Consumer confidence – not better, just different

April 24, 2021

I woke up this morning to the news that Perth is now in a snap lockdown, just in time for their ANZAC long weekend. And two thoughts entered my mind:

  1. COVID sure does love public holidays. We saw new restrictions and lockdowns across New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year, Easter… and now ANZAC Day.
  2. Snap lockdowns seem to be the action of choice by state governments. Just one community transmission with a bit of uncertainty is enough to set off an area lockdown for 3 days.

I applaud our state governments for their quick action to lock down regions when there is even a tiny possibility of transmission. I’d much rather cancel my plans for 3 days than go into another 112-day winter lockdown. But these sudden closures are also challenging for event organisers. You may get a green light from the state’s health department the week of. You may spend hundreds of thousands into implementing your COVID Safe plan, and do everything right. But if some poor bastard completely unrelated to your festival (who followed all protocol), but was unfortunately put in a hotel room next to someone who’s got the virus, then sorry. Cancel everything.

Unlike other countries, Australians fear of getting COVID is now low. We haven’t known death at the same volume as other countries, and our ‘high’ daily case peak is still minuscule compared to other nations. I don’t know anyone who had the virus, and I’d say most of us are the same. But something almost every Australian has experienced? Cancelled plans. We’ve had to contend with small plans like dinner reservations, tattoo appointments and fitness classes getting cancelled, but also big ones too like long-planned weddings, expensive holidays or job relocations. At Bolster, I’ve lost count of how many events I’ve worked on that have been cancelled or rescheduled (multiple times at that).

Research agency Patternmakers surveyed almost 14K Aussies in March 2021. Here are their key findings that stood out to me:

  • 71% of Aussies recently attended a cultural venue or event. Up by almost 30% from September when our daily cases were relatively high.
  • The main factor in not purchasing/attending right now is the risk of cancellation (37% of respondents).
  • However 26% are still worried about the risk of catching COVID, although this is significantly down from the September snapshot.
  • Comfort and feelings of safety are highest in outdoor venues due to ventilation/fresh air. Bad news with winter on the way.
  • Most audiences are only booking 2-3 weeks in advance. Not so great for event organisers who normally announce months ahead.
  • (Summary here, full report here.)

The data shows that consumer confidence hasn’t sky rocketed after we got through our Victorian outbreak in October. Punters are more confidence to attend gigs, but a lot of fears simply transferred from being worried about catching COVID to fear of cancellations.

Here are my thoughts on how event organisers can be smart:

  • Fear of event cancellation: Work with your ticketing partner to figure out your outbreak cancellation policy. Openly address these or mention if you have the means to reschedule.
  • Fear of not being able to attend due to COVID: Work with your ticketing provider or venue to figure out the best policy for attendees feeling sick. This isn’t just a positive test result, but also suspected COVID, if someone is a close contact, waiting for results, or even a negative result but with cold/flu symptoms. Allow a full refund for unwell attendees. (Props to the Arts Centre who have an excellent FAQ page, and immediately gave me and my guest a full refund last week while I was waiting for my COVID results.)
  • Fear of not being able to attend if rescheduled: Mention that if you do reschedule (instead of cancelling), that all attendees will be given a clear exit even if they haven’t paid extra for insurance. Not all punters know that they are entitled to a refund if you change the date.
  • Concerns the artists or event offering will change: Offer updates on visas and travelling close to the event to show proof of attendance (e.g. candid artist selfie in hotel quarantine as they enter). This is especially important for increasing confidence and dialling up those last minute purchasers for punters who are attending for specific artists.
  • Late purchasing behaviours: Offer incentives to purchase early, such as early bird ticket prices or competitions. Call out new reduced capacities and the increased chance of selling out. Also get way more comfortable with late purchasing, or announce later than normal so your initial swell may be higher.
  • Fears of catching COVID at event (lower but still front of mind for 26%): Implement and widely promote on ground activities to reduce the chance of transmission. Even if you think its a no-brainer to say you’ll have hand sanitiser, do it anyway on your FAQ page and promote it to your mid-funnel advertising audience.
  • Reluctance to book an outdoor event in winter: Plan for and market any creature comforts to make the experience better. This might be blankets for attendees, heaters, hot drinks, mulled wine, umbrellas, undercover areas and cosy sweatshirt merch on offer.
  • Reluctance to book destination events due to state travel inconveniences: Work with travel providers or hotels to see if you can offer discounts for travel costs related to your event. This I haven’t seen done at all, but wondering if a big event with sway could organise a partnership with ‘no questions asked’ refunds if someone can prove they had a ticket to a cancelled event.

The key here is communication and transparency. The value of attending should outweigh any risks, and you need to make that clear even if it’s super obvious to you. Address your punters’ fears with empathy and honesty because by now most consumers have been stung by COVID cancellations.

Also making a mental note to myself to not book anything over the Queens Birthday long weekend, considering our track record with public holidays. 😛

Funnels // Dating as your ultimate marketing exercise

April 11, 2021

I love love, dating, sex and all of it. Despite being single for large chunks of my adult life, I’ve always approached dating with a sense of great amusement. Every right swipe and awkward first date filled me with a sense of potential. And every terrible chat exchange or cringe-worthy first date is just another funny story for my friends.

