nine Inch Wails


The Quietus has a great story today on Trent Reznor's withdrawl from the 2.0 universe after encountering "too many idiots". 

Is this a case of biting the hand that feeds you? Our new virtual world has allowed unprecedented interaction between artist and fan. How you use that power is up to you - but throwing your toys out of the pram if you don't like how you are being perceived isn't doing yourself any favours.

Musicians have always created a story around them to make them seem more interesting. Liam Gallagher is a tough northern prat. Lilly Allen hates everything and hits people. And James Blunt - well, he's mainly boring. But these are just roles they play. 

The internet is simply a medium for people to connect. The "idiots" on the web are the same fools that come to Reznor's concerts and buy his music. Only now they can get that little bit closer to him - albeit virtually. His fear is insecurity - maybe they'll see that he's not such a dark gloomy goth afterall.

8.6.09

EgoPR


One of the biggest issues in the music industry is this tension between niche and mainstream. For the niche to work - and it can work, for both the artist and the label - the players involved must consciously accept that it the niche does not require the mainstream, full stop. In fact, denial of the mainstream is almost key to psychologically getting over this hurdle.

To grow within the niche means nurturing a community that does not look to the outside for validation. The artist must trust that their community will grow organically, through peer-to-peer interaction, and make appropriate steps to make this happen.

Where the tension becomes disruptive is when we seek to fast track this growth through mainstream channels; by traditional media exposure, for example. Often this is simply what I call "egoPR" - seeing ourselves in press which has high status, but translates to little exposure of community expansion, and thus a limited impact for the artist overall. If the community does not require validation, then the artist/label must also accept this premise.

We saw this in the swedish campaign for Sara Berg. Huge mainstream exposure with a successful traditional PR campaign , for a sound that wasn't mainstream in the ears of the swedish public. So it didn't work. Outside Sweden her community of loyal fans continues to grow, oblivious to the previous PR. Was the investment in traditional PR worth it?

I'm not suggesting that mainstream PR be shunned altogether. But use it wisely - and not just to satisfy that overactive ego. And not at the expense of the community which matter most.

Image by redxdress on Flickr.

28.5.09

A Favourite Musical Maven

I've been away in the sun for a bit celebrating the nuptials of one of my dear friends. She is the glue that holds our group together - so it was apt that we all got together to spend a week partying - and perhaps pontificating this next phase of our lives.

One of our group is a mate who has a knack for finding great new music. In fact I would wager that hunting down new sounds takes up a large part of his day. He likes to share too - always making us all CDs with esoteric MP3s derived from various hidden depths of the web. Not all of it is good - he loves a comedy novelty track, or a country & western cover song of 90s rave classics, but you are guaranteed a considered collection of something truly unique.

I asked him when the last time he bought music was - he couldn't recall, although he admits to buying a CD from time to time to give as a gift for birthdays, xmas etc. Largely though he uses HypeMachine and his network of favourite blogs to share new music.

He is reliable, consistent and considered by everyone he knows as an expert in music. He is a maven, one who shares his knowledge with his network. For now this has been confined to his friends and colleagues, but he is considering a blog - where others like him have been able to extend their network around the world.

Though the music industry would label them thieves, mavens are highly valuable. They transcend the tired role of the music critic (whose opinions will remain rooted in the mainstream). In our increasingly fragmented, niche-oriented landscape, the maven can find a voice and and willing audience eager to use them to find their next greatest hit.

22.5.09

Baby, Baby, Baby

A new take on Kylie's "Come Into My World" - though on this occasion its simply down the rue in Paris - and Kylie would never be seen with her baps out!  ... If you squint you can see MaJiKer and I having lunch (at 1'33").


12.5.09

BPM Encore - featuring Camille, Maya Barsony and Benedicte Le Lay

A great little video filmed during the encore of MaJiKer at Nouveau Casino.



5.5.09

MaJiKer - Live at Nouveau Casino


29th April 2009
Nouveau Casino
Paris, France

I have just returned from a great trip to Paris to celebrate the release of Body-Piano-Machine

It was a fitting city for us to hold an event for the release of MaJiKer's album. It is not only the home of the artist, but a backdrop for his soundtrack. When I first experienced his live show last year (at his residency at Sentier des Halles) I was instantly transported into his world - which to me seemed to merge with the sounds of the whole city. Bodies, machines, the occasional piano ...

The Nouveau Casino was a sufficient step from the basement theatre of Sentier des Halles, but MaJiKer demonstrated that his magnificent show can maintain its intimacy. Performing the album nearly in its entirety, the live versions of the songs carry their own mystery - enhanced by the fantastic Bénédicte Le Lay, who contributes vocals, theatre and movement. 

