How Startup F# Makes Spotify Friendly for Brands

f_logo2012_RBGNimble startups continue to change the music industry by capitalizing on the convergence between branding, technology, and entertainment. Case in point: F#, a New York company founded in 2012 with a mission to connect brands, musicians, and fans through playful experiences on social platforms like Facebook and Spotify. And F# is dead serious about providing a music-rich experience instead of predictable advertising, as F# CEO Dan Merritts revealed to me in an interview published today on Superhype.

“We’re providing brands an experience that is incredibly interactive — 15-times more interactive than typical digital advertising,” Merritts said. “And we are helping consumers discover music they might love.”

F#’s approach to music discovery is to help big brands like Jim Beam, Oreo, and Marriott embed themselves into social media. For example, to help Campbell Soup reach out to the Millennial generation, F# created an interactive Campbell’s “Go” Soup Spotify playlist that users could update by adding songs that fit different soup flavors.

Fans could also share their playlist additions on their Facebook walls (creating organic branding for Campbell’s) and unlock exclusive content such as coupons. The experience created not only organic reach for Campbell Soup but also the street cred that comes with being featured on the Colbert Report.

But F# does more than create advertising experiences; the company also personifies the smart, sometimes quirky, and always cutting-edge nature of digital music culture. Its employees live and breathe music. The company’s blog effectively captures the convergence between technology, branding, and music with entries ranging from an analysis of the future of audio advertising to an interview with the creators of Phloq, “a multichannel work composed to evoke the sensorial experience of a flock of birds taking off.”

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In his conversation with me, CEO Dan Merritts shed light on F# and its culture Merritts is a product of Silicon Valley whose pedigree includes work with cloud computing pioneer Loudcloud and contextual ad firm Affinia. As his own blog demonstrates, Merritts is passionate about marketing, leadership, and user experience. He has also lived in or worked in more than 43 countries and is a self-described fan of Top 40 music. His is a story of passion and vision, as shown in the following Q&A:

I gather you are all music enthusiasts as I am. So what music is rocking your world?

I am a Top 40 guy — everything from Bruno Mars to anyone capturing the moment. Today has been an Owl City day because Owl City performs the Oreo Wonderfilled Song, which is featured in a Spotify experience we launched for Oreo today. We have a lot of technology and music enthusiasts at F#. Every day for two hours we turn over our office’s Sonos to one employee to host DJ a 2-hour session.

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 A glimpse inside F#’s New York office via F#’s Facebook page

We have a bunch of EDM (electronic dance music) fans among our employees, who play underground and mainstream EDM. One of our copywriters is a big movie buff. He’s taken over the DJ station and plays music from different movies. It’s a lot of fun trying to figure out which movie goes with the song.

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How a Brand Shares Its Culture through Visual Storytelling

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A journalist recently asked me whether all brands should be on Pinterest. My reply: brands need visual storytelling strategies — which may indeed involve a presence on Pinterest. I recently created for agency iCrossing a visual storytelling strategy that focuses on bringing to life iCrossing’s corporate culture. You may find a presentation about that strategy on SlideShare:

Visual storytelling has transformed how iCrossing creates brand love with its clients, influencers, and its own people. Visual stories have helped iCrossing improve its reach, visibility, and engagement. What’s your visual storytelling strategy?

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Music Streaming: The Haves and the Have-Nots

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In recent days, I have blogged about the vast divide between the music industry elite and the have-nots. Last week I focused on the music elite via my post about Jay Z’s relationship with Samsung. (Jay Z responded defiantly by removing the hyphen in his name.) Yesterday my post about Thom Yorke’s war against Spotify focused more on the have-nots (such as indie musician Sam Duckworth), who earn next to nothing from streaming services. On July 19, Sasha Frere-Jones of The New Yorker also posted a thoughtful article about how difficult it is for emerging artists to generate any revenue from streaming services like Spotify. His well-written and well-reported piece also shows how streaming services favor the giant record labels for established artists with strong back catalogues, and I would recommend you read it. (For a dissenting view, I would also recommend two posts by Bob Lefsetz, “Thom Yorke vs. Spotify” and “Spotify?“). I don’t believe the solution to inadequate streaming royalties is for emerging artists to remove their music from Spotify (doing so sounds self-destructive, especially because Spotify gives musicians a platform to generate awareness). The music industry really needs an artist-owned music streaming/distribution service akin to United Artists in the movie industry many decades ago. Right now it’s coming down to big corporate brands like Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew to champion emerging artists. In 2010, Coca-Cola gave Somali-born rapper K’Naan a global stage via the 2010 World Cup tour. Mountain Dew runs its own label, Green Label Sound. Perhaps it’s time for another major brand named Jay Z to invest some of his own millions into a streaming service that champions the artists?

For additional reading:

Future of Music Coalition, “Does Spotify Make Sense for Non-Superstars?”

The Guardian, “Pink Floyd Back Catalogue Available on Spotify after Song Passes 1M”

The Independent, “Thom Yorke Spotify Criticism: Top Producer Accuses Radiohead Singer of Twitter Hypocrisy”

Update: NPR, “Paying the Piper: Music Streaming Services in Perspective”

Thom Yorke: Crusader or Crybaby?

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I can’t decide whether Thom Yorke is a petulant child, cynical operator, or a hero to artists. Maybe he’s all three.

On July 14, Yorke declared war on Spotify, removing from the popular streaming service his solo music and that of his experimental band Atoms for Peace.  On Twitter he and producer Nigel Godrich complained that Spotify rips off artists through poor royalty rates. “Make no mistake new artists you discover on #Spotify will no[t] get paid,” Yorke tweeted. He also claimed to be “standing up for our fellow musicians.”

And then a few days later, Yorke put his weight behind music platform soundhalo, which will sell video content (in near real-time) from Atoms for Peace concerts occurring July 25 and 26 at London’s Roundhouse.

Yorke’s actions have renewed an ongoing debate about what constitutes fair compensation for artists from streaming services like Spotify — and have also caused some backlash from pundits. When Yorke came out swinging against Spotify initially, music veteran Bob Lefsetz accused him of whining, clinging to the past, and fighting a streaming service that has given listeners a credible alternative to illegal downloading. As Lefestz wrote, “Once upon a time musicians used to lead. Now all they can say is GIVE ME BACK MY PAST! As for saving the future for the new artists . . . I’d feel better if the new artists created their own paradigm, but instead we’ve got wannabes too dumb to do anything for themselves.”

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Jay-Z Writes New Rules for Music Millionaires

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Jay-Z says he’s writing new rules. But for whom?

The multi-millionaire rapper created a firestorm of PR by launching an innovative deal with Samsung to distribute 1 million copies of his new Magna Carta Holy Grail album through a special app exclusively on Samsung phones before the album went on sale publicly July 9. Samsung reportedly paid $5 for every album, meaning Magna Carta Holy Grail sold $5 million before a consumer purchased a single copy. Samsung became a music distributor overnight. And the Recording Industry Association of America was inspired to change the way it tracks the sale of digital albums to account for the 1 million units sold instantly.  It’s no wonder Jay-Z has been tweeting about creating #newrules, and Billboard has gushed about “Jay-Z’s New Blueprint.”

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Essentially, two big brands, Jay-Z and Samsung, are distributing music together as Jay-Z and Nokia did 10 years ago. But how repeatable is the Jay-Z model for the entire music industry? The example of Radiohead is instructive. Radiohead, another Continue reading