I do also work in marketing, and think deeply about advertising strategy. In my early thirties I got increasingly frustrated with my love life, and decided to apply marketing 101 to my Tindering.

At the time, my parents were becoming very vocal about their desire for grandkids, and my wonderfully solutions-focused mother gave me a Man Date Mandate. In other words, go on at least one date a week. What I noticed was that while the volume of my first dates increased dramatically, it wasn’t leading to many second dates, let alone relationships.

So I put on my thinking cap. This is actually pretty common with marketing. A client puts together–in their words–an incredible offering they believe everyone wants. We serve out 500,000 ad impressions and no one bites. Huge problem.

There are two ways of approaching this:

  1. Try a bunch of shit all at once, blinding hoping something works, or
  2. Pinpoint the biggest issue so we can concentrate on improving that first.

Enter the conversion funnel.

If we map out every stage of the purchase journey we can figure out the largest area of concern. It’s likely that you have drop off points at every stage, but there’s potentially a big ‘low hanging fruit’ change you can make that will give you the biggest incremental improvement on your results. Once that’s sorted, then you can go ham on little optimisations to further lift your game.

Here’s your standard marketing conversion funnel:

Pretty neat, huh? Figure out your audience size at each level, and calculate how much of the audience doesn’t move through to the next stage. Now we can make informed improvements based on where our leak in the funnel is. For instance:

  • Low volume in the funnel: We actually don’t have poor drop off, but we aren’t getting enough users into the funnel to begin with. We need to cast a wider net from the outset.
  • High drop off between awareness > consideration: We’re getting the message out there but people aren’t taking the bait. How do we make the ‘product’ more interesting?
  • High drop off from consideration to conversion: People are interested but why can’t we seal the deal? How do we drive a sense of FOMO and urgency?
  • High drop off from conversion to advocacy: Why don’t our punters want to talk about us? They like us, but not enough to share the word?

So let’s transfer this into the wild world of online dating. Here’s the conversion funnel, re-imagined for love:

Here are some common issues at every stage of the dating funnel, with some handy suggestions.

  • Low match opportunities by volume: Broaden your age or geo location. Try new apps to find different people. Pay for a premium tier of an app to get seen more or match outside your local area. Remove any attitude/behaviour filters that aren’t deal breakers (e.g. smokers, drug taking, pets).
  • Low match rate: Get friends of your desired sex to brutally screen your photos. Try a variety of different photo settings to show you’re well rounded (e.g. friend shot to show you aren’t a loner, festival photo/sports team photo to show your interests, close up smiling shot to show off your vibe). Remove any potentially inflammatory comments from your profile (e.g. don’t match if you like pop music, won’t date anyone shorter than 5″10, if you can’t handle me at my worst then you can’t handle me at my best). Try different apps that have more of your desired ‘type’ of person. Consider if YOU are the problem and you’re declining a lot of matches on your end.
  • Low chat rate: Put cheeky conversation starters in your bio that encourage opening lines (e.g. I think chocolate is overrated, convince me otherwise). Start convos yourself. Try different pick up lines. Find something interesting on their profile to make it easy for them to reply, but also don’t pick anything too obvious because everyone else has probably used it too.
  • Low first date rate: If chats are fizzling out quick, try organising first dates sooner before they get bored of the chat. Test out suggesting different types of dates to see what sticks. Be conscious of the cadence of date set ups and suggest a date early or mid week. Steer conversations towards activities as a starting block for a date (e.g. Have you been to the latest NGV exhibition yet? I’ve been dying to go). If your messages seem to be getting hectic responses, check if your profile accurate depicts your values or (sorry if this is mean) see if you can tweak your flirting approach to be softer. If you’re the one declining first date offers, figure out if you’ve been too open with your matches and make sure you’re only matching with people you actually want to eventually see IRL.
  • Low second date rate: If you were the one to decline a second date, figure out if it’s something you can screen earlier (e.g. if you go on heaps of first dates with 27 YOs and find them too immature, then change your age range). If you get ghosted/rejected heaps, figure out if you are perhaps presenting yourself online in a way that isn’t true to you. Try different date settings where you be comfortable and show your true self.

Go forth and enjoy filling your funnel (not intended to be a euphemism).

Full disclaimer: I completely acknowledge that dating is not for everyone. Finding love is not be a goal for everyone, and there is so much more to life than sex. I hope enjoy this blog post as entertainment, but I’ll definitely be waiting for an invite to your wedding if it works. x

Marketing diversity

March 9, 2021

I was listening to a fascinating BBC podcast about blood types, when this made my ears prick up:

Podcast host Marnie Chesterton: Why do we have over 300 antigen markers in our red blood cells?

