Here’s a tip for getting more content on your blog: Interview smart people. Case in point, I was checking the profiles of some of the people I follow on Twitter, and I clicked on @REBlogGirl’s profile, which says she does “Something Something at a Major Record Label.” I had to learn more, so I DMed Mary and she told she works with artists on reputation management as well as social media and mobile marketing. As we all know, I am a big music marketing nerd, so I begged Mary to let me interview her, and she was gracious enough to share the following with us:
Mary: You know this is such a great question because we self identify in different ways with different brands and even with different personalities and most of that is due to the ways in which those things reach us through media channels.
For example: Justin Beiber had a huge following on YouTube long before he signed with label and produced his first album. He was his own marketing machine. He marketed himself as a human being and as a talent through mostly cover songs. It wasn’t really his music he was showcasing at the time, it was his talent and himself. We identified with Justin himself and his talent. That made it easier for us to start identifying with his original music once he was signed and had a produced album and singles. His brand is authentic, delivered in his own words through a very personal Youtube channel.
On the other hand take someone like Britney Spears that has had the full media power and protection of labels, studios and PR teams since she was a child. She reached us through the mass media and the PR machine of a major record label. Her brand is wholly different from Justin’s we identify with her and her talent but she never really spoke to us one on one and pushed her own talent, music brand. When we think of Britney we think of her videos, her songs, her album, not her personality. We see her as a parent company to her endorsed products/merchandise (perfumes and Candies clothing lines), her albums and songs and her tours. We see her life played out through tabloids and magazines in the words of others. Her brand is very produced and managed. That’s not to say we don’t love her any less than Justin, but we see her as slightly more mysterious and question the authenticity more.
Why did I wax on about the difference between the fame machines of Justin and Britney – because they really aren’t any different from the marketing behind brands like Virgin or Pepsi. Both companies that have done great jobs at marketing themselves through personalities… When we think Virgin, we think Richard Branson. When we think Pepsi we think their long line of famous spokespeople from Michael Jackson to Britney Spears. And in those ways, we are fans of brands. We have loyalties to brands. You could never get me to switch from Coke to Pepsi or trade my Mac in for a PC. I identify those brands with personalities and ideals I cling to in the same ways I cling to the traits of artists I identify with.
We find connection and authenticity where it is presented to us. It’s the quality of marketing behind any brand that personalizes it, gives it a face and an ideal we can relate to. When you think Ford, do you think American values? When you think Disney, do you think smiling kids? When you think Jessica Simpson, do you think adorably dumb? All these brands have coupled themselves to a concept or value that resonates with people on personal levels. Good brands and good celebrities do this. There are rock stars out there that fail to differentiate themselves just like there are brands that fail at this. Consider how many pop stars you have to occasional wonder “What ever happened to?” about. Those are brands that failed to differentiate and maintain their markets.
So, in answer to the question, no, rockstars as a group are not better at authentically engaging fans. Some rockstars just know how to market better than others. Britney Spears is the Pepsi of Rockstars – she has a good product, a recognizable brand and cash in the coiffeurs to spend on the marketing necessary to launch an album or a perfume successfully.
Mack: Social Media Marketing or Mobile Marketing. Which will be bigger for artists in 2011?
Mary: Mobile’s big year is still a few years out by all accounts, but with more smart phones in the market than ever before, it shouldn’t be long before social and mobile meet to offer artists something unique. The idea of the social entertainment checkin is what everyone is talking about. Imagine being able to checkin in at a not just a location but a concert itself, or to check in on Vevo or Hulu when you watch a video or movie. The value that offers marketers, viewers (who can engage with other fans virtually and online) and simultaneously share is really very interesting. That day is not too far off, not with Facebook and Google both trying to leverage their place based applications on mobile devices.
However, the key for artists right now is to leverage their fan base with exclusive content they drip through channels like Facebook, Twitter, Vevo, mobile ads on Pandora and in app advertising that allow the distribution of exclusive content that drives sales through to their itunes, endorsement and tour properties. Mobile, at least for now, can be best leveraged for download and concert sales. Social on the other hand needs to be leveraged for engagement and the building of personal and brand equity. Small to mid sized artists need to use their social channels to engage with fans in controlled ways – over engagements creates a false sense of connectivity one cannot maintain over times, but real occasional question and answer format or thanks for retweeting are really valuable. You never want to create a false expectation that you will answer all your fans – that would be impossible but by creating a standardized format for regular engagement you can manage the expectation of your fan base. Contests and Q&A sessions are the easiest and most effective engagement tools.
