Music Streaming: The Haves and the Have-Nots


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”

How Twitter united indie star AM with Razorfish


How does an emerging indie artist in the dysfunctional music industry find an audience anymore?

My employer Razorfish is tackling that challenge through an unusual co-branding relationship with indie musician AM, which sees Razorfish playing the role of quasi-record label, concert promoter, and DJ. And so far we are having a lot of fun while building our brand with a creative and smart musician.

Even though he is not yet widely known, AM has garnered critical acclaim among journalists and bloggers. His most recent recording Future Sons & Daughters was cited as “one of the pop albums of the year” by the U.K. Sunday Express and given a 4-star rating by Q magazine. And at Razorfish he has a huge fan: me.

I was personally smitten with the beauty of his laid-back yet smart songs one night in March when I saw him open for the French rock band Air. After the concert, I sent him a Tweet to let him know how much I enjoyed the show. And to my surprise, he replied with a heart-felt thanks. We began communicating more frequently, which led to my visiting with his manager Mia Crow of Visionworks while I was in Los Angeles for a Forrester Research conference.

From there, a client relationship between Razorfish and AM took root. Razorfish saw an opportunity to build our brand by associating with a forward-thinking artist who plays in the same social media sand box we do; and AM’s management recognized the value of Razorfish applying our own marketing and PR skills in a client capacity.

Fast forward to October: AM and Razorfish are creating the kind of co-branding relationship that you often see between emerging artists and business-to-consumer firms like Coca-Cola and Mountain Dew (the latter via its Mountain Dew Green Label). Our relationship is based on the three pillars of experience, technology, and community. To wit:

  • On October 13, AM will perform at the 10th Razorfish Client Summit, where Razorfish and our clients discuss the state of the art in marketing, technology, and design. He’s customizing a set list for nearly 700 Razorfish employees and clients including Axe, Best Buy, Levi Strauss & Co., and Mercedes-Benz. We’ll also make his music available to attendees via a specially created StickyBits application and mobile site.
  • His music is being streamed to 2,000 Razorfish employees around the world as well as a StickyBits download, hence fostering word-of-mouth marketing amid a highly social employee base.
  • Razorfish and AM are sponsoring a design-a-poster contest on Creative Allies, which invites artists to create poster art to promote the vinyl release of Future Sons & Daughters. Razorfish Vice President of Experience Andrew Crow will help judge the entries. The winning entry will be used in the actual promotion.
  • Razorfish has been using forms of social media to build awareness for AM’s brand, helping him boost his presence on Facebook and Twitter.

So what does Razorfish get out of the relationship? We benefit in a number of ways. We give our clients and people access to great music, and, through the Client Summit, an experience they’ve never had at our event. We also associate ourselves with a creative, up-and-coming artist who aligns well with the forward-thinking nature of the Razorfish brand — which is ideal for relationship building with clients and job seekers (we recruit actively at SxSW Interactive).

Meantime a relationship with Razorfish is one more stop in the unconventional and resourceful journey AM has taken to gain a following. Like other artists, he has embraced social media, including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and YouTube to complement his website. And as evidenced by how he and I met, he really uses Twitter to reach out to fans in a genuine way. In 2010 he also successfully solicited fans’ financial support to fund the vinyl launch of Future Sons & Daughters. And by licensing songs to movies and TV shows ranging from Big Love to Friday Night Lights, he has not only kept his music visible but gotten paid for it. In addition to touring with Air, he has toured with Charlotte Gainsbourg and will head to the United Kingdom soon for more touring, building his fan base one venue at a time the good old fashioned way.

Our relationship comes at at time when it is acceptable for musicians to find corporate partners. Gone are the days when a corporate relationship meant “selling out.” As discussed at the September Billboard Music & Advertising Conference in Chicago, artists like Zac Brown find companies like Ram Truck to be essential conduits for their music and causes. As Zac Brown said at the Billboard conference selling out means doing something you don’t believe in, a sentiment AM shares. In many ways, companies like Mountain Dew and State Farm are little different from record labels in that they distribute music for the artist. With Razorfish, AM gets access to sources of potential deals (e.g., by performing at the Client Summit), and our employs act as brand ambassadors if we like what we hear.

By letting his music speak for itself through the power of live performance, AM does what Razorfish likes to do: build a brand through an experience.