Nicole Thornton: It’s a really important question especially at the moment with COVID. We as a species are constantly in conflict with infectious diseases. If we were all exactly the same then the pandemic could wipe us out as a species. Our diversity is key to our survival as a species. Having different blood groups is part of our diversity profile. Our differences and diversities keep us alive as a species.

(Answer edited for clarity. Listen to the full podcast if you’re a med nerd like me.)

I love a good analogy, and this one translates well into music marketing. At work, we frequently get SOS messages about hacked pages, disgruntled former employees refusing access or band members forgetting passwords. These client requests are usually accompanied by panic because it’s their sole marketing channel. It’s typically a Facebook page or Instagram profile with a very decent following, perhaps grown with great effort while other channels languish.

And it all comes back to this. Diversity. I’ve frequently mapped out a project execution plan only to have the client ask to scrap everything but one channel. The reason? “This is the only channel we have a decent following on.”

Only growing one marketing channel is dangerous. Why?

  • You might become ‘blind’ and not see opportunities, whether it’s an exciting new platform (TikTok, Clubhouse) or not moving to a new platform even though your audience has.
  • You’re assuming what has worked will continue to work. Check out The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb for more on this topic, if you’re interested in philosophy and probability.
  • You’re not testing and learning, whether it’s new format types or platforms.
  • And on that note, trying weird new things on your ‘main’ channel can be dangerous because your audience is huge. Trying new channels with small audiences mean you have a safer playing ground to test and learn.
  • You miss out on incremental reach. Each platform will have users that can only be reached on that platform.
  • You might get banned, hacked or blocked. A social platform might die with no warning. Whatever the reason – if that happens you immediately lose your main communication line with your audience.

Sound bad? Here are my recommendations for creating a healthy ecosystem for your music marketing:

  • Play around on new channels. Join with personally as an individually while you get the lay of the land to get a feel of how it works and what content performs well.
  • If you set up a channel and it isn’t right, you can usually delete it later with little drama. This also means you’ve reserved your handle in case you want to re-activate it later.
  • Separate your channels into primary (e.g. updated regularly) and secondary (mostly placeholders for key moments, and to act like your digital business card). Make sure your secondary channels are at least touched once at every milestone. This means fixing your bio description, updating your profile/cover photos and posting about said milestone at least once. Milestones might include an album release or your annual lineup/date announcement.
  • Understand how each channel services a different ‘side’ to you, and lean into this. Twitter is better for thoughts and links, so tap into that. Instagram and Pinterest do well with infographics and imagery, so lean into those. This is a huge part of making sure your content is legitimately diversified, and also gives your super fans a reason to follow you on every channel. (If they’re getting the same asset with the same copy on the same day on Facebook and Instagram, what is the proposition for following you on both platforms?)
  • Understand your unique audiences on each channel. If you’re a venue with broad programming, you might find TikTok better to engage your younger patrons but Facebook better for older generations. Keep that in mind with your strategy and posting.
  • You can still have a ‘focus’ channel that takes up most of your time. Just make sure it’s not your only channel. (You might even find you like a new platform even more. Media star Zoe Sugg found fame on YouTube but has gone on the record saying she actually prefers Instagram now. She currently has 9.2M Instagram followers, which shadows her 4.8M YouTube subscribers. She recently announced her pregnancy on Instagram a whole day before she did on YouTube.)
  • Back to my channel planning example above, don’t ignore this until you have to run an advertising campaign. Start nurturing new channels while you’re off cycle.
  • And finally, always make sure one of your channels is email marketing so you own your own fan/customer list.

Take the above with a grain of salt though. If you’ve joined any channel planning workshop I’ve run, you know that I strongly advise being realistic and doing a few channels well. I’m not saying artists all need to have a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Twitch, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube account. Just make sure you approach your marketing like the human race—adaptable and ready for action.

Finding a new audience in Australia

March 6, 2021

I recently had the honour of being a Gig Life Pro webinar panellist, alongside Jerry Soer from Collab Asia. For those who aren’t familiar with Gig Life Pro, it’s an APAC focused industry online portal, serving the function of a conference. If you’re like me and think that’s pretty neat, you can learn more about the great stuff they do here.

Jerry and I were interviewed by GLP Founder Priya Dewan, but also got a range of really thought-provoking questions from the audience. One particularly stood out to me:

​How can SE Asian artists start building their presence and introducing their music in Australia?

A very meaty question that I want to dissect further. Here’s why Australia is an extremely lucrative territory for Asian artists:

  • Despite its small population, Australia is the 6th largest music market by revenues, and 7th for digital sales. Bonkers. (Source.)
  • Australia is easier and cheaper to travel to from SE Asia, especially compared to the other non-Asian IFPI top music markets of USA, UK, Canada, France and Germany. (Source.)
  • Australia’s appetite in Asian genres is increasing. I’ve been monitoring Spotify’s “Discovery Tool” for a few years, and K-Pop is creeping up there as a growing genre. Outliers like Blackpink and BTS are probably driving this, but even so this shows potential growth.
  • 3% of surveyed Australians indicated an interest in Asian Pop, but this doubles to 6% when we look at 16-24 YOs. (Source.) I know 3-6% of a sample group sounds small, but this has been steadily increasing and is likely to continue. Spotify data also backs this up, with Gen Z being liking international artists more than any other generation. (Source.)
  • There are also at least 263K Australians born in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. (Source.) A significant chunk, and not even including students and Permanent Residents from the SE Asia.