Example: Katy Perry Fire Work Contest
Mack: So do you get to go touring with an artists? What are your days like?
Mary: I don’t tour with artists – I just help them manage their reputation online so fans can be engaged in positive events in their lives, their endorsed products and tour rather than on negativity. For example, should someone (not mentioning any names here) think it might be edgy to post a photo of themselves half or wholly naked on Twitter, I work to make sure those images get dispatched quickly. I also help artists and their PR teams build engaged social presences on Facebook, Myspace, YouTube and Twitter and make sure these channels work together for a common goal – to sell merchandise, tickets, downloads and albums. The real key here is to manage the expectation of the fan when it comes to engagement. Making sure an artist can communicate effectively and authentically with their fans is important and making sure the fans understand how the artist shares and how they like to engage is really critical to the success of their social profiles.
Example: Lady GaGa’s Facebook page is booming with activity. She personally shares exclusive insight into her thoughts and life and wants to truly engage with her fan base, but her page makes it clear through the content she shares she is an unbelievably busy woman. That is what manages the expectation for the fan.
Mack: What’s the next ‘big thing’ in music marketing?
Mary: While everyone has had their eye on Spotify, I think the smartest thing the music industry has done is really build out Vevo. Based on the Hulu model, Vevo has really taken off. It serves exclusive content, hosts all the artists videos in one unified label owned place and is driving in more people than Hulu! What Universal CEO, Doug Morris said last yeat at launch, still rings true today, “What we’re really doing is taking back control of everything…this is really like MTV on steroids. We’re starting with that kind of audience. But now we’re in control of it. We don’t have to go through a middleman anymore.” The premium content model is leveraging fan base against both artist brand and artist product to deliver exactly what the fan wants – the ON DEMAND ALL ACCESS PASS to their favorite artist. It’s a simple model and it is working on Vevo. I see this as the way labels and artist can survive in the face of piracy, faltering 360 Deals and crumbling recorded music sales infrastructure.
Yowza! Thanks again to @REBlogGirl (who’s secret identity is Mary McKnight) for dropping that music marketing smartitude on us. Do me a big favor and please follow Mary on Twitter, and subscribe to her blog.
bronwen torc says
I am astonished at how the music industry continues to pretend it is serving music fans. The comments in this interview about VEVO are astonishing in their inaccuracy. To see what the real figures are, via Alexa, and what that means in terms of usability of VEVO, go here: http://bit.ly/bFXb5V
You will see that people run away from VEVO in droves because it is nowhere near as good as MySpace, and not even in the same elite galaxy as YouTube.
Mack Collier says
Hey Bronwen! Thanks for the comment and I will defer to Mary’s expertise when it comes to VEVO.
As for Alexa, I will say that Alexa’s reputation as a service to accurate gauge website traffic is not very good. I used to track the Top 25 Marketing Blogs a few years ago using Alexa, and I saw for myself how inaccurate Alexa was. I would have surges in traffic that SiteMeter would record, that Alexa never picked up on. Then suddenly, Alexa would claim my site had a major spike in traffic one day, when traffic for that day was actually flat.
Granted, it seems to do a better job with larger sites, but usually when you see traffic of larger sites being reported, they site ComScore or Compete far more frequently than Alexa.
bronwen torc says
If we were worried about a couple of percent differential then, obviously, we could use a variety of sources to help make a qualified determination.
That is not the case here. VEVO is hugely inadequate when compared to other services. To be 300% worse has little to do with Alexa versus ComScore. Even if Alexa was 50% out, that could mean VEVO is still 200% worse or, if the alternate numbers swing the other way, VEVO becomes 400% worse!
Of course, anyone can provide other figures if they like but my guess is they will reflect the same huge gap in appeal for VEVO.
