The Future of What: Marketing Your Music with The Syndicate, Sub Pop, Warp and Mass Appeal Records

Vortex Music Magazine

A weekly music industry podcast for newcomers and insiders alike, The Future of What tackles important topics in the business with host Portia Sabin, president of Kill Rock Stars, and guests. This week we talk all things music marketing with experts who have worked on award-winning campaigns from Run The Jewels to Sleater-Kinney.

After all the work that goes into writing and recording an album, actually promoting it can be daunting. Releasing an album today isn’t just a matter of distribution—agencies and labels are taking full advantage of new technology to create hype around upcoming releases. Whether it’s pulling off a surprise album drop or erasing your entire social media presence like Radiohead, cutting-edge artists are always looking for a fresh way to grab people’s attention.

Before you get too experimental with your strategy, there are some basics to consider in marketing an album or song. Leading entertainment marketing agency The Syndicate has worked with artists and labels like Arcade Fire, Third Man Records and Daft Punk. Its senior director of marketing, Graham Rothenberg, gives us a rundown of how marketing plans come together. The scope of a campaign can vary greatly for the agency, Rothenberg tells us. “For some artists we’re just working publicity, for others we’re just doing radio, and for some we’re just doing grassroots marketing.” No matter the project, Rothenberg emphasizes the artist’s role in the promotional process. “The harder the band works,” he says, “the harder the people around them are going to work.” While specific tactics depend on the artist’s goal, according to Rothenberg, “It’s really important that people try to get the message across as easily understandable as possible and as quickly as possible. We’re living in a culture where things are moving so fast and people are consuming so much content that you have to make a splash fast.”

Rothenberg tells us that now, “marketing is everything.” Expanding on his point, Sub Pop’s head of marketing, Carly Starr, speaks to the increasing crossover between publicity and marketing. “The lines have gotten so blurry,” she says, “now it’s almost as if every job here has a marketing component to it.” Starr tells us about working on major Sub Pop releases like Sleater-Kinney and Father John Misty, but she also has advice for young bands: “Playing shows, getting the word out using [social] platforms in your own words, and doing things that feel exciting to you” are all vital to marketing.

Warp Records’ head of North America, Steven Hill, has been nominated for multiple marketing awards, including Marketing Genius at the Libera Awards. Hill has been behind campaigns for acts like Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada and Oneohtrix Point Never. “Working with amazing artists that have a following and have ideas and personality” is the first step to his success, but “there are so many moving parts [in a campaign], so really it’s about having a great team of people.” While, Hill says, “there are different approaches to promotion... one of the core things is that all promotion campaigns around an artist have to be for that artist.” For Hill, “successful promotion campaigns always start with a good understanding of what that artist does.”

One of the most effective independent campaigns of the last few years has been Run The Jewels 2 from hip-hop duo Run The Jewels and Mass Appeal Records. General manager of Mass Appeal, Amit Nerurkar, tells us about their multifaceted approach to marketing the album, which continues to flourish even two years out. While their unconventional strategy “was a bit of a challenge initially, now everyone gets it,” Nerurkar says. Over the last two years, the album has been promoted through free giveaways, a separate Christmas campaign, and an alternate version using cat meows. “In this day and age,” Nerurkar says, that kind of longevity “is very rare.”

This episode features music by:
Wimps: "Vampire"
New Dog: "Classic Ballroom Dances"
Kinski: "Detroit Trickle Down"

Hear the full episode below and listen to The Future of What on every Friday at 1pm at 107.1 FM and 91.1 FM—or subscribe on iTunes.

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