Fans, messaging and visuals – 2014 in music

Streaming acceptance, more visual and surprise releases and more fan focus will all be required this year, says SO Recordings’ product manager Alison Lamb

This year is looking to be a hugely exciting year for the music business. From developments in tech, how music is consumed and marketed to fans, there is going to be a lot happening and experimented with by labels to see what captures imaginations the most. There is also set to be a huge amount of new music released.

To make the most of the year and this great industry, here are some resolutions I think we all need to keep in mind.

1. We must stop complaining about streaming… and deal with the fact it’s here to stay
As my co-midemblogger Emily White pointed out recently, it’s time to stop moaning about streaming services. Why? For one, 2013 was a record-breaking year for streaming. A reported 118.1 billion songs were streamed across all services worldwide, and in the UK, streaming surpassed £100 million in revenue for the first time.

A few new players are expected to join the streaming field in 2014, and recently, further details of Beats Music were announced. The service has already arrived in the US, and there will be major integration deal with AT&T. There is also expected to be a huge marketing drive, with regular plugs across TV networks and an advertising campaign during the SuperBowl. Where Beats aims to make an impact is in content curation. With Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, DJ Mag and others involved, it’s going to be extremely interesting to see if and how they can ‘help’ with music discovery. It has also been previously reported that there will be Topspin integration in the service, which will provide merch up-sale. This feature is also now being trialed on Spotify, alongside Songkick gig information. This is where I think streaming services can really fight their corner and become an effective part of the music business.

“No store will offer coverage nor prime placement to an album that doesn’t have a strong visual presence, no matter the quality of the music.”

With Beat’s launch and YouTube’s music service expected, 2014 is definitely going to be a year of change, and as the market becomes saturated, it’s going to be very interesting to see who is still standing by the end of the year.

2. We must accept that releases are about so much more than music
From securing retail placements to Instagram photos and pro-partner accounts on SoundCloud, the importance of having strong imagery around a release has never been greater. Having great album artwork is extremely important in capturing people’s attention. The pro-partner accounts on SoundCloud are a great way for new tracks to be brought to the attention of users, and the imagery really dominates a particular track’s waveform. James Vincent McMorrow’s Cavalier is a particularly good example, as the new album has visually stunning artwork, and due to this, the track on SoundCloud is extremely eye-catching.

As has always been the case, artwork has the power to trigger interest in a release and today, get people to click on albums that they see on digital stores. During my role at Believe, I became very aware that no store will offer coverage nor prime placement to an album that doesn’t have a strong visual presence, no matter the quality of the music. In the case of iTunes, the possibility of securing exclusive pre-stream coverage is nothing to be sniffed at after all. Following the iTunes pre-release stream of Justin Timberlake’s 20/20 Experience, the album was reported as becoming the most pre-ordered album in their history.

Music videos have also become extremely integral to releases again this year. From interactive videos for Pharrell’s 24 hour music video, Happy, and Bombay Bicycle Club’s Carry Me, there have also been interactive videos released to add life to older releases, such as Like a Rolling Stone to tie-in with Bob Dylan’s Complete box set and Vampyre of Time and Memory which came at the end of Queens of the Stone Age’s latest album cycle, to reinvigorate the release.

Although not interactive, I can’t not mention Beyonce’s latest album, which was a dual release of music plus 17 videos. Beyonce’s album was “designed to be consumed as a comprehensive audio/visual piece“, said its press release. Following this and Lady Gaga’s Artpop concept, this phase of the music business is only going to grow in 2014. Although for smaller independent labels the creation of such videos require big budgets. Hopefully 2014 will see some visually creative videos, developed with smaller investments.

3. We must not get distracted by all of the albums celebrating anniversaries this year
As the NME reported recently, there are 55 (!) renowned albums celebrating huge anniversary milestones during 2014. From the 20 year anniversaries of legendary Britpop albums Oasis’s Definitely Maybe and Blur’s Parklife, alongside The Eagles, Green Day and Bruce Springsteen (the full list is available here).

With 2014 bringing new albums from Springsteen, U2, Damon Albarn’s highly anticipated solo album and bands such as The Eagles continuing to tour, it’s going to be hard for it not to just be a renaissance year, where smaller bands struggle to get coverage at retail, radio, press and decent spots on festival line-ups.

We need to remember that…

4. New bands are the future
Midem 2014 speaker Lyor Cohen has announced he’s launching a new kind of label, with surprise primary investment from Google. Although information is sparse at the moment, Cohen has stated that the label will be called 300, and that it will be “a music content company devoted to the discovery and development of the artists of the future”, with the promise of creating innovative artist development whilst “pushing the envelope in terms of artist development and distribution“. It’s definitely going to be something to keep an eye on. With the backing power of Google, they might really be able initiate some change in the industry. We’ll find out more at Midem….

“A music fan is the person who will talk about a band to anyone and everyone who will listen – they are the people who will be tweeting about new releases and gigs they have been to and sharing artist’s content.”

