Thursday, August 27, 2009

Why Music Marketing Is Usually Bad

A few days ago I saw this article, "Why Authenticity Matters" (PR 2.0 , 8/24/09), and it really hit home. It wasn't written about music marketing, but it touched upon many of the reasons most music marketing is bad. The author, Jeremy Toeman, suggested some guidelines when promoting yourself or your company/products (which, in this case, would be music).
Commenting: ... no anonymous comments, anytime, anywhere, ever, on anything industry-related ...
Music Tie-In: We've all seen bands do this. They will get on discussion boards, pretend they are fans, and either pump up their own music or trash someone else's music. The tactic is so obvious that it backfires. The band it was meant to help ends up looking bad, juvenile, and inexperienced.
Ratings: The best policy possible would be to abstain from rating your own (or competitor’s) products. But even the President is allowed to vote for himself in an election, so ultimately I see no reason why you cannot give your own product a 5-star rating on a review site. That is, if you have used the product! There should be no “rallying the troops” to game a system. If you haven’t used your own company’s product, you have no business rating it. It should go without saying by this time that no “fake” ratings are ever acceptable.
Music Tie-In: Think of all the times times you've seen fan-based CD and live show reviews which are over-the-top, look like they were written by the band itself, or have been submitted by zealous fans who send in multiple reviews under fake names. Similarly, don't give fake bad reviews to someone else. When the reviews don't match the reality, people will find out soon enough and the reviewer's credibility is shot.
Popularity Contests/Votes: ... The problem is these systems are inherently gamed – in other words, nobody should ever assume they are honest. ... My general philosophy is that all popularity contests are bad things, and everyone should avoid them like the plague. If you must participate, well then one-person, one-vote, and just leave it at that.
Music Tie-In: I'm not a fan of battle-of-the-bands and online contests for the above reasons. I have seen some talented bands/artists win contests, but more often than not, the winners are simply those who are most aggressive about getting out the vote.

And even with sites that aren't offering contests, if there is any sort of ranking, the system will be gamed. Take MySpace, for example. In the beginning, people thought the numbers of plays and friends actually meant something. But when it became apparent that there was often no correlation between the amount of action on MySpace and the band's talent or success (and especially after bands started using computer programs to artificially inflated their numbers), the entire system became discredited.

Here are two other kinds of fakery that Toeman doesn't mention, but are common in music marketing.

The Fake Discovery. The public story: The artist was "discovered" on MySpace or YouTube and got a label deal as a result. The reality: The artist has a father in the music or entertainment industry, so the label deal was already in the works before the Internet campaign began.

The Unearned Feature. The public story: The staffers at a music website sorted through lots of music to find the best artists to feature on their home page. The reality: Someone (e.g., the artist, a manager, a record label) paid for the "featured" status. Sort of like payola, but on the Internet rather than on radio.

Toeman concludes his article with this:
Whether it’s blogging, tweeting, social networks, or other vehicles for communication, it’s safe to say that cover-ups are near-impossible to pull off. Every action you take that is disingenuous or unauthentic will be remembered. Fake reviews will be sniffed out. We recommend taking the high road, regardless of what you see others doing. It may take all your strength at times to not take the easy path, but trust me, it’s worth it in the end.
I'll add that it's simply bad marketing. Hype a band or artist without true fan support and there will be no momentum to sustain the marketing after the manufactured attention has come and gone.

Suzanne Lainson
@slainson on Twitter

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