Music

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.

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.

Music Industry Masterclasses

July 1, 2020

Not even a pandemic can stop The Push for delivering value to its users!

Thrilled to be facilitating four music industry masterclasses for The Push over the next couple of months, on behalf of Bolster. The first session will a workshop on Bandcamp, followed by one on YouTube plus two more to be announced. Every session will have an expert in each platform giving their best tips and tricks on how emerging artists and music industry professionals can get the most of the product, followed by a Q&A session hosted by me. Full disclaimer – I plan on being a bit selfish and picking their collective brains on everything that I’ve ever wanted to know, but I will definitely make sure that the attendees answers get some airtime too!

Register for the Bandcamp Music Industry Masterclass with their Artist & Label Ambassador Will Evans. Register for the YouTube Music Industry Masterclass with Ant McCormarck from Changer Studios. Keep an eye on The Push’s event listings page to find out more about the yet-to-be-announced instalments of the masterclass series.

For those who have not heard of The Push, it’s an incredible non-profit youth organisation based in Melbourne with the goal of making music accessible to youth organisations. A huge part of this is helping set up our next generation of music industry professionals for success, but another stream is making sure live music is accessible to often forgotten youth audiences. (Also I’m a proud board member.)

In line with The Push’s core value to make sure their services are accessible, all these workshops are completely free of charge and open to everyone. See ya in Zoom!

Old Media, New Media with Melbourne International Jazz Festival

June 30, 2020

I spoke on a career development panel for Melbourne International Jazz Festival earlier this month, as part of the iconic institution’s online music and learning festival.

The panel was hosted by the festival’s own Dean Worthington, who brings over a decade’s worth of arts sector wisdom. I was joined by some absolute powerhouses: music journalist Michael Dwyer, Lior Albeck-Ripka (co-founder of artist and events agency Hear Them Holler, and also a key player at Festival of Jewish Arts and Music, Sarah Guppy (the brains behind This Much Talent, Gig Life Pro and all-round music PR lord).

It was a fascinating chat about publicity, telling artist stories, communities plus my thoughts on why the idea of ‘gatekeepers of culture’ in the music space is problematic. (I have so many thoughts about Blackout Tuesday.)

Watch our chat below (please enjoy my not-staged-at-all-what-are-you-talking-about Zoom background) and find out more about the wider digital festival here.

You are more than… your music

June 30, 2020

Why do we play certain songs to death? What do we consider before we add a tune to a Spotify playlist? What’s the catalyst for you to share a song with your best friend? To answer these questions… we kinda need to look a little deeper than the music itself.

Billie Eilish’s smash hit ‘Bad Guy’ has an astronomical 1 billion streams on Spotify. The song is admittedly very catchy, but are we listening to the song over and over again because it’s a super memorable earworm we can’t get out of our heads? Or has the world collectively fallen in love with Billie Eilish, the human behind the music?

On the flipside, how is cancel culture shaping the way we listen to artists, and feel about them? Radio stations in New Zealand and Canada removed Michael Jackson songs from rotation after the release of Leaving Neverland, and one Perth station removed his back catalogue due to listener complaints. Spotify even made a platform policy to not promote hate content (albeit before they did a backflip a month later because they weren’t sure how to handle ‘safe’ content by artists with a reputation or criminal record.)

The common theme between the former King of Pop and the biggest popstar of the moment is how much music audiences are swayed by the artist themselves. 

It’s very rarely just about the music.

Why?

Enter storytelling. 

Big brands like Coca Cola and Nike have been leveraging storytelling to tap into emotions for decades. There’s a running joke that Oscar-winning movies are desperately depressing because they follow a formula. We binge watch TV shows in a single sitting when we get emotionally invested in the characters. 

Forbes explains

Great stories make people feel something, and those emotions create powerful connections between the audience, the characters within the stories and the storyteller.

Emotive marketing can be an effective tool for brands (and musicians). Scientific studies have shown consumers focus on their emotions more than objective information when making decisions. Your knee jerk, emotional reaction to content is more influential on your purchase intent than the actual content of the ad, (up to three times stronger for TVCs). Our visceral response to stimuli has a huge impact on our intentions, recall and relationship. This doesn’t just apply to marketing for oat milk and soft drinks, but also for music and pop culture.

Storytelling in music

Music in itself is storytelling. Successful artists paint a full picture through their lyrics, melodies, cover art, stage design, costumes and music videos. It’s no surprise then that the world’s biggest musical stars are masters at telling their own artist story, outside of their actual ‘products’ of music.

Here are three tenets for good storytelling: 

Show, don’t tell

Beyoncé is the one of the world’s most prominent Black artists, and her public persona is built on being a strong, powerful black woman. Her commitment to Black culture and specifically Black women shines through her work, and it’s not just lip service. 

