The new music industry is a hodgepodge of black-market distribution, soul-sucking executives, and a heavily fragmented landscape of digital media services that focus on generating subscriptions rather than catering to the things that are in an artist’s best interests. What does all this mean for the contemporary, struggling musician? Establishing a presence on the web through clever and creative digital content marketing initiatives is one of the few ways to differentiate one sound from another in today’s music industry.
Here are three artists who are thinking outside the box and trying their hands at content marketing as a way of promoting their music and standing out from the overcrowded music marketplace.
In the week leading up to the release of his new album, Mandatory Fun, Weird Al distributed eight music videos in as many consecutive days. His campaign was brilliant, primarily because he partnered with different media companies to produce and distribute each video in exchange for any revenue they might accrue. This paid off in dividends for him: several of the videos went viral, the campaign captured the attention of the mass media, and that, in turn, unquestionably launched his album to number one on the charts—a first in his 35-year career. The key takeaway from this experiment is that if you provide consistent, high-quality content, consumers will ultimately respond with their wallets.
In 2012, Beck chose to forego traditional marketing methods in favor of a digital content marketing campaign leading up to the release of his album, Song Reader. Rather than releasing the album itself, he released the sheet music for it and encouraged fans to compose their own interpretations of his songs long before he let loose a single note of his own. No one had ever engaged his or her fans in such a way before. With the announcement last month that he plans to officially record the album himself, Beck highlighted an important concept that other marketers should note: the arc.
The idea of the content having a beginning (Beck releasing his sheet music), a middle (fans recording their own interpretations), and now an end (his recording of the songs) creates a fascinating and well-rounded story of how content can live and breathe on its own, while simultaneously retaining a unified message from the brand—or in this case, the artist.
Another excellent example of digital content marketing in the music industry is from a lesser-known artist and guitar instructor named Marty Schwartz. In 2008, shortly after being laid off from a high school teaching gig, Marty began posting lessons on YouTube.
He wanted to sell his own high-quality, premium content, but he understood that convincing someone to learn an instrument over the internet without traditional face-to-face interaction would be a difficult task. Because of this, he began aggressively recording short, 10-to-15-minute video lessons based on viewer requests. This ultimately proved to be wildly successful in his Martyzsongs, so much so that he stopped teaching private lessons and turned his YouTube channel into a full-time career. Now, six years later, Marty has over a thousand lessons uploaded, is among YouTube’s top 50 music channels with the most subscriptions, and has no trouble selling his premium content through his personal website, Guitarjamz.com.
It is important to note that the quality of the music—or any piece of art, for that matter—should never be upstaged by a marketing campaign. Ultimately, a piece of art should be judged based on its merits rather than how it is advertised. Every once in a blue moon a masterpiece will rear its head and find its audience no matter what, but this is rarely the case. Most people don’t churn out Led Zeppelin IVs on a consistent basis—not even when they’re Led Zeppelin. For the vast majority of musicians, a smart digital content marketing campaign can be a tremendous differentiator, and in some cases, can help them realize their dreams in ways they never thought possible.