Artists need new strategies to “break” into music

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The modern world is changing at an accelerating rate. It has come to a point that even some of the most technologically orientated people find themselves overwhelmed with every new trend that spreads, and every new gadget that comes out. Everyone is trying to become successful in the midst of all this fast-paced change.

Streaming, whether that is in the form of visual entertainment or music, is the predominant method through which art is consumed. While music streaming has made music listening easier and on-demand for the user, has it really made it easier for the artist whose music the user is listening to? It is practically common knowledge that music streaming services do not pay artists all that much for their music to be streamed, but there’s another problem that musicians are facing these days: visibility and relevance.

Musicians need to improve their exposure strategy

It might be intuitive to think that streaming services are not great at getting artists paid; but at least they’re good at giving artists good exposure, right? I mean, if relatively unknown artists are available across the board, through Spotify, Apple Music, or Tidal, then don’t these services technically help them find their way to a larger audience, or people who otherwise would not know to look for them?

The most honest answer to these questions is slightly more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.” Music streaming services can be great at helping artists get more exposure, which eventually can transform into further album sales, bigger attendance at shows, and merchandise profits. However, this seems to only be happening to artists who were already big names in the music industry to begin with, and music streaming services are more of general supplement to their popularity and influence, as opposed to the kick starter miracle that many unknown musicians desire.

Music streaming services are actually quite pointless for exposure purposes if an artist fails to have a comprehensive and effective strategy on how to market themselves to the masses. If this is the case, which it certainly is for plenty of unknown, struggling artists, then they will go a considerable amount of time of having a small fan base. The only difference between now and 20 years ago is that unknown artists stay unknown except now their music is available to stream.

Carefully developing a strategy that works

One record label from the United Kingdom, Atlantic Records UK, has developed a strategy for their artists to obtain exposure, and actually use streaming to their advantage. What they generally do is find an artist who is fairly well-known, or at least has shown considerable success in the charts. They then find someone who is also on their label, and latch them onto the more popular artist with a collaborative project. Most times, this comes in the form of a hit single. This hit single is then marketed heavily and obtains good amount air time on the radio.

But since radio usage has declined significantly, streaming services have taken its place. So, these new hit singles are instead put on featured playlists that Spotify or Apple Music creates for their users. Playlists like “Today’s Hits,” or “New Music Mix,” are where these hit singles are placed. After some time, that one hit single will get a lot of plays and free advertising by people telling their friends about “this really cool song I came across.” People then notice that two artists are actually featured on one single track, and this might lead them to do some further digging on these artists – both the popular and the up-and-coming one.

But even if that doesn’t happen, the relatively unknown artist that got a prominent feature in a hit song then has their own hit song released to the masses. Record labels like Atlantic Records UK know that an unknown artist will have a much better chance of gaining their own exposure after their successful feature. Sooner or later, after the success of this particular single, that artist will “be ready” to finally release a full length project. As Atlantic Records UK President Ben Cook said, “It’s all about the strategy of making sure that when we deliver [an album], there’s a high volume of demand for it.”

A strategy that HAs been used before

There are a few examples from the past that I can think of when the Atlantic Records strategy might have been used.

When singing sensation The Weeknd was featured on Drake’s second album, “Take Care,” it was a feature on the song “Crew Love.“I remember thinking how incredibly impressed I was with the vocals that were laid on the track, but I had no clue it was The Weekend at the time. “Take Care” came out in November of 2011, but The Weeknd’s breakthrough single, “Wicked Games,” wasn’t officially released until nearly a year later. “Wicked Games,” of course, was met with a great amount of critical and popular acclaim. It would not be of any surprise if the strategy used by Atlantic Records was also used by Republic Records, which was the label that helped release “Take Care” and “Wicked Games.”

A new opportunity for Austin musicians?

According to the research I have conducted, the strategy of making unknown artists ride on the coattails of a popular artist doesn’t seem to have yet taken a strong hold in the Live Music Capital of the World. It might have to do with the fragmentation of the Austin music scene, and perhaps a lack of networking; I’m not entirely sure. No matter what, I think it would be most helpful if someone like Emily Wolfe or a band like Explosions In The Sky were to feature a fellow Austin musician on a hit single or on a track of a new album. Through this strategy, there might be a good chance a feature on a popular Austin artist’s single would go a long way for the artist looking for their big break.

Photo courtesy of Pitchfork