Her dedication to Black women empowerment can be found in spades in her historic Beychella performance. As the first African American woman to headline Coachella, Beyoncé used this as an opportunity to further her story and promote other Black performers. She incorporated elements of Historically Black College and University (HBCU) traditions like marching bands. She hired an incredible ensemble of Black performers to join her on stage, and collaborated with Black designer Olivier Rousteing on costumes. 

Beyoncé doesn’t tell us she supports other Black artists and creators. She shows us. 

Consistency

Google ‘Lana Del Rey aesthetic’, and you’ll find over 4 million results across internet forums, fashion sites, university dissertations, tutorials on achieving her vintage vocal mix and homages on Tumblr. Every element of Lana Del Rey’s output remains entirely consistent with her Hollywood sadcore image. Whether it’s her manicure, her pack shots, her fashion sense, her stage name or her actual music, every element fits into the story that is Lana Del Rey. 

As one outlet puts it, “Lana Del Rey is motorcycles. Lana Del Rey is sugar daddies. Lana Del Rey is old age America. Lana Del Rey is heart shaped sunglasses.”

Be genuine 

A huge part of Billie Eilish’s public persona is her activism for causes close to her heart, with one the most prominent being climate change. 

Her work here isn’t at face level. She hasn’t just recorded a short clip for a charity campaign and left it at that. Billie has told The LA Times she has climate anxiety, and the singer-songwriter uses every inch of her platform as a celebrity to cover this. 

Her genuine commitment to the environment as an artist includes wearing a protest tee at The AMA’s, talking about the environment on Jimmy Fallon, setting up an eco friendly world tour, and partnering with Global Village to educate her punters about how they can help. Not to mention her incredible song ‘all good girls go to hell’, a climate change anthem about the LA Wildfires:  

Storytelling never stops

It’s understandable that some artists have taken the foot off the gas with their marketing this year. It might have felt inappropriate to promote sales content when there are bigger issues at hand, or artists shows and music may have been halted temporarily. But sharing and developing your story with the world shouldn’t be an on/off switch. 

2020 is actually the perfect time for artists to tell their stories and deepen their relationship with their audience. Instead of trying to manage a full content calendar to keep their managers, booking agent and label happy, artists now have a decent chunk of time where almost all fan communication can be solely about them with no sales agenda. This is a rare opportunity where artists can showcase their personality, brand, lives and the magic behind their music, completely unfettered by promotional obligations.

Don’t write off 2020 as a compulsory gap in your career as an artist. Turn it into the moment you unveil your greatest story to your audiences and fans. This isn’t your usual incremental audience building you’d see every time you service a single to radio or release a music video. Make your story front and centre, hook them in, make them fall in love with you, and build your audience for life.

Side B Sessions

May 8, 2020

Bolster ambitiously (and successfully, might I add) rolled out a full day conference last year in Sydney and Melbourne. It was a day packed with keynotes, workshops and panel discussions around music, audiences, community building, tech, social media, advertising and brand marketing. We rolled out a full session in Melbourne and went back for seconds in Sydney a couple of days later.

I presented two different talks at Side B: Cultivating Communities (about fandoms, communities, and how brands can get in on that action) and a State of Play (where we’re at with consumers, advertising and tech). I also had a nightmarish trip back from Sydney where our flight was delayed a billion hours and my plane seat was covered in something that could have been blood or jam or both. (Oh the days of interstate travel, I miss you yet I really don’t at the same time.)

Since it’s going to be a while since we get to hang out in large groups again, Bolster are doing what we do best – innovating and adapting. We’re proud to announce that we’re doing Side B again, especially at a time when people need it most. We’ve also made it free and on Zoom to be accessible for anyone (not just Bolster clients in Sydney and Melbourne). Side B Sessions will be coming at you with a one-hour session per week, and a mix of guests that’ll include Bolster and industry leaders.

I’ll be co-presenting the second Side B Session, an updated state of play (since so much has changed since we presented this last in October). I’ll be Zooming into your respective home offices/bedrooms/kitchens/bathrooms with my Bolster peeps on Tuesday May 19. I’ll specifically be covering off how media demand and consumption has changed (and why), and how the consumers of 2020 are showing their love.

Sign up for it here, plus find info on some of the other sessions we have planned. See you, can’t promise I won’t be wearing sweat pants during the Zoom keynote!

Side B Sessions #2

Side B Sessions #2: Digital state of play is tomorrow ⚡️All the rules have changed since our last keynote, so Paige X. Cho and Cat Rewha will be taking you through the current COVID-19 climate. Sign up here.

Posted by Bolster on Sunday, May 17, 2020

VMDO Networking Breakfast

April 29, 2020

Love the VMDO’s work ? Those four letters stand for the Victorian Music Development Office, and this power house team truly support and empower the contemporary music industry in VIC.

