The year-end U.S. music sales figures are out. There is a slew of negative data in this report.
But, as any reader of this blog knows, I have long been an advocate of "non-traditional sales," both for physical goods and digital music products. So, after reading through the negative news here comes this "factoid:"
Album sales at Non-Traditional music outlets (digital, internet, mail order, venue, non-traditional retailers) hit an all-time high in 2008 with sales breaking the 100 million mark for the first time.
Non-Traditional is the only strata that experienced album growth over the previous year; with an increase of 15% over 2007.Non-traditional outlets account for nearly 25% of all album sales, compared to 18% in 2007, 12% in 2006, 9% in 2005 and 5% in 2004 (4% in 2003).
Digital services account for 65% of the Non-Traditional album sales.
That's not a silver lining so much as proof that non-trad. could have been a much more powerful force in the market before it was economically necessary to seek out those accounts. Now it just looks like opportunity lost. The labels made their bed with the mass merchants, and now they have to lie in it.
Jon Pareles of the New York Times wrote an interesting think piece on the way marketing tie-ins and advertising/TV licensing have changed the music discovery and music listening experience.
On the one hand, Pareles acknowledges the harsh realities of being a professional musician during these trying times:
Musicians have to eat and want to be heard, and if that means accompanying someone else’s sales pitch or videogame, well, it’s a living. Why wait for album royalties to trickle in, if they ever do, when licensing fees arrive upfront as a lump sum? It’s one part of the system of copyright regulations that hasn’t been ravaged by digital distribution, and there’s little resistance from any quarters; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss croon for J. C. Penney and the avant-rockers Battles are heard accompanying an Australian vodka ad.
On the other hand, Pareles wonders how those realities then affect the very creation of music itself:
The question is: What happens to the music itself when the way to build a career shifts from recording songs that ordinary listeners want to buy to making music that marketers can use? That creates pressure, subtle but genuine, for music to recede: to embrace the element of vacancy that makes a good soundtrack so unobtrusive, to edit a lyric to be less specific or private, to leave blanks for the image or message the music now serves. Perhaps the song will still make that essential, head-turning first impression, but it won’t be as memorable or independent.
I agree to this extent - I remember music placed in films more than I remember music placed in ads. When you are watching a film you are (hopefully) engrossed in the film, or at least the particular scene, where a song appears. I personally prefer to hear music in either my car, iPod, or home stereo so I can judge a song purely on its aural impact on me: does a particular lyrical phrase grab me?, is the solo undeniably killer?, do I want to hear the hook over and over again? Basically, I want to make my own determination of the song's worth to me personally.
That being said, when do we get unvarnished experiences with any art form these days? Before you see a film you are bombarded with on-screen advertisements. Radio is filled with endless commercials. TIVO and DVRs have save many of us from having to endure many TV ads placed in our favorite shows, but when we do have to view them how many are remembered? The "not-for profit" arts sector is filled with corporate sponsorships supporting everything from fall seasons to particular art exhibits.
So why should we expect listening to music to be a mystical experience? Isn't that asking a bit too much from the musicians themselves, just trying to be heard? (Period). Pareles admits as such here:
Apparently there’s no going back, structurally, to paying musicians to record music for its own sake.
Advertising, if anything, is moving to formats even shorter than the 30-second spot. Marketers know their messages are being tuned out willfully in a DVR culture. If marketers need music to help their messages stand out, then God bless the musical community able to earn their livings off the back of those marketers' needs to differentiate themselves from competitors. We tend to be selfish, us music listeners. We love the pure listening experience, but how many of us have time to just sit and listen to music in an ideal environment? Not too many of us I'd venture. I'd tell Jon Pareles to take a listen to one of my favorite Joe Jackson songs - "I'm the Man" - to remind him the party doing the selling needs to have a survivor's cuthroat instinct. In the case of music licensing - we know the buyers already have that mentality.
UPDATE: Charles Moran from AdAge.com's Songs for Soap blog also has some thoughts on the Pareles piece - here.
A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) had lunch recently with some friends (who also shall remain nameless) who work at a major label (which shall also remain nameless for the purpose of this post).
So my friend is having lunch, and his former colleagues are dishing the inside dirt about one of the divisions at this particular label. Apparently, one SVP and the EVP of a major division is touting the following completely insane, high on crack idea as a major future revenue earner from a licensing perspective.
