Tag Archives: music marketing

B(r)and Of Horses

Band Of HorsesI’m really liking the new Band of Horses record, Infinite Arms.

Before it was officially released, they launched a free stream of the album on their website, so naturally I checked it out.  They’ve put together a new site for the release, and the new album artwork is used as the background, something that is common when a new record comes out – slap the cover art for the album onto a site and off you go.  I got to thinking, why would a band go through the trouble of changing their site every time they release a record?  Would it make more sense to build a site with a consistent look and functionality so fans can develop more familiarity with it, or is record promotion still the only reason to have a site?  Bands don’t tend to release albums as frequently these days, but just imagine what Bob Dylan would have needed to do from ’62 through ’66 – six albums in four years.  Could have been a lot of paid work for a good web designer.

Some artists are big on releasing singles, others are album-focused, and others still are more about a community of fans grown around their body of work (think Jack Johnson) than any song or album in particular.   Those that fall along the latter end of the spectrum may be best served building a site that maintains a consistent look and feel, even as it morphs over time with development.  What artists/bands out there are currently taking this approach to their presence on the web?  Or are most bands just following the album-cover-as-website approach?  For an interesting look into what a band thinks about the evolution of their website, see these links courtesy of Radiohead.  Their current site doesn’t promote their records at all, in fact you’ll have a hard time finding any mention of their own music.  Seems like a logical outcome when a band becomes independent of record companies.  Is this a direction most bands (or their labels) are willing to take?


Radiohead

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Ok Go’s new video brought to you by State Farm

ok go musicFor those of us in the marketing world, it’s hard to ignore the increasing importance that social media is playing in our marketing strategy and the way that our messages reach their audience. Social media not only can help increase our reach in a relatively cost effective way, but it provides a platform for engagement with consumers. Marketers and advertisers are constantly trying to come up with ways to create something interesting enough to spread virally through the web, whether it’s via blogs, YouTube or Facebook. It’s a marketer’s dream. So it’s hard to imagine that some companies would actually impede the process.

But it’s something the band Ok Go knows all too well.

You may remember Ok Go from their music video a few years back for the song “Here It Goes Again”, an elaborately choreographed number on moving treadmills. They rose to fame as the video spread like wildfire online via YouTube (nearly 50 million views on YouTube alone), thus spawning many other media appearances. As Damian Kulash, the lead singer and guitarist, said himself, “To the band, “Here It Goes Again” was a successful creative project. To the record company, it was a successful, completely free advertisement.” It seemed to be a win-win.

But the success of that video had larger implications due to the ever changing landscape of the music industry and their struggle to find alternative sources of revenue. Major labels started to set up partnerships with video sharing sites such as YouTube so they get a small kick back when one of their artists’ videos is viewed, thus making back some money that they invested to get the videos produced. Ok Go’s parent label EMI, for one, has taken issue people embedding their popular videos on “non-partner sites”, such as the enthralling blog you are reading now, because they aren’t able to capitalize on the views. Ok Go has taken a clear stance on this, and for good reason. They owe their fame to viral promotion. See their open letter on the subject here, and a New York Times Op-Ed piece written by Kulash here.

Either unfazed or unaware of the situation at hand, Ok Go set out to recreate the experience people had with the “Here it Goes Again” video after the release of their latest album. But they have upped the ante with their new video for the song “This Too Shall Pass”. Still high concept, but with (it seems) a bigger budget. In the video, we are walked through a complex gadget built with meticulously-timed, domino effects that take us on a ride of one visual stimulus after the next. It’s a large-scale game of Mouse Trap set to music. And like its predecessor, it’s filmed all in one take. Oh, and the songs pretty catchy to boot. It’s creative, original and entertaining; a sure-fire viral hit. At the timing of this post, the video had been live for just 3 days and already had over 2.5 million views on YouTube.

Someone at EMI eventually realized that to hinder the spread of the video would be a mistake. So as a solution, they signed on State Farm as a sponsor of the video. As you watch the video, the truck that starts off the entire chain of events displays the State Farm logo. And in case you miss that, they are sure to mention it again at the end of the video. Average Joe You Tube Viewer probably has no idea what went on behind the scenes and that the sponsorship happened after the fact as a resolution to be able to allow the video to be embedded, so the State Farm endorsement may be a little confusing. But with the millions of views, the brand is getting great exposure and EMI makes a few extra bucks.

