Spotify: Marketing Music Artists Online | In Practise

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Spotify: Marketing Music Artists Online

Former Head of Artist & Label Marketing Central Europe at Spotify

Why is this interview interesting?

  • Comparison of marketing techniques pre and post-streaming world
  • The importance of offline channels to complement digital marketing
  • How to think about branding across different channels and building user personas
  • The growth in new platforms such as Patreon driving fan-funded artists
  • Managing the big personalities of music artists
  • The potential for Spotify to become a label

Executive Bio

Marie-Luise Heimer

Former Head of Artist & Label Marketing Central Europe at Spotify

Marie spent 7 years working for Spotify where she was Head of Artist and Label Marketing for Central Europe. Marie was responsible for both Artist and Label Marketing and developed strategic relationships for all label and industry partners for Spotify in Central Europe. Marie recently led the digital marketing and branding of Rammstein, one of the world’s largest rock bands, as Director of Ease Agency which is one of the leading digital music agencies in Germany. Read more

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Interview Transcript

Could you run through your experience in the music industry?

I’ve always wanted to work in the music industry, from the age of about 16. I did go to university, in Germany, for a fairly new line of studies, called music business, at Popakademie. At the time when they created a new area of studies, the music industry was in freefall, but I decided to do it anyway. During my studies, we had to do lots of internships, so I got to see different sides. I undertook internships with digital distributors and labels and, when it came to my Bachelor thesis, I did an Erasmus year in Sweden, where Spotify was just opening up for business.

I found that really interesting and I decided to write my thesis about Spotify and subscription models for music. Back then, the person that I reported to for my thesis, told me, “That’s too new; you can’t write about that. There is no literature, no nothing.” I did it anyway. That was interesting, because no one else in Germany or the world, had heard of them and I thought it was a really interesting business model.

I returned to Germany and I did a little bit of freelance work for a conference and then the first streaming service in Germany, called Simfy, which was a copycat of Spotify. They had a license for German content. I joined them as their fourth or fifth employee. I went into the streaming space pretty early on, which was in 2010. That was really the groundworks of explaining what it was to artists and labels and seeing what kind of partnerships companies like this would seek. I was asked, by Spotify, to join them for their German team, which they launched in 2012, which I did as a representative; back then, it was called neighbor relations. It was mainly the role of dealing with artists and labels, setting up partnerships, explaining the model.

That, obviously, went well and Spotify is now the biggest streaming service in Germany. I spent seven years there, building up my own department. Over time, the role changed significantly, from more missionary work to setting up marketing ideas and marketing partnerships. I left Spotify in 2018, because I felt as if the mission had been accomplished and the music industry in Germany was like, we get it; now we can do our own thing. I also really wanted to start my own business, at the time.

I took a sabbatical and really thought about what could be useful for the music industry, as a next step. What always struck me, during my time at Spotify, was people who are decision makers for marketing, for music products or music entertainment brands, they still market their product as it was when there was no subscription model, but a sales model. They would say, “Here’s our new CD; buy it”, then bam, bam, bam for three weeks and then they would let it go.

That was more of the mindset and I wanted to change with Ease Agency when I joined it, which my partner had already built up, over eight years. They had great individuals and experts working in social media and online marketing, paid marketing. We had all the foundations of operational work, but what I wanted to do, was build up a strategy for artists who, not only work on recorded music, but live and merchandise and all the other revenue streams that matter to artists these days. Especially from a data perspective, we wanted to centralize everything for management, in order to be more effective with our marketing tools.

When we came together and really built this new company, or rebuilt the existing Ease Agency company, it was more like being on the side of artists and management and being able to make the most of possibilities that are out there; especially with streaming, but other platforms too. To guide them through what they should do, where they should invest, what partnerships to choose and also being able to carry them out with campaigns and social media expertise.

I didn’t want to be a consultant; I wanted to be able to actually do the work in this company, as well. That’s why we came together with Ease Agency and I’ve been here for a year now.

