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The joy of discovery; Marketing in the brave new media world

I work in the music industry as a singer songwriter and record company director. I have been running my own record label ‘Redhed Records’ for the last 5 years and am grappling with the vast changes in the way music is marketed and accessed. 

To me there seems to be two quite distinct routes to introduce and bring an artist to the attention of a music lover.  

Historically, the traditional and familiar model the major record companies have used for the last 60 years to create successful album and ticket selling artists. Our stars appear from no-where and as if by magic are suddenly all over our TV’s, radios, magazines, stages and generally flooding our consciousness. The gorgeous, sexy demi-gods alongside the unique, talented and bizarre conspire to create the magical and heady business of Rock and Roll.  In reality, sexy, talented or not, they are also at the forefront of a very strategic, powerful, clever and expensive marketing campaign known as ‘The Big Push’. Audibly and visually bombarded we become buyers. 

Part of the reason it worked, I think, was the inherent mystery of the whole thing. It created potency. Working as a team, the artist’s star quality and the environment that was created for them by the label was an unstoppable force with the inner workings remaining just that. Now, however, with the huge popular success of the reality TV shows the internal, commercial machinations are well exposed and the artists revealed as little more than fronts for much less attractive mortals.

Who is responsible for exposing the process and bursting this particular bubble? Is it Simon Cowell for showing us Leona Lewis working in the call centre before entering the X factor on prime time TV? Do we believe it now when we see her glammed up on the front cover of vogue

Is it the level playing field of the internet? The fact that we can now access all the information we want to know about anything? Artists can access fans direct and visa versa. At one point in time our pop stars seemed totally remote from us in our normal lives. Now their tweets and video’s show us otherwise. 

Currently, the old model still works up to a point, but I think its effect is waning, with the continually declining sales of recorded music and the rumblings that the live music industry may even be faltering. Indie artists and record companies alike need to come up with a new way to create potency and engage fans to sustain long term artist/ fan relationships.

One possibility in my mind is to maximize the excitement in the sense of discovery. If you are marketing cleverly on the internet and a music lover (who is predisposed to like your music) ‘stumbles’ across you or your artist that sense of excitement is powerful stuff. Like finding treasure on a beach or seeing something of value glint among the grass, therein lies the basic human excitement of discovery. Artists need to be placed strategically so rather than just the mass saturation of the  ‘whether you like the music or not you will be subjected to it’ method, placed in the territory where folk who are highly likely to enjoy that specific artist will be browsing. Use websites, blogs, networks, keywords, and most importantly of all get to know the fans. What do they like? Where do they hang out? Then it can work like a treasure hunt where a gem is uncovered and the journey of discovery begins. Crucially the fan must be facilitated to be an active participant in the process. The new method must be 3 dimensional and interactive rather than the 2 dimensional passive approach of the traditional method. The marketing has to be just as clever, as creative as we can muster, but perhaps not as expensive as the old model, and it only just begins at the first stage of discovery. Create a labyrinth where the person is drawn in and the magic only begins for them there.

Esther O’Connor 15/6/10

This blog was written by Esther O’Connor. Esther is a singer songwriter based in Scotland. She has been described as ‘David Geffen crossed with Stevie Nicks’ by the Sunday Times. Tom Morton of BBC Radio Scotland describing one of her tracks as “Neil Young meets Beyonce round at Joni Mitchell’s house”, recognizing the retro flare that runs through Esther’s music and her love of a sassy pop hook. Journalists and fans alike recognize that Esther is a trailblazer, a talented musician forging the way ahead in this new musical landscape.

For more information on Esther O’Connor and a free download visit 


Reader Comments (13)

"Artists need to be placed strategically..placed in the territory where folk who are highly likely to enjoy that specific artist will be browsing." Unfortunately, you have to be a marketing and social media expert to do this. Being a marketing expert is entirely different from being an artist. If you're an artist, you now have to be actively updating your facebook, twitter, myspace pages, and website. Then you need to also hit the streets with a guerrilla marketing campaign and, while doing all this: network, network, network! When are these artists going to have time to make some music and make some money? The good news is FanaticFactory will REBOOT the music industry on February 23. Problem solved.

Brilliant post Esther and one which I agree with you to a point. I think we must actually get back to basics and the only form of marketing us mere mortals have is the art of Word of Mouth marketing.

One where we actively recruit people like disciples to follow us and be given access to our inner sanctum. They then work the channels and get more people. Each one to reach one. Targets can be made and a community must be built. Whether on Facebook or your own website or both.

Using widgets and Twitter you can be everywhere at the same time. Once you have rabid fans on your side then sky is the limit.

But at the heart of this is something people can get excited about and you cannot beat the humble single for this.

June 30 | Unregistered CommenterKehinde

'One possibility in my mind is to maximize the excitement in the sense of discovery.'

I agree that this will certainly help, but the accessibility of the internet has created a sensory overload, making many users numb to the discover process. Making music so easy to receive has also made it easy to overlook. What we would need to see is a way to scale down the static, making it easier to discover exactly what you are looking for. But I strongly believe that we need to give the power of discovery back to the fan (or listener) allowing these people to seek out new music in their own way, instead of simply giving top 10 list after top 10 list of 'content'. People are being spoon-fed new music, new artists, etc, stripping the excitement out of the discovery process - this is the next evolution of the 'convenience first' ideology that has made fast food so successful.