So to answer the question, ​how can SE Asian artists start building their presence and introducing their music in Australia? It’s important to note 2 distinct audiences here that a SE Asian artist may want to market to:

  1. Australian locals, with no deep connection to Asia but have been shown to be increasingly interested in Asian pop culture especially music. This is intensified with Gen Z. Much larger audience but may need a bit more education and awareness building.
  2. SE Asian expats in Australia, with prior knowledge and love for Asian pop culture and music. Smaller audience, but likely to be higher intent and easier to convert or turn into ambassadors.

The audience you’re going after will really affect your promotional roll out. Some thought starters:

  • Pull on the right marketing ‘levers’. If you’re marketing an OS artist to Aussie audiences, you’re likely to be pushing a message around discovering a new hype artist. It’s all about discovery. If you’re reaching your expat crowd, then you might be promoting it as a community vibe, being proud of your local talent, or the rare chance to see an artist you’ve loved for a long time IRL.
  • Figure out which brands, media and personalities have cultural equity with each group. For instance, a great Popspoken interview may have weight with a Singaporean uni student in Melbourne, but not so much for Aussie who has never heard of the website. On the other hand, Time Out is big in both territories and would carry through. You may not need to find global brands, but just be mindful and don’t assume everyone reads/follows the same outlets as you.
  • Pick the right marketing channels. Expat communities may not exclusively use popular social media channels in Australia (ahem, Facebook and YouTube). Take a deeper dive into popular platforms in their origin country, in case they still use these to connect with family and friends. We Are Social x Hootsuite’s country reports are always my go-to for this data.
  • Understand local nuance and figure out where your artist sits in the music ecosystem. Artists that are considered ‘similar to’ are completely different for each territory. What is indie alternative overseas is often seen as extremely safe/commercial in Aus because our mainstream popular leans fairly left. Research this using Facebook Audience Insights for each country to find affinities. I find this more pertinent than Spotify’s “Fans Also Like” tab which seems to be global. Use these insight to pick appropriate tour supports, tour venues, media targets and playlisting targets.

While the thought of international artists playing gigs in Australia right now seems like a distant dream, it’s never too early to start finding and connecting with your audiences, no matter where in the world they are.

Facebook vs Apple

January 30, 2021

Facebook and Apple… two of the world’s biggest tech companies, and they could not be more different to each other. Their newest beef about privacy and tracking has gotten some pretty heavy media coverage recently, and for good reason. This is likely going to change digital advertising and content consumption models for the long haul.


It’s important to note that both Facebook and Apple list privacy in their core values. Here are Facebook’s:

  • Give People a Voice: People deserve to be heard and to have a voice — even when that means defending the right of people we disagree with.
  • Build Connection and Community: Our services help people connect, and when they’re at their best, they bring people closer together.
  • Serve Everyone: We work to make technology accessible to everyone, and our business model is ads so our services can be free.
  • Keep People Safe and Protect Privacy: We have a responsibility to promote the best of what people can do together by keeping people safe and preventing harm.
  • Promote Economic Opportunity: Our tools level the playing field so businesses grow, create jobs and strengthen the economy. (Source)

And here are Apple’s:

  • Accessibility: Built‑in features that work the way you do. Make them yours, and make something wonderful.
  • Education: Giving products, support, and opportunities to schools that need them most. Apple has been part of the ConnectED initiative since 2014, pledging $100 million of teaching and learning solutions to 114 underserved schools across the country. We’ve donated an iPad to every student, a Mac and iPad to every teacher, and an Apple TV to every classroom. And we’ve implemented a process that provides planning, professional learning, and ongoing guidance so every school can experience the transformational power of technology.
  • Environment: Apple is carbon neutral. And by 2030, all of our products will be too. We’re designing the world’s most innovative products from recycled materials. Soon we’ll make them all with clean energy and no carbon footprint. Some say it’s impossible. At Apple, we think different.
  • Inclusion & Diversity: At Apple, we’re not all the same. And that’s our greatest strength. We draw on the differences in who we are, what we’ve experienced, and how we think. Because to create products that serve everyone, we believe in including everyone.
  • Privacy: Privacy is a fundamental human right. At Apple, it’s also one of our core values. Your devices are important to so many parts of your life. What you share from those experiences, and who you share it with, should be up to you. We design Apple products to protect your privacy and give you control over your information. It’s not always easy. But that’s the kind of innovation we believe in.
  • Supplier Responsibility: Living up to our highest ideals takes the same hard work and innovative spirit we devote to our products. Labor, human rights, and environmental protections are the foundation of our Supplier Code of Conduct. And we go further to empower the people in our supply chain and to leave the world better than we found it — all while working with partners to get us there faster.