While music videos are often creative outlets for the artists, they essentially serve as an advertisement for the band and their music. They are a promotional tool, but typically not a direct revenue stream themselves. I am sympathetic with record companies these days as they struggle to find their financial footing in the new millennium, but charging the medium doesn’t seem to be the right answer. It almost like asking NBC to pay Budweiser to be able to air their funny commercials, not vice versa. Back in the day when MTV actually played videos, they didn’t pay the bands or labels to air that content, so why should that be the case in the YouTube generation? Further, why would you want to prohibit other people from spreading your message for you? As Kulash put it earlier, it’s essentially free advertising. The popularity of the video means more fans, which to EMI should mean increased sales of albums, digital downloads, merchandise, publishing deals, and concert tickets. The profit they make from these sales has to be more than the small percentage of kick back they are getting from the video-sharing websites. But of course I’ve never seen their income statement.

What has made music videos work all of these years is their dual purpose of promotion and entertainment. Not long after MTV’s launch, Rolling Stone writer Steven Levy wrote “MTV’s greatest achievement has been to coax rock & roll into the video arena where you can’t distinguish between entertainment and the sales pitch.” Herein lies the problem with the State Farm sponsorship of the Ok Go video. It makes that blurred line of promotion and entertainment much more overt. It says to the viewer that this video was not created as a way for a band to entertain and interact with their fans, it was done so to make a profit. (I realize that this was not the intention of Ok Go in this case, as the sponsorship was a necessary means to an end to allow the embedding.) Is Ok Go going to have to get a sponsor for every video now? That is sure to have an adverse effect on their fan base. So not only is EMI alienating the Gen Y audience by disallowing them to consume and share the content in the way they want, but they are going to drive them away by explicitly commercializing such content. Sounds like a lose-lose.

As a side note, Ok Go previously released a live performance video of the song “This Too Shall Pass”, which featured the Notre Dame marching band. It’s also done in just one take, and it’s quirky entertainment, in true Ok Go fashion. Of course there are no Notre Dame logos in the video, as I’m sure that kind of “brand exposure” would have cost them.

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New music that inspires great youth marketing

College Music & Marketing
Charlotte Gainsburg

Music has an ability to inspire. Youth marketers often need inspiration to come up with cool new ways to connect with youth. These songs should do just that. While some of these recommendations are not necessarily from new artists, their recent releases are worthy of attention and some blog love.

Vampire Weekend – White Sky.  Vampire Weekend was a much buzzed about band even before their debut studio album was released in 2008. The popularity of these Columbia University graduates has only continued to grow, with their latest release, Contra, debuting at #1 on the Billboard charts – quite an accomplishment. It’s hard to single out just one track, but “White Sky” is the latest single getting airplay and a great example of their upbeat, afro-pop sound. If you like this, pick up the entire album – it’s well worth it.

College Music & Marketing
Spoon

Spoon – I Saw the Light. This Austin, TX band has been around for well over a decade, but they continue to churn out albums of critical praise. It’s hard for me to say that their latest album Transference lives up to their previous effort, the polished pop of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but is definitely worth of the attention it has been receiving from fans and critics alike. And it’s clear that the album has a different approach than its predecessor. Transference is much more stripped down and raw, even disjointed at times. But it’s all intentional, and all part of why it works. Again, it’s hard to pick out just one track but “I Saw the Light” is representative of the album as a whole and feels like classic Spoon.

Broken Bells – The High Road. Broken Bells is a new project from super-producer Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley) and indie-rock band The Shin’s lead singer James Mercer. “The High Road” is the only track that’s been officially released thus far, but there have been numerous tracks leaked online (the entire album set for release on March 9th). Typical of Danger Mouse projects, Broken Bells don’t seem to fit neatly into a specific genre. The single has apparent influences from The Shins but with an injection of experimental, computerized soul.

College Music & Marketing
Matt Morris

Matt Morris – Someone to Love You. It helps to have friends in high places, and singer-songwriter Matt Morris knows that all too well. He got his start back in the early ‘90s on The Mickey Mouse Club, alongside such stars as Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera and has since gone on to write songs for both. Timberlake also signed Morris on to his label, Tennman Records, which released his Morris’s debut album last month. He recently got major screen time performing a stirring rendition of “Hallelujah”, a duet with JT naturally, on the Hope for Haiti Now telethon. It was a good choice of songs too, as Morris’s style evokes that of the late, great Jeff Buckley (who arguably does the best cover of “Hallelujah), especially on the recommended track “Someone to Love You”.

Sade – Soldier of Love. It’s been a full decade since Sade released their previous album, and this proves that good things come to those who wait. The first single (and title track) off the album is this gem. There’s a lot going on sonically in this song – from the marching band drum line, to the horns, to the guitar, both rock and flamenco – so you’re never quite sure what is coming next. But of course it’s Sade’s laidback, sultry voice that takes center stage, providing a welcome contrast to the song’s urgency.

