February 14, 2009

Brand Memory, Addendum

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , at 7:00 pm by Andrew McMillen

Brand marketing lesson: it’s just as quick and easy to disappoint your fans as it is to satisfy them.

In this case, it’s as quick and easy as an errant article appearing at the top of a news feed.

My previous post discussing RHUM‘s great personal touch is now overshadowed by the first sentence I read upon loading their site today.

Screenshot of RHUM homepage, 14 Feb 2009 (click to enlarge)

Screenshot of RHUM homepage, 14 Feb 2009 (click to enlarge)

See it?

Headline: “Girls I’ve Had Sex With“.

Great! If I were visiting with Penthouse Confessions in mind, or Tucker Max, or the zillion other smut repositories online.

Awful! If I were visiting the site for some well-written critique on Australian youth culture. You know, music, the arts, film.

That’s why I visited the site. For good, relevant content. Not for the infantile scrawl of some punk who wants to share his sexcapades under a pseudonym.

RHUM is an Australian web publication targeting creative youths. Their mission statement:

RHUM – Rabbit Hole Urban Media – is a non for profit arts-media organisation. RHUM works together with musicians, writers, visual artists and all sorts of other like-minded creatives as well as events, gigs and festivals Australia wide; connecting the peeps with all that is worth a read, ramble and a bit of showing off too.

RHUM, ball = dropped.

Sure, there’s a place for that kind of content within the guidelines stated above (“..a bit of showing off too”).

But – front page?

First item?

Is this the kind of image you want to portray?

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

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.

October 20, 2008

Website review: Time Off Magazine

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , , , at 11:55 pm by Andrew McMillen

Imagine that you run a free weekly music publication. A pretty popular one named Time Off, that’s read widely across Brisbane, a city home to 1.8 million. You recently got bought out by – sorry, merged with – Street Press Australia, who own several similar publications across the country. You decide to upgrade the magazine’s website, which has become outdated.

You’ve got two options: fast, easy and crappy, or slow, meticulous and attractive.

Which option do you think Time Off chose?

Time Off Magazine website screenshot, 20 October 2008

Time Off Magazine website screenshot, 20 October 2008. Click for full size.

I think it’s pretty obvious. 

It’s an out-of-the-box, CMS-based site with minimal focus on design. Okay, fair enough; not every site needs to be eye-catching, so long as it gets the job done, right?

Unfortuntately, the redeveloped Time Off site fails to get the job done. Content is cumbersome and slapped onto the site directly from the latest printed issue with little rhyme or reason. 

Mysterious capital letters abound throughout the site’s content. Album reviews are awarded SEO-unfriendly URLs, and they’re grouped per-issue on the same page. Nice one.

Two live reviews from last week’s issue – #1395, 15 October 2008 – are attached to the same article named ‘Feedback’, which is the name of the live review section in the print magazine. The fact that they opted to devote that issue’s entire Feedback section to 2000 words about the Time Off-sponsored Sounds Of Spring festival is another discussion. What’s more, that review was part one; part two will be printed in #1396. Can’t wait.

Clicking the top-level Time Off item on the site’s menu results in the following page, cleverly named ‘Rock’:

 Rock

Wow, useful! When were these articles published? Let’s click one to find out. Gig guide, sure. Oh, another page, that lists those three associated articles. Two named ‘gig guide’ and one named ‘venue guide’, all authored by ‘Webmaster’. I’m really glad that it shows me how many ‘hits’ each article has! Unsurprisingly, the gig guides are pasted in a plaintext format that’s needlessly difficult to process.

Okay, so their content sucks, and it’s evident that no one within Time Off gives half a crap enough to check for consistency, or anything resembling quality control. That’s fine, I didn’t really want to use the website much anyway.

But after clicking around a bit, I uncovered some truly awful content that I must paste for posterity, as they’ll surely change it once someone decides to actually.. I don’t know.. look at their fucking website.

This is under the readership section. Subtitle: Who are our readers?

Time Off readers are divided equally between male and female.

Time Off readers are predominantly aged between 17– 30 but the nature of the industry and the refusal of bands such as Rose Tattoo to call it a day suggest readers will more often than not continue to pick up SPA publications well into their 40’s.

Time Off readers are avid consumers of music, entertainment and technological devices and products. They own iPods, Blackberrys, video game consoles, Macs, Laptops, Wiis, records, record players, Mobile Phones, DVDs and MP3s. Their need to have the latest model/product available coupled with the urge to spend rather than save sees readers replacing said items as frequently as once every 6 months.

Time Off readers have access to the internet both at work and at home, on which most time is spent accessing websites of bands and performers, shopping online, watching video clips on You Tube and blogging about how the band they saw play last night changed their life…. or destroyed it.

Time Off readers go to shows, get their hair cut, buy new jeans, are addicted to coffee, see films, occasionally turn up to Uni and party hard. And wherever they are doing these things, SPA publications are within reach.

Time Off readers are a product of a consumer driven age where brand awareness has taken place of literacy and social etiquette. They were born in the ‘80s when greed was good and they know what they want and when they want it, which is sooner rather than later. This puts them and their peers ahead of their game.

Time Off readers have one best friend that never lies – the mirror. They preen, puff, spray, squeeze, flash and luck all in the name of fashion. They buy what they don’t need and are willing to try anything once if it’s considered hip, regardless of cost.

Time Off readers are educated and informed. They value substance over transparency and integrity over wit. The wool is not often pulled over their eyes.

Nevermind that it’s the most awkwardly-worded piece of copy you’ve read this month, possibly this year. Nevermind that nobody at Time Off cared enough to edit out all the instances of ‘SPA publications‘.

No – most of all, I’m genuinely disgusted that Time Off, or moveover, Street Press Australia felt it necessary to attempt to classify their readership using some broad, sweeping statements that are neither funny nor accurate. I’m not sure which outcome is more disturbing – the fact that someone was commissioned to do a half-arsed hack-and-paste job to create content just for the sake of it, or that the above paragraphs made their way onto the site apparently without quality control.

What a fucking shambles.

Hey, Time Off. This is 2008. People use the internet all the time; they check your website, and if it sucks, you’re going to get called out about it. Invest the time and money into planning a genuine strategy for the website to complement the printed magazine, or don’t do it at all.

The old site sucked too, but at least it didn’t describe me as someone who “preens, puffs, sprays, squeezes, flashes and lucks”. 

The bullshit readership copy quoted above was at least partially correct, though: I’m educated and informed. I value substance over transparency and integrity over wit. The wool is not often pulled over my eyes.

So who the fuck are you trying to kid, Time Off?

Disclosure: I write for fellow Brisbane street press Rave Magazine – who have a functional, attractive and well-utilised website – and I work for a Brisbane-based web development company. The sentiments expressed above are my own, and should not be attributed to any entity other than myself.