Perhaps the only industry that has been more revolutionized – some might say ruined – by the internet and the rise of social media than marketing is the music business. If you thought home taping was bad back in the 1980s, then the creation of Napstar, iTunes, bit torrent, twitter, facebook, sound cloud, myspace and the thousand other entities that the internet has spawned and that have utterly changed the roles of artists, labels, venues, managers and even fans – has probably made your head explode.
Today’s artist must be his own manager, PR department, booking agent, roadie, press liaison, and more – which is both good and bad. It’s good because if you’re the one wearing all those hats then there are fewer people in your employ trying to screw you. The bad news is that there are still only 24 hours in a day. In other words you still can’t be in three places at once, no matter how many twitter handles you have. Now, magnify that by the observation that you probably didn’t go into music so you could spend time parsing demographics, negotiating contracts and developing marketing campaigns – and that even if you did, no one ever taught you how to do any of it.
Which is why Mike King, current Chief Marketing Officer for Berklee Online Music and music industry veteran with Rykodisc and Rounder and Frank Zappa and Bill Hicks, has written his exceptional book Music Marketing – to teach people just how to navigate this brave new world.
King’s task is a daunting one, not only because of the altered landscape of the music business, but also because by and large the people he is talking to are not marketing people and have no real interest in ever becoming marketing people. They’re musicians. They love music. Getting them to understand the basic tenets of marketing – that it’s not about you, it’s about whoever you’re talking to; that it’s not about what you need and want, it’s about how you fulfill the needs and wants of the people you’re trying to sell your product to; Hell, that the music you’re making even IS a product, one that needs to be sold at all – is a task that even Sisyphus would skip.
And yet this is precisely what makes the book useful for anyone starting out in our industry. Not only does it assume no working knowledge of marketing and thus isn’t condescending (recognizing, as it does, that what it’s teaching is not what the reader thinks is important), but it has the built-in metaphor of music to make things understandable and concrete. Thus it can cover key aspects of the business simply and insightfully. For example, the parcel of down-and-dirty, nuts-and-bolts information about how marketing works – and why one even needs to market at all – that King lays out in the book’s opening chapters will tempt you to email it to anonymously to your more truculent clients.
And that’s not to say there’s not also useful information for a more sophisticated marketer. His thoughts on content – a hot button topic for marketers if ever there was one – are great as well:
To build an effective online community, you need to give fans a reason to continue to come back to your site. Over and above all other retention techniques, regularly posted content is the most effective way to get folks to revisit your site on a consistent basis. Outdated news is a sure sign that nothing is happening with your band which is the last thing you want your fans to think. (p.91)
Neither is King deaf to the unique and distinct concerns of musicians. His observations about the necessarily fluid nature of the product they are selling, his insights into how the radio business works, and his deep-dive guided tour of the music business late in the book will be eye-opening and valuable to anyone entertaining the idea of a career there.
But what makes Music Marketing so useful is that King understands that what makes marketing work is stunningly simple to articulate but oh so hard to do. Listen to your customer. Fulfill a need. Articulate how you do that differently (and sometimes better) than your competitors. Repeat ad infinitum. Or suffer the consequences.
It’s what has made brands as disparate as Coca-Cola and the Rolling Stones successful. And it’s what will continue to make brands successful regardless of what they’re selling and what media landscape they’re trying to sell it in. It is to Mr. King’s credit that he realizes this and has explained it so clearly, and it should be to the everlasting appreciation and benefit of every musician – and marketer – who encounters this book.