Building Music ‘Artist’ Brands Without The Disconnect
Traditional methods when launching a new act in the music industry has been to find a class act then allocate catchy songs (specific to that market) and build a promotional campaign through live dates, guest appearances, interviews/articles and airplay. It was all about the brand building and market awareness for the act to crossover to the main stream.
In today’s market however the once bullet proof brand and its ‘promise’ which acted as a defence mechanism is now not returning the same commercial results and securing sales as it used to.
So what has changed and why the disconnect?
Assessing the 2011/12 music sales trends from the big brands (Music Week), it is evident that even the heavy weight sure fire acts who have relied on a loyal fan base have found themselves losing their pole position.
Brands such as Marcus Collins (2012), Janet Jackson (1985) and Britney Spears (1998) (to name a few) have all suffered a major disconnect from when they began. Looking at the historic dates of the acts selected it is apparent that 20 years ago the brand promise was able to reject negative impacts more effectively.
In 1985 music consumers purchased more compared to today but the 16 – 25 age brackets is also much smaller than what it was then also. A lot of the ‘blame’ for loss of sales is associated with digital environment and in part there is a lot of evidence to support this but this wouldn’t be the main driver for a brand disconnection from consumers.
Benchmarking albums from 20 years ago to many current ones there is an apparent disconnect when you compare and contrast. Albums from the 80’s show a clear journey and a concise project strategy within the single choices that cleverly weave and capture the theme for the album. Twinned with this a very high proportion of the album tracks were very catchy and carried that special factor, value for money.
It seems that the current market trend is more focused on singles sales rather than album ones and its core project theme and message. With this disconnect the music brand has become less powerful to secure album sales. Consumers that have been buying albums are aware that they have become diluted with weaker themes and weaker tracks.
The danger now is that music teams that are spending months building a music brand from scratch could well be wasting time, resources and energy as the problem is much wider. Changing consumer views of albums to secure sales will be a task for the entire music industry.
A joint effort must be made in order to win back trust, loyalty and the all important brand promise which once stood tall and remained a power ally to the music industry. If not the industry then at least one of the majors as consumers will know what company has the competitive advantage and who most to trust when purchasing an album
Another critical driver for the dilution of the album sale is the itunes channel that has allowed music consumers to buy singles and a few catchy album tracks and then make a bespoke album for their ipod. Traditionally consumers had to purchase a full physical album without previewing from a digital platform/device. Again this highlights the fact that a lot of the albums do not work towards a theme that builds a story and strong catchy productions. Consumers will buy all of the singles if they are up to scratch.
One solution then is to ensure that music teams choose the best singles possible, create a theme and a project brief and choose singles that work through varied music territories in order to restore brands power. Treat the album that you are working towards as a greatest hits package. Look to build seven or more releasable singles and allow the brand to wrap around organically, consumers will know they are getting as good deal and ‘like’ it for you. This will restore the broken link to albums sales.
The teams that do this and provide a long term solution will truly separate the men from the boys. Few A&R staff in today’s market have a designed single, album or brand strategy in order to understand, engage and grow customer base to achieve the all important sales. Having a strategy from the outset is crucial for many reasons, just like having any type of commercial plan. The team, the act and the record company will want to know what the concepts and end goals to secure sales. What routes, methods and options will be used from the A&R tool kit and is everybody involved working effectively and efficiently? What are the control methods, contingency plans and monitoring tactics?
Here’s an example:
If you are the A&R team for Marcus Collins, Janet Jackson or Britney Spears then there must be a bullet proof clear vision of who the core customer base will likely be and what are the likely commercial returns, anyone else you gain along the way (because you have assigned a set of huge hits) is a bonus. Don’t make the album or singles purely for the fans, they will love the act whatever the weather, that’s why they are fans! Make the other markets buy into your vision also, its race to number one. Do you want to be second best?
A good metric to start with if the team is lacking a little faith is to identify what music consumer group has the most money? Yes, you guessed it, the contemporary market. How then can you weave this market into your act, brand, single, album, merchandise and eventually concerts?
The trick to capture the contemporary is to ensure that your song choice is both catchy, has a long lifecycle and is able to gain long term broadcast to retain its lifecycle. It should be a single that has the capability to be featured on many compilation albums as its appeal is broad and not niche. Some key factors to help secure this market is
If these areas are considered and applied in practice it is likely that your composition/act will be ‘liked’ and shared by consumers within the social landscape (offline, online).
Acts that meet these requirements and produce strong sales in the UK are: Rihanna, One Direction, Emile Sande, David Guetta.
Arguably you could say that Rhianna’s latest work is lyrically offensive in the way that it leans towards sexual content however the genius is that the team has found a way to balance what the artist now wants in terms of the creative direction and what will sell/broadcast and what singles will potential capture album sales and building album sales to enhance the overarching brand.
In conclusion it is important not to rely on the strength of your brand to gain chart sales if the content is not up to scratch and not likely to be memorable. Create a product strategy that fits with the artists and varied customer groups and international territories. Wow the audiences and cash in on the long term sales that truly build a brand through identity, personality and equity.