Both name drop privacy and also hold the community close. But Facebook’s values are a more top level, external to them and holistic (giving people a voice, building community, promote economic opportunities). The big ones here are the democratisation and equal accessibility of information/platform use. The privacy value is slightly at odds with this.

Apple’s values are more internal facing, and more product-focused. Their idea of accessibility is that their products are able to be used by those with all vision, mobility, hearing and cognitive abilities. Apple’s key work for community building is by supporting education/schools through providing their products/software, and making sure their supply chain is ethical and empowering. Apple do care about inclusivity and diversity, but have NOT listed equality as a value. (More info about the very important distinctions between inclusivity, diversity and equality here. Also fun fact – Apple is not a particular diverse company either by gender or ethnicity.)

These values serve as a good background to how their content consumption models are diametrically opposed. Facebook believes content should be free to consumer or create (i.e. avoiding a situation where only rich white people can check out valuable content, and only rich white people can serve their content to the masses). Apple believes in privacy, and does not value content accessibility as a core value.

Mark Zuckerberg does acknowledge the gripe people have with Facebook’s business model: “When people have questions about the ad model on Facebook, I don’t think the questions are just about the ad model. I think they’re about both seeing ads, and data use around ads.” (And yes – I even did a whole talk at BIGSOUND about whether your phone is listening to you. I’m still convinced that they don’t LISTEN to you, but perhaps they pick up keywords in your messages/comments, and this creepy feeling of being heard is a combination of the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon paired with super powerful machine learning from the dozens of signals you and your friends.)

I’m not a tech ethicist, and I don’t have the answers here. But I can see both sides of the coin. With Apple’s model, you don’t have creepy advertisers manipulating you into purchasing things you didn’t know existed. But there’s also the accessibility issue. What happens if you cannot afford to pay for this content? What if you can’t afford to pay to have your content seen? In this world, if social media was paid for and ad-free, does that mean that those who can’t afford it can’t access it? Can’t socialise? Don’t get invited to events, don’t see cool new trends or news? Lose touch with their friend? Miss out on job opportunities because they don’t have a network? I am incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of paywalling mass communities across the board (paywalled fan communities are not included here). Accessibility to content and tools for marginalised communities is a huge thing to me, as a BIPOC.


Apple’s new iOS 14 has a bunch of new changes. The key ones are these 3 points around app privacy:

  • App tracking transparency: Starting in early 2021, receive a prompt when an app wants to track you across apps or websites owned by other companies for advertising, or wants to share your information with data brokers. Then decide if you’ll give it permission.
  • App tracking settings: <No info here – says coming soon>
  • Privacy information on the App Store: You can now get information on the App Store to help you understand the privacy practices of every app before you download it. (Source).

If you use an iPhone/iPad, you’ll get this message:

(It is not lost on me that Apple used Facebook as the example on their own site.)

What this means for everyone:

  • Apple is letting users decide if they want to share their activity back to apps.
  • The pop up window is a prompt to let people decide consciously what they want to do. Thinking, Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman has some great insight into this using organ donation statistics between countries. Those that require manual opt in and much lower.
  • Before users even download an app, they can VERY easily see what data the app will track. E.g. financial information, location, browsing history.

What this means for advertisers and apps:

  • Apps can no longer easily ask for dodgy extra info, like your financial details. If they ask, you’ll know.
  • Lots of people are likely to NOT allow apps to track their data and info.
  • Less data to track = less data to act upon.
  • Your data is know going to be heavily skewed to non iOS users. (Diff to this – but according to Google Analytics, this website is now viewed by 100% Android phone users now.)
  • Advertisers won’t be able to target users as neatly any more.
  • Advertisers won’t be able to segment or optimise towards very niche actions anymore. It’ll be basic events like add to cart, purchase etc. but if you were doing hella specific shit before, that’s all gone.
  • Apple users who have opted out may get some pretty weird ads now that are very general and purely based off your ASL. Their Facebook experience might not be as good.
  • Advertisers’ audiences and data will be skewed and not representative of the whole pool and may not be accurate. (E.g. if you’re making insights into your converted audience with only access to 40% of them, is that really enough to be robust? And if Facebook is trying to optimise your campaign for a key result but can only see 40% of the key results, how intelligent can it be?)


My advice for advertisers (regardless of where you sit on the paid/free content argument) is this:

  • Focus on zero party data. Collect your own data, direct from your customers. If you incentivise collection, be really clear that you are collecting data.
  • In addition to the above, don’t solely rely on a community or data where you don’t have full access. If you’ve built your business around having access to 100K followers on Instagram, and for whatever reason you lose access (either through platform changes, or if you get booted off the platform) you’re screwed.
  • Have a strategy around what value you provide your consumers in exchange for their data, and let them know what it is. For an EDM, this might be private content, discounts, pre-sale ticket access, special merch bundles. If it’s a gated community, it might be private/special access/interactions with the talent, early access to content, special competitions, videos from the artist.
  • Be clear and transparent with data, regardless of where it’s come from. Make sure any pages/accounts that are advertising are labelled correctly. Make sure that your email lists are named properly and have the right source info. Some EDM platforms list this at the bottom of the emails OR on the unsubscribe form, and I hate it when it’s some vague thing like Maggie_Customers_mailing_FINAL1714826. Much better if it has a message like, “You’re getting this email because you purchased a product from our online store.”
  • Tidy up your company’s data and privacy policies. The average consumer is becoming increasingly interested in this and really hold you to it.
  • And finally, don’t stick your head in the sand. Advertisers are needing to jump through some hoops right now to help Facebook be compliant with Apple. It’s annoying. But yes – do it. (More info here.)

