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Why archaic models of content delivery still work.

The internet has been in a bit of an uproar lately upon hearing that Taylor Swift and a few other popular artists pulled out of Spotify and other streaming services. “How dare they?” I’ve heard. “The internet is open — share your music, the technology exists for the free flow of information!”

I, for one am I in team Taylor Swift’s camp. You think she’s being archaic and dumping the better technology like the guy she was pissed at in her last album to get with a fanny-pack wearin’ mullet-cut outdated distribution model — but I say she’s a smart, savvy marketer. ( ::golf claps:: )

Here’s the thing, not all artists are created equally. Taylor Swift could headline a Superbowl. The indie band that’s still pushing to get their first taste of exposure couldn't, so why should they follow the same media distribution models? They shouldn't.

Marketing content, be it books, films, music, or videos of your dog dressed like a teddy bear, is a one-off process. Every situation is unique, every strategy is individualized. What achieves success for that one indie band you saw at a dive bar down the street doesn't work for Taylor Swift, Yo-Yo Ma, or even Bruno Mars (you beautiful Superbowl heartthrob).

No doubt the free and open internet is an amazing opportunity for up-and-coming artists. Instant streaming on desktop or mobile? Unlimited avenues to entry? No longer do you have to wait for a radio station DJ to take a chance on your CD in the pile of other CDs he gets every week — you hoping he’ll play the song, like it and tell his other DJ friends. No longer does a band need to wait for a music producer to give their blessing on your album being sent to stores and the radio stations. The internet has changed everything right? The old stuffy DJ who used to be the only thing between you and your fans has been vaporized by the bits and bytes of the information superhighway, as he cries under his DJ desk slowly watching the radio industry disintegrate. The record company CEO, who made his living by choosing which music artists lived and which faced the ax of obscurity? He’s looking for other jobs because social media has ruined his exclusivity — his competitive edge.

But Taylor Swift isn't in the same category as that indie band. Her music is, and I say this purely from a marketing perspective, a superior product than most other music out there. She’s a megastar and what does making her music more exclusive by design say about what it’s worth? It says the rest of the artists on Spotify are selling warm Coors Light out of a broken down minivan next to a flea market while Taylor offers a crisp Dom Pérignon from the luxury suite at Cowboys Stadium. It’s a marketing message. Being exclusive is valuable.

Related — want to see the worst, featureless website in the world, representing a powerful company in a multi-billion dollar industry?


That’s the Creative Artists Agency’s website, a site that hasn't been updated in over 10 years. They also represent every movie star and athlete from Robert DeNiro to Sandra Bullock to BOTH Mannings.

But there’s no information — how do you even request that they represent you? You don’t. They’ll choose you. Not the other way around. They represent Tom Cruise. Are you Tom Cruise? If you were Tom Cruise, wouldn’t you want these guys to represent you? CAA is an exclusive club.

That’s why it works.

The point is exclusivity “sells.” Taylor Swift’s music isn't the kind that you can just stream — you have to buy it. It’s special, different, music worth owning. And if you’re a fan, then the act of buying the music puts you in another category — an exclusive fraternity of sorts. That’s the message — not necessarily the objective truth, but this is marketing after all. Truth is just a word that means whatever marketers want it to mean.

Garth Brooks is on the bandwagon too — with his launch of “Ghost Tunes” a hybrid subscription / iTunes clone that puts artists in control to sell their music directly to fans. Garth Brooks doesn’t want you to download singles instead of the album? Done. You can’t. It’s exclusive, expensive, and cumbersome. And that’s the point. The message is that this its worth it for someone as special as Garth Brooks. Any loser can walk into a McDonald's and stuff their fat face with a handful of Big Macs, but a true burger connoisseur waits in line for 2 hours at Kuma’s.

Will Taylor and Garth change the industry with this initiative? Probably not. This kind of service sounds will probably stay small, and exclusive, by design no less. Still — it’s fascinating to see deeply fundamental to the product itself the marketing messages and stories are. That truth won’t ever be altered by technology.