Print to Social to Audio
In case you hadn’t noticed, the music business has evolved since the 90s and early 00s. There are numerous well-known and well-worn themes about the evolution of the music industry. The transition from physical to digital music after Napster and iTunes. Entertainment in general, from television to games, is shifting to on-demand digital. Marketing has changed, too, as resources have shifted to social media channels.
I often wonder what comes next. What comes after social media? In what other ways can online videos be (better) monetized? It’s hard to think 5–10 years into the future and guess what products and platforms will exist for marketers (who knew Snapchat would be a hit before it was released?).
Right now, believe it or not, audio appears to be a new frontier. I say this because Pandora has a new tool that allow artists to communicate with fans using audio messages that are heard by fans listening to their music or the music of similar artists. These artist audio messages (AAMs) are played to, for example, listeners with an “Artist X” playlist or listeners of artist X and similar artists. To put it another way, the AAMs are like radio “drops”, short audio clips like TV and movie excerpts, but far more targeted.
Pandora has talked publicly about artist audio messages but hasn’t provided many details about their effectiveness. Now I’m able to share some numbers for a couple chart-toppers and some other artists. Ariana Grande’s AAM for the release of her album Dangerous Woman, which encouraged listeners to click through to an iTunes pre-order page, had a CTR as high as 8.1 percent, about 5–7x times social and paid channels (this benchmark includes Twitter engagement rates and Pandora audio ads).
Grande’s results are strong but not abnormal. Rapper G-Eazy, whose AAM was heard 3.5 million times and generated 253,000 clicks — a CTR of 7.2 percent. Rapper Fetty Wap’s AAM had a call-to-action for a album pre-order. The AAM was heard 7.1 million times and generated 308,000 clicks, for a CTR of 4.3 percent that compares well to the high end average Facebook ad (4 percent). An AAM by metal band Five Finger Death Punch was heard 2.1 million times and got 94,000 clicks (leading to a Pandora Premier of the new album Got Your Six and tour info) for a 4.5-percent CTR.
What separates AAM campaigns from other types of marketing is the cost: they’re free to the artist. Not even a typical social media campaign is free. It’s not uncommon to employ a social media consultant or a marketing firm that specializes in social. Reaching potential buyers requires ad buys on social platforms. The fan doesn’t see either of these things. What looks organic actually requires quite a bit of cost and effort. Recording and publishing an AAM is a really easy process. I got a demonstration from Jason Feinberg, Pandora’s head of artist marketing, at SXSW, in March before I joined the company. He used the AMPcast mobile app to record and a short message that, if he were a recording artist, could have been uploaded and quickly inserted into that artist’s Pandora stations. Totally DIY.
It’s worth a look back at what marketing used to be. In the heyday of the CD, a label would have a blueprint for spending marketing dollars that would include record stores and print publications. For in-store marketing, stores would charge to secure good rank space or put an album in a listening station. The larger stores would charge to put those huge pieces of album artwork in the windows; a Tower Record window would cost a few thousand dollars. Distributors would demand their share shelf space correlate to their market shares. Small labels would get squeezed as a result.
Not that there wasn’t a benefit to all that in-store marketing. Labels would get their music in front of potential buyers who expressed an interest in buying music as soon as they walked through the door. Their music would be positioned where these potential buyers were most likely to notice. And with their marketing spend labels would get both a sale price and (typically) are large buy.
Other marketing channels have become less important. Print advertising was big back then, too. Labels would take out all sorts of ads in music magazines, alternative weeklies, you name it. Labels would also get their titles into the weekly inserts of mass market chains like Best Buy. Mass merchants sold CDs cheap back then. The physical era saw the advent of the street team. Artists and labels would employ street teams to get the word out by handing out flyers at clubs, putting up posters around town, bringing friends to to shows and other things to market music outside of traditional channels. Today, an artist’s social media following is like a digital street team.
The common thread connects past and current marketing: artists and labels seek ways to get in front of the biggest fans and the people most likely to buy music, a concert ticket and merchandise. Pandora’s AAMs are one such way to reach fans. Just as the name suggests, these brief audio messages, recorded by the artist, can alert fans about upcoming tours, ticket on-sales, new recordings or upcoming albums. An AAM can be as simple as, “Hello” and “thank you for listening,” or as complex as announcing a new album or ticket on-sale.
There’s still a need for in-store marketing. Retail spending of CDs will probably be around $1.2 billion this year, based on last year’s RIAA numbers, and those CDs won’t sell themselves. Print advertising is still employed, especially for live events, although less than in years past. But today there are more egalitarian marketing tools used by megastars all the way down to (literally) garage bands. Digital music grew with fits and starts over the last 15 years. The evolution of digital marketing has been a smoother transition.