The challenging thing about music marketing is that it’s totally dependent on something that is beyond the control of a music marketing director, the artist.
The product is not controlled by a design council or new product development team or research and development. It’s completely (well almost!) down to the artist.
Clearly they will take advice from gurus/managers/sycophants but ultimately the artist has got to be happy with the product as music, unlike any other form of product or service, is profoundly personal.
It’s from the heart of an artist and about the artist.
A great example of this is one of the world’s greatest bands, Linkin Park.
When they first came on the scene with Hybrid Theory and “nu metal” they completely changed the way that music sounded. Rap and guitars came together to form an angry and passionate noise that rocked a generation. The Mad Men had a real marketing positioning to take, distinct, new, youthful, edgy, a whole new sound to market.
The album was a phenomenon. ”Hybrid Theory” has sold over 24 million copies worldwide, which makes it the best selling debut album of the 21st century. The follow up, “Meteora” had the same distinct sound and also sold in the millions and spawned 4 US number ones. The music marketing teams were loving it, it was a license to print money. Marketing was easy.
Then something happened. Linkin Park, having created this amazingly successful sound decided to alter it and go in different and varied directions. This led to the less successful but more mainstream “Minutes to Midnight” and the sales diving and fan splitting “A Thousand Suns”.
The latter was a step too far for many fans as their sound became electronic and softer. In the words of the Linkin Park architect Mike Shinoda it was a bit like they had invented the ipod with the first two albums and then instead of naturally progressing to the ipad they then went in a completely different direction that bore no resemblance to the sound that had made them successful and famous to start off with! They tried to reinvent the wheel and the wheel came off.
Reading between the lines of what the band now say they realise they all went too far. You could almost feel sorry for the marketing people at Warners when they got the “Thousand Suns” product and went “what the hell are we supposed to do with this….”.
Linkin park had built up so much power and authority that they literally got away with murder, murder of their original sound.
However all has not been lost. Linkin Park clearly had a jolt, they came back down to earth. They couldn’t fly after all. They couldn’t change their product and expect their fans to just buy it. Fans/customers of music are more discriminating and discerning than any other product.
They are not always brand loyal, partly because artists produce a product every 2-5 years which causes extensive brand promiscuity and partly because music you loved at one stage of your life for one reason or one relationship is no longer applicable for another stage of your life and a different relationship.
This means that music marketers have to work that much harder to engage both existing customers of an artist and discover whole new customer segments. You may argue that changing your sound and therefore your product the way that Linkin Park did should help achieve that but if you lose all your existing customers and don’t replace them with enough new ones the result is disastrous sales.
The signs were all their on their last tour. I was lucky enough to see them up close at the amazing Singapore Grand Prix with 50,000 other mad fans going bonkers at the Padang, inside the F1 street circuit.
It was one of the best atmospheres of any concert I have ever seen. The band played only three songs from their latest “Thousand Suns” album and the rest of the set was a greatest hits collection of the harder edged guitar and rap rock music that the original fans all lapped up.
It was clear that the music that the band themselves loved to play live was the rockier ones not the softer “Transformers” mainstream ones. They had realized that the customer wanted Classic Coke not New Coke.
Thankfully the signs are good for the new Linkin Park album, “Living Things”, out June 26th (it’s already a red letter day for me!). Hurriedly brought out in less than two years since the last one (having taken an average of 3-4 years between albums previously) the new single “Burn it Down” is a step in the direction of the “Hybrid Theory” recordings.
Harder, edgier with guitars as well as rap as the lead singer Chester Bennington said recently they have created a “wall of sound” that is reminiscent of their earlier recordings and further away from their recent ones.
You can almost feel the relief of the Mad Men, phew, they can market Linkin Park to existing fans and try and reconnect. The challenge now could be persuading those lost fans to give them another try and to see how many of them have actually changed their lives so much that a “wall of sound” with angry, passionate hard edged guitar and rap rock music combined may no longer be applicable.
While both Shinoda and Bennington say they don’t regret their transgressions into other music genres and sounds they have ultimately listened to the customer and changed their sound back to the original, with a 2012 updated feel. Ultimately the music buying customer is always right.