My latest post is up at Daily Fix, focusing on Terry McBride's unique marketing philosophy and views on the music industry. As part of that post, I also referenced the interview I did with Nettwerk's Marketing Director, Erin Kinghorn, for BMA back in January. Since I've mentioned that interview several times here as well, I wanted to go ahead and repost it here, so everyone could read it.
But first, I wanted to tell an interesting backstory to the interview. A month or so before posting this interview, I had finished a 2-part series on how music labels were marketing the so-called 'female rocker'. I touched on how during the late 1990s, artists such as Sheryl Crow, Jewel, and Sarah McLachlan were among the top stars in the business, but since that time, labels had struggled to keep the so-called 'female rocker' relevant. A week or so after posting the series, I decided what the hell, I'll contact some labels and see if I can get a label's perspective on the marketing shift for these artists.
To be honest, I wanted to talk to someone from Atlantic first. After that didn't pan out, I turned to A&M. Still nothing. Then I started contacting the management for individual artists; Tori Amos, Alanis Morrissette, Fleming McWilliams of Fleming and John. Not even an email reply telling me to go to hell.
On the verge of throwing in the towel, I send an email to Erin Kinghorn. Over the course of the next month, FIVE different employees from Nettwerk, including Erin, contacted me at every stage of the interview process to make sure it was concluded as I wanted. After contacting several labels and artists and not even getting an email reply acknowledging my existance, Erin agreed to the interview within hours of my first email, and several people with the company went out of their way to make sure that the interivew happened. Their reaching out to a blogger's request in such a manner would have been impressive enough by itself, but was magnified by the total lack of response that I received from the other labels and artists that I contacted.
And I think this is simply another example of how in-touch the label is with their community. That one interview 8 months ago definitely helped BMA more than Nettwerk. But their response made an impression on me, and I went out of my way from that point forward, to find stories to blog about that involved the label and their artists. Over time, as BMA grew, and now as I am blogging about Nettwerk here and now on Daily Fix, the benefit to the label from one interview with one tiny blogger 8 months ago, starts to become clearer.
So without further pontificating, here is the interview that I conducted with Erin back in January:
Last month I wrote a 2-part series on how many record labels are scaling back their marketing efforts for the so-called 'female rocker'. (You can read the Women in Rock series here and here) However, Nettwerk is the exception to this trend, as they not only promote female artists, the label does so actively. While competitors are shying away from signing a female artist whose last name isn't Spears or Simpson, Nettwerk has assembled one of the most impressive rosters of female artists and bands in the music industry. Sarah McLachlan, Avril Lavigne, Dido, Tara MacLean, The Be Good Tanyas, Hem, Sixpence None the Richer and Chantal Kreviazuk, are just a few of the female artists and bands that call Nettwerk home.
Nettwerk is openly bucking an industry-wide trend, and doing so successfully. I had to find out what their secret was. I contacted Erin Kinghorn, the Director of Sales and Marketing at Nettwerk, and Ms. Kinghorn was gracious enough to give invaluable insight into how one of the world's most successful music labels market their artists.
BMA - Many record labels are reluctant to promote the so-called 'female rocker', yet Nettwerk seems to be the obvious exception to this trend. When it comes to promoting female artists, why has Nettwerk been more successful than many of its competitors?
EK - Well I don’t think you can really say that we are promoting our female artists any differently than our male artists. For all our artists, we let them develop into what they want to be. If you want to look at Sarah, she's always stayed true to herself, and stayed true to her music. We've never tried to control any of our artists. We've allowed them to develop organically and develop their following that way.
As for our success with the female "rocker", I think the success we had at the time with Lilith Fair, alot of these issues about women in the music industry were being brought up and discussed. Lilith put to a voice to the issues at that time, one being that women were always being told that they couldn't be on a bill together. By putting together a tour that focused on female artists and having that tour become successful allowed for people to turn around and state "there is an audience out there who want to hear women musicians and it can be successful".
BMA - So it's a matter of 'the artists know what they need to do, leave them alone and let them take their own course with it'?
EK - Right. It's a matter of helping the artist, and guiding their career, instead of running their career. And also, looking at it as a career, and not as needing to put out a hit record. We're in the business of developing artists, we're not in the business of creating artists for revenue.
BMA - I read an interview recently with one of your artists, and they mentioned that Nettwerk really looks at the business from the artists' point of view. The example they used was that Nettwerk is smart enough to realize that you can't do a 7 am radio interview, and expect to have a voice left for a concert that night.