Can we just take it back to the old world. You mentioned that the marketing was more of a sales model. Who are the stakeholders involved in a typical marketing campaign, in that old world?

It’s important to understand that recorded music is only one revenue stream for an artist. It used to be the most important one. These days, with most of the artists we work with, it’s live, but it depends on the genre, obviously. Back then, you would sign with a label and you would hand over your recording and they would do all the marketing work for you. You would sign a contract that gives you between 5% and 25% of the revenue, depending on how good your negotiating power is. Then they would market it for you, distribute it for you; they would produce the product. They would do everything PR wise.

Back then, the labels were also gatekeepers, in terms of TV and radio contacts. They would decide who would get to play on MTV, who would get a certain TV show. There was really no way around this system, back then.

So the label was actually dictating the whole marketing campaign, the distribution; really just a pure gatekeeper to the whole industry?

Yes, I would say so. If you had a standard artist and you weren’t the biggest newcomer and you didn’t have a clue, you could still give your opinion and say, “I rather like this color,” and those sort of things. But everything would be put up for you and you would sign off. Basically, you just had to show up for promotional dates and everything would flow from there. Back then, it was before my time too; I only know it from stories. It seemed to be a gold rush, so no one really cared if they made five million or six million, because it was enough for everyone. Nobody really looked at how the agreements worked in detail, or if they would work in 10 years’ time, because there was just enough for everyone to thrive.

I think that’s probably when a whole bunch of mistakes were made, in terms of agreements that were made in 1993, but are still valid today and they don’t really apply to how the industry works nowadays.

Can we take the example of Rammstein? As Ease Agency, what channels did you use, to market their new album?

With Rammstein, it’s a very special case, I would say, because they’ve been around for a very long time. Their last record was out 10 years ago. The leap from a 2010 record to a 2019 one, was huge, because they did tour, but they didn’t release any new records. What was most important to us was that we keep the brand of Rammstein and the visual identity that is very strong and that they have established over the years, but make it modern at the same time and make the most of all the opportunities that there are right now.

We partnered with the label, which is Universal, but we carried out most of the digital strategy which was, obviously, the entire tool box of visual marketing, such as YouTube ads, Instagram ads, Facebook ads, newsletters. Also important for them is that they have a huge fanbase and we think we did a great job at retargeting people who went to the tour and who bought merchandise, which is also a big stream for them.

Then, important for us, was to have some sort of physical element, as well, because the physical sales for Rammstein are still huge. That’s not the case for every band but, for them, it is. They sold more than half a million copies, which is extremely rare, these days. We wanted to have something on point of sale, which is MediaMarkt in Germany, or HMV in the UK, where people could come and buy the physical product, to have something that is fun for them. We created a 13-meter-long match, because the match is the cover of the record. There is no photo of the band; it’s just a match. The album is called Rammstein and the visual identity is the match. We rented a truck that went from one town or city to another, and people could follow it over a GPS and could see where the truck was going. They could go there, obviously buy the record, but also take selfies with it, so we would have the ability to distribute into the online world, as well.

We would have amazing footage of that; we’d have some new pieces of content marketing of where the truck was going and what people were doing with it. That was a nice offline touch to it, I would say. What the label usually does, in these cases, is put big billboards across Germany. Outside Germany, we only did a digital spend. We like to combine everything from a brand perspective and they just announced their tour in the US, which is pretty exciting, because they haven’t been there for many, many years. Together with the tour marketing campaign, we branded a zeppelin, which is quite unusual. Obviously, a zeppelin is a very German thing. Think of Hindenburg and think of the 1920s, 1930s. We branded a zeppelin that flew across LA and some other cities, for four days, to promote the shows. We always like to have a physical element that demonstrates how big the band is and how massively they like to see themselves, or to create a distance, in a way, and a mystery among the band. They are not really the ones that come to hug fans after the concert. They are more like, this is Rammstein and you’re here, which is part of the brand, so that’s important when we carry out any marketing strategy, as well.

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Spotify: Marketing Music Artists Online

January 28, 2020

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