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."


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.


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.



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.