They’ve been running their Networking Breakfasts for a few months (maybe a year?) out of White Sky Music‘s office in Collingwood. As soon as the pandemic hit, they deftly translated their event into an online affair. I had the pleasure of joining today’s Twitch session, and it was incredible that they were able to recreate the IRL experience online in a way that truly provided value. (I.e. not a bunch of faceless peeps feeling very disconnected while watching a webinar.) The VMDO split us off into Zoom breakout rooms for networking (got deep into a conversation about the state of live music venues), had a beautiful Welcome To Country by their First Peoples Business Manager, and an engaging panel discussion followed up by ample question time.

So with all of this in mind, I’m very excited to be taking part in their next VMDO Networking Breakfast on Wed May 13 on behalf of Bolster!

I’ll be taking a deeper look at how social media/media demand and consumption has shifted during COVID-19. I’ll explain how music businesses can use these insights to not just survive but actually thrive during this period of downturn. My presentation will cover not just social media platforms, but also usage of other entertainment channels like YouTube, Netflix and Spotify. Co-presenting with me is Leesa Snider from Achord Agency. Sign up here.

BRB finding my best sweat pants for my first at-home Zoom public speaking engagement!

2019: Year In Review

December 24, 2019

This year was a milestone year for me – 10 years in the music industry. An entire bloody decade. Here’s a list of some things I did in 2019 that stuck out in my head.

  • Celebrated my fourth work anniversary at Bolster. I’m now practically part of the furniture.
  • I tackled my fear of solo vacationing in 2018, but took it a step further this year by going overseas (to New Zealand) by myself for the first time. Stayed in a converted stable on a working deer farm. Fed all the many farm animals. Learnt how to put snow chains on. Saw snow for the first time since the 90s. Went hiking. Sailed across Milford Sound. Discovered that there’s some interesting Kiwi sandwich that’s just pineapple and cheese with mayo. ?
  • Went to BIGSOUND for the 8th time, where I swore to never have another espresso martini for as long as I live.
  • Got over my public speaking anxiety, and…
  • Had the absolute honour of doing public speaking engagements for Bolster in QLD, NSW, ACT, VIC, SA and WA. Next year I’ll have to try to get to NT and TAS ☺️ (Seriously – if you happen to be in either of those areas and need someone to talk about music or advertising, hmu). One particular highlight was my CHANGES talk because it was the biggest crowd I’ve ever talked to. Ever.
  • Bought an $8 phone tripod from Kmart, and discovered the joys of illustration time lapses.
  • Went to Golden Plains for the first time ever. Wore a gold dress (of course). Felt like a shiny bitch. Wondered why it took me so long to get myself to GP.
  • Listened to a lot of techno. A lot.
  • Worked/am working on the largest tour that Bolster has ever advertised with Elton John’s farewell tour. (Think 34 stadium shows.)
  • Stayed in a 100-year old post office in a ghost town for a songwriting trip with Fever Land. Met some beautiful horses.
  • The creative industries job board that I run with my friend Fran hit 700 peeps!

That’s it. Happy holidays and see y’all in 2020! ✨ 

EMC Connect Melbourne

June 30, 2019

While Sydney is the Electronic Music Conference’s home, the event has also been hosting EMC Connect mini events in Brisbane and Melbourne. I’ve never been to EMC proper before but have heard incredible things. When they asked me to be involved with EMC Connect Melbourne, my answer was absolutely said hell yes.

The Growth Guides: Prioritising Community panel looked at how to build strong online and offline music communities, and what is key for generating support, real engagement and fandom (not just stats). The panel was facilitated by the excellent Arlo Enemark from Xelon Entertainment and Medium Rare Recordings. Joining me on the panel was Jerry Poon from The Operatives (actually a Bolster client), Xander Malual from The Listening Co and Juñor Ondaatje from AUDollars/R.E.A.L Music. Here are some of the conversations we had:

  • What’s your approach when Bolster clients want stats over prioritising a community or real fans? We actually get asked this fairly often. Some clients are hellbent on numbers like post reactions and Facebook fans, but we call these vanity metrics. We’ll always try to uncover the real life business outcomes behind these and focus on these for clients instead and find these vanity metrics follow anyway. (Real business outcomes might include people engaging with website content, clicking out of a Linkfire or purchasing a ticket.)
  • How do you find networks when you know no one? Go out to events, be nice, get to know people, offer to help and ask for help.
  • How do you keep your existing audience but find new people? We all had slightly different answers but my thoughts here… Look at it through two lenses: 1) what will existing fans like, and 2) what will appeal to new audiences? Put that in a Venn diagram. Aim for the middle so you aren’t alienating your current audience for the sake of growth.
  • What to do if you’re an artist and about to possibly get kicked out of Australia due to visa issues? If you’re a bedroom producer (especially if you’re a bedroom producer) you can literally create music from anywhere in the world.

Thanks to EMC Connect for the great conversation. Next panel appearance will be in Adelaide next month!

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