Mary McKnight says
Mack, Thanks so much for including me in this! This was a true pleasure and the questions were really thought provoking and fun to answer. hope it helps people to understand how the music industry is leveraging artist brands over online channels and how important that premium content model will be to labels and the industry as a whole in the future.
Mack Collier says
Thank you Mary, the pleasure was all mine, and as I said, I want your job! 😉
Mary McKnight says
Actually, if youread my music posts, I was a critic of vevo, however the numbers from ComScore and other tools show:
In five months, the property—Vevo.com and channels on YouTube, AOL and various CBS sites—has surged, hitting 44 million unique users in April, according to comScore. That’s a larger audience than Hulu, which Vevo also beats on some time-spent metrics, such as average minutes per video.
The engagement metrics on Vevo are actually very high, surprisingly so. UMG itself has walked away from MTV talks. Vevo’s traffic appears to have been driven largely by users searching for specific artists’ music videos (89 percent of its audience comes from YouTube), but the site is doubling down on original content. Having already launched half a dozen original series, including a short-form program spotlighting hot DJs, at least 15 more programs are in development for the 2010-2011 time frame. David Kohl, Vevo’s evp, sales & customer operations, said that several broadcasters already have expressed interest in licensing Vevo’s shows.
The idea of Vevo is to find new ways to monetize recorded music through licensing and ads and possibly a subscription model to bring music to fans at low to no cost. If fans don’t want to pay for music, the industry has to find a way to monetize music through other means. Vevo is a step in that direction. Is it perfect, no – is the music industry putting it’s head in the sand that Vevo will save the likes of sinking labels like EMI or return us to the glory days of the 90s? No. But, it is step in the right direction.
bronwen torc says
Sorry but the VEVO numbers are just too slight to make a difference.
Here is another example of why VEVO will fail. Above & Beyond are top 20 in the dance DJ universe. They are not number 1 and do not have the huge budget of some others. However their freemium model is brilliant. They have over 25 million weekly subscribers to their iTunes podcast. They then make money from CD sales, production and, probably the biggest income, from touring worldwide.
They put quality in front of the fans, every week. They succeed or fail on quality. They are persoanable and fun, but in the end the music has to speak for itself.
That is why traditional music lables are so bad. They have not put quality first. Now that fans can define their own quality, they will go where they can reliably find it. After a year and huge budgets, VEVO has not achieved anything like just one dance/trance podcast.
Sorry if this sounds negative compared to your rose-tinted view but I think it is a great shame money is being wasted on something like VEVO when other models are so much more efficient and effective. And, perhaps most important, the other business models put money into the hands of the musicians rather than bloated marketing campaigns.
Mary McKnight says
I’m not sure you fully understand the Vevo model. Traffic and onsite useage isn’t the value to Vevo. When Vevo launched – the labels (joint venture between Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Abu Dhabi Media with EMI licensing its content. ) entered into a cooperative agreement with Google and Youtube to syndicate their content to the services under the understanding they now share in the ad revenues. Vevo isn’t about traffic, it is about getting paid for the recorded music and music videos. Although, for a new site, it has done admirably well in terms of traffic. Every artist video from the majors on Youtube and Google is now syndicated form VEVO. So, traffic to VEVO itself is irrelevant.
I am glad that the music industry is finally uniting under a flag that isn’t fighting piracy with lawsuits, so I see Vevo as a reasonable alternative and the syndication and and ad models actually help to stave off some of the losses these labels have seen in the past 15 years.
Above & Beyond is not a fair comparison to Vevo. A&B is a group and much like Radiohead they have been able to leverage the freemium model from the artists perspective. Vevo, is a freemium premium content and syndication service. Comparing the two just isn’t really useful. The goals of each are very very different.
