Hidden away down a back street in Harrods-Yuppy-land (Kensington, London), Sony Music UK's office is a hub of activity for the contemporary and commercial.
On the day of my visit, everything is in flux. A makeshift reception desk sits in the middle of a large atrium, with workmen pushing crates around and attaching "do not sit here" posters to chairs.
The sense of change doesn't end at the reception though. An industry always at odds with itself, in transit, the walls are adorned with music posters, but there is a certain disjointedness to a Hendrix tour poster that jostles for wall-space next to a beaming portrait of Robbie Williams and the Syco branding peering out from desktops and cupboards...
The labels at Sony are indeed strange bed-fellows. Sony is responsible for artists from the Columbia label, America's most historic record company, housing Bob Dylan and Elvis, but also Beyonce and Britney Spears. RCA also transcends the genres (David Bowie, Alicia Keys, Kings of Leon) and sits alongside myriad independent labels bought up by the media behemoth.
The sense of flux permeates deep into the big-sky thinking at Sony Music...
As a CRM (Customer relationship management) professional, I have been asked to come in to discuss the future of customer relations, and it is clear that Sony is investing a lot of money into this area, widening their scope and increasing their budget for this type of marketing year-on-year. The CRM team makes decisions and advises on the best way to engage and retain fans, and is steadily growing as Sony management realise its potential.
As musicians, we all must become marketers. However, we all know that having a great product is not the be-all and end-all. In fact, in the world of multinational business, it has been long believed that the brand is the most important facet of a business. Nike CEOs such as incumbent Mark Barker work on the premise that Nike is not a shoe company, but a lifestyle provider, enabling its customers to brand their lives with a sporty mask. Tommy Hilfiger manufactures nothing at all. These are lifestyle brands, and they dominate the world.
The problem with the music industry is that it has never really listened to its customers. Furthermore, itse inflexibility has meant that at every turn, at every development, major labels such as Sony have been on the back foot.
First came sheet music, mass printed and sold to households so they could play their favourite tunes around the piano at home. The death knell was sounded for recorded music. The industry adapted and ploughed on. Changes in format, and in tastes have proved difficult water to navigate, but the real sink-or-swim moment happened in the late 1990s with the Napster generation. This is where I come in. I had already purchased my first albums (The Who's Quadrophenia, Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde and the Spice Girls' debut album... don't ask!) but when downloads came along, my music library expanded exponentially. The music business received nothing, apart from an embarrassed look on its collective face. The real issue here is that the labels didn't pioneer these breakthroughs, they had to react to them.
The music industry still exists mainly by consolidating thousands of artists under one company, and by supporting the efforts of smaller artists by raking it in with the X Factor hits, and the likes of the big guns - Beyonce, Murs, Julio Bashmore, Daft Punk.... the list goes on.
The fact that a company like Sony has so much "product", however, can be of huge benefit. It means that in 2017, Sony Music UK has access to over 4 million fans (and by collecting their data, they can find out a lot about you, and use it to make or break careers). These fans are following artists and labels on Twitter, they are signed up to emailing lists and they are opting in to competitions. The most important weapon now is your data. Your preferences for music, for social media tools. Your age and gender, the town you live in and the things you do there. If the labels can understand this data, they can keep you interested between releases, they can engage you with the chance to win a day with your favourite band (the horror!) and they can, most importantly perhaps, cross-sell. You bought every Beyoncé album, so why haven't you bought any of Ke$ha's?
On an unsigned level, we independent artists can adopt the same approach. Blogs like Indepreneur and Music Industry How To are opening our eyes to CRM - because a personal relationship works exactly the same as a business one. After all, people are at the centre of it all. At a gig, where you know the whole room loves the same artist as you (enough to pay the price of the ticket) we wouldn't approach a stranger and ask to be friends. The same goes when cultivating fans for your own music.
On London Musician's Network, a facebook group of over 13,000, the artists who dump a link to their soundcloud with an instruction to listen to their latest masterpiece are often met with no interaction, no response. Because in today's world, we need motivation, incentive. There's a lot of content out there, and there's a lot of music I already love - WHY should I listen to yours?
WHY. That's the question here. If you haven't understood your audience (WHY do they love your music?) and if you haven't understood your own motivation (WHY are you making music?), then you're one step behind.
Temporal Comet are currently working on some music videos. Why? Because we want to showcase the best of what we can do to the people who count. Our friends, our fans, and anyone who might help us to help ourselves to that shadowy "next level", where gigs are a good investment in time and money, and where blogs and digital radio want to share what we do with their audiences. We put out a teaser clip, and the response has been invariably "where can we see more? When will it be released?!" We sent personal messages to everyone who engaged with the Facebook posts. We want our friends to know we appreciate the time they spent in clicking and watching.
Everyone has access to the tools now - we all have Garage Band or a similar DAW (Digital Audio Workstation... like Photoshop for musicians - I use Cockos Reaper) and we can all market our product online (Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Reverbnation, Twitter, Snapchat... the list is endless). Half the world could be the next Mark Ronson or Stormzy, so we all need to prepared. The best content doesn't always come to the surface, but with the best understanding of yourself, your audience, and the global 'marketplace', that single that you have worked so hard to produce could get the attention it deserves. The lumbering giants like Sony are doing it - now you can be David to their Goliath. It's time to tune up your catapults!