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« Aging with music | Main | The Myth of "Almost Zero" Recording Costs »
Sunday
May042008

Using a Momentum-Toward-Celebrity Strategy for Marketing Music

On the first version of this post, I left it up to other “thinkers” to connect the dots.  That didn’t exactly go as planned, so here’s version two with more information.  I plan to delete the first version soon.  I saved it so people could copy over comments if they wish.  Everyone’s comments helped me to create this version; I think there’s a blogging strategy that comes out of this.

Food or the lead singer’s sweaty t-shirt.  I’ll take the shirt…
Jake Halpern writes in the Wall Street Journal (Oct. 4th, 2007 “Britney Spears, Breaking News”) that our need to stargaze [celebrities] may be primal.  Halpren goes on to point out a study done at the Center For Cognitive Science at Duke University that shows that monkeys will choose to view images of other dominant monkeys instead of eating…if given the choice.  

This reminds me of the influence that celebrity has over consumer decision-making when it comes to music.  Songs don’t sound better and artists don’t get sexier when their songs make it to radio, but that doesn’t stop the average consumer from getting hot and hormonal, or standing in long lines without food, or buying tickets instead of…food, for any artist that’s in heavy rotation on pop radio.  

The more momentum toward becoming a celebrity, the more “dominant” an artist appears, the higher the level of commitment any artist obtains from fans.  Sadly enough, the opposite seems to be true.  Momentum toward becoming a celebrity (or not) is like virtual Viagra; it generates ups and downs for every artist.

It seems to me, that record labels are experts at exploiting the (primal) need, the desire and the want in fans to connect to artists that have momentum toward becoming celebrities, and that perhaps every artist should consider consciously creating a Momentum-Toward-Celebrity strategy as part of his/her marketing plan.

What is a Momentum-Toward-Celebrity Strategy?
I’ve been selling and marketing things for twenty years.  A Momentum-Toward-Celebrity Strategy is something I never considered until I began observing, learning and practicing the art of marketing music.  In fact, I wish someone had sat me down and said “look forget about what think you know about marketing, you need to make sure you have a Momentum-Toward-Celebrity strategy that begins on day one.  Cars and computers don’t become celebrities, but artists do.  People get passionate about people that demonstrate momentum”.  

Here’s what I think: a Momentum-Toward-Celebrity strategy is:

  • First, it’s simply acknowledging that you need momentum toward becoming some sort of a celebrity to maximize your promotion efforts on every level; no matter how big or small your budget or fan pool is.
  • Second, it’s the conscious act of communicating momentum.
  • Third, it’s planning beyond next month.  I believe you need to plan now, and then work like hell to accomplish the things you plan to communicate as momentum over the next 12 to 14 months.
  • Fourth, your slips into reverse momentum should be minimal (frequency) and barely measurable (the occurrences).

Momentum-Toward-Celebrity - The Things People Measure
There are a thousand little things that I could point to, that you could do and then report as momentum.  However, for this post, I am going to list some general/broad ideas for you to think about.

  • Find known people from the industry that fans can Google and/or recognize.  Simply ask these people to advise you, and if you can list them and their short bios on your blog.
  • Are you playing the same songs, at the same places you were playing at last year?  Continually upgrade the places you play at and the music you perform.
  • Find cool sponsors to support you, even if it’s in the smallest way possible.  Appearing as though your financial support is growing is part of demonstrating momentum.  
  • Constantly upgrade.  Some people are natural recruiters, they know how to attract and convince people to help them CONTINUALLY upgrade everything about their presentation, including their music.
  • Obtain reportable momentum data from every site possible. (Important: Read next section on Song Quality.)
NOTE: Those of you that are great at constantly upgrading everything and everyone around you, have to be skilled at keeping everyone happy, especially when you don’t have cash.  There are ways of doing this with integrity, and there are ways of doing this without leaving the people that supported you out in the cold.  Email me if you need advice in this area.    


Momentum-Toward-Celebrity and Song Quality
The way pop music is marketed today, you may get the impression that momentum toward celebrity is more important than the quality of your music.
simplecircleA.jpg    simplecircleB.jpg
The circle diagram on the left represents what happens today.  Song quality is the inner circle and the core, and everything outside of the core represents all of the other activity that adds up to success.  Although song quality is proportionately smaller, it’s still the core and a necessary component to success.

The circle diagram on the right with the larger song quality core represents what I believe the near future will look like.  Song quality will be the single most important factor that drives your momentum toward celebrity status.