Here’s the thing, labels have to survive – they filter music to the consumer. Do they always make great choices? Holy Willow Smith, no! But, we need agencies whose job it is to groom, produce and promote artist brands and their albums/singles. Most people forget the good labels do becuase they are too busy demonizing them: the bulk of the money a label spends on an artist is production and promotion (studio time and radio air-play ain’t cheap). We also forget that it is HARD for artists to produce hit after hit in a single album (unless you are a freak of Hit Factory freak of nature like Lady GaGa). Once the consumption model changed from album sales to single sales, artists and labels took a huge hit. Where before the artists and labels hedged their bets by producing a selection of music at a premium cost and price, now they still spend large dollars on production and promotion of albums but must bet on each single to sell at a maximum volume for a minimum price to recoup that investment. Labels support artists but they have begun to hold these artists more accountable for producing hits rather than compendiums but if an artists can’t do that – the label is stuck holding the bag. Lady GaGa’s manager once said, 95% of the artistic stuff is left to Lady GaGa, and 95% of the business is left to him. Let the artist create, the label produce and market and the manager take care of the artists business. This model works, the industry just has to unite to find a way to engage the fans more in the process in an age where music lives in the cloud and is monetized in newer ways that offer the fn the best experience at the best price.
bronwen torc says
Hi Mary and thanks for taking the time to explain your position more. It seems to me, however, that Above & Beyond and VEVO both have very similar end goals – “getting paid for the recorded music and music videos” as you put it.
My issue is that VEVO is, in effect, another layer between the artist and the consumer, with all the overhead that implies.
Your chunky final paragraph includes lots of good points, yet is still talking from a historical perspective. You are suggesting we need lots of dross to find the gems. I don’agree. Here are some reasons why:
– Stock Aitken Waterman were no different to Lady Gaga in their ability to write plenty of monster (sorry) hits.
– Leona Lewis was passed over by major labels.
– American Idol and X Factor and similar shows have proven, with Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert etc that the public recognise good talent and will pay for the music when the quality is good enough.
– Justin Bieber is the most recent and high profile example of DIY being both efficient and economic in launching new talent.
I’m sorry but it sounds like you are trying to ring-fence the mutton while the lambs are leaping through the fences and making good for themselves.
Nonetheless, thanks for the discussion and I accept your views are valid 🙂
Mack Collier says
Mary and Bronwen I have to say I am loving this discussion, thanks to both of you for educating us about about VEVO! 😉
Mary McKnight says
This is great a discussion and I enjoy the debate because it highlights what is good and not good about this industry and the chasm between labels and artists. Yes, they both A&B and Vevo want to get pad for recorded music. Here is the difference – Labels need longevity in that they do not get royalties through ASCAP like artists do – they may purchase catalogs like the Beatles Catalog and license the songs. They invest in artists but they can be heavy handed and blind. But the inherent truth is labels are supposed to connect artists with fans. They buy the radio air time, they get CDs produced, they groom artists to stars. Can some people like Madonna, Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber find fame without labels, of course. They are go getters, but not all talent can do that themselves. I seriously doubt Britney Spears would have been capable of that. Artists are discovered in many ways and some can do it themselves on Youtube while others will need the support of a label and manager. I’m just saying that labels have a purpose and while they seem to be nailing their own coffins shut, Vevo is at least one step towards making progress int he digital age. It has a number of faults, I can certianly catalog for you, but it is progress from lobbying the Hill to shut down music pirates overseas or filing for damages against single mothers in Idaho who downloaded a few albums or even engaging hit factory artists in 360 deals.
There are so many more models that the labels could use now to help themselves but this is the one they chose. I have criticized VEVO a number of times, but in the end, it is progress for the industry as a whole. It is showing some signs of health and growth and I think we need to watch this model. It is a little Rupert Murdoch-esque in its implementation, but with HULU going to a premium subscription model, i am really looking forward to seeing what VEVO does.
Great interview. Thanks for sharing this Mack and thanks for doing it Mary.
As someone who actually left the music industry to move into online communications I regularly think about how to mix the two (and sometimes even about going back into it myself).
I really enjoyed Mary’s point of view.
Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos
Mary McKnight says
I feel lucky to be able to work in such a great industry and find ways to integrate technologies and social theory into marketing programs for the music industry. It is a struggle to do what I do because not all able execs or artist teams are always on board – but I feel on the cutting edge and like I am making a difference.
Carl | Personalised Hoodies says
Hey I would like to support you guys, I’m very passionate about music! Also, some great information on how to create your blog with good content. I’m loving this, I have made this post as my favourite 🙂