Many labels and music publishers make some nice revenue licensing master recordings to greeting card makers such as Hallmark to be used in musical greeting cards. The synergy between the emotional content of music and the emotional content of the greeting card is one of the true win-wins you can find from a licensing perspective. And sound chips are also used in many toys and novelty items.
So what's the new game changer being touted by this particular label on the sound chip front? From what I hear the idea is to embed a chip in a bank checkbook. Yes, that's right. You read correctly: a bank checkbook. So let me dissect the myriad reasons why this is the most asinine music licensing idea I've ever heard of, and why anyone touting this idea as any type of serious revenue opportunity should be laughed out the door.
Whose mood can be lifted by music... while in the act of writing a check? Think about this; are you ever in a good mood writing a check? Can music, even really good music, take away from the fact you are watching your money fly into the hands of a despised debtor?
Don't you throw checkbooks away when they are used up?
Considering the world of bill payment is so easily done online these days - who writes checks anymore? You don't even see people using checks in stores anymore, thanks to Debit/Checking Cards. It's chasing after a dying market. Consumer habits are changing and using new technologies. Even if you're on board with the underlying belief this is a proper licensing tool for labels and publishers - and I am wholeheartedly NOT on that bandwagon - this idea seeks to grow a revenue stream off a declining method of payment.
What is the magic, mellifluous tune one would choose to have as their "checkbook tune?" "Taxman?" "Big Spender?" "Can't Buy Me Love?" "Sympathy for the Devil?" I could go on here, but you get the point. No artist worth their salt is going to risk their rep on a licensing opportunity on this product... Okay - except Gene Simmons.
Won't people witnessing a check writer with a musical checkbook give weird looks to that person? Not just weird looks - "Your checkbook is playing music and it's freaking me out" looks. Do we need to further socially stigmatize the check writer?
Like I said - I heard about this third-hand, but I know the tellers of this tale and have no reason to doubt their veracity. They see how insane and desperate the major labels have become. I am begging all of you - if you hear tangible evidence of this idea coming to fruition - please give it the public flogging it deserves.
How many of you are working for brands which have been deemed stodgy or irrelevant by newer generations and have sought to reawaken the brand with younger consumers? Maybe your brand is just experiencing a decline in sales that needs to be stemmed.
For those seeking to involve music in your marketing solutions to revive your brand - be cautious.
I remember every conversation I would have with people at McDonald's and their agencies pre-"I'm Lovin' It" how they didn't just want to jump into music with a big splash (because they definitely had, and still have, the muscle to do just that), that they wanted to be seen as authentic when they developed music-related strategies and promotions.
Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Co. is about to unveil a major music-centric branding campaign (Wall Street Journal - subscription required) featuring musical artists Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, and Julianne Hough. Brown and Ne-Yo are platinum R&B superstars, while Hough is a budding country music artist more well-known for her moves on "Dancing With the Stars."
The tactic used in the campaign - updating classic brand jingles or piggybacking off of well-known brand tag lines - has been used numerous times by different brands through the years. But is blatantly paying these artists to do so the right tactic to enable Wrigley to begin to claim authenticity with the audiences it is seeking to drive back to the brand?
A few months back I detailed two music promotions I felt lacked authenticity because they were so blatantly crass. My initial reaction in reading of the Wrigley effort was similar - that it had the possibility to either reap major benefits or cause major ridicule - for the company's gum brands.
I am interested in hearing about the results the brand sees out of this effort, because, even though Wrigley isn't saying how much the company paid these artists to be involved with this campaign - I'm guessing it was a nice chunk of change. Add to that the major press the brand is trying to garner just surrounding the campaign launch alone, and you get a set of very high expectations which need to be met.
Sometimes it takes decades for a brand to reach a spot where it is as cool as the musical artists it wishes to associate with - like Converse.
I know I'm the guy always pushing for music and marketers to come together, but I am continually intrigued by what musical solutions different brands feel will move the needle for their individual businesses.
I saw this story and wanted to highlight the relevant passage for my readers:
"Music fell by the largest margin (5.5%) to $125 million from $132 million in 2006..."
I've highlighted this before, but let me address this issue again. This is no time for any artist, songwriter, label, or music publisher to be turning down revenue-enhancing opportunities. This is no time to rest on one's laurels when a licensing request comes in and sit on it until the requestor is forced to go to another party to get what they need. There is a glut of quality music supply, so the licensee, the buyer, holds the upper hand, not the licensor.
But licensees, as George Costanza might say - you've got hand.