What does RCA-signed mega-group Brockhampton have to do with Japanese heavy-metal band Crossfaith? Pop princess Ariana Grande with punk-rock outfit The Fever 333? Man of the hour Childish Gambino with blockchain-obsessed singer-songwriter Shelita Burke?
All of these artists and their teams — drawing from vastly different walks of the music industry — are recognized in the inaugural Deep Cutters Music Marketing Awards, which rallied 40 top marketers across labels, management, PR and tech to choose some of 2017's most innovative music marketing campaigns from around the world.
Founded by Amber Horsburgh (former svp strategy, Downtown Records), Deep Cutters soft-launched this month with 52 nominees across 11 categories, including but not limited to Best Use of Platform, Best Brand Partnership, Best Music Video, Best Tour (On- and Off-Stage) and Best Fan Experience.
Founding jurors include Nur Ozdamar (formerly vp of strategy & brand partnerships, Universal Music Group & Brands), Moody Jones (director of marketing, EMPIRE Distribution), Cameron Schaefer (head of music & brand, Vinyl Me, Please), Arielle Rubin (director of digital strategy, 7S Management), Maddie Brady (director of marketing, brand partnerships and sync, Eleven Seven Music Group) and Veronica Reynolds (founding member, Blockchain at UCLA). The full list of jurors can be found on the official Deep Cutters website.
At Downtown, Horsburgh spearheaded campaigns for artists like Mura Masa, Miike Snow, Cold War Kids and Chet Faker, and her work has been recognized by the likes of The Webby Awards, The One Show and the Clio Awards.
In addition to prior experience at music companies like EMI and MTV, Horsburgh also worked in strategy at more generalized agencies such as Big Spaceship, which was a driving motivation behind Deep Cutters — celebrating music marketers who are working with much smaller budgets and media resources on average than larger, more traditional advertisers, while leveling the playing field for recognition and eliminating entry fees and other unnecessary barriers.
In an exclusive Q&A with Billboard, Horsburgh shared her thoughts on the most compelling music marketing trends, why we haven't celebrated the field nearly enough and what music marketers could learn from outside brands and ad agencies.
The number of generalized marketing & advertising awards runs in the several dozens, but I can still count the number of music-specific marketing awards on one hand. Why do you think music marketing hasn’t been widely celebrated yet, at least in a more formalized way?
There's no incentive. Artists shopping for labels, booking agencies and management firms look to those companies' artist rosters as the primary display of A&R strength, hoping to mimic a career trajectory of their blockbuster acts. They rarely look to the marketing department.
In the advertising world, agencies sell creative ideas. Hence winning creative awards becomes a huge new-business generator, and there's far greater incentive for brands and agencies to win creative accolades, so more and more awards shows pop up.
Also, entry fees alone price most artists out of submitting work to the major marketing & advertising awards. The Webby Awards charged applicants up to $385 per category last year. This is a real shame because there is so much marketing creativity in music, but you rarely get to dive into individual case studies, which is what Deep Cutters wants to honor.
Before Downtown, you had experience at agencies outside of music like Big Spaceship. What do you think music could adapt from other industries when it comes to marketing strategy?
I think music can learn a lot from the strategic rigor that other brands put into developing their own campaigns — especially in architecting a more thoughtful approach to campaign execution, developing creative ideas for marketing and promotion and building key interest points to keep momentum alive around an album or single past a one-off New Music Friday release.
Are there any interesting trends you saw among Deep Cutters nominees and winners this year? Any new technologies or angles that should be on marketers’ and strategists’ radars?
While there still isn’t a mainstream use case for the technology, artificial intelligence is a wonderful canvas for creative thinkers. You’ll see many artists experimenting with AI among this year's Deep Cutters nominees.
For example, Spotify analyzed lyrics using artificial neural networks to create a new song from scratch in the style of the late Brazilian rap legend Sabotage, which had a stamp of approval and authenticity from a committee of family and friends. On the business side, Amper is doing very interesting things for music creation.
Many artists are also using their platform for wider social impact. When Logic performed his hit single "1-800-273-8255" at the VMAs, calls to the eponymous number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline increased by more than 50 percent. Joss Stone embarked on a tour to play in every country — 2.7 million miles of travel in total — while completely balancing her carbon footprint. Chance the Rapper bought out an entire day of theater screenings of the Thurgood Marshall biopic Marshall so that fans and moviegoers could watch for free.
Was there anything that surprised you in the process of putting these awards together?
Brand partnerships are essential. In today's environment, artists who want to do truly innovative marketing that scales must work with brands, and marketing departments should push for more creative-based partnerships beyond straight sync.
While Deep Cutters has a dedicated brand partnerships category, overall brand assistance — whether silent or pronounced — was a consistent feature across the majority of the 11 categories. Check out the amazing work between Gorillaz and Sonos, which drew on the cartoon architecture that the band had cultivated for years online to build real-life immersive fan experiences. Same with White Denim and North Face, who released the former's single "Rain Drop" in conjunction with the latter's new Apex Flex GTX raincoat — culminating in an Accuweather integration that enabled fans to stream the single on Spotify only when it was raining.
Historically, when artists and brands worked together, it was no more creative than a logo slapped on the bottom of a poster. But the partners who go one step further to develop a truly novel idea underpinning the deal end up with the highest-quality campaigns.