January 27, 2009

Design By Humans’ Music Series: Fleetwood Mac

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 11:37 pm by Andrew McMillen

User-generated shirt design website Design By Humans have partnered with Fleetwood Mac for an upcoming world tour:

Taking a page out of rock n’ roll’s history book of music icons, DBH will be partnering with bands that span the spectrum from the great classics of all time to the hottest emerging musical artists today. Packed with tons of cool prizes and a chance for worldwide recognition, the DBH Music Series brings a whole new level to the world of t-shirt design contests.

First prize: $1500 cash, $200 DBH store credit, and 2 backstage passes to a Fleetwood Mac concert with an opportunity to meet the band.

Nevermind that Fleetwood Mac aren’t cool anymore – this is a great example of an industry dinosaur adapting to the community-based nature of the web. Hot Chip ran a similar contest in conjunction with Threadless, though the winning shirt was only available online.

No tandem announcement on the band’s website, which is a missed opportunity. While DBH would have a sizeable database, how many of those are fans of the ‘Mac? Though, maybe they’re not necessarily targeting fans of the band: the chance for your design to appear behind the merch desk of a hugely popular band’s world tour is a unique proposition.

But it shouldn’t be.

Artists across the world should buy into the opportunity to foster community participation in their merchandising decisions. Advertise, outsource talent, and encourage your fanbase to vote and comment on the result.

Unhappy with the designs presented by local artists? Advertise online describing the look you’re after, and see what comes back. A fan on the other side of the world might have kick-ass shirt ideas and the talent to deliver. So why bother with the same tired plain-colour-with-chest-logo formula that many bands still follow?

Interesting, non-standard shirt designs attract attention. I wear Threadless and, more recently, DBH designs because they’re far more remarkable than the marginally modified crap that popular Australian labels churn out each season. They stand out, so you get noticed. Which is great, if that’s your goal.

Furthermore, I know that the design I’m wearing was made by a person who was rewarded for their efforts. That’s how Threadless and DBH work: you submit a design, and if it gets printed, you get paid in cash and store credit. And your name (or pseudonym) is attributed to your work, which appears online and on the neck of the shirt.

All of these factors add to the stickiness of user-generated clothing designs. They’re worth sharing, which adds to your brand equity. People talk about your brand. The successful designers are happy because they’re rewarded for their talents. They show their friends and family. They promote their work on their personal websites.

All of these factors create a community – a tribe – around your brand. A group who’re happy to champion your cause and improve the quality of the result. If that’s not your goal as a company in 2009, it should be: maximise returns by engaging with and listening to your userbase.

I’m glad that Design By Humans are working with popular musicians to form tribes around their merchandising, which is an area of fiscal pertinence in an era of diminishing returns on recorded work. For all but the biggest bands, it’s no longer a matter of selling albums: instead, the goal is to maximise the amount of ears that hear your work in order to encourage tour attendance.

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January 21, 2009

I download music. So what?

Posted in Music tagged , , , , at 11:41 pm by Andrew McMillen

Okay, this.

According to data released by IFPI Communications in the UK this week, it is estimated that more than 40 billion illegal downloads of songs occurred during 2008.

While digital downloads accounted for revenues of around $3.7 billion last year, it is estimated than more than 95% of downloads are still via illegal means.

Yeah. So?

I hear a new artist, or existing artist’s new release on the radio or on MySpace or on YouTube or in street press or through a friend recommendation.

I immediately check whether I can acquire the mp3s, through a variety of channels that I won’t divulge here. If I can – awesome. Download immediately, save to disk; in most cases, transfer to iPod. Then:

Listen to music. Do I like?

If yes:

  • Tell friends to listen to music
  • Attend show if they tour – most often in a reviewing capacity
  • Bring friends to show
  • Buy album (in rare cases)
  • Buy merch (in even rarer cases)

If no:

  • Tell friends not to listen to music
  • Do not listen to music

This is how I’ve operated for over a year. I’ve written about this before.

Impress me, or get the hell out of my ears. There’s simply too much good music out there to waste even a couple of minutes listening to a poor, or even an average song.

It’s 2009. The above data should not be surprising. I doubt that many musicians dare to dream of making a decent full-time living from their craft. Competition grows stronger each day, and attention gets diverted further.

I download music regularly. This is my musical microeconomy. What’s yours?

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

November 12, 2008

Notes on Q Music’s PR, Promotion and Marketing Workshop

Posted in Music tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:54 pm by Andrew McMillen

I attended Q Music‘s workshop at the Troubadour last night. The topic was music promotion, marketing and public relations; speakers included Brent Hampstead (Media Hammer), Jo Nilsen (Butcher Birds), Megan Reeder (Secret Service/Dew Process) and Kellie Lloyd (Q Music/Screamfeeder). The venue was filled with seated bodies, mostly youngsters, who were privy to some valuable advice from the four experienced industry representatives.

What follows is a series of notes I took in chronological order. It’s best to take each paragraph as a separate thought, though they are all joined under the umbrella of music promotion, marketing and public relations. My interjections are italicised.

Introduction: marketing your music incorporates promotion and publicity.

Steps as an artist:

Record some music.

Decide whether you’re distribute it online or in physical form.

Write a marketing plan with specific targets. Budget? Street press goals? MySpace? Pitching to radio station? How do you plan to spend your budget?

Decide and arrange how you wish to present your image as an artist. Use a creative photographer. 

