Marketing and Music

For a long time, I wanted to work in the music industry, but as I networked my way closer to it, I quickly realized – and several people told me straight out – that if you're really passionate about music, the music industry isn't necessarily the best place to be.   Let's be honest – it is called the music "business" or "industry" for good reason.   So I've kept my interest in music personal – just being a fan – while turning marketing into my profession.  Considering the condition of the music business right now, it was probably a smart choice.

However, this means that I still find it interesting to learn about what is going on in the music industry and how music gets marketed.   This morning, a few good articles came across my inbox and thought I'd share and comment on them.

First is one called "The Art of the Gimmick" that is about the successful marketing that the band KISS has done over the years.   I really don't agree with her view that rock n' roll had become like a "pair of old shoes" in the late 60's.  Considering that the late 60's and early 70's is a period of robust creativity – The Who came out with "Tommy" in 1968 and "Who's Next" in 1971.   Rolling Stones had "Let it Bleed" in 1969 and "Sticky Fingers" in 1971.  There were also seminal albums from Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and on and on.  In fact, now that I really think about it, this blogger isn't even thinking right – the "old comfortable shoes" statement is just downright WRONG. 

But I understand what she was trying to set-up: how successful KISS was at creating a "hook" (probably a better name than "gimmick") and parlaying that into commercial success over four decades now.  I think you could easily make the argument that KISS has simply become a merchandise machine, really not focusing on the music at all.

But that was then, and this is now, and the music world has changed, especially on the business side of things.  Record store chains have closed, and sales are way down.  Things have moved online and music has become so easy to get that it has arguably lost some of its value.  But there are people out there trying to be creative in getting music into the hands of fans. 

First is this list of "10 Weird Ways to Distribute Music" from Wired magazine.  I haven't personally obtained any music in any of these interesting manners, but I'm sure it is just a matter of time.

Second is this very interesting article about Radiohead's manager working with two other partners to create a venture that is designed to help develop artists and bands by investing in them and guiding them to success.  Smart, I think – it gives the artist the capital they need to perform the functions that a traditional record label would have done if they could get signed, but can't because labels are only looking to work with the biggest sellers.  

The most intriguing part to me was the last sentence: "Meanwhile, EMI, a major label, is unbundling music services such as touring and merchandise and making them available to bands that are not signed to their label."  I did a visible double take after reading it.  This is a major label rethinking how it goes to market and realizing that the old model doesn't work, but there is still a demand for its services.  It is something to keep an eye on to see if it is successful or not.