January 21, 2009

Content Analysis: National Australia Bank’s Songwriting Competition

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , at 12:02 am by Andrew McMillen

National Australia Bank (NAB) debuted a songwriting competition in April 2008 to commemorate 150 years’ banking service. In their words, it’s “initiative designed to inspire, unearth, and educate Australia’s next generation of great song writer”.

Awesome! Let’s examine their execution.

Their method of presentation is out-dated, very web 1.0, if you will. The competition barriers presented are very limiting, especially for the lyrics section – “write lyrics to one of these three songs”. No streaming video; very little interaction between those who wish to enter and what the company is trying to represent.

It’s all very static. “This is the world we’ve defined, these are the rules, play within them or get lost.”

Hilariously, they ask for all entries to be mailed as a playable audio CD to a physical address. How very 90s. NAB are a bank with access to huge resources. Why couldn’t they source a vendor to build a MP3 uploader? Or commission a YouTube channel (or equivalent) solely for entrants to submit their songs in video form? This would allow them to see the songs being played live and to judge the marketability of each entrant.

But now I’m thinking outside of the confines of the competition, which exists primarily to find and promote songwriting talent. Not whether or not the artist is attractive or performs well in front of a camera.

The site is very vague with regard to the competition terms.

Get your song recorded in a major recording studio.” Which one, with which producer?

Win the opportunity to have the song performed live at a major Melbourne music event, late 2008.” Which one?

These are important questions that any serious entrant would want answered before they devote their time to the project. Why would a writer of a plaintive, introspective acoustic guitar-accompanied piece want to record with, for example, an electronic producer? Similarly, wouldn’t the same performer be discouraged from entering if NAB stated that the song would only be played between bands at a dance music festival?

It’s this ambiguity that robs the competition of a clear goal. It’s as if it were defined from a high-level, upper management perspective, and the marketing department couldn’t organise the specifics in time for the project launch. And then the content wasn’t updated once these decisions were made.

This is a real flaw; it makes the whole exercise appear as a self-serving, NAB-centric exercise instead of focussing on the artistic talents that they’re attempting to promote.

Community and sharing are what’s missing. Having the competition judged by four music industry ‘experts’ (plus a bank manager – wtf?) is fine to an extent, but very old-school thinking. And very web 1.0. Music is evolving online at a far greater rate than most labels can adapt. Hence CD sales diving, the increased popularity of digital downloads, the massive exposure gained by bands whose fanbases existed online before any label had heard of them (Arctic Monkeys, Black Kids, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, you know)…

So for them to seal off the competition so tightly is a major missed opportunity. No interactivity, no user rating, no user commenting.

The primary competition could still exist in this format, but NAB could also have an off-shoot for ‘fan’s choice’ or ‘blogger’s choice’, wherein Australian music bloggers are sourced to critique entrants’ work.

The Judging Panel page is also very static. Okay, so this Ian James guy has “credible and intimate knowledge of the Australian music business that is second to none” – link me to more of his work. I want to read his blog. He doesn’t have one? Then why is he on the panel?

There was a time and a place for these reputable, experienced figures within the Australian music industry. But if they’re not actively engaging with the Australian music community via the internet – blogging, starting discussions with fans, sharing their thoughts on what’s occurring within such a crucial entertainment industry – then they are not relevant. This point is hugely important to me: I’m easily irritated by high-level theoretical bullshit when it comes to music.

The only relevant dude on the panel is Paul Anthony, CEO of Rumblefish, a company aimed at “bringing a creative, financial and legal perspective to any licensing project with music from a pre-cleared catalog of handpicked artists”.

Interesting concept, and it seems to be succeeding. It certainly demands further study. Here’s an article from May 2005 profiling Anthony and Rumblefish. An excerpt:

Then Anthony hooked up with Neal Stewart, brand manager for Pabst Brewing’s resurgent Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, for what became the first test of Anthony’s bigger idea of music identity. Because PBR wanted to maintain a kind of grass-roots image — and also because its marketing budget was lean — the brand wanted to be associated not with hit songs but with up-and-coming local bands that connected with its product. Rumblefish researched the music scenes in two markets, Kansas City and Cleveland, identified a handful of appropriate bands, and executed a quasi-underground program that involved helping those artists cut singles (in PBR-branded packaging) that they could sell or give away as promotions. That way PBR was positioned as a supporter of local indie music — a part of the scene rather than just some outsider trying to exploit it.

If I were serious about establishing NAB as a committed “grass roots” backer of Australian’s music by differentiating from competitors and connecting to the younger generation, I’d:

  • Get several popular indie labels on board (Modular, Speak N Spell, Eleven, Ivy League, Mistletone, Inertia, Elefant Traks, Dew Process, Plus One etc) with partnership deals
  • Recruit passionate fans of bands on these labels to initiate discussions within popular Australian music portals – FasterLouder, inthemix, Mess+Noise etc. This one is hard, because it has to be believable and not fabricated; it also introduces a conflict of interests into the equation, as fans will want to assist artists they like, but might not want to be seen as being involved with a corporate agenda
  • Recruit popular/relevant artists from those indie labels to appear as guests or judges or anything associated with the project. This lends social proof: as long as a project or initiative is genuine, worth supporting and is associated with musicians that I respect, I’d give it my attention
  • Book an associated promotional tour featuring bands from the indie labels. Include the website link on the tour artwork, but don’t ask bands to mention the project/initiative: if they believe in it, they will mention it without being prodded. The promotional nature of the tour should not deter fans from attending, as long as the line-up is attractive. See: MySpace Secret Shows, which are thoroughly covered with MySpace advertising but the kids don’t care because they’re knowingly partaking in an online social movement.
  • Contact the top hundred or five hundred Australian music bloggers and give them access to everyone associated with the project. Community involvement is essential: employ someone to personally contact each of these writers, and monitor and respond to every conversation that they start
  • Film every element of planning and execution associated with the project and publish online
  • Write about every element of planning and execution associated with the project and publish online
Advertisements

6 Comments

  1. Theory: Banks and songs/music/popular culture do not mix.
    Proof: http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=0qAuqq1LFnU
    Conclusion: Banks and songs/music/popular culture do not mix.

  2. Or give away money. Free money.

  3. Mike Brown said,

    I think NAB are a bit weary of Web 2.0 and all that jazz after the My Future Bank/UBank mess late last year (http://www.itnews.com.au/News/86711,nab-accused-of-dishonesty-by-social-media-commentators.aspx)

  4. Lifeboat said,

    “The Judging Panel page is also very static. Okay, so this Ian James guy has “credible and intimate knowledge of the Australian music business that is second to none” – link me to more of his work. I want to read his blog. He doesn’t have one? Then why is he on the panel?”

    Maybe he has a life and doesn’t have the time to draw the internet community’s attention to his ill-informed and juvenile opinions…

  5. Nick Drewe said,

    Great post, and great ideas. Too bad NAB will probably never read them.

    I guess Ian James must be Lifeboat. Lol, what is the “internet community” anyway?

  6. Spoofed Up Jimmy said,

    Why couldn’t they source a vendor to build a MP3 uploader? Or commission a YouTube channel (or equivalent) solely for entrants to submit their songs in video form?…

    You can buy really fkn good php YouTube clone software for $200. These NAB twats are nothing but a bunch of white collar business criminals that need to be thrown screaming from a helicopter, like they’d have any grasp on using technology to make life easier. It’s makes me happy to see their share price going down like a priest on a boy with a chubby arse like jelly on springs.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: