What Unsigned Bands Can Learn From Disney

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Last weekend, I was speaking to a music manager who was bemoaning his band’s lack of new music. “We have no new story,, ” he said. The band in question have 19 tracks on Spotify and a host of video content. If got me thinking, what can we learn from Disney?

Disney understands that a good story is always a good story. They also understand that once they have a good story, they have an endless new audience for that story. Disney marketeers ensure each new generation is exposed to the story by allowing them to see it in the format of the day.

Take Cinderella for example. The film was originally released in theatres on February 15th, 1950 it was subsequently re-released in theatres no fewer than five times in 1957, 1965, 1973, 1981 and 1987. Then with the growth of in-home media consumption Cinderella was released again. On VHS video and Laserdisc in 1988 as part of the Walt Disney Classics collection. In 1995 the film received a Walt Disney Masterpiece Collection video re-issue. Then in 1997, the film was re-released for DVD, Disney then remastered the movie in 2005 for the 6th edition of its Platinum Editions series. (Disney sold 3.2m copies in its first week and earned over $64m in sales). There is more…

In the UK a ‘Royal Edition’ of Cinderella was released on DVD in April, 2011 to coincide with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Then in Octob 2012 a 3 disc Blu-ray was released, and a 1 disc DVD edition was released on November 20, 2012. It goes on and on….

Let’s bring it back to music for a moment, and understand the differences. If you ever try to release music to the industry (radio, magazines, and blogs) you will be told in no uncertain terms unless it’s new, they won’t play it or even listen to it. They won’t even support new music that came out two weeks ago! The traditional music industry distribution channels demand to hear about new music 8-10 weeks ahead of its launch. Once the launch date has passed the music industry, in all their infinite wisdom are unlikely to touch it, support it or play it.

So you spend the last year, writing, recording, mixing and mastering your album and then because it wasn’t promoted with a long enough lead time, nobody will ever listen to it. How heart-breaking is that! Then even if you do send it to them with sufficient lead times, you are still overlooked by radio, and press who largely only support major label signed artists.

In music you are told you have one shot, and for most unsigned artists that one shot means an expensive and ineffective push to radio and press who ignore it anyway. After this time, that track is deemed old and useless. It sits disregarded on a shelf, on a CD at a gig, or as part of an album on a streaming service. How miserable and wasteful.

The good news is that nowadays the way people consume music has changed, and the traditional music industry media distribution channels are declining in importance and relevance for unsigned bands and independent artists. Today we have direct to consumer channels, and we don’t have to play by the archaic rules of the old music media world.

Let’s start with Spotify, the streaming music service allows fans to listen to whatever they want, whenever they want. Spotify has also inadvertently destroyed the concept of new music, but combining new music with old music on their playlists.

New on Spotify simply means ‘new to me’ with Spotify curated playlists containing music by theme, not by release date. On the playlists we analysed we found newly released tracks alongside tracks that span an 11-year release date period. For most listeners, it’s all new music, because it’s the first time they have heard it. When was the last time you heard a track on Spotify that you liked and then Googled it to check when it was released? Of course not, nobody cares about release dates. The music industry’s obsession with the next new single and release date is out of step with how fans consume music online.

So let’s forget the traditional music industry media channels and consider how we can apply The Disney model to other direct to fan distribution channels like social media. As a new band or artist on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter et al you have new fans finding you each week. Most fans arrive in response to one thing. That could be The one gig they attended, the one YouTube video they saw, the one track they found on Spotify. So that means you have a lot more to share with them.

If your band released their first single, EP, or album 5 years ago, how many of the new fans that have followed you this week do you think have heard all of your back catalogue? We suspect very, very few. Forget the music industry as an audience, and focus on your fan audience. Until all your fans have heard all your previous tracks and watched all your previous videos, you have so much left to do.

How to become a Disney marketer. 

  • Start by creating assets for every track you’ve ever released. It doesn’t have to be expensive, these assets could include:
  • The musical score of the track, so your fans can play along at home
  • The printed lyrics of the track
  • The limited edition live mp3 give away of the track
  • The limited edition vinyl of the track
  • The Spotify playlist featuring the track, plus other favourites that inspired its creation
  • The audio track: On Spotify embedded as a player direct from social media
  • The artwork for / inspired by the song
  • The story of the song (written interview)
  • The story of the song (video interview)
  • The behind the scenes making of the music video
  • The lyric video
  • The official music video
  • The dance remix
  • The alternative acoustic version
  • The unreleased instrumental
  • Plan to push these pieces of content out on social media. (Use services like Tweedeck, Later, or Facebook itself to schedule posts to avoid the daily slog) Either focus on one track at a time, or mix them up so you have different pieces of content for each of your tracks throughout the same week. If fans don’t like one track or one video, there is always something new to discover. They might not love the audio, but love the lyrics, the remix or the acoustic version.
  • Use Spotify as a sign off for all pieces of content. EG Discover this track and more of our music on Spotify to maximise revenue generating opportunities

Let’s say you have two albums and two EPs already released, that means 15 tracks or a potential for 450 different pieces of content to post on social media. Suddenly you have over a year’s worth of Facebook posts all ready to go. And just like Disney once you get to the end, you start again, recognising new fans are always joining midway through the cycle. It’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge, the job is never complete, and you are always adding new tracks and content to each cycle. Give your fans the chance to discover all your music, and make all of your tracks work for you, imagine the additional income if your fans all listened to three more of your tracks on Spotify each week.

Unsigned bands and independent artists, it’s time to start thinking like a Disney marketer, don’t promote your new single and stop, promote and continue to tell the story of your entire back catalogue. Make the most of social media and Spotify, think like Disney.

Words Mark Knight.

RCM offers PAYG management sessions for unsigned bands and independent artists. Never be bound by contracts again. Find out more and book your session here.