What Associations (and Publishers) Can Learn from the Music Industry

I’ve been privileged in my short lifetime to see wild swings in nearly all industries. Of course, all things change, but over the past 10 or 15 years we’ve seen the internet begin to mature and drastically alter the way we consume media.

Over the past decade, the internet has brought us the “on demand” economy. We’re now able to consume media and information at our pace and whenever we want. Think of Netflix – if you’re anything like my family and me, we no longer wait week to week for our favorite shows to air; we watch the whole season in a weekend.

With social media and publicly available news sources, traditional newspapers are in trouble as well. There was an address mix-up at our office recently and we began to receive one of our local newspapers without ever paying for a subscription. It was free, but not only did we refuse to read it, we were irritated to receive it at all. You couldn’t pay us to read it. That’s because all content is online, free and much more convenient than flipping through a newspaper.

As far as I’m concerned, the paper was better off in the tree that it came from.

The really interesting part is I’m in the publishing business and should appreciate, more than anyone else, the amount of work that goes into creating these media outlets. Instead, we’re just irritated that there’s one more piece of junk mail to fill the recycling bin.

So, what does all of this have to do with the music industry?

The internet and mobile phones have drastically changed the way we consume music and are quickly crippling the established business model that brought fame and fortune to artists throughout the 20th century.

This has caused a couple of dramatic shifts over the past 10 years.

During the time that record labels realized they were in trouble, one of the first things that happened was Justin Bieber.

Bieber was somewhat of a turning point for pop in the 2000s. Because of the incredible level of success that he achieved and the revenue brought into the label, record companies began trying to template his success to create a predictable formula that would lead to sales.

An obvious parallel is how marketing is conducted lately. Marketers tend to look around and try many different strategies over a short period of time to find the one thing that sticks. Once it’s discovered, they never do anything else. Since marketing is a field that just about anyone and their dog can get into, the industry is flooded with gurus and consultants who perform a few successful templated campaigns, then charge you thousands of dollars to learn their template. Nowadays, just about everyone claims to be a marketing guru and I’d wager that most don’t make any money, simply because of market saturation.

After Bieber struck it big and attempts were made to template his success, record labels became increasingly impatient for quick returns and the drive to develop the artist was lost. With the increase in label desperation, artists like Rebecca Black came and went.

Granted, a few of the artists stuck around long enough to make an impact but not one of them matched the level of success that Bieber achieved.

Fast forward to 2017 and another trend is appearing in the music industry.

Post Malone is a relatively new artist who first appeared in 2015. At the time of writing, he appeals to one of the largest audiences in the United States and he’s currently the second most played artist in the country.

One of the most interesting things about Post Malone’s success is he doesn’t stick to standard templated songs that sound the same as every other artist on the radio. I don’t personally enjoy most of his music, but I can definitely appreciate the authenticity in what he does.

Each of his songs is wildly different and they vary across multiple genres. This is a dramatic shift for the music industry and it shows that the era of record labels regulating sound is coming to an end. My theory on this is that the standard 10- to 15-song album released every four years has become an obsolete model.

Music is primarily consumed over services like Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, and because of this, listeners now have the option to skip over the album’s filler songs or jump between artists all together. With playlists, it’s now possible to have one song from 100 different artists play consecutively. This is something that wasn’t especially convenient to do before Apple revolutionized the market through iTunes.

The reason for Post Malone’s huge organic success is that he very successfully creates content for just about all demographics. He incorporates everything from country to punk without losing the defining characteristics of each genre. Not many rappers will cover Green Day on stage and do it well enough to get a shout-out from the original creator.

So, how can publishers and associations learn from this?

While our content delivery is slightly different and the audiences are different, both content publishers and record labels all accomplish the same task – having as many people consuming their media as possible. The lesson to be learned from an artist like Post Malone is to create content that appeals to multiple audiences and spend less time creating templated campaigns that only appeal to a very narrow audience.

In media, the number one problem is always obscurity. The largest problem that you face as a publisher or as an association is not enough people know your name or what you do. By producing content that appeals to groups of people outside your target audience, you may succeed in widening that audience significantly.

GQ is another great example of this. During the 2016 presidential campaign, they began publishing content in their magazine as well as videos on social media attacking Donald Trump. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the messaging or not, the point is that they got their name in front of a much wider audience and rode the controversy of Trump’s campaign. Here’s one of the videos:

If you, as a publisher or as an association, can publish content that appeals to a much broader audience, your organic following will increase at a much higher rate than if you focused on one specific group only.

This is in sharp contrast with what other marketers will tell you.

The reason I subscribe to this belief is that I’m very much a part of the “on demand” economy and I fully understand my media consumption habits.

I don’t read every article on the websites that I visit for content; I read the ones I find interesting. I’m willing to bet that most people are the same way. That means in order for me to want to check in to your website or blog I don’t need to find value in every article, I just need to find value in some.

Thoughts? Comment below!