This is an exclusive early post from my Juggernaut Brew blog which every day this week asks a big question of the music industry…http://juggernautbrew.blogspot.com/
Back in 2007, Radiohead exited its record deal with EMI and promptly self-released their new album In Rainbows as a ‘pay what you want’ download. This I know did not escape your attention.
The genius of the strategy was multi-layered. The move generated such a huge wave of PR that the record hardly needed a marketing budget. And ironically, the band themselves avoided the need to do the usual round of publicity appearances and interviews – an established system the band loathed. It made them look forward thinking and brave. I’m even convinced that the distribution strategy for In Rainbows had an impact on the critical reception of the album itself which garnered four & five star reviews across the board and was number one on many critical lists for that year (it was a good record but was it a great one?).
Best of all, the release of In Rainbows demonstrated Radiohead’s complete understanding of today’s music market, efficiently skewering both ends of the polarised demand for music: digital - the get it now, get it cheap (or free) no frills option; while the high-end £40 box-set satisfied the insatiable appetite for quality stuff that still exists amongst die-hard fans and music collectors.
I know you’ve reflected on all of that as well. But how about this – why didn’t Radiohead’s phenomenally successful strategy with In Rainbows catch on with other established bands?
How come the vast majority of major releases by established artists are non-innovative, conventional, publicity-machine driven affairs involving the usual parade of press, radio and TV mainstream slots, maybe with the odd free download, social networking or viral video strategy thrown in for appearance’s sake?
It’s even unfair when you think about it. U2 hardly needs a leg-up, but the band still occupied most of the BBCs publically-funded promo slots when they launched their last record. Ironically, that record sold disappointingly. Maybe there’s a lesson there? Maybe a more innovative, devil may care approach would have stoked up more interest in the record.
I know that you think you know what the explanation is. That U2 and so many other major bands with a global footprint – Coldplay, Kings of Leon etc. – are on major labels, so the release method has to be by the book, playing by numbers. Partially true I guess – when the machine starts to crank up, who is going to stop it?
But there’s no reason why the label and the band couldn’t come up with something genuinely different. The Coldplay ‘Viva campaign’ was impressive at least – and brave too when you consider the revolutionary costume styling – risqué I would call that! But it was still pretty main-stream and probably cost EMI a fortune to execute.
And here is one critical point – artist management often want to know how much the label is going to spend on promotion – perhaps before the actual strategy itself is discussed. This isn’t exactly a dream incentive system for what’s required in music – low cost, innovative marketing. But hey ho, that’s human nature.
The tipping point then – whereby bands can explore valid go-to-market strategies beyond the press, radio, TV and tour treadmill – is yet to arrive. I guess two things need to happen to tip the current record marketing establishment:
- More established bands do an ‘In Rainbows’ (why wouldn’t they, either without, or with, their labels?). Coldplay for one seems to be chomping at the bit for the chance to do something that can put them in that kind of light. Next time perhaps.
- A platform emerges that somehow democratises promotion – giving many more artists – especially new ones – fairer access to (the equivalent of) mainstream promo slots. Any one of Slice The Pie, Reverb Nation et al. Are attempting to do just that. The problem is that many don’t get beyond early adopter niches, or reach young but ultimately low-purchase audiences.
One significant step – announced last week – was the CBS and Last.fm initiative that facilitates Last.fm to programme a number of CBS’s HD radio slots in large US cities. Here for the first time we might get some genuinely interesting eclectic daytime radio in the US. This deal was obviously enabled by CBS’s outright ownership of Last.fm but that shouldn’t be a necessity. With Spotify, We7, Yahoo, AOL, Myspace and others (Twitter if we must), we surely have now mass market platforms to rival the old guard media.
Surprising then how many established artists are not taking these platforms seriously. Is it a lack of belief, a lack of interest? Or is it that the old media platforms are better connected to music buying audiences rather than simply music listening or music-social audiences.
What we really need is more collaborative initiatives between new & old media - that focus on new artists not those we know already. These initiatives need to be new aggregator brands for music – doing what Top Of The Pops or MTV Unplugged did back in the halcyon days.
Why aren’t there more music brands like this today? That’s another question.