To Reach Fans Through Social Music Sites, Labels Need To Learn To Let Go

I want to start by saying I love music. Sharing music with my friends and colleagues is even more fun. I can’t count how many times I’ve shared the hottest new song I’ve heard with friends, always starting with the words; "DUDE, you have to listen to this!"

This got me thinking about how some artists recently have been giving away, or "leaking" tracks in an attempt to get people to hear their sound and build a fan base. This was (and still is) a great way to pay forward the notion that an artist’s product—the music—should both have value, and be shareable. Music is a beautiful thing that should be preserved and cherished by people who listen to it. It’s no different than a brand giving a consumer the opportunity to try a product or service. It’s a daring and brave gesture, and in this economic climate for artists, one that is very worthwhile in the long run. 

When I was in the music business, I was a huge fan of some of the very things that the music business establishment hated, but an emerging set within loved. This group believed that music listening and sharing services would revolutionize the way artists and consumers could communicate to one another. With the consumer, it’s all about sharing, and living life on your terms, not by an industry’s dictate. For an artist, it was an amazing way to develop and nurture a fan base at a pace that was manageable. As time went by, and as these services (and the consumers who used them) were revealed, and in some cases sued, consumers began to rebel against the traditional way of consuming music.  File-sharing services like Napster were the beginning of the digital revolution.

Fast forward 10 years and now we’re living in a world where the digital landscape is incredibly different, especially where music listening is concerned. The early adopters of digital music sharing were on to something, and now Facebook’s deal with companies like Turntable, Rhapsody, Soundcloud, Vevo, and Tunein will once again revolutionize music sharing in a way never before imagined. 

Then I buy the boxed set of the Beach Boy’s "Smile Sessions," and suddenly I’m reminded about one of the things I love most about music: sharing it! This immediately brought me back to the days when I would hang out at my best friend Kenny’s house with a ton of vinyl, listening to albums for hours at a time. We would literally not speak to each other as the music provided such a wonderful dialogue already.

The same things hold true today on social radio. Just recently I heard a version of "Surf’s Up" being played in an "I love the ‘60s" room on Spotify and the place went crazy with excitement. The funny thing was that the IM dialogue literally stopped for almost the entire song. People from all over the world converged in this cyber room, listening to the unbelievable harmonics and soul penetrating sounds in collective silence.

As the last chorus faded, the conversation began, and I was reminded once again of the power of music and its effects on the human condition, especially when mixed with the powerful experience of sharing it with others who share the same passion. The first thing that came to my mind was the preservation of the pristine, un-marketed landscape that this room of silence signified. The fans were able to enjoy an experience that made them feel a part of something awesome. This feeling puts consumers in a position to act in a way that makes it their pleasure to contribute, not a burden. It’s this type of connectivity that is the envy of every brand in the world, even the great ones. But to work, this connection has to be made on the consumer’s terms, and that piece gets lost more times than not. 

The bottom line is, sometimes you just need to figure out what the consumer’s journey is and follow it, not try to control it or inundate it with unwanted marketing programs. Only then will you be in that room with them listening to the music together, and only then will you be able to have a real conversation with them; and allow them to spread your brand message in an authentic and meaningful way, both far and wide, on their own terms.

Now, that’s when the magic happens...

Author Louis Marino is the former creative director for P. Diddy and is currently the EVP/Executive Creative Director of MKTG Inc., an experiential marketing agency. 

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[Image: Flickr user dust]

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