Digital Marketing And The Music Industry: Arbitraging Time

Music is commoditized. Music discovery in 2018 is powered by machine learning algorithms on streaming services. This new method optimizes for streams rather than building artist to fan relationships. The music’s story goes unknown, as does the artist’s identity. The authenticity and connection that makes music so special is lost.

We see the same situation on social media. The industry is focused on quantity rather than quality, using vanity metrics such as likes and followers, to measure success.

What does growing your number of Instagram followers actually mean? Because of the lack of barrier to entry to following an artist on social, it is impossible to distinguish a bot from a casual listener from a fan that was at an artist’s first concert. And because of this, quantity does not equal meaningful results. More likes doesn’t mean more people are going to your show. More comments doesn’t bring more merchandise revenue. More followers doesn’t result in more true fans. All fans aren’t equal, but they currently are treated so.

The smarter approach is to build a personalized experience. Until there is a shift to help artists build these relationships, the industry will continue to be frustrated with why they haven’t cracked social.

The first step in building fan relationships is to create a channel for artists to identify true fans and have a way to reach them outside of social. Set The Set does a great job at this. Fans are given the ability to let artists know what songs they want to be played at concerts and in the process submit their contact information. This filter separate followers from fans. SuperPhone, a New York startup created by Ryan Leslie also does this through SMS marketing.

Once direct fan access is available, the question becomes how do we best leverage this data? Do we sell them merchandise or tickets? No. The answer is in providing value, not launching direct response marketing campaigns. More on this here. The problem is that this gives artist yet another responsibility. It’s a lot to ask an artist to create content consistently both outside of social and without a measurable return on investment.

The question then becomes, how do we create an experience for true fans that drives a measurable ROI and isn’t giving artists more work to do?

The answer is in album release parties. Bear with me.

I’m a Drake fan. I was an early supporter, and as he rose to fame, I felt like I was growing with him. However, when he reached mainstream media and the bandwagon fans came running, I felt less connected. In my mind, I had a less personal relationship with megastar Drake than mixtape Drizzy.

Fast forward to the release of his album Views. Hosted by Apple Music, Drake held what can be best described as a global listening party. Right before his album was released, he played some of his favorite songs, had members of his team on air and was interviewed by Zane Lowe. In sharing such a special moment for Drake, I never felt more connected. I felt like I was backstage.

In speaking with other fans, I’ve heard the same story. It was one of those events where you can remember where you were that night.

What made it so special was how the moment in time was captured. The two-hour window before the album release was when I was at the peak of my fandom. If he had sold tickets to the listening party, I would have bought them. If he had dropped a merchandise line or released tour tickets, my excitement would have led to a purchase.

This was so much more meaningful than the typical model of an artist doing a radio promotion and then having the music appear on Spotify the next day.

The power of capturing time through live events is most evident in the app HQ trivia, a jeopardy-like game that is only available twice a day. The short window that users can play the game creates a demand that doesn’t exist with other app games. By creating a scarce resource, they’ve managed to capture the world’s attention in a unique way.

The app is regularly reaching over a million users in a day and growing.

Creating live music events isn’t a new concept. Concert Window and StageIt allow artists to do this. While there are dozens of concert streaming websites, none really took off. I believe this can be best attributed to two problems that can be solved.

Problem 1: No Unique Value

Hosting an online concert is simply a less intimate experience of an in-person concert. The comfort value-add of not having to leave your couch, while advantageous in other verticals, does not work for music. Concerts are social events. The core value is in connecting with the artist as well as others in attendance. I’m not inviting friends over to watch a streamed Drake concert; it simply isn’t anything new. I’ve been to his concert in-person and can listen to his music at any time. Furthermore, the concert isn’t created for online consumption but has to compete with all other short-form content that is optimized for user attention.

Problem 2: Lack of Quality

Online concerts have a quality problem. The product, which is the experience, is created by an artist who isn’t an expert at doing so. One well-known band hosts events on Facebook live for album releases. They are typically fifty minutes long and consist of the band members reading comments and talking without an agenda. The band members are professional musicians, not video content creators, and it is evident in the quality of the experience. A large number of variables in online concerts result in a wide range of the quality of the product.

The Solution

Hosting a live album release party solves both problems. Through capturing a special moment in time, the user is delivered an experience that no concert or radio interview can replicate. Most fans will never be able to attend an album release party. Now they can. The quality issue will be controlled if the listening party is audio only and conducted by professional interviewers.

My partner and I are building a mobile app to host an album release parties. The idea is to provide a similar user experience to an album release that HQ brought to jeopardy. I’m excited to see where this goes.

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