Removing the Earplugs

This evening I attended an event hosted by New York’s Center for Communication entitled Marketing Music in an iPod World. The description was simply: Illegal downloading has forced the music marketers to create new ways to shore up dwindling profits.  What are they doing to breathe new life into a moribund industry? And will their new strategies entice freeloaders to pay for play?

While this post may also be well-suited for my friend Shira’s blog, the state of the music industry has undoubtedly been impacted by online sharing, and so I would like to touch on a few interesting tid bits from this evening here:

The moderator, Bill Werde of Billboard Magazine, mentioned the term “sync licensing,” which Brooke Primont, VP of creative services and marketing at Cherry Lane Music publishing described as an overarching music license for music  placed against pictures or moving images. (I immediately thought of Sharon’s Remix.)  An example she gave would be when she pitches electronic music to the TV show CSI Miami. Such “syncing” means exposure for the artist and good audio for the images.  (To me, it seems like an offshoot of product placement, but, hey, in going with what would become a theme of the evening, they’ll take what works.)

Mike Worthington, the head of sales at Tommy Boy Entertainment, represented a more independent label. For his company, “360 degree deals” are the way to go.  This means Tommy Boy works with their artists on everything: publishing, recording, booking, tours, branded entertainment, and more. His point was that artists and their reps are “fighting as a team.” In the olden days (aka the 1990s) record label profits were the banks for the other initiatives, but today, he says, “we are looking at the bigger picture” and finding “no pushback from artists.”

Also on the panel was Perry Bashkoff, who does digital sales and marketing for the Warner Music Group.  The forward-thinking guy in a backward-looking company, he somehow came across as burying his head only halfway in the sand.  The moderator asked him about free distribution models and he said it depends, that they “weigh each situation” with the goal of “making sure the music is available where the fan is, as long as it’s transactional because it in the end it all goes back to making sure the artist gets their fair share.”  His example was ensuring iTunes can sell a certain song the day  it airs in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. (Good point, but I say his example barley harnesses the power of digital marketing, and still denies the fact that “fans” nowadays seem to be where the music is free. The dismal show of hands by people who paid for ring-tones exemplified this.)

Worthington jumped in on the free question. “We love to give music away… Independent labels have gotten into working with the artists in distributing their content this way because without the content you wouldn’t have any of the digital stuff.”  (Um, say again? I think you’re being warm and fuzzy, but your reasoning seems off..)

In what might have been the most elitely oblivious comment of the evening, Bashkoff chimed in yet again with “There is a model for everyone, and for some people it is free. And then you find people at the next level.” (Along with Radiohead and Chris Anderson, I bet No Doubt would beg to differ on this one.)

There is no surprise that the focus was on the conversion aka the transaction. Phrases such as “ISP taxes” and “ad supported artist branding” surfaced, if only briefly.

My question to the panel involved peer to peer music sharing. I asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they obtain new music from their friends. Hoping to make The Sharing Cyclone case for everything from direct e-connections to word of mouth, I asked what, if anything, they allocated to leveraging word of mouth marketing, peer to peer sharing, etc. and also what they do to measure the impact of these things on an artists’ brand. In a nutshell, they pointed to MySpace and social technologies which somewhat placated me.

But any satisfaction about the state of things was squelched by the guy after me, who claimed to be an artist manager asking for advise. He was stupefied when the panelists suggest he Google is client. And was even more dumbfounded when they suggested he create a website entry for the artist. Geesh.

Finally, and probably most significantly, the panel never addressed head-on the notion of illegal downloading.  They talked about the importance of loving the art and cultivating and supporting artists as paramount. But in their plea for creating “conversions” so that everyone could get their fair due, they never tackled the ultimate issue—the item that makes everything from this very blog to Wikipedia successful—and this is the notion that so long as duplicating and sharing music is free and easy, the public isn’t going to unplug from that. Face the fact, that’s how it is and how it’s going to be.

2 Comments

Filed under Case Studies

2 responses to “Removing the Earplugs

  1. JC

    Hey Christy: Here’s an interesting way to thwart illegal downloaders, generate buzz for your band and maybe even make a few bucks: Release only one copy of your new single and sell it on eBay. I’m not kidding, a Swedish indie band just did this. Creativity is still alive and well, check it out:

    http://techdirt.com/articles/20090310/0242444054.shtml

  2. christypill

    Fantastiskt is fascinating! It’s like a cool smear of music and visual art. Thanks for the cool link.

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