This is an interview series in preparation for my SXSW Panel: The State of Music Blogs in 2010. I reached out to a number of influencers, musicans, labels, marketers and music fans to get their perspectives on the topic and will be posting these in a series leading up to the conference.
Today we hear from Adam Ritchie out of Boston. Adam runs a brand communications agency with clients in the music industry, plus he’s a musician and tours regularly with his band.
Adam is the second publicist to physically seek me out at SXSW just to build a relationship with me. He also e-mails and @-replys with me even when not pitching a client. He’s the real deal.
Why do you think music blogs are so popular?
Music blogs are popular because:
- They’re serving a hunger for content that was going unfed
National print outlets are shrinking, while the scope of national music blogs’ coverage is limited only to staff size. Dailies and weeklies have scaled back (and sometimes eliminated) original arts coverage. The ones that remain are trying to serve readers with mainstream music interests by focusing on big-name acts coming to town, while doing what they can to promote their local scenes. Market-specific music blogs have stepped in as specialists in their local scenes and are super-serving that audience.
- The people who run them are passionate and entrepreneurial
Many of the independent music bloggers I’ve worked with are naturals at marketing and brand-building. Some of them do it professionally. But even the ones who are self-taught understand nobody is going to hand them a readership, and it’s not a case of “write it and they will come.” Just like a band putting out an album, or a company launching a new product, they learn and use the tools at their disposal to get out there and wrangle an audience. Fueling all the sweat that goes into a well-run blog is their passion. They love music. They want to share what they love with as many people as they can. And they’ll spend as many waking hours as they can doing it.
- They live where their consumers live
They’re not facing the challenge of adapting their product online to chase their consumers, like their cousins in print. Music blogs are digital natives, serving their readers where they already are.
- Their platform allows them to report quickly and with rich media content
Writing about music isn’t easy! It’s an art. Think about it; you’re using words to create sounds in someone’s head. Music blogs can embed an mp3 or a video and say, “Here’s what I’m talking about!” Basic music reporting has gotten faster and easier, and for readers who just want a new song with a quick introduction, they’ve got it. But the same platform is also allowing real music journalism to happen. Writers can go in-depth, dissect the music, tell the back-stories behind the songs, prepare their readers for what they’re about to hear and help them understand why it’s artistically, technologically or socially important.
- People need a filter
There is a lot of music out there, and the pile is growing. We like it when someone tells us, “Here’s something worth listening to.” And that’s not necessarily what’s most popular or what’s getting the most clicks. We need curators. Whether it’s our friends, a particular music writer or a specific independent record label, we find sources with tastes and sensibilities we trust to do the sifting for us. Music blogs are your new buddy with the sweet record collection.
How do you think music blogs/aggregators/social networks have impacted the industry?
They’ve given everyone making music the ability to share it, everyone marketing music a new array of platforms, everyone reporting on music an unlimited potential audience and everyone consuming music new means of discovery.
How have they changed your music consumption and/or marketing efforts?
They haven’t dramatically changed my music consumption. If I’m sitting in one place, I’m working, and I’m one of those people who can’t work to music. I wish I could! I’ll take a chance on a new band if I see them covered a few times by a writer I’m working with and trust, or see a show because they’ve heavily recommended it. The medium that’s had the biggest impact on my music consumption is the podcast. It gives you that dual dose of music journalism + audio example I mentioned, they’re portable and you only need to free up one of your senses to enjoy them.
On the marketing side, they’ve had a much greater impact on what I do:
- Increased number of media targets
Instead of a handful of magazines and papers in a single market, I now have more outlets to work with who can help tell my client’s story.
- Increased reliance on email
This is not a good thing. To generate meaningful coverage and build solid media relationships, you still need to pick up a phone and speak with a person, or arrange some face time. Follow-up with independent music bloggers is limited to what you can do behind the computer. This means your email pitches have to be tighter than ever, and you have to help your clients understand that radio silence on the blogger’s end doesn’t provide many backup engagement options.