Conduct a cohesive launch of your product into the market.

Create a community from a grassroots level – since that’s where you’ll be starting.

Don’t overcommunicate your message; people have their own lives.

Andrew: If they’re willing to take the time to listen to your music, that’s great. If they’re willing to reach out and communicate with you, that’s amazing. I don’t think enough time was spent discussing this. Getting a person to hear your music in an accomplishment. Being remarkable enough for a person – not a friend, family member, or acquaintance – to take the time to add you as a friend, send you a message, give you feedback on your creative output – that’s incredible. That’s to be cherished. It’s the equivalent of a person stopping you in the street and commenting on your appearance. That shit rarely happens. If I were a musician, I would not take my first fan for granted. The first ten. The first hundred, the first thousand. Attention is a scarce resource, and I think this is absolutely worth keeping in mind.

Personalise your responses to any feedback or thanks, wherever possible. To be successful and valuable at any level of media, ensure that you engage in personal, polite and professional feedback.

Acquire or subscribe to the Australasian Music Industry Directory (AMID). This contains key information that you’d otherwise spent hours Googling. Brent mentioned that the importance of the AMID was one of the strongest take-away points.

Electronic press kits aren’t used much anymore. Instead, press releases via email – bio, photo, compressed mp3.

Mailing physical copies of your recorded CDs is a waste of valuable merch money. These products are just added to a pile in an office and are easily ignored.

Megan suggested targeting blogs before street press. She didn’t really expand on this. Jo mentioned Before Hollywood, Is By Bus and Turn It Up To Ten.

Megan explained that Dew Process have people devoted to digital content creation and maintaining interest in their artists, through MySpace updates, video blogs, regular content to reminder each artist’s fanbase of their activity.

Brent stated that you should think about online content as early as possible. Record and document as much as you can, as you’ll never know when you’ll want or need it. Andrew: This is an important point that they didn’t really dwell on – this generation has greater access to information and the ability to record and publish than any other. The cost of storage and data is constantly decreasing. Take advantage of this.

Brent mentioned Short Stack as a great example of a band who have built a strong online community around them which has translated into success, popularity, tours and a record deal.

Some web companies will provide content for free. Jo mentioned Moshcam, who’ll record your show (in Sydney) and provide you with a DVD recording free of charge. Andrew: This sounds a little hard to believe and requires further investigation.

LastFM, FasterLouder, Mess+Noise, FourThousand and The Dwarf were all mentioned as valuable online resources and communities that should be leveraged on a local, national and international level.

How do you attract people to your site, or your online community? This relates to setting out a coherent marketing plan. Target, in order: blogs, street press, newspapers, community radio, JJJ, television.. solidify each community before moving on. Andrew: They forgot to state that this takes time and requires patience, and dedication. But I guess that goes without saying.

Prepare a biography that tells a story. How do you want to be presented? Answer the obvious questions – how you met, where the name came from – to avoid these being repeated in interviews. Though you’ll always get writers who have under-researched. Brent stated that your bio needs a hook – you need to give someone a reason to want to read about you.

Print media runs on two types of lead times: long and short. Bigger publications such as Rolling Stone and Jmag tend to set a deadline six weeks in advance for the majority of content. Street press generally run on a one or two week lead time. Online is shorter again, due to the ability to quickly turn around content. Andrew: I just discovered that Rolling Stone Australia has no online presence. What a missed opportunity.

Set a release date for your product – single, EP, album, gig – and work backwards from that point. Stick to it. Plan ahead so that you’re not caught out. Organise marketing efforts – remember, this incorporates promotion and publicity.

With regard to street press – don’t hound them. Politely request interviews, reviews, features. They’re generally nice, but constantly under pressure to turn content around on a weekly (in the case of Rave, Time Off and Scene) or monthly (Tsunami) basis. The best way to get your name out is to gig regularly and be heard. Social proof! Again, Brent stated the importance of personalised invitations – in the mail, if you’re willing to go to the effort, since it will often be appreciated. Email costs nothing and takes little time.

Extensive discussion which indicated that Richard Kingsmill decides whether you’re played on JJJ and effectively holds the keys to your national career. No one commented on how sad this is. Brent cracked a joke about how JJJ is taxpayer-funded: if you’re a taxpayer, it is your right to be played on the station! Though perhaps you’ll require greater tact than this to improve your chances.

Create a network of friends – interstate bands, radio announcers, street press and blog writers. If they like you, they’ll become your champion. Andrew: This is absolutely true. Word of mouth musical recommendations are still my biggest influence; if the word’s coming from a respected or esteemed mouth, then I’m highly likely to listen.

Being a musician is a constant juggling act: releases, gigs, merch, press, radio. Brent stressed the importance of multiple impressions across as many media as possible. Be relentless! But don’t overcommunicate. The more impressions that you’ve got circulating out there, the more potential eyeballs and ears to see and hear your output.

Advice on approaching bands, promoters, street press, radio, or anyone throughout your life in general -just ask. Put yourself out there. Be tenacious, and sneaky on occasion. If you’re serious about making this work – what the hell are you holding back for?

Advice on the music industry in general – be meticulous, patient, and prepared. Always.

Andrew: Hopefully this’ll be of some use to those who missed out, or whoever stumbles across these notes in the future. The above summarises the thoughts and opinions of four music industry figures in late 2008. It’ll be interesting to look back on this post in 12 months’ time.