A 20/20 Marketing Vision-An Interview with Michael King

Michael King recently authored Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution, and Retail (Berklee Press, 2009). He is Berkleemusic’s Associate Director of Marketing and co-created, with Ramal Ranasinghe, the course Online Music Marketing With Topspin.

MBJ: Please tell us about your history and what attracted you to music marketing.

MK:I’ve been a music fan forever. Back in the day, I had about five thousand CDs. Right out of school, I got an internship with Rykodisc, which at the time was a large independent label in Salem, MA. I became their college radio rep. My first project was Medeski, Martin, and Wood’s CD Shack-man, which in 1997 went to Number One on CMJ (College Music Journal; see www.cmj.com).

I then worked in the radio department at Rykodisc. Chris Blackwell bought Ryko, and I moved to NYC for a little bit. I became a product manager. I oversaw products from start to finish. You’re basically presented with a master and you have to work with every department in the label: retail, radio, press, and online. I was positioning my artists, working daily with the managers, and essentially acting as the point-person in the label-manager exchange.

We’d also have weekly marketing meetings. At the time, 2000-03, SoundScan was a big deal. We’d look at SoundScan and say, “all right what’s happening per market?” and “what can we do to support that spike in Portland?” We’d talk about doing an in-store performance if the artist was touring there, or about getting more radio play. It all came down to helping drive sales. Actually, I woke up and all my thoughts were about the artist. It was a similar a mindset to that of a manager: what could I do for him/her given my resources?

Then, Warner Brothers bought Rykodisc and I ended up coming to Berkleemusic. I was very interested in working for a company that educated people, and had an upward trajectory. Record labels had been headed pretty much down after 1999-2000 and my last three years at Ryko had been rough! We were working under an old business model that was no longer effective. We tried to push the envelope as best we could, but generating income from selling CDs was no longer as feasible.

AM: Can we talk about your book and its connection to Topspin? You appear to convey in literary form much of its cutting edge marketing platform.

MK: It’s interesting that you say that because I look at it in another way.
Topspin is a very effective online tool meant for direct-to-fan sales. It helps you expand your market in that medium. In that regard, it is excellent. The book is a little different and I think it works well together with the Topspin platform. It has much more detail on the physical side of marketing. You’re right in looking at Topspin as a kind of philosophy for online growth. But Topspin is not particularly focused on what you should be doing with your press campaign or how you can optimize the marketing opportunities of your tour. The book really focuses on a lot of foundational marketing techniques and best practices. That being said, I wrote the online Topspin course and the book works with that–and seamlessly.

MBJ: One of the things I really enjoyed was the “Insider Tip” sections.

MK: Thanks! There’s a lot of theoretical stuff floating around, but what I’m trying to say is “this is REAL data; this has REALLY happened.” The Internet has been a positive thing for many musicians, but there are many other common sense things you can do outside it. Besides, it is often hard to tell what is true or not online. The book gives tips that I’ve encountered and learned from, and gives a practical and tested approach to marketing music. You will also find the same angle in the Topspin course and other Berkleemusic offerings. For the educator in me there is nothing more thrilling than to talk to the students that have taken these courses and to witness their growth and professionalism.

AM: One often hears of a big band doing a marketing campaign that a smaller group cannot afford, but your book has a down to earth quality for the startup artist.

MK: Completely. Take, for example, a book that I really love, Donald Passman’s All You Need To Know About The Music Business. It is a fantastic text and a well-written and valuable resource, often referred as the music industry’s bible. I remember that the CFO at Ryko had it on his desk, and the work obviously catered to people involved in every stage of the business. However, Passman is broader in scope than mine and less conversational. My book is more focused. If you want to learn how to market yourself from start to finish and come out with a tangible marketing plan, my book is for you. The work is directed to fill a need in that important niche.

The Internet, for example, has been great in so many different ways, but it’s made marketing harder. MySpace is a good example of this. There are five million bands on MySpace—so how do you differentiate yourself from others? The answer is through effective marketing. If you’ve got fantastic music (that is where it starts), and you have a dedicated group of followers but need to reach out to more people, perhaps because you have a sense that your own community is growing before you even market yourself—that is when you need more marketing to really get the second phase going. It’s more important now than it ever has been because there’s so much competition.

AM: So how do you connect with fans?.

MK: I was just at SXSW, and you see Broken Social Scene play, and you just want to put down your guitar forever because those guys are so good at what they do. But they’ve been doing it for years. It’s practice and repetition, and it’s the same with marketing. Nobody starts with a massive fan-base. And the best base you can have is the fan-base you’ve collected organically.

These are the people with whom you have established a permission-base rapport; and who have allowed you to connect with them directly through e-mail, Facebook , Twitter, or other. It takes time to build that connection, but over time it pays back compound interest. For example, say you have put out a record or an EP. Now, you’re acquiring new fans; you’re giving them things. As Mike Masnick, of Techdirt, said, “ you connect with fans and give them a reason to buy.” It’s much cheaper to market to existing fans than to find new ones, and this is an excellent way to acquire new fans. Then for record two, as you’ve acquired these fans, you can market to them directly. Continue this acquisition campaign, and your group will be bigger for record two and record three. There is a right way to go about building up a fan-base and communicating with it.

AM: What more could you tell us about your marketing philosophy?

MK: In the book, I try to present an integrated approach to marketing . This is a large focus of the book. Let me give you an example about physical marketing, although it also extends online. About two weeks ago, a student approached me and said, “My band is trying to build up visibility in San Francisco and should we do a radio campaign?” To answer this question, the band has to think about a few things first. Are they going to be touring in San Francisco? Can they pop in at a radio station and do an acoustic set? And what is happening at retail? Do they have records in the store? Nothing works in a vacuum. If somebody hears their music, are they going to be able to buy it on Amazon? Are they going to be able to buy at the band’s website? Is it on iTunes? Is it in all the places it should be? You want people to take action, but if the band doesn’t have their record out and are not touring, the radio campaign could be pointless and needlessly expensive.

I would add that, while it is possible for artists to do a radio campaign on their own, it can be a pain—and I’ve done it. It takes a ton of time to send out packages and make phone calls (and, especially, to follow up with college kids). Even if you do it yourself, it’s still costly. You have to make the product, and pay for the shipping and for the envelopes. If you partner with an indie label, then it’s even more expensive because you have to pay them for their time. So it’s not like “let’s get the record on the radio and then things will start happening”. You need the integrated approach suggested in the book when you consider a marketing plan.

AM: Is the goal to be effective by being omnipresent?

MK: Truly, yes. I look at Metric as a really good example. They put their record out eighteen months ago. If you look at their website and Facebook, Metric targets their fans with different content along the way. Release day comes, and they have a list of special things to do. Release date goes, and they’re touring and working on another stage of their campaign. It is always carefully timed. Their manager, Matt Drouin, is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. He has put together an incredible team, including partners like the indie PR company Sneak Attack.

Every band should have a fifth member that is into technology–or a sharp manager that not only has connections, but is also is diligent, somewhat tech savvy, and willing to find new outlets for the music. Right now, management and technological skills overlap. Technology is just as important to the business as knowing who actually books the Middle East club (a well known Boston venue). Business worlds are colliding, and music may be at the very centre of this new, aptly named, collision culture.

By Amy Mantis



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