Highlights for me have to be "Wall of Sound" - which has risen to being one of my favourites on the album, along with "The Chase". This was the first track that MaJiKer sent to us last year - and the live version does not disappoint. Building on layers of body percussion the track is the definitive climax of the show.

A final encore saw very special guests Camille and Maya Barsony take to the stage to join Le Lay for a reprise of "BPMantra" - in which they created a medley of their own BPM tracks ("The Pink Piano" and "Le Femme Androide" along with "Flesh & Bone"). Pure bliss.

Body-Piano-Machine is out now on CD and Download.
Get it at the Gaymonkey Shop (with free shipping worldwide) for only £8
or order it at Amazon.co.uk

Image by Sandrine Cellard on Flickr

14.4.09

MaJiKer - Flesh & Bone


This week Gaymonkey releases the first single from the debut solo album by MaJiKer.

"Flesh & Bone" is a stunning piece of music - a mournful love song between a musician and his art. The story within builds on several levels - the metaphor of the piano interspersed with artists introspection of his own mortality. And finally the introduction of the ghostly angel (played by MaJiKer's on-stage collaborator - the fabulous Bénédicte Le Lay).

MaJiKer had already completed the video for the song by the time he approached us to join the label last year. I was instantly impressed - a perfect visual interpretation of the music. The song remains one of my favourites from the album, demonstrating his genius and always leaving me wanting another listen.

You can download "Flesh & Bone" from your favourite MP3 store. It comes with a remix by french electro maestro Leapstick and an exclusive live performance of "Wall of Sound".

MaJiKer is performing in Paris on the 29th of April - visit www.majiker.com for details!



10.4.09

Community Building


I've spent the better part of two weeks trying to sort out some marketing support for MaJiKer. We've been trawling the networks to find someone in France who can compliment the work we are doing to build his fanbase. 

It seems that most people working in music PR are still trying to do things the old way. They think working for an artist means they simply need to send volumes of press releases and albums out to lazy journalists. We know that this is no longer the case - we know how important it is to form a loyal community, and how to nurture it.

Thankfully Seth gave us further wisdom this week to support the approach. And even more thankfully it looks like we have found some energetic, fantastic individuals to help us with our french campaign.

The new approach to marketing is, of course, a hot topic for the music industry - as demonstrated by an email I received from Music Week announcing their latest conference: Making Online Music Pay. For a mere £199 you can attend to hear the experts pass down their wisdom on areas such as "identifying possible uses of social media channels".

One way to make online music pay is to whip together a panel and charge tickets to talk about it. Someone isn't learning their lesson (or alternatively, we're all in the wrong business!). Save your cash - here's some tips:

THE ARTIST IS AT THE CENTRE OF THE COMMUNITY
Work with them - involve them in the marketing strategy. Get them interacting with their fans. Genuinely. Ebb has always written back to the fans that take the time to email him. And MaJiKer is starting to develop an addiction to Twitter. Its easy to interact so just do it.

STOP THROWING AWAY CASH AND INVEST TIME
Advertising to the masses  is like drift net fishing - its a waste of money and you have no control over what you'll catch. Spend the time instead - build a targeted community and earn loyalty.

GET CLOSER TO THE COMMUNITY
Stop relying on a cast of misfits to work for you. The music industry has always put up barriers between the artist/label and the fan/customer. Distribution companies, record stores, managers, PR agencies. Remove the middle man.

THE POWER OF THE LOYAL FEW
Calvin Harris was whinging the other day that Mike Skinner had more Twitter friends than him. Quantity means nothing if your intention is simply to rack up numbers. If you've got volume, are you investing the adequate resource to nurture the community?

GIVE SOMETHING BACK
Your community deserves thanks. So give it to them.

Image by Pete Fletch on Flickr

28.3.09

Added Value (and a Free Drumkit)


Its all about added value these days. The recession makes things tough - and a music industry losing its identity and touch with its "product" makes the situation even worse. If people can get what they want for free, what are the triggers that will make them reach for their wallets? 

Simple - give a little bit more back and watch what happens ...

Like what Josh Freese is doing with his new album - where he has created a scaled value approach to his package. It starts with a digital download of the album at $7 ...

Upgrade to the CD/DVD package at $15. Climb up from there to $50, where Freese will call you himself to discuss the album for 5 minutes. I have no real interest in his music (yet) - but even this prospect entices me. A fantastic, personal - even affordable! - way to give back to his fans. Why stop there when for $75,000 you can get the top of the line limited edition package - which includes, amongst other things, Freese's drum kit and a limo ride to Tijuana.

