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Why Artists And Influencers Have More Power Than Ever

Image1In this piece Seth Schachner examines how shifts in the music industry and social media landscape have led to artists and influences gaining more power then ever when it comes to cultural taste-making.

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Guest post by Seth Schachner Managing Director, Strat Americas

It’s a scorching April afternoon in Las Vegas, so hot that we’re hunkered down in our hotel suite, waiting for an artist named Ozuna to swing by.  But so far, despite multiple attempts, it hasn’t happened. By the sixth attempt, we’d thrown up our arms.

Engaged for weeks in an earnest, disciplined effort to get Ozuna, one of Latin music’s hottest artists, to come perform for a social music community, I had seemingly tried all the right things.  We called his manager, checked with the attorney, friended the label, and connected with his publicist. We even dropped into Vegas, hoping for a few minutes of time at an event. Everyone seemed supportive, but no one was willing to commit to a time.

Being unable to connect with Ozuna isn’t rare.  Many colleagues warned me, wishing me luck, as they smirked.   Arriving in Vegas, I bumped into a friend from a big video service. Looking for Ozuna for months, too, he was clutching a briefcase filled with a 10 million-subscriber award for the artist, a special accomplishment.  (In the time he’s been on the chase, Ozuna added another 5 million subscribers.) My friend had actually handcuffed the case to his wrist, as though he was carrying a case full of cash. Clearly, this was going to be hard.

Our result? No artist, no time booked, and nothing to show for our efforts, at least with Mr. Ozuna.  What more did we have to do to break through?

These days, this type of artist rejection isn’t so unusual, and it’s not so easy to address the seemingly straightforward challenges of getting an artist to appear and participate meaningfully in a digital initiative.   Sure, there’s the argument that some artists are undisciplined, indifferent, or just fickle. (Some are.)

But my bet is that there’s something deeper behind the rejection:  today’s new digital landscape gives artists and influencers a much broader number of options, choices, and power than they’ve ever had.

2So the white-hot Ozuna can afford to blow off a few opportunities.  To put it mildly, he’s in an enhanced position: he’s got his own label, his own rights, and a booming live business. With his happy, positive karma and appeal to young audiences, no doubt there is huge brand and endorsement potential, too.  To bring his music to market, he cuts a distribution deal with a major label, but keeps that label at a very healthy distance. Ozuna isn’t reliant on anyone other than his own team. What a nice spot to be in, and what a change from the old order.  

From where I stood, we could live with the rejection, as we’re coming from a pretty cool spot, too. Having worked with dozens of big artists successfully, I tried to keep things in perspective.

As background, I’m a digital media consultant. I drive business-to-business technology and content partnerships for my clients.  The artist world is not my typical beat, and while I have worked with some superstars, this assignment is a different challenge. Here, I’m in front of many different artists, trying to encourage them to join and create content for a growing, successful social music community--where they can perform and connect with their community and fans.   This specific community is actually a great one—rapidly growing, global, participatory, fun, and incremental to virtually every other digital entertainment app out there. Why wouldn’t an artist want to join in?

The money and the business model, you ask?  It’s definitely an intense consideration these days, especially as music’s streaming economy impacts artists’ income expectations—they need the money to come from other sources. There’s something on the table for Ozuna, but it’s not the old model of paying a big endorsement fee to incentivize an artist to join in. That model seems like it is changing and aging, too.   

And it’s not just about the money:  in today’s crowded digital landscape, artists need to connect with their fans and communities in new ways, to break though, engage and connect directly.   That connection may be even more important than the modest revenue they will take in from some of today’s emerging digital services. If they don’t recognize this, there’s a new generation of influencers coming up that may take their place.

In the broader music landscape, there may be no better time to seize the opportunity than now.  Labels are focused on growing the subscription streaming business and supporting their partners. They’re not taking huge risks. Music publishers, still fundamental to songwriters and the value of copyrights, don’t seem likely candidates to disrupt the sector, either.

Digital distribution platforms like oneRPM, InGrooves, The Orchard, and Believe Digital are plentiful and strategically important. These platforms allow any artist to distribute their music to every active digital music service and then some – from Spotify to upstarts.  These platforms are a sea change from a decade ago, and no doubt they are contributing to the tidal wave of new music releases each week. But it’s hard to point to one that stands out, ready to lead or disrupt. (And it’s even harder for a music programmer to sift through all the new releases—one friend termed it a “spaghetti method.”)

That leaves artists and the new, somewhat-hard-to-define world of “influencers” with some of the widest space and opportunity to innovate digitally in years—directly with fans and communities.  The new crop of “influencers” presents different considerations; many aren’t “traditional” performing artists or musicians per se. Take one look at the size of their growing audiences, quirky content, and advertising revenue, and you’ll see why they can’t be ignored as potential innovators—the punk rockers of the current digital generation, if you will.

These influencers have started to pop up in digital business conversations, too— awkwardly. Everything from make up artists to Brazilian anime types to members of the entourage have popped onto my business radar lately, all in the guise of “influence” and audiences, and digital partners.  They’re not selling music or tickets, but influencers are dropping into the same space as musicians. Freed from record labels and talent agencies, smart influencers have business models driven by advertising and live events. I’m not sure what to make of these influencers yet, or how they fit, but the influencer-artist connection seems intriguing and mutually supportive.

The day can’t be so far off when these artists and influencers pick a savvy manager, a platform, and an enterprising advertising agency, dispensing with much of the rest.   

For a hot artist like Ozuna that looks like a pretty strong idea right now.  

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