6 Rules to Navigating Music Influencer Partnerships & Why They're a Big Deal (Guest Column)

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Musicians are increasingly using their celebrity status to become influencers to promote brands, products, and their own business ventures . At the same time, more and more music industry players -- from record labels to streaming platforms, and tour promoters to device manufacturers -- are looking to social media influencers to promote their new music, products, services and events. The success of these partnerships depends on many variables, including the "fit" between the influencer and the brand, the promotion’s authenticity, and having clearly established expectations about how the relationship will go.

Whether you are an influencer, or engage influencers, here are six key tips for creating a successful partnership:

1. Find the Right Match

The target audience and the authenticity of the proposed content are critical to the success of the campaign. Musicians and their representatives should think about the kinds of brands they want to partner with and consider both the upsides and downsides of the potential match. Likewise, brands should carefully consider the profile of the musician-influencer. Does the product align with the musician’s values and image? Will the campaign resonate with the musician’s fan base? Will the campaign take the musician or brand in a desired new direction? Music audiences are passionate and may be vocal if a campaign does not come across as genuine. They can be equally vocal if the campaign goes well.

2. Define the Relationship

Before starting a new relationship, set expectations. Will this be a short-term, campaign-based relationship or will the musician partner with the brand for a longer term?  If the brand is expecting an exclusive arrangement, is it willing to pay accordingly? How will exclusivity affect the musician’s other plans and goals? Musicians should consider these factors when defining the nature of the relationship, and if desired, leave room to explore future partnerships with other brands or industries. Even if the campaign will be non-exclusive, consider whether the campaign could result in unintended consequences for the musician's other brand partnerships.

Could aligning with this new brand cause existing partners to feel uncomfortable or foreclose other opportunities? And what are the economics? Influencer arrangements have a wide range of compensation structures: flat fees based on number of followers  (in our experience, roughly $10-$25 per 1,000 followers); revenue share; minimum guarantees based on product sales or engagement.  To get the most of out of the relationship and avoid difficulty down the road, you’ll want to be clear about your expectations up front.

3. Be Specific About the Content 

Content is king, and thinking about content early can prevent headaches later. Ask yourself: What will the content look like? What will it sound like?  Who will own the content? Who can use the content, when and for how long?

If you are creating content, determine who should have creative control. Will you be creating something custom? Coordination with your label, publisher, or other business partners may be required and in some cases the brand may seek to leverage those close relationships to assist with rights clearance. Be clear about responsibilities up front, and don’t forget to consider the cost and logistics around content creation.

Will the content be tied to specific dates or events, or will it be something that can be used any time ("evergreen")? If "evergreen," musicians may need to consider how "old" posts could conflict with changes to their image over time. Can the brand freely  re-post and re-use the content for years to come? For brands, can the musician share the content freely on an ongoing basis?

4. Determine Who Has Authority to Review Content Before It Is Released Publicly

Who decides when content is ready to be posted? For both influencers and brands, does the final post comport with your understanding of the agreement? Are you comfortable with attaching your name and reputation to the final post? It is also critical to review final content to ensure compliance with relevant guidelines and legal requirements. For example, does the content include any requisite paid promotional disclosures (such as #ad) or other contractually-specified requirements?

If you are hiring influencers, consider specifying when posts must occur to maximize reach. For example, you could include parameters around the dates or times of day that particular content should be posted, or you could create a schedule that spaces out multiple posts for maximum effect.

Campaigns can also be timed to take advantage of the exposure the influencer might receive in connection with key industry events, such as the Grammys or CMAs.  Nominees, performers or presenters may be ideal influencers, as activity on their platforms is likely to peak in the days surrounding the event. If you have been the subject of awards-related hype, consider promoting yourself to partners and entering into influencer relationships before nominations are announced.  Brands may enjoy a boost from being associated with influencers who have received nominations, and this is a potential selling point that you can use to your benefit. Similarly, brands should consider the value of engaging a buzz-worthy, up-and-coming artist.

5. Use Data to Monitor, Incentivize and Evaluate Performance

Once the content is publicly shared, data analytics can be used to monitor progress and plan future campaigns. The musician's compensation could be structured based on audience engagement. Companies may like the idea of incentivizing the influencer to create attention-grabbing content, and musicians may like that they will be rewarded for increased engagement.

Furthermore, both sides of the company-influencer relationship may learn new insights from data analytics. Influencers can learn more about their audiences, which can inform other career decisions. Data about when and how the audience engaged with the content can be valuable. For example, knowing that engagement spiked when content was posted on a Sunday night or that most viewers stopped watching a video after 15 seconds will help both brands and musicians more effectively communicate with their target audiences. Musicians should not forget to ask for access to the company’s data as well. Click-through rates, data on user activity on the company’s platforms, and sales figures that are traceable to the campaign can provide useful insight into your audience's engagement and buying habits and help you understand the value you add. This information can be useful for designing, pricing, and rolling out merchandise and other products, and may even help inform touring routes and venue sizes.

The same types of data can also be used to evaluate opportunities on the front end. If you are a musician, having a clear understanding of your fan base will make you more appealing to brands and will help you select campaigns that are most likely to resonate with your fans. If you are a brand, you can use historical data about potential influencers to find the best match for your goals.

6. Avoid Disputes & Resolve Them Quickly and Efficiently

As in life, most parties enter the influencer relationship with nothing but high hopes for the future.  But then reality sets in. Disputes can and do arise, even with the most clearly-structured relationships. Identifying and addressing potential disputes early  can prevent them from arising or becoming a broader problem. Musicians should establish flexibility where needed in their contracts to account for their schedule, and both musicians and brands should be clear about any "dealbreakers" or reputational standards. Consider agreeing up front to dispute escalation procedures in order to foster discussion and encourage resolution. Consider also whether an arbitration clause may be appropriate, as a confidential arbitration may be preferable to resolving disputes through public litigation. And both sides may want to retain the ability  to shut down a campaign in the event of an image change, public relations issue, criminal probe, or other reputational issue. When an issue unexpectedly arises, both brands and influencers may appreciate having the flexibility to decide whether the time is right for a campaign to move forward as planned.

Influencer campaigns between musicians and brands present huge opportunities to reach passionate and dedicated music audiences. Taking extra time and care to consider what each party expects and to appropriately structure the campaign from the start will increase the benefits that both sides receive and help to avoid problems down the road.

Adrian Perry is Partner, Co-Chair of the Music Industry Practice; Micaela McMurrough is Partner, Litigation, Cybersecurity & Privacy;  and Chase Brennick is Associate, Technology Transactions at Covington & Burling LLP.