College Music & Marketing
Cold War Kids

Cold War Kids – Audience. I was a fan of the Cold War Kids’ soulful indie rock since I first heard single “Hang Me out to Dry” in 2008, but their follow up album left a little something to be desired (save for one or two catchy singles). “Audience” comes from the four-song EP Behave Yourself issued earlier this year, in which the band shows that they have found their groove again. The single brings back more of the “barroom piano” and foot stomping beats sound. I’m happy to see that their more soulful side is back after their darker sophomore album.

Neon Trees – Animal. Neon Trees is an indie-rock band hailing from Provo, UT. They have gotten national exposure by touring with The Killers, but their first major label record won’t be released until March 23rd. Clearly The Killers have been an influence. Neon Tree’s sound is new wave-y synth-pop but with rock intensity. The danceable lead single, “Animal”, exudes high energy and glossy production. In the words of the band themselves, I want some more.

Charlotte Gainsbourg – Heaven Can Wait. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s latest album IRM (the French term for the MRI scan) comes after the French actress/singer had emergency surgery for a cerebral hemorrhage. The title track from the album even incorporates the sounds of the brain scan, an interesting concept that actually works. But what made me tune in is that her latest album was written and produced by Beck, and it definitely shows. Beck even sings along in the toe-tapping first single “Heaven Can Wait”.

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New Moon soundtrack review

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Hi, my name is Jennie and I’m a Twi-hard. I realize that as a grown adult, publicly confessing that I am addicted to all things “Twilight” could be potentially damaging to my reputation, but I hear the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. It also helps to know I am not alone in this. Case in point: the demand for the release of the soundtrack to the newest “Twilight” installment “New Moon” was so high, that the soundtrack was released four days earlier than scheduled due to early leaks online.

But beyond the “Twilight” hype, there was even more reason for me to look forward to the album’s release, and that was the line-up of artists contributing original songs exclusively to the album. While the first Twilight soundtrack was heavy in modern alt-rock, this edition is more indie folk-rock from lesser known bands and artists. The album is made up of artists who have more of a mainstream following (Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, The Killers, Death Cab for Cutie) as well as the up and coming indie darlings of college radio (Sea Wolf, Bon Iver, Grizzly Bear).

The overall mood of the album is much more melancholy than its predecessor, which would make sense to anyone who has read the book or knows the background of “New Moon”. The opening track, and first single released off the album, is “Meet Me on the Equinox” by Death Cab for Cutie. They’re not a band to shy away from darker themes (see previous works “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” or “I Will Possess Your Heart”), and this song is no exception. The lyrics speak of love, while reminding us over and over “that everything ends”. It’s pretty standard Death Cab material.

One standout on the album is Swedish songstress Lykke Li’s “Possibility”. The song is a departure from the pop I’m used to hearing from her, and the stripped-down sounds of the song makes it all the more affecting. Her airy voice and the sparse piano accompaniment are mesmerizing. Singer songwriter Anya Marina contributes her breathy “Satellite Heart”, another sad but pretty lover’s lament. The tracks by Bon Iver & St. Vincent and Grizzly Bear are eerie, hazy numbers that continue along with the solemn nature of the album. While this sound is typically for these artists and the songs  fit well here, it may prove to be a little inaccessible for those expecting more Paramore as in the first soundtrack.

It is no surprise to see Muse included on this soundtrack, as Twilight author Stephenie Meyer has named the band has her inspiration (or her muse, if you will) while writing the series. The song “I Belong To You” is also on Muse’s latest album Resistance, but is remixed here for “New Moon” (the difference from the original is slight). The other moment of rock comes early on the album comes from Band of Skulls with their song “Friends”.

Though the overall tone of the album is somber and muted, there are a couple up-tempo songs included as well. “Monsters” by Hurricane Bells and “Violet Hour“ by Sea Wolf are both jaunty alt-rock songs that add a welcome pep among an album full of mostly downers. Even vampires have to have a little fun, right?

Other tracks of note are the surprising “Shoot the Moon” by Ok Go and “No Sound But the Wind” by Editors. The former song by Ok Go, a band probably best known for their YouTube-promoted music video choreographed on moving treadmills, starts off with a timpani drum line that adds an interesting contrast to the otherwise light sounding song. They experiment with synthesizers and various woodwinds before erupting into an all-out guitar jam towards the end. Editors’ piano ballad a haunting but none the less beautiful final track, thanks to the vocals by lead singer Tom Smith.

As a whole, the soundtrack is an intriguing mix of sullen indie-rock that will provide an appropriate backdrop for the movie. If nothing else, it will provide great exposure for these bands to reach mass audiences. But will being on this mega-marketed movie soundtrack launch any of these largely unknown bands into superstardom? It’s too early to tell, but as in the realm of vampires and werewolves, anything is possible.

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