June 30 | Unregistered CommenterJon Ostrow

I'd like to hear any advice or examples regarding about what techniques you folks have used to market in "territory where folk who are highly likely to enjoy that specific artist will be browsing." My understanding is that this means not just targeting "music listeners", but determining what common interests or locales are frequented by the type of person who listens to your musical genre, and then going with that.

This has always seemed like a great way to go about it, but I always have trouble imagining what implementation looks like. Basically, all I can imagine is posting a link or taking out an ad on a non-musical website that represents one of these common interests\locales. What other ideas are out there?

June 30 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

As a manager and record company proprietor, for over 20 years, I have seen a dumbing down of the content . The internet has created a goldrush type frenzy to discover the next happening thing - but, generally the "next happening thing" sounds like a variation on the last. Why? No one wants to be caught out discovering crap, so there is a lack of confidence in picking winners. The emperor's new clothes, abound. Also, the search will always be for a variation on yesterday's sounds.

June 30 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Durr


Isn't Chris Bracco running a series about that right now? I think he covered a lot...the recipe is simple, you just

1. Identify all the signifiers, concepts and keywords that are relevant to what you're doing -- this is a mix of personal brainstorming, using SEO word count tools to analyze your own blog/bio/everything else, and using Google Forms to create surveys and ask your fans about themselves and WHY they dig what you do...

2. Then set up google alerts for all the strongest keywords, and also take the proactive step of doing "Blogs" searches to find CLUSTERS...aka, everyone loves The Roots, but I want to find

"The Roots" + "Company Flow" + "Black Star" + "Sir Menelik" + "Kool Keith"

so I enter it like that on google to find single blogs that cover that whole cluster. Add in your lifestyle/signifier keywords and you're doing some serious niche targeting, quick.

3. Then utilize the steps Chris laid out for contacting them. Hey presto. It doesn't have to get more complicated than that, since all your promo efforts are more than 50% failure anyway, even when you're doing it professionally. Conversion rates are low in this business, just keep hustling.

that article was genuinely underwhelming.

July 1 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

@ Justin Boland

I always forget that some people don't do as much as you're talking about (listing five bands) for finding target webzines/radio/etc.

It's also worth noting people should actually look around a site to see what recent content is & not just harvest contacts. I have my webzine (QRD) that I've been doing for years as pretty much exclusively interviews with bands I like & no reviews (I think I stopped reviews as regular content ten years ago now) & I still get emails on a regular basis about doing reviews.

Also I can tell you this, if your email asks me about advertising prices, it gets my attention.....

Justin B, thanks for the specific reply. I was also asking about non-internet (or at least, non-blog) methods of targeting, but blogs may be the best bet for this type of thing anyways.

July 1 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Underwhelming was an understatement. I'd like to congratulate Esther on recycling old news and views, but more so for only having a single paragraph in the item longer than the whack of self-important text at the bottom about how awesome she is.

July 3 | Unregistered Commentertim

Esther, I don't want to talk to fans, let alone vaguely interested internet surfers, I don't want a relationship with people who like music I'm involved with and I don't want to maintain a regular dialogue. Years ago I decided to get into rock and roll, not the church.

Is it OK if I pay someone else to do it?

Justin - your point 1. is, frankly, frightening - it would be bad enough a psychiatrist analysing my blog/bio and everything else, but getting a robot to do it and then to inflict robot questionnaires on people who like my music is the stuff of pulp sci fi. What if I find out I'm only loved for my powder blue eyes and perfect skin? Think of the mojo damage...

Is it OK if I pay someone else to do it?

July 3 | Registered CommenterTim London

Tim, we've officially been living in science fiction for a couple decades now. That specific technique is actually called "marketing." It has infected everything from eduction to politics -- for a good headfuck, I recommend the documentary work of Adam Curtis, the BBC's weirdest creative by far...especially "The Century of the Self."

I am cheerfully morally neutral about marketing! I very much like your honest stance, though. You are wise to avoid this shit, it pollutes the soul and does little less for human culture. Great for business, though.

I think it's important for creative, sensitive types to know the ropes of black magic. You need to be able to compete with this stuff, use it for waking people up instead of selling them Axe body spray. "The future smiles with sharp teeth."

"Pay someone else to do it" is also an excellent manifesto for the current climate, though.

Sci fi doesn't officially start until I have my jet-boots, Justin B... It's not so much being a sensitive creative type, it's more the boredom factor. Recently I realised, as I sat listening to an agent's seminar talk thing, that all I really needed to know about agents was that they get gigs, charge 15%, are almost as hard to 'get' as managers, publishers and record deals'. I already knew that and I didn't really need to know about German tax laws or Australian work visas. In the same way that I hope a doctor can discern a bubonic bump from a standard boil I hope that there is, somewhere, someone who can identify all the signifiers, concepts and keywords that are relevant to what I'm doing. For me.

Perhaps, somewhere in eastern Europe, a canny government minister is diverting funds from trainee international villain courses to a two year intense online marketing-for-pop-music degree course at the national university.

Unless someone is busy building the Ikea flatpack version that goes so nicely with Bandcamp? Bruce?

July 3 | Registered CommenterTim London

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