EK - That's really true. We sit down with the artists and figure out what's going to work best for them. That's one of the core philosophies of the company, we are really artist-friendly. We know that we can't burnout these people, because we work for them, we are their employees. And that's a little bit of a shift in the traditional industry thinking, that they don't work for us, we work for them.
BMA - Why do you think your competitors aren’t looking at the success Nettwerk is having with acts like Sarah McLachlan and Avril Lavigne, and saying ‘We need to be doing this too’?
EK – I think that they are trying to find female artists and develop them, but really they’d need to change all aspects of their company from the top down, and most labels aren’t able to do that right now.
BMA - So basically you’re saying that they would have to change their entire culture?
EK – Yes, they would have to change their corporate culture, and I think that’s something we are going to see in the next 5 years. That is, the major labels, and the indies, seeing that the way we do business on all levels, and the way we approach the artists, is going to be changing. I think over the next 5 years you're going to see a new generation taking higher positions in these companies, and that's when things will start changing, including the way they approach the artists, and music in general.
BMA – Let’s talk about Sarah McLachlan for a minute. From Lilith Fair to her incredible video for World On Fire (nominated for a 2006 Grammy for Best Short Form Video), it seems she has always used her music as a tool to help others.
EK – Yes, and this is another example of going back to the corporate culture at Nettwerk. Terry (McBride, Nettwerk CEO) and the rest of the managers try to instill a sense of giving back in all our artists, and Sarah has always done this. From the beginning of Lilth Fair and donating a dollar a ticket to a local charity in each city, to the message of "World on Fire". When Sarah decided to do World on Fire, the video took my breath away. It was so amazing to see what she could do with such a small music video budget in this day and age, but you see how many people she was able to help with it. That was absolutely outstanding.
Other examples are the charity work that Avril is doing, Sum 41 going to the Congo and shooting a special for War Child, the charity work that Barenaked Ladies do, there is that sense of having to give back, being a part of the global community. The owners of Nettwerk give back themselves, and they always instilled in us that that's the way to do it.
BMA - And I think the way Sarah presented the video for World on Fire really brought home her point, that you could spend this much money to buy this much time with a producer, or you could spend that same amount to build 5 schoolhouses in Africa.
EK - Exactly.
BMA - I noticed that Barenaked Ladies recently released Barenaked On
a Stick, a 128 MB USB stick that included BNL's Barenaked for the Holidays album, as well as other live tracks, and extra goodies. How has the reaction been to this offering, and is Nettwerk looking to distribute future releases from their artists via this format?
EK - Barenaked on a Stick was a concept that was brought up during a meeting last year, our sales manager from the U.S., John Meadows, told us about the concept and told us 'Hey we should try to do this!'. We developed it as a testrun and sold it out of Werkshop (our mailorder company), and on the road. And it took off, it's a way of using different technology, and there are so many different mediums out there that you are able to use to put your artists' music in the hands of the customer. We are definitely going to use this format with other artists. So far we are looking at newer technologies and trying to figure out how to incorporate that into our marketing and distribution as well.
BMA - And that will lead into my last question, we all know how big MySpace has become, what do you think will be the next big trend as far as how musicians will put their music out in front of the people?
EK - There's so many different things that musicians can do right now. You do have MySpace, I think people are heading more toward Craigslist, there are some opportunities there. I think podcasting is going to become big over the next year or so, it's going to be interesting to see what happens there. You also have ringtones, and you're going to have more cell phones with MP3 players. There's going to be so many opportunities I think musicians are going to have to figure out the most cost-effective way to reach their audience. And I think there's also the music blogs, and the power of blogging is going to be something to watch. This is a new form of media and they are really musical communities that have great readership.
In a time when we are seeing so many instances of record labels, and the recording industry itself putting profits ahead of everything else, including their artists and their customers, Nettwerk is the perfect example of how it should be done. They work FOR their artists, and they aren't worried about putting out a hit record, as much as they are making sure their artists are having successful careers. In short, Nettwerk gets it. There's so much that we can find wrong in the recording industry today, but we need to support the few labels like Nettwerk that are doing it the right way. If for no other reason than to send a message to other labels that they need to shape up and get their business priorities straight if they want to survive.
Because Nettwerk will not only survive, they will no doubt continue to thrive. Thanks again to Ms. Kinghorn for giving us an incredible look into the inner-workings of a truly revolutionary record label.