What’s the difference between today and tomorrow?  Social networks built around music, recommendation engines and data analysis (of iTunes data for example) will make it extremely difficult to fake momentum.  Decisions will not be driven by a couple of guys working at a record label.  Decisions will be based upon the data that demonstrates your momentum.  Consumers will act upon this data, record labels will act upon this data, and programming directors at radio stations will act upon this data.  In addition, every bit of data you acquire, such as a win on OurStage or numerous recommendations on Aime Street, become your reportable (and observable) momentum.

Communicating Your Momentum-Toward-Celebrity
First and foremost, start a blog.  Websites were cool in 2004.  A blogsite is the way to go now.  Learn about RSS and use your blog to communicate your momentum.  Feeds from your blog can be reposted on Facebook and MySpace and on other social networks.  For advice on how to report momentum to the press, I will recommend Ariel Hyatt or Bob Baker, both are also Music Think Tank authors.  Also, Justin Boland (AudibleHype) and Julian Moore (Frontend) are bloggers and artists that think about communicating momentum and gorilla marketing every day. 

Does Momentum-Toward-Celebrity Matter to 1,000 Fans?
Different people have different ideas of what celebrity means.  Furthermore, everyone evaluates momentum differently.  What seems like great progress to some, may seem like old news to others.  If you are pursuing a small group of loyal and dedicated fans, I want to ask you this question: if a small pond is all you need, do you ever want to appear as a shrinking fish in the little pond?  I agree that your music may become timeless to your true fans, and that your lack of celebrity status may never matter again, but what if you are just starting out, isn’t momentum toward celebrity still important to establishing true fans?  Pleases be mindful of the importance I assigned to song quality when answering this question in a comment.

Commenting on Momentum-Toward-Celebrity
I would love to hear from people that have more experience at marketing music than I do.  I have given a name (Momentum-Toward-Celebrity) to, and perhaps oversimplified a component of artist/music marketing that deserves more attention from someone that has a list of success stories that they can point to.  If you have more ideas/examples on achieving the appearance of momentum toward celebrity, please leave them in a comment.

 

Reader Comments (14)

Bruce,

Let me apologize for my less than helpful comments on the previous entry to this subject. I did not mean to be so flippant about it.

One excuse might be that commenting on a worthwhile blog such as this deserves more attention from me than popping in during down time at a day job. Sorry for that. (Sorry to Clif too if I offended him)

Another excuse might be that having read so many blogs concerning music in the "Web 2.0" environment has left me in a state of information overload...and that sometimes results in jaded or flippant remarks.

I sincerely appreciate what you do here and at Unsprung Media as well as Andrew Dubber's blog too. I will try to make it a point to have a point from now on when commenting.

I understand if you are compelled to delete this comment. I just felt that I owed you an apology for possibly wasting space (seriously).

Thanks again for all you do.

Milton

May 5 | Unregistered CommenterMilton

Well written, Bruce. I agree 100% that the importance of true song quality will continue to grow exponentially over the next year or so. That just means we're beginning to really see the "leveling of the playing field" that we've expected the internet to bring. That's a good thing.

I think it's also important to point out the difference between song quality and sound quality. We all know that there have been plenty of highly polished crappy songs in the mainstream. It's clear to me from this post that highly "professional" recordings in top studios with big name producers has been a key element of the Momentum-Toward-Celebrity equation in the past. And for some it will continue to be, which is fine. But I truly believe that we will soon see more of an equilibrium in the "ingredients" that make up the whole artist package, allowing for more recognition of truly talented artists with lower recording budgets as the "attention economy" spreads over the larger base of accessible music.

Regarding M-T-C and True Fans, Tim Sweeney points out that your first fans, the friends and family you already have when starting out, are the hardest folks to convince that you can actually do something with your art, however good they may believe it to be. I think M-T-C may be a good strategy for a lot of artists to break beyond that barrier and start attracting 2nd tier fans, while also convincing their "first" fans that they can be successful.

Take care,
Clif

May 5 | Unregistered CommenterClif

Hi Bruce!

Version 2 is much clearer. Almost a to do list.
I start to work with it today.
Testing is the only way to find out what works.

May 5 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Blue

Thanks for the namecheck!

I agree with this whole thing and where it leads. Calling it celebrity is a good thing, because it actually defines it in no uncertain terms.

How to get there. How to prove it. How to show it. How to do it. Hmm.

You can only prove the value of something by showing how much other people like it. There is no other way, simply because value itself is a human attribution - it doesn't really 'exist' and is entirely perceptual.

However, before proof comes the fact that some people are going to like it anyway. So you collect any information you can from these people about them liking you, and broadcast it to others who have yet to hear about you.

