Jason Spiewak is the President of Rock Ridge Marketing, a leading new media marketing company. Jason's clients include Arista Records, Atlantic Records, Clear Channel/Live Nation, Barry Manilow, and Run DMC, among others. In the following interview Jason provides his insights on how to effectively market in the new music business, and how Rock Ridge operates as one of the leading music marketing firms in the country. This interview will be included in Part III of the upcoming 3rd edition of The Future of the Music Business, entitled "How to Succeed in the New Music Business."
SG: How did you first break into the music business?
JS: My path into the music business began on the artist side. I played piano and sang for BlueSuedeGroove for 5 years. We released 3 independent albums, and fought the same battles ever fought by every new band in America. It was trial by fire, though we eventually built a nice following and toured from Canada to Florida, and I’m proud to say that it was how I earned a living for 2+ years after graduating from Penn State.
I took the lessons I learned as an independent artist to an assistant job at Artemis Records. At Artemis I worked long hours and read every piece of paper I could get my hands on while working with artists like Warren Zevon, Steve Earle, Kurupt, Baha Men, and Kittie (whom I later signed at Rock Ridge Music). From Artemis I went to a tiny indie label called Studio E Records. That label moved very slowly, but I learned valuable lessons there about A&R and artist relations. My final big label stop was TVT Records, learning New Media, Internet Marketing and Search Engine Optimization while promoting huge urban records from Lil Jon, The Ying Yang Twins and Pitbull. When I started at TVT, if you googled “pitbull” you would only get information about the dog. Today if you google “pitbull” I’m proud to say that the artist’s website still comes up first.
I had the privilege of learning music marketing from some of the best minds in the business – Tom Derr, my partner at Rock Ridge, taught me how to focus on what counts. As he likes to say, “the truth is brief, bullshit is long-winded.” Michael Krumper schooled me on the retail marketplace, Daniel Glass helped me understand that music marketing doesn’t take place in an office, it takes place on the street and in the clubs, and Christina Zafiris showed me the power of leveraging content online and beyond. All of these lessons and many others continue to serve me at Rock Ridge Music.
In 2004, Tom Derr and I started Rock Ridge Music. At that time, competition was fierce at every turn as the music business faced its largest contraction in over 50 years. Retail shelf space was shrinking and it was a struggle to ship enough units to keep afloat. We had no choice but to make up for lack of physical sales by selling music online. It was an area where we could compete based on our knowledge of that market and our relationships. We delivered big-splash visibility for our humble roster at that time, and other labels took notice so we began to offer our online marketing services on a “by-project” basis. At first it was our friends who hired us, and we worked Better Than Ezra and Black Label Society for Artemis, and Sevendust for TVT. Then we started chasing the online business, taking meetings at all of the major labels and big indies. Were hired by J Records to work Barry Manilow, and the project was very successful which lead to Rock Ridge becoming Barry Manilow’s online marketing company for everything from his Vegas show to archival DVDs released by Rhino. We were also hired to create credible rock visibility for Daughtry on his first RCA Records release. Our client base today consists of over 30 labels and releases by over 100 different artists. Rock Ridge Music became an online marketing company because of our approach and our ability to execute.
Our approach to online marketing is a humble one. It’s impossible to know to know everything about the online world, it changes so rapidly. We try to focus on the music and we employ certain philosophies to market that music. We want to be on the leading edge of technology without being on the bleeding edge of technology. We are paying enough attention to hopefully identify a wave so that we can catch it and ride it.
Today, Rock Ridge Music offers services in 3 general areas: we’re a record company with distribution through ADA (Warner Music Group), an artist management company and a marketing services company. In terms of our marketing services, we specialize in New Media Marketing which generally includes our online marketing services, viral marketing and promotion, and digital distribution.
SG: So why should someone hire Rock Ridge Music to promote them online? How does Rock Ridge Music help "break" an artist?