- Increased need/value of original ideas
You need to cut through the clutter, and that means coming up with social media-friendly ideas that present your client in an unexpected way. Your product might still be music, but your means of delivering it might be organizing a flashmob using Facebook or getting a local pizza joint to dedicate a pie to the band on Twitter.
- Enabled the client-as-media outlet
Not everything my clients do warrants alerting the media. We finally have a place to tell those smaller stories: on the clients’ own blogs, iTunes programs, YouTube channels, Flickr streams, Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts.
- Expanded the reporting role of the publicist
Most independent bloggers don’t have the resources to attend out-of-town music conferences or major tour stops. If you’re a traveling publicist, you can now create media-ready content and quickly turn it around to the independent blogs back home, providing them with timely material they wouldn’t have been able to get on their own.
- Increased time spent on media relationship-building / Decreased longevity of the relationships
Media directories aren’t a one-stop shop, and can’t keep up with how quickly the landscape is changing. Many music blogs and their writers flare to life and wink out with the frequency of stars in deep space. Working relationships are as critical as ever, and unfortunately, the shelf life of those relationships has never been shorter. The opportunities have increased, but it takes twice as much groundwork to run an effective PR campaign today than it did even two years ago.
- Increased ability to listen and improve
If you’re using the right media monitoring tools, not only can you get a temperature check on perception of your client at any given moment, but you can pinpoint individuals to engage and chart points of criticism over time – then use that information to help steer your client in the right direction.
- Better niche targeting
It’s never been easier to locate communities of people who share your client’s passion for an issue or subject. If your client is a band writing songs about parenting, sailboats or coffee, there’s a community already built around it.
- Greater need for reputation management
With the power to publish comes great responsibility, and many bloggers don’t realize the extent of the damage they’re capable of doing. There’s a dangerous double standard with some print outlets who also maintain blogs. In some of their print editions, they’ll work to tell both sides of a story, while on their blogs, they’ll sometimes only share the side of the story that appeared in their inbox. This reinforces the need to have those relationships in place in advance, so they’ll know who to check in with and give your client a chance to respond before they hit “publish.”
What’s the best thing to happen to the music industry in the last year or so?
SoundExchange working to deliver millions of dollars in unclaimed digital performance royalties to independent artists.
What’s the worst?
It’s been happening for years, and has nothing to do with technology. It’s the national drinking age. We wonder why mainstream music still dominates the media and fills up stadiums. When you’re in your teens and have the time and the hunger to seek out something new, you get turned away at most clubs. We’ve been trained from the time we’re young not to look beyond the major acts playing the nearest big venue. And that urge to take a chance and explore a local independent scene is ironed out of most of us by the time we can legally step through the door.
What is the single biggest strategy/technology/innovation/societal shift you think will impact music in 2010?
- We’ll see the remaining dailies and alt. weeklies who haven’t already launched music blogs finish catching up
- We’ll see independent music blogs and bands start launching iPhone, Palm and Android apps that deliver their articles, songs, videos and tour schedules into consumers’ pockets
- We’ll see independent bands who were introduced to social media tools in 2009 start learning how to use them more effectively
- We’ll see a migration from free blogging services to self-hosted ones in the aftermath of the #musicblogocide earlier this year
- We’ll see independent bands realizing that 100% DIY is a fulltime commitment, which means they’ll be spending less time spent putting up fliers and more time putting together their business teams
- We’ll see some great music. A self-funded album takes about three years to write, record and produce. We’re wrapping up the third year of a time when a lot of people lost their jobs and discovered their passion for music. This is going to be a great year for late-blooming artists.
I’d like to see music bloggers helping to educate bands and publicists by sharing more information about how to work with them: the ways they prefer to be contacted, the best method of sending information and music, their dos and donts of follow-up and their lead-times. On the same note, I’d like bands to understand that independent music bloggers approach writing the same way bands approach music: as a labor of love, with only so many hours in a day to dedicate. The craft and the challenges that come with making both successful are more similar than most people think.