And like a rolling stone you gather moss. The real trick is to keep the ball rolling, as you rightly say.

Not all people are created equal and a 'yes' from someone important is better than 100 yes's from nobody's. People take notice of people in high places of influence.

So the whole thing is a gradual escalation up the path of influence.

Get feedback - broadcast it back out. Get more feedback - broadcast it back out. As each beat of your marketing heart pulses so it should grow a little more, as your sphere of influence grows.

The skill is in making the broadcast as appealing as possible, to put yourself in the best light as possible. The feedback is research and the broadcast is marketing and PR.

Contests, polls, celebrity quotes, achievements, awards, stories, happenings, events, gigs, downloads, charts - the information you manage to pull from the reaction to your music and your musical life is the same information you repackage and throw back out there.

It's your sun and you've got to grow it to be noticed. And when it becomes big enough, you become a star.

Some explode and some implode. It's tough. The clever ones learn to pulse slowly over time, never quite burning out but never fading so much you forget about them.

Creating a continuous dynamic seems to be key.

Milton and others,
I took no offense to your comments on the original post. Although I stand by my own post, I think it was a bit unfair to point my "final straw" frustrations at Bruce and his post, as he's obviously working to provide a lot of value for all of us. In the end, the whole thing has made me think hard about my own direction in writing, so at least there's that. Thanks to all of you for putting up with me ;)

May 5 | Unregistered CommenterClif

Thanks for all your comments. I can take it as well as I can dish it out. It was all useful. I try to imagine someone like me four years ago searching for some answers.. If we could all pitch in to make that person's journey a little more rewarding, that would be great.

No more smoothies on this thread. Sick jokes, helpful comments, etc., all good.

From Hoover,

I think how you can start applying "celebrity momentum" to your own music is by starting off small. If you're a newer band you might look into your own scene. Depending on how big the scene is, opening for one of the more popular local bands, gives you a little "celebrity momentum". It's not really that big of a deal when compared to having David Bowie rave about you (see Arcade Fire), but it's a step.

You can keep taking these little steps and growing the size of your celebrity momentum. The next step could be to open for a popular touring band in your genre. Then you could record with someone who has a big name in a your genre of music (doesn't have to be a super big name). There is a band in my town (hardcore-metal) that got the attention of prominent producer in that genre. The guy is nobody to mainstream hit-making music, but in the small niche of underground hardcore, he's got weight.

So yeah, start small, make sure the songs are there, focus on your niche/scene, and build from there.

Have a great Sunday everyone,

-Hoover

Find me at The New Rockstar Philosophy

This comment was copied from the earlier version of this post..

Bruce, thanks for clarifying the song quality issue (which makes sense - and great visual),and expounding on M-T-C (what an effective term to focus what may be the most vital artist promotional stategy. Going back to a recent comment you made about the relevance of this blog despite few visible participants, as many read but don't comment: I am one of the latter (two ears - one mouth thing and just starting to focus on music marketing), and want to clearly state how accurate your assessment is! PLEASE keep posting and commenting everyone...we readers benefit more than you may think(good example being Julian Moore's post above - wow - truly insightful!). Lastly, it would be AMAZING if other Music Think Tank authors would regularly comment on each others' posts...after all, you guys are supposed to be the experts (and no doubt are), so how 'bout some specific ideas on generating M-T-C? THANK YOU! Dg.

May 8 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

Hey Bruce, I'm glad you didn't delete the other post!

There was good debate and Y'know I'm a firm believer that the music business is now less about music than ever before and I don't say that like it's a bad thing because I'm in business and I'm a lot better at marketing music than I ever was at engineering it.

I kinda felt like I missed the boat in that debate but I did want to respond to the topic because I think it's a little bit closed minded to bang on about whether the industry should be based around standards of songwriting or audio engineering when we all know this is business!

People buy what they like!

I try to write a more "practical" blog on online promotion, but I wouldn't hesitate in recommending Julian's and Justin's blogs for sleeves up, hands dirty stuff.

In this post, from my experience, what you're describing is sound in principle. Those stupid myspace plays increasers I hate actually work. People are more likely to respond when they think a band is getting hundreds of plays a day and other people are interested.

But then . . . I think what you're describing here is for a distinct kind of act: A mainstream pop act!

And I don't know if thats a sustainable or promising model for most artists!

And by the time you're talking about "song quality" we've come full circle and you're leaving our friends Tila Tequila and Crazy Frog and their awful but successful music out in the cold.


