5 Q's: Mike King, author of "Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution, and Retail"

Today, "Five Questions" are put to Mike King, author of
Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution, and Retail
the CMO of Berklee Online
at the Berklee College
of Music in Boston.



What’s the one thing musician’s should know today?

I think there’s more opportunity now then ever for more artists, but I also think that there is more competition as well.  The technological tools and marketing techniques that exist are great, but it doesn’t necessarily make things easier for artists. 

Awareness is critical, and while some of the traditional vehicles for awareness and promotion (touring, press, traditional terrestrial radio, to some extent) are still valuable, I tend to think that we are still in the early stages of getting the newer promotional outlets up and running properly for developing and middle class musicians.  For example, Pandora launched their AMP (artist marketing platform) yesterday (Oct 22, 2014), which I think is a good first step for indie artists and managers to better utilize listener data to route tours, A/B songs etc on that platform, but I think  there’s a whole lot more that can be done there to help musicians directly interact with their fans with Pandora, Spotify, and others.

The internet certainly leveled the distribution and, to some extent, the broadcast playing fields. Did it hurt anything?

Sure. I used to love taking the red line into Cambridge from the south shore in the late 80s and early 90s, to check out all the amazing record stores that existed in Harvard and Central Square, like Mystery Train, CD Spins, and Tower Records. They are all gone.  While I am a fan of the discovery process that some of the online streaming services are using, I miss the days of physical discovery - digging through records and CDs to find the good stuff.  Luckily, there are still some fantastic stores in Boston, like Newbury Comics and Weirdo Records, but I do miss some of the variety that I used to have in the past.

There ‘s also been a number of gigs that have pretty much disappeared, or have been greatly diminished.  Both Rounder and Rykodisc are gone from Massachusetts, and I think the internet helped to play a part in that. Other gigs that relied on physical product, like physical distribution, have taken a hit, too. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work at a couple of labels early on, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the best career path right now.

Your book came out several years ago; what’s changed?

I’ve had the opportunity to update the book a couple of times since it originally came out in 2009, and I tried to write it in such a way where it can live on for a longer period of time.   For example, I tend to think a lot of the best practices with marketing - the importance of awareness, acquisition, engagement, and monetization – are somewhat evergreen.  The specific tactics will change based on the available tools, but the overall strategy that I discuss in the book is something that is somewhat evergreen.  Aside from that, there have been massive changes since 2009.  I think streaming music has become much more relevant over the past five years, and for some artists, the associated revenue can be substantial. Companies have come and gone in the direct to fan world of marketing and sales.  We’ve seen additional tools like Noise Trade and Pledge Music pop up as well to help independent musicians.

What did you think of the U2/Apple campaign?

With the consolidation in terrestrial radio, I think it’s harder for artists, even U2, to get sustained radio play to drive awareness around a new release. I think U2 was looking for ways to overcome the difficulty they are having with awareness, and they saw the Apple opportunity as a way to reach a broad spectrum of people in advance of their tour (which is where the bulk of their revenue will come from).  I think what both Apple and U2 missed is that music fans want the right content to be delivered to them based on actions they have taken or other data points, not content that is delivered to everyone. Bono said something along the lines of the record being “ a bottle of milk in people’s fridge they weren’t asking for,” and I think he’s right.

It felt like an intrusive advertisement and something that would be more relevant back in the days of mass marketing.  I would imagine the intentions were good, and I’m not sure that anyone at Apple or U2 thought the backlash would be what it turned out to be.  I think people were a little over the top with the criticism about it, but I think ultimately, this is something that Apple will never do again.

Vinyl still lives; how come?

For the same reason that Deezer is launching in the U.S. through a deal with Sonos – specialization and supplying a niche with something that they love. There are casual music fans that value convenience above all else, and there are hard core fans that value the experience and fidelity associated with vinyl.  I also tend to think that there is a lot of vinyl sold that folks are not listening to – I think it could be seen as a badge of honor in some ways, like “I’m such a fan of this band, that I even have the vinyl.” I know that I have some vinyl, like the 50th anniversary edition of Kind of Blue, that I have never opened.  I think the key to understanding vinyl is that, yes, it still lives, but it is not really meaningful from an overall revenue standpoint.  The mid year RIAA figures from 2014 illustrate that revenue from CDs was $715.6 million VS $6.5 million for vinyl in the U.S.. The internet provides choice to folks, and while I love services like “Vinyl Me, Please,” vinyl will not save the recorded music industry.