As technological advancements have reshaped culture over the past decade, developing an artist in 2018 is vastly different than ever before with new avenues that make it an exciting time for musicians and fans alike. During the Artist Development: What Does it Mean to Break Through in 2018? panel at the Billboard Live Music Summit on Wednesday (Nov. 14) at the Montage in Beverly Hills, music execs discussed the myriad of ways in which the latest innovations are affecting their business strategies.
The panel, which was moderated by Matt Medved, director of dance/electronic programming and cross-department content strategy with Billboard, touched on how the current game in music is all about fostering the connectivity between the artist and fan. It included speakers Alicia Karlin, VP talent at Madison House; Steve Gordon, co-head of electronic music at United Talent Agency; John Fleckenstein, co-president of RCA Records; John Reese, founder, owner and CEO of Synergy Global Entertainment; and Matt Meyer, agent at Paradigm.
“There is the assumption that as a fan, you can DM an artist directly and have that direct connection,” said Fleckenstein, who noted that his goal is to create connections between “someone who is uniquely good at singing and performing and someone who might be into what they do and want to be part of that scene.”
“Direct to fan text messaging is a growing segment and I think we are going to see a lot of growth there,” said Karlin, who revealed that there are several companies coming up that are currently focusing on helping artist fan bases to engage with their musical icons by providing them with first access to things like new releases, fan pre-sales and the chance to be the first to know to about new initiatives on the touring front, such as artist-curated festivals.
Meyer added that he sees direct to fan purchasing as also being influential in this space. “With the technology of your phone, just being able to do two clicks instead of going online will help speed up the process for touring, for consuming music,” he explained.
Fleckenstein pointed out that that the rise in popularity of social media has even brought back some of the past campaigns that were once deemed unproductive. “Ten years ago, two words would terrorize a record company: private jet and billboards. They were the two things that nobody wanted to do because they are expensive and inefficient,” he said. “But if you look around Times Square, it’s filled with music billboards.” The RCA exec noted that the experimental elements of being able to take a picture of a billboard and post it on Facebook have made this medium resurge again. “There are a lot of interesting things going on with scarcity and location based marketing and I think it will be interesting in how it develops artist development,” he said.
Fleckstein added that in his eyes, artist development — which he deemed as “constantly evolving” — is not really about how many tickets you sell or how many streams you have. It’s about how you put those two things together. “It’s about saying, “I noticed that his artist is streaming a lot in these three cities. I should go talk to my agent, my promoter, my manager and say, ‘You should go play some shows there because something interesting happened.’ That conversation amongst the different entities around that artist to say it’s the right play to play the Midwest, for instance — that’s artist development,” he explained. He continued, calling the movement “about being there at the right time and the right place and making the right moves in between.”
In addition to the latest strategies in promoting an artist, the panel touched on what attracts them to new acts, explaining that while streams and playlist hits can tell a music exec a lot about how well an up-and-coming act may perform, the traditional factors still come into play. “Data gets you 80 percent of the way there but you still have to meet the artist. You have to know who they are. You have to understand who their team is,” said Fleckenstein.
Fleckenstein continued, saying it’s crucial for a agents and managers to look past current stream figures and hone in on where is the artist heading in the future. “How are they going to evolve? What is that central message?” He also said the live experience is still very much a factor as well. “In today’s market, you can find anything instantaneously, but you still can’t see that person. That’s still a unique thing where you have to get off your butt and go see, and that’s an important part of the puzzle more so today,” he said.
Karlin agreed, adding that she always requests live clips of artists she’s considering booking to go along with streaming numbers. “I want to see what the show looks like because six to eight months later when that show pays off, you want to make sure you are booking an artist who has the talent and not just the streams,” she said. She also touched on the importance of artist engagement. She said, “See how they are engaging in the fan base and how they are engaging with other promoters and are they promoting the shows they are playing?”
Fleckenstein said that while there are a lot of ways to get streams, not all of them are beneficial. “We spend a lot of time trying to sift through the numbers. You can have a lot of streams on something but if you have no engagement. You can get a lot of likes on Instagram but if you don’t have a lot of people commenting and talking about engaging, it probably doesn’t mean very much. Engagement is key to all of that, to feel like if people are really into this and following the people or if it is passive screening,” he said.
While it’s certainly important to utilize technologies such as Facebook and Instagram for marketing campaigns, Gordon explained that it’s equally as important to find ways to grow your band’s brand off of those platforms as well. “At the end of the day, if Facebook vanishes from the world, marketing can be gone, especially for a mid-tier artist and a smaller artist where everything is living on those platforms. So many artists, their whole thing is their 50,000 Facebook page likes and Instagram fan platforms,” he said.
And in terms of the live strategy, Meyer said that “touring your ass off, that nonstop in your face approach,” which is what he did during his initial push to break Halsey, is still a viable strategy. “It’s still there and I think if your content is relevant and people can organically attach to your brand, people are going to stay attached to your brand,” he said.
Other topics discussed were the rise of artist-curated festivals, which Gordon said he’d recommend doing if “an artist is truly polarizing and has a true fan base — and not just fans but ravenous fans — as well as a hard ticket background,” and the importance of aligning touring plans with the goal of being able to have that coveted sold out sign on the door of a venue. “If you can play 1,000 cap room and sell 999 tickets or you can play a 600 cap room and sell a 600 cap tickets in advance, I’d rather go for the 600 room and grow into it, build in that career. It’s all about the growth,” said Meyer.