Bringing Music Back

As consumers and marketers, we have all participated in and watched the rapid evolution (or is that devolution?) of the music industry over the past few decades. While consumer-direct devices and services like Napster, the iPod, and iTunes are often viewed as culprits in the perceived demise of the music industry, the way that bands reach their audiences has also changed industry dynamics dramatically over the last 30 years – with many of these changes driven by video.

Exhibit A: Video Killed the Radio Star

Thirty-two years ago, MTV was born and the way we were introduced to and experienced bands changed forever. Videos quickly became even bigger than the music itself – which had previously been experienced “one-dimensionally” via car stereo, album, or cassette – and they gave bands the opportunity to project their personalities (or the personality envisioned by the video director) through scripted video. The ’80s delivered bands like Poison, Whitesnake, and Bon Jovi (perhaps no accident that they were all “hair” bands), as well as Pat Benatar and Janet Jackson (who ironically performed similar line dances). These were all established acts that become brands through their videos, creating personas delivered through our TV screens.

I can vividly remember being transfixed by Pearl Jam’s “Alive” video when it was the first single release from their debut album “Ten.” It was simple and straightforward with live clips interspersed, but the power of the band and lead singer Eddie Vedder was evident in that first video. That is how regional bands were launched to a national audience by the major labels. Then, of course, the era of big budget videos, Hollywood directors, and packaged acts like ‘N Sync, Boyz II Men, Tiffany, and many others that we would just as soon forget, followed. Again, they adhered to the simple formula of a video makes a brand – they just took it to “11” (in Spinal Tap parlance).

Exhibit B: Homemade Video

After the glitz and glamour of Hollywood-ized videos came the era of simplification and DIY stars like Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen. For the first time, these musicians were able to attract fan bases and then talent scouts and major labels through homemade videos. They took what they saw on MTV (when MTV occasionally showed videos) and created videos in their living rooms that launched international careers.

Exhibit C: Brand Reboot

Now here we are in 2013. And one of the biggest music stories and top-selling acts is Justin Timberlake. He has become successful by taking an entirely new and different course. Timberlake, who at 32 is the same age as MTV, of course gained prominence as lead singer of the boy band ‘N Sync after serving as a Mouseketeer. After establishing himself as a solo act and attracting a teen audience base, he took seven years off between the release of FutureSex/LoveSounds and this year’s 20/20 Experience. In music history seven years without a new album is considered a death sentence, but for Timberlake it was a new life.

While taking an extended break from recording, he applied his talent to building his brand and growing his audience through movie and TV appearances and, perhaps most importantly, leveraging the new tools that social media affords, including online videos. Consider the following two examples:

  • “Saturday Night Live” short films “Dick in a box” and “Motherlover” have garnered 40 million and 53 million YouTube views, respectively.
  • The four “History of Rap” collaborations with Jimmy Fallon have accumulated more than 12 million views and countless shares across social networks.

So while his main product (music) was stagnant and that audience was lacking, Timberlake reached out to a much broader, more diverse audience and built both his street cred and audience following. The results speak for themselves:

  • The top-selling CD of 2013 with over 2.6 million copies sold, despite generally average reviews.
  • Co-headlining the “Legends of the Summer” stadium tour with Jay Z that debuted with two nights at Yankee Stadium and will play 12 stops in total.
  • Solo headlining tour kicking off this fall at arena venues.

In an industry where you can grow stale even while at your peak (think of all the songs that get overplayed to the detriment of the artist’s brand), Timberlake grew fresh with no new product. In addition to creating yet another model for music and video distribution, Timberlake’s brand resurgence is also a great example of how brands can employ social media and online video to cultivate and grow audiences during “quiet” product cycles.

Online video and social media provide the perfect channels for brands to engage, entertain, and grow an audience. Look at products like Oreo that have been the same for decades but have breathed new energy into the brand through real-time marketing. While the Oreo product has always been fun for users, the personality was driven by user interaction – dunking, opening, whatever your style. Now the brand personality is defined by responsive, real-time engagement as exhibited by the “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet during the Super Bowl blackout.

So now is the time to reengage your audience or, like JT, reach an entirely new demographic. Taking advantage of online video is as simple as shooting with your smartphone and posting to Vine, Instagram, Photobucket Stories, or any other outlet. The opportunities exist, now it is up to your brand to bring its own sexy back.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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