I think my contribution is: Maybe you're Tila Tequila and you're all about the MTC, or maybe youre Ani Defranco and would like to improve your home recording set up.

It's the seth godin factor that intersects these two points, the unique value of the proposition, the unique value of the relationship, the trust, respect and permission, implicit in the marketing behaviour.

Tila Tequila isn't making headlines any more. Artists creating value in unique ways are. Could Trent Reznor be on his way to being digitally bigger than Elvis?

...Maybe not Trent Reznor but Radiohead seem to be heading that direction with all the recent promotional moves they have made: Animation contest, remix contest, video contest, etc. etc.

Not to say that Trent won't catch up but it kind of feels to me like he is still on a "seeking" level with what he is doing where Radiohead seem to have figured it out.

Niche is what makes it all somewhat relative in defference to any one formula that could work for "Popstar-ness".

Milton

May 9 | Unregistered CommenterMilton

OK, now that I have a little bit more time to put into a comment;

I think the ideas around celebrity momentum / promotion of your music are essentially the same as they have always been. Examples being the ones mentioned above like opening up for a locally popular act as well as national and internationally popular acts (that is always a good thing!).

Also finding your way on to compilations with like minded artists...even assembling such artists yourself and being the catalyst for a compilation.

Now in this new digital age it may be smart to think of new ways to "compile" or rather "present" the compilation. Maybe you could set up a "Collective" website type of thing...or blog like this one here; many minds interested in the same thing doing something to capitalize on that collective (not that you guys are making a dime here!...but a collective artists blog might?)

At the very least it could increase the odds of exposure.

Maybe these "Collectives" could create pages / profiles for themselves on LastFM, iMeem, AimeStreet, etc. etc....

Rather than go it alone?

This was kind of thinking out-loud but maybe someone will benefit from my tangent(?)

May 9 | Unregistered CommenterMilton

the point is made quite succinctly in, of all places, the film American Beauty - the real-estate wife lives by the mantra, 'to become successful you must appear successful at all times.'

June 20 | Unregistered CommenterChris

"NOTE: Those of you that are great at constantly upgrading everything and everyone around you, have to be skilled at keeping everyone happy, especially when you don’t have cash. There are ways of doing this with integrity, and there are ways of doing this without leaving the people that supported you out in the cold. Email me if you need advice in this area."

i/we need advice on this i think. we have a local band in austin, starting to fire up the momentum engines. thanks for the great advice so far though, i'm sharing it with the band.

July 9 | Unregistered Commenternate

EXPOSURE OF A HOT ARTIST WITH A HOT RECORD AND IMAGE IS THE BIGGEST STARTING POINT FOR A UN-KNOWN ARTIST. BEING SEEN AND HEARD ON A NATIONAL LEVEL IS THE CHALLENGE. SOME INTERNET TOOLS CAN BE HELPFULL BUT NOT EVERYONE CAN AFFORD TO, OR HAVE TIME TO BE IN FRONT OF A COMPUTER WITH INTERNET OFTEN. THE MOST POWERFULL TOOLS ARE STILL ROTATIONAL RADIO STATION AND VIDEO AIRPLAY ON NATIONAL TELEVISION. SHOWS LIKE M T.V. , B.E.Ts 106 & park. and APPEARING ON PRIME NETWORKS SUCH AS NBC, ABC, FOX, ECT..DURING PRIME TIMES ARE BIG MARKETING AND EXPOSURE MOOVES THAT GENERATE SUCCESS. NOW WE ALL KNOW IT TAKES MILLIONS TO MAKE THESE KIND OF MOOVES. FOR ARTIST THAT DON'T HAVE MONEY TO MAKE BIG THINGS HAPPEN, I'D RECOMMEND RECORDING MIXTAPE ALBUMS OF THE HOTTEST NEW SONGS AND GIVING THEM AWAY FREE TO BUILD FAN BASE AT THE LIVE SHOWS YOU DO IN EXCHANGE FOR FANS E-MAIL AND CONTACT INFO. MAKE SURE YOU KEEP IN CONTACT WITH POTENTIAL FANS TO INFORM THEM OF UPCOMING SHOWS, AND NEW RECORDINGS YOU PUT OUT. AFTER YOUR NAME BECOMES POPULAR BEGIN SELLING YOUR CDs AT A VERY LOW RATE WITH PROOF OF SALES. WHEN YOU CAN PROOVE TO LABELS YOU ARE SUCCESFULL ON YOUR OWN YOU'LL HAVE LEVERAGE TO NEGOTIATE DEAL THAT COULD TAKE YOU TO THE TOP !

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