Fresh, inventive - and as a marketing concept, so much more exciting than a million pound poster campaign. Apparently the $20,000 limited edition package (which includes any 3 items from his closet) is already sold out ...

Image from ianinhertford on Flickr

23.3.09

Measuring Success


The Guardian ran a story a few weeks back on measuring success in the music industry, pondering the question: how we will be able to judge achievement if people won't pay for music?

The piece is actually an exploration of the various revenue streams in the business, focussing on the lucrative (yet unpredictable) synchronisation in TV and video games. The theory is that these deals can stimulate artist popularity, which drives album sales.

So ultimately their premise is still that success should be measured in sterling. Advertisers will pay six figures to license music - does this mean the track or artist is superior to one that has not been synched? If we are moving into an era where music could actually be free to the listener, surely this method is no longer valid? 

Technology affords us the possibility of measuring success differently - the passion index. Last.fm demonstrates this perfectly - counting track plays from listeners around the world - even allowing the user to mark which tracks they love the most. With music, the more you love it, the more you listen - so isn't this the ideal indicator for success?

In an industry at the tipping point of change, its time the entire rule book was thrown out the window.

21.3.09

Entertainment


Been (yet another) really busy couple of weeks, and little time to keep up with all the things that bring one joy. I seem to be amassing quite a backlog of blog worthy tidbits (everything from the Age of Stupid release, to the Guardian's analysis of measures of musical success - more on both later). Thankfully quite a bit of new music has also found its way onto my pod ...

I've been anticipating new albums from both Fischerspooner and Röyksopp for ages now. Its a quandry when you get a double hit of fresh music at once. It only took one listen of each for the dominant album to become apparent.

Hands down my scrobbles have gone to Entertainment by Fischerspooner. I found their last album - Odyssey - to be highly underrated. So fresh and minimal, such clean, perfect electropop. But with an edge of sophistication and experimentation clearly lacking from the contemporaries that beat them to the chart positions. 

Where some may have initially criticised the group as an indulgence in theatre-turned-pop, or flavour of the month electroclash, Fischerspooner have demonstrated their resilience. Having split from their major label I wondered if we would see more of them - and thankfully they return with an album that is instantly delicious and difficult to switch off.

Entertainment follows on where their last effort left off. Its a logical progression, but one that builds on their songwriting craft. Echoes of early Depeche Mode ("In A Modern World") and OMD ("To The Moon") give a nostalgic edge to the work, but the sublime, crisp production keeps it firmly grounded in the now. Perfect pop like previous Kitsuné single "The Best Revenge" only affirms their pop sensibility, while the pseudo-shoegazer tones of "We Are Electric" demonstrate that they continue to push the boundaries of the niche.

There are hints of recycled themes here (including what I am convinced is the slowed down riff from "Emerge" in "Money Can't Dance") and politics disguised within the musings of Casey Spooner. And though his vocals are at times veiled in production the entire package works tirelessly. 

As for Röyksopp's Junior - an initial disappointment that will stay on the shelf for awhile longer I'm afraid.

8.3.09

Introducing the Pet Shop Boys ... for Every Daily Mail Reader ...


I caught a TV ad yesterday afternoon for what appeared to be a Pet Shop Boys greatest hits compilation - featuring a bonus new track. The resolution of the videos seemed rather cheap and the track selection obvious - but this was not directing us to follow up the Pets' Brit Award by picking up Pop Art or Discography. We simply need to buy today's Mail on Sunday to collect our free CD.

Clearly someone has lost the plot. 

We know that Middle England loves the gays. Well, as long as they remain a safe distance, aren't having sex, stay away from our children, and camp it up in the style of Graham Norton or Michael Barrymore. But how hypocritical is it for The Mail unleash their vile homophobia throughout the week, only to reward readers with a free gift on the weekend from openly gay artists?

And what is Parlophone's strategy? How much have they spent on the cover mount deal (not to mention the prime time TV ad slots) to promote their celebrated act to the conservative middle class? If the intention is to market the artist to the widest group possible in advance of the Pets' new album, then I propose that the team at Parlophone go back to marketing school.

Partnership deals between the press and labels are now the norm - you almost expect your complimentary CD or DVD with the weekend papers now. But like any brand association, if the two products don't relate, the consumer will fail to develop trust with either brand - and the marketing is therefore ineffective.

I can't imagine that the Pet Shop Boys sanctioned this relationship. I hope heads will roll at Parlophone on Monday morning.