Was I right about 2020? And am I right about 2021?

January 21, 2021

January 2020. I was pretty goddamn excited for last year.

My personal life was looking pretty sexy. The music industry had literally never been bigger. International travel was cheap as hell. I was also riding a complete high at seeing huge box office successes of flicks like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, and I was hopefully that the mass public were final okay rooting for people of colour. (I reckon they more or less always were but like LOL data, big movie execs took a while to realise this/that their audience are actually BIPOC. This probably deserves its on entire blog.) But there was still a part of me in complete despair over our bushfires too. So there was that too.

That was the world I lived in when I put forth my prediction for the year, as part of Bolster’s 2020 trends report. Here’s what I said, a year ago:

Music will see more cultural diversity. The music business has historically taken cues from the film industry, so I predict the huge success that movies have had with POC representation will inspire the music biz.

Australia prides itself in being a cultural melting pot, but we’re yet to see this reflected in festival lineups. Apart from the obligatory male rapper, there is little POC representation. It’s hard to be what you can’t see, so diversity in culture will inspire a new generation of musicians.

(Check out the full Bolster 2020 trend report here.)

And then 2020 actually happened.

I had an interesting chat with a Bolster colleague the other day about trend forecasting in marketing. She had a thought that perhaps all the 2020 trend reports were perhaps redundant, and I (respectfully) disagreed. A lot of forecasted trends (by Bolster or otherwise) either accelerated or pivoted to fit in our socially distanced, virtual world.

My prediction about the importance of racial diversity (music, pop culture, movies, whatever) ended up taking shape not just as inclusive programming at a festival, but instead a global civil movement to support and empower BIPOC creators and business owners. Huge changes to how we think and operate, and how we hold businesses and corporations accountable. (I do write this and fully acknowledge that I work in a fairly white business with very white clients.)

And this is what I mean by acceleration. Racial inequality has always been a ginormous issue. It’s not a new thing we faced in 2020. But without the Black Live Matters movement this year there is absolutely no way that the huge shifts in attitude and real action would have all happened in one calendar year. I highly doubt Facebook would have added ‘Black Owned’ labels on business listings, or that several US state governments would implement bans on chokeholds, or a racist woman walking her dog off a lead would get fired.

So, what about 2021?

I reckon we’re on the same trajectory and speed as last year. Even if this year isn’t as dramatic as 2020, we still need nimbleness and quick action to get us out of the shitter we’re in. Here are the key consumer trends that I see being a thing and happening with real impact in 2021:

  • Self care being reclaimed back as the radical, delicious, awesome practice of truly caring for ourselves so we are recharged and ready to take on the world. (Read about it’s politically charged history here.) It’ll no longer be about ‘treating yourself’ to a $100 scented candle because you did your job that you are paid to do and it was hard.
  • Transparency trumps gloss and sexiness. Consumers are going to be looking at brands through a lens of diversity and sustainability.
  • Data will be the new gold, and brands will find really interesting ways to (ethically) collect and store consumer data with permission, and in a way that really drives value to their customer.
  • Gone are the days of being something to everyone. We’re going to see the rise of niche brands who can exist only to service the tiniest segment of the market and thrive. Marketing platforms will also help them find their tiny patch of the world through very niche communities on TikTok and Reddit, or use laser sharp machine learning to get cheap conversions.

Happy new year, folks.


October 12, 2020

BIGSOUND may not have happened in September, and I’m still not allowed to go to Queensland… but I’m super stoked to announce that I’ll be doing not one but two sessions at the virtual BIGSOUND next week with Bolster.

The first session is a Digital Music Marketing Foundations masterclass on Wed. It’s a 60-minute webinar where I’ll investigate how and why audiences discover, engage, spend money and time on music. The session will also review common social media channels, and how to best use these for an effective marketing campaign. I’ve created this particular webinar to be useful for artists, managers, festival/label marketing managers and SMB owners looking to market to music audiences online for the first time. No prior knowledge needed.

The second sessions is a fun A-Z Of Future Music Marketing webinar that I’ll be co-hosting with my Bolster colleague Carl Redwood. We’ll whiz through trends and future tech that we think the music industry should take note of.

More info about my sessions here. Catch ya in the BIGSOUND livestreaming portal next week!