Alongside this, Universal Music have announced an initiative where they will be taking three of their emerging artists to play 14 shows around the UK. The Satellite Tour begins in February, with tickets priced at £4. The tour is a great opportunity for the bands to be able to play live and reach new audiences; and with such low-ticket prices it’s really going to encourage people to go down to the shows.

At the Christmas Independent Label Market late November, I spoke to Alex from the indie label Holy Roar about the biggest challenges he thought the indie industry faced today. Alex mentioned to me how he felt there was a real ‘gulf’ between gigs, which are well attended, and those which are not. In the case of The Satellite Tour it’s great to see Universal investing in the live scene. But, indie labels are not in such financially strong positions to put similar promotions into actions. Let’s hope that this initiative encourages fans to get out to smaller gigs and keep an eye on what’s happening in their local music scene.

5. We must continue to shock and surprise
2013 was definitely the year of the shock release. David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac and Beyonce all seemed to appear with new music from out of nowhere. With U2 having gone back to the ‘spiritual’ home of Island Records and now being managed by Live Nation, Kylie Minogue to release a new album under Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation, plus expected new albums from Pharrell Williams, the Foo Fighters and potentially Adele (?) 2014 is set to be a year of huge releases, from artists who have the potential to create a whole load more surprises.

It might not take that long before we get into a situation where we only expect to be surprised by artists of a particular stature, but until that point, let’s keep the momentum going and continue to shock and surprise. After all, it not only raises awareness of a new release but boosts awareness of the music industry across the media and strengthens its position as a positive part of the modern day zeitgeist – showing it’s not all just doom and gloom!

6. We must remember fans are the most important part of the business
This speaks for itself. A music fan isn’t just a person who buys music, gig tickets and merch. A music fan is the person who will talk about a band to anyone and everyone who will listen – they are the people who will be tweeting about new releases and gigs they have been to and sharing artist’s content – from release dates, ticket links and iTunes/ Spotify links.

During the run up to Christmas I made sure to take full advantage of the advent period with SO band Dinosaur Pile-Up. This was following a Facebook comment that the band had posted which received a brilliant reception from their fans. So, on December 1, we launched a Radvent promotion, which worked in hand to promote two big announcements from the band – a new member and the booking of their biggest headline show to date at the Scala in February. Each day, there was a piece of content unveiled on the band’s website – from free tracks, exclusive giveaways, demos uploads and video content, which ensured that fans were: 1, excited, and 2, kept coming back to interact with the band everyday. In hand with this, we made sure there was some kind of sale link visible alongside the content each day (iTunes/ ticket sale links). In all, we saw an increase in album sales during the period, along with an increase in their Facebook and Twitter numbers (around 5% on each).

This example shows the need to…
– Encourage fan interaction through creativity
As Lucy Blair flagged in one of her previous midemblog posts, we all need to “create original content that taps into… and amplifies the connection with your fans”.

At the beginning of December, Blood Red Shoes launched an international treasure hunt via their Facebook page, to hunt for clues, which would result in their new track being ‘unlocked’. Ten parts of the track were hidden and accessible via QR codes, clues to where the parts were, were unveiled via visual clues on the band’s Facebook page. Once all of the clues had been found, the entire track was available to be streamed from the band’s website. Alongside being a fun fan promotion, the prizes were a great call to action – up for grabs were two ‘tickets for life’ to the first people who found the codes in each city.

This example shows the need to…

– Encourage fan interaction through technology
Companies such as Soundhalo and Samsung have highlighted the role of the live experience for fans in recent promotions that they have run. Soundhalo delivers recorded footage of live performances to the cloud for immediate downloading after a performance. Fans can download the recordings to desktops or mobile devices for 99p per track or £9.99 for a full show. Whereas Samsung recently ran Galaxy Studio Live tour, promoting smart ticketing, which allowed users to ‘pay for tickets and distribute them without booking fees’. Once in a gig, users were also given access to a whole host of great exclusives including news, images, videos, free downloads and posts from artists. Every fan wants to remember amazing live shows that they have been to, and offering exclusive content post- gig (whether free or paid) is a great way to retain loyalty.

2014 will also be the year that messaging services become a big part of the music industry, from Line, which Forbes stated to have an estimated 300 million users and Kik, an estimated 100 million. Both platforms have both been experimented with by the music industry with Paul McCartney promoting his latest album via the Line app, offering users his stickers for free to share. Meanwhile, One Direction encouraged their fans to “chat with each other on Kik and unlock exclusive content from their latest album”. It will also be interesting to keep an eye on how What’s App, with their estimated 400 million users, develops to become a part of the music industry as well.

At SO, we are currently working towards the brand new album releases from Morning Parade and The Apache Relay in Q1 this year. During the release planning, the fan will remain at the forefront of my mind.

Now, let’s all get to work and make sure 2014 is one we can all be proud of!

Alison Lamb is product manager for SO Recordings, and one of midemblog’s label ambassadors. She will speak at the Midem Wrap panel, February 4, 14.00. Read all of her posts here; follow her on Twitter here; and read all of our label posts here!

This blog is reproduced courtesy of Midem. midemblog