L.A.-based music manager Todd C. Roberts can pinpoint precisely when he knew Kanye West was “marketing on another plane entirely.” It was 2016, when hip-hop’s chief provocateur promoted his album The Life of Pablo with a series of pop-up shops—which he announced through tweets that included a map dotted with the 21 locations around the world.
Roberts, co-founder of creative advisory Creative Cabal, went to check out the artist’s L.A. shop, where a throng of fans all but barricaded the entrance. Once inside, he discovered the “shop” was actually just a single rack of T-shirts with Pablo art on them. And forget about any attempt at customer service: “You could not touch the merchandise,” he recalls with a laugh. “You were not allowed to. You had to just pay $65 for a T-shirt and get the f*** out.”
The pseudo-hostile retailing only fueled interest in the music. Songs from The Life of Pablo were streamed 400 million times in the six weeks it was exclusively available on Tidal.
Cultivating a feeling of exclusivity, real or perceived, is a signature gambit for content marketers—and auteurs—in the music industry. It’s also one of the many strategies worth pilfering by content marketers working in industries outside the pop music sphere. Sure, you say, but that’s Kanye Freaking West. Well, yes. And you’re probably not going to open a string of pop-up boutiques to sell T-shirts with catchphrases from your latest e-book or blog post. But a lot of your customers (and prospects) may be just as eager to get their hands on your content. So take a cue from Yeezy—make a video, hit the social channels, do whatever it takes to make your customers feel like they’re part of a cool cabal with exclusive access to insider info.
Turning music marketing up to 11
There’s a reason content marketing in the music industry so often feels maverick these days. The Internet Age has not been kind to its business model. As the margins on song and album sales plummeted, and virtual streaming went mainstream, all but the top tier of performers had to tour extensively to see any real profits. So it’s no shocker that they’re turning up the content marketing.
In a way, the music industry was an early adopter of content marketing, with its go-to tool: the music video. The format — both in short and long versions — has a storied past that stretches back to The Beatles and has since attracted everyone from David Bowie (with Oscar winner Tilda Swinton, no less) to Chance the Rapper. Content marketing continues to offer the music industry new pathways to revenue generation — not to mention customer loyalty and engagement — that connect with consumers in ways that feel both authentic and organic.
“Artists are realizing that that 5-inch slab of carbonate called a CD is not the be-all-end-all,” says Cary Baker, who helped rockers R.E.M. ascend to global fame in the 1980s as vice president of publicity at I.R.S. Records. “Doing other [content-related] things—like videos and documentaries—is a smart way to promote your music,” says Baker, now owner of conqueroo, an L.A. music publicity agency.
“The gatekeepers—basically those in the established record label system—have moved along,” says Alan Miller, co-founder of seminal (now-defunct) rock magazine Filter and now co-founder of self-described boutique culture agency Collide in Los Angeles. “And now there’s no barrier to entry when it comes to marketing in music. Everyone is a Twitter handle away from creating something amazing. You’re seeing smart artists evolve into doing things beyond music that are equally creative—and oftentimes even more lucrative.”
Indeed, some of music’s splashiest recent moments fall under the umbrella of savvy content marketing. We take a look at some of those ultra-buzzy campaigns and a few lessons content marketing professionals can extract from them.