Campaign Thoughts: All Time Low

October 4, 2020

American pop punk band All Time Low just announced a series of live streamed concerts. Almost a year into a pandemic, not that surprising and definitely not innovative. But how they’re rolling it out? *kisses fingers like I’ve just eaten pizza*

The Basement Noise Concert series is ON SALE NOW!Not being able to play shows for you all this year has been…

Posted by All Time Low on Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The band will be performing five live streamed concerts on Saturdays from October to December. The first live stream will be ATL performing their latest album Wake Up, Sunshine in full, and each subsequent concert will be a curated set list from a different band member. Tickets are sold per stream, but fans can also purchase a 5-stream concert pass that gives them a discount and access to special merch.

Here’s why it’s bloody brilliant:

  • Partnering with a different concert promoter in each territory is smart. Just like they would with an IRL concert, working with a promoter allows the band to tap into their resources (e.g. on ground publicist, social media, past purchaser databases, local connections) while also leveraging the cultural equity of the promoter. That last point is especially important. The Aus promoter in this case is Destroy All Lines, a well-loved tour promoter in the metal/punk/hardcore scene with an established following.
  • Rolling out a series of events creates the same excitement and hype as a normal tour. Marketing can use activity and content from the first stream to sell tickets to subsequent nights.
  • Having more than one night also makes it easier for fans to find a time that suits them.
  • The 5-stream concert pass is clever because hardcore fans can and will purchase it to make sure they don’t miss anything cool. The exclusive merch only available to these users is also an ingenious way to incentivise the pass, and fans will definitely use it as a badge of honour to show their level of love. (What? You only got the merch for Rian’s October 24 concert? Check out my merch that I got because I love them enough to watch every single one.)
  • Spreading the 5 dates by two or three weekends apart also means that fans won’t get super bored. If they crammed it into a couple of weekends like an actual tour (e.g. Friday, Saturday and Sunday across two weekends), it’s less likely that people would have tuned in to watch them in succession.
  • Having one show dedicated to playing the whole album from start to finish is a great way to promote the album again. It’s what we would call “PR-able”, and a lot of media coverage for this series has focused on that angle.
  • It’s also a great way to give legs to an album off cycle. Wake Up, Sunshine will definitely see a boost in downloads and streams from this activity.
  • Focusing on individual band members leverages the type of fandom that pop punk audiences tend to have (e.g. forum discussions about which member is your fave) and unlocks many member-specific content opportunities.
  • They’ve listed the streaming series as a tour across sites like Songkick, tapping into those platforms as another marketing touch point.
  • The $20ish price point per stream feels right. It doesn’t devalue their music by giving it away for free, and sits okay considering GA tickets to their 2017 Melbourne concert was at the $100 price point.

Not every artist will be able to roll out a multi-market live stream series, but here are my thought starters for other musicians:

  • Do you really need to undertake your live stream efforts solo? Or can you partner with your label, a trusted promoter (especially outside of your home territory), media partner or venue? You’ll need to split the profits, but will you generate more ticket sales by doing this?
  • Can you run a series? Could you split it up to have themes (perhaps one concert per album or per member, or with themes like Christmas, Halloween and New Year’s)?
  • If your audience size is big enough or you have access to on demand merch production, can you offer special merch items only to attendees?
  • If you’re running a series, are you being realistic about how often they should run? Are they far apart enough that the same users will come back, but regular enough to keep momentum and excitement up?
  • Can you add a PR angle into your message? (E.g. recent album in full, anniversary gig.)
  • Can you offer discounts or merch incentives to attend more than one?
  • Are you using all the marketing avenues you would use to promote an IRL concert (e.g. Facebook events, Songkick)? It’s important to note that almost all of these IRL concert listing sites have pivoted to include virtual events.
  • Do you have a pricing strategy? How do you virtual concert ticket prices sit against your average IRL concert ticket? If it’s more, what extra value are you providing (e.g. pre-concert access, behind-the-scenes previews, interviews, special views) and have you clearly communicated this? If it’s free or less, have you made sure it doesn’t devalue your music?

I have to admit that I was a live stream skeptic in April and May, and didn’t see the point of seeing a shoddy free stream of an artist back then if I could just wait a few more months. But as we find ourselves a year deep into the COVID-19, more elegantly executed live streams really hit that spot ?

Nailed It

September 23, 2020

Nine Inch Nails dropped a new merch collection yesterday. While one of the world’s biggest bands releasing new goods is nothing to write home/about on my blog, something was different about this…

They haven’t released new music in over half a year. They’re not on tour. They’re not promoting anything.

Instead their Pandemic 2020 collection is a re-imagining and re-purposing of their existing catalogue for the weird state of the world. They’re taken releases from as early back as 1992, and used them as a pointed statement about COVID-19 and the US political climate.

Here’s why this is bloody brilliant.

  • It’s a shared bonding experience with fans. It shows that no one, not even Trent Reznor, is immune to anxiety and anger from the state of the world.
  • It’s a show-don’t-tell way to promote their core values. This has more power than just saying, “Hey, we hate Trump’s handling of COVID-19.”
  • It’s news worthy.
  • The limited run feels urgent. Fans should purchase ASAP.
  • Band merch items tend to have a stories behind them. Instead of talking about the concert they picked up a shirt from, fans will be able to share their emotions in response to the 2020 pandemic and election.
  • It’s a smart way to give life to old releases, and in a way that feels fresh and new.
  • It’s a creative yet simple way to re-purpose existing content during COVID. A handy tactic if you can’t create content IRL due to health reasons and legal limitations (e.g. no photoshoots, travel bans).
  • It’s so on brand for them and their music. This isn’t the first time they’ve made veiled comments about American politics.

This merch drop works beautifully for Nine Inch Nails and their audience, but it won’t work for every artist. So here are my learnings for other musicians:

  • Random merch not tied to a campaign is okay. You don’t need to be promoting something specific.
  • Look at your existing assets and content with fresh eyes. It could be old releases like NIN have done. It might also be old press shots (turned into colouring books) or archival footage (cut into new music videos like the controversial You Know You’re Right clip).
  • Adopt a re-cycling mindset when creating new content. Always request layered art files and high res versions. Keep those random daily bounces that are rough cuts of actual songs. Document experiences. Save your AAA passes. Get those behind-the-scenes pics. Save everything in Dropbox or a hard drive. Make copies. Keep everything even if you don’t need it right now.
  • Use the power of ‘limited edition‘ to drive sales. Make it feel urgent and special.
  • Give your merch drops a story or an angle that fans can share and get excited about.

Trent, if you’re reading this, I feel like Big Man With A Gun should be in your next merch run. Just saying.

Why I’m worried about the music industry

September 8, 2020

My heart is breaking. The music industry is in pieces. It’s been part-inspiring, part-depressing seeing people from all over the sector try to patch things up or make ends meet during this pandemic.

A lot of attention has been focused on musicians… How will musicians cope if they can’t write, record and perform music? How will they connect with their audiences? How will they make money? Are live streams supposed to replace touring income?

All very fair and important questions, especially since the industry but would be nothing without artists. But there are some deeper layers to look at, and some less obvious concerns that worry me deeply right now:

  • Performers in the lime line (i.e. talent) can still make an income via live streaming, or using their clout for income (e.g. partnerships, social media posts, Patreon) but other live staff (e.g. sound engineers, lighting engineers, roadies, tour managers) do not have this luxury to fall back on for income.
  • Furthermore – a lot of these ancillary staff have skills that translate well to other live settings (all cancelled, thanks COVID) but not so well online.
  • A lot of these ancillary staff are also contractors, and may not be eligible for government payments, and/or redundancies packages.
  • Recorded music is not being churned out at the same speed as previously, with musicians not being able to travel or necessarily be in a room recording without breaking COVID protocol. The recorded industry is currently releasing music that was recorded pre-COVID, so we may see a ‘bald spot’ in release calendars in coming months. (Although some artists have been super productive, and writing and recording like mad from home.)
  • There’s less ‘business’ happening, meaning there is less need for internships and work placements right now. This will effect incoming talent, meaning we may have ‘talent leakage’ over the next few years. Many bright minds who may have chosen to work in music (if not for COVID) may have decided to start a sensible career in a more stable industry instead. (Especially because research shows that Gen Z are super responsible and financially savvy… unlike us millennials who were bad with money and are big dreamers.)
  • There are less jobs in the industry, meaning the job market is competitive. Overqualified established professionals may take taking pay cuts or less senior roles (temporarily) to stay in the industry, making it harder for emerging music industry professionals from getting a foot in and gaining experience. Same as above – this may cause talent loss to the sector.
  • Less music events and money floating around means less advertising revenue to media outlets that specifically service music and entertainment audiences. This may mean fewer resources to fund good content, or compensate their creators appropriately. (I would say the majority of these creators have never been compensated properly but that is a whole other conversation.)
  • Closing down hospitality and retail also affects licensing, and reduce income artists would earn from said venues playing their music.
  • The film industry has also been hit hard, with less movies being produced or released this year due to logistical nightmares. This means less sync deals for artists, which especially hurts because these can be very good coin.
  • Also less music events and new music mean less editorial content for outlets, meaning that they may be getting less traffic to site, therefore less impressions they can sell. (Some Aussie music media right now cannot serve out normal ad impressions due to severely low traffic.)
  • Medium sized businesses may struggle to stay afloat with this Melbourne COVID wave. The big boys have big cash reserves and can stay afloat by restructuring and jettisoning assets. Small operators run lean, and likely don’t fully rely on music industry income to survive. But the guys in the middle? They are likely to be newly established and potentially just breaking even before COVID-19 hit. Removing these actors out of the music industry ecosystem can spell trouble because they service an area of the industry, and help small artists/venues etc until they move up the chain.
  • Same with music venues. Small neighbourhood dive bars may seem shitty to some, but they are the hidden gems of the live music scene. They serve as a testing ground for new artists to cut their teeth, and develop their performance skills until they can move up to medium sized venues. Without these, it may prove harder for new artists to prove they have a track record with punter attendance, and also for getting used to performing to crowds.

Written from my couch in the heart of Melbourne’s lock down. xx

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