JS: It’s an old business cliché, “if you don’t promote, nothing happens”. This may seem obvious, but many new artists fall into the trap of simply uploading their music online and waiting for people to discover how great they are. A song cannot be a hit if no one hears it, and if you don’t promote that song, no one will. People often compare under-promoted music to a tree falling in a forest, in that it doesn’t make a sound. I would say that it’s even more tragic, because the “online forest” is so crowded that a tree wouldn’t even have an opportunity to hit the ground. There are simply too many other trees surrounding it.
Not only are there a ton of artists out there, but a ton of websites as well! We create custom bulletins for every project, and reach out on an individual basis to the top music and lifestyle sites on the web. We are always learning about new sites, creative ways to promote, applications that help artists move ahead.
Rock Ridge Music helps break an artist by creating visibility for their art while navigating the massive online music world.
SG: Do you advise on website development, and how important is the artist's website?
JS: Simple is the key, and we are hired to develop websites often. In most cases, an artist website should be an eCommerce hub and a simple funnel for information – one place to offer fans things to purchase, and to provide information and to incorporate all of the dynamic content available for that artist. For example, if you’re a touring act with great live shows, your website should provide detailed information regarding your touring, links to buy tickets, and video clips. If you’re an act with a radio hit, that song should load as soon as your website does – make that immediate connection for people so they don’t have to do any guess work. If you’re a brilliant writer, include a blog feature and share that side of you. And just as important – don’t have anything on your website that is not active and reflective of you. Stale content is a massive turn-off for fans. An artist should consider their audience, and provide a web environment that is simple and makes sense.
SG: How important is Facebook? Is MySpace dead? How relevant is Twitter? What about YouTube -- how do you use it? What other social networking sites do you use?
JS: The incredible thing about social media is how rapidly it changes. By the time this volume is printed, chances are that my company’s specific methodology to deal with social media will be totally different than it is today. So, I’m going to focus on my ideas in general terms.
Effectively marketing music via social networks involves three parties – the marketer, the advocate and the consumer. I’ll give these folks names in order to hopefully breathe some life into my example – Marty the Marketer, Abby the Advocate, and Colby the Consumer.
So, let’s say that Marty is promoting a new single from Sister Hazel, and goes onto the band’s Twitter profile and posts a message promoting the song, including a link to preview the track and pre-order it on iTunes. The message is seen by Sister Hazel fan Abby, who then re-posts it on her profile. Abby’s Twitter account is connected to her Facebook page, so her good friend Colby sees the message on Facebook, and knows that Abby has really good taste in music, so he decides to click the link to preview the track. The links reach Colby directly, which is why it’s very important to offer media-rich marketing messages online. It’s this type of delivery that now creates a credible impression with the ability for the consumer to react.
In order for marketing messages to be effective in breaking through the clutter online, it’s important that the messages be worded cleanly and contain either an offer or an idea.
An offer is a specific value proposition for the consumer. A discount. Complementary or exclusive music (preferably both). First access to concert tickets. To merchandise. Some specific offer that is communicated simply and clearly. It’s ok to include a “hoop” for the consumer to jump through, as long as the hoop is simple. An email in exchange for media. A tweet in exchange for a coupon. But the offer must be there and the value must be real.
If you don’t have an offer to make, it’s important to offer the consumer an idea. “Cool” is the modus operandi for most social networkers. The definition of cool is obviously broad – something may be cool to a young mother who is in a network with other young mothers. Something else may be cool to a dude who loves dick and fart jokes. Something else may appeal to senior citizens. The point is that an idea online must have a targeted audience. If you’re going for broad appeal, comedy and love and two great universal vehicles. All that said, the idea of trying to be all things to all people is a lost art in social media. “Cool” is essential to having a viral video success story, and we have learned a lot about this world having been behind several YouTube video success stories including the popular Psychostick video for “Beer!!!” as well as having served as the record label for Obama Girl’s sensational “I’ve Got A Crush On Obama”.
Offers and ideas are the key to successful social media marketing. One mistake that people often make online is recruiting a “street team” or “online army” to promote on their behalf. In my view, asking your fans to call themselves “street teamer” is a tax on your credibility. All you have is your unique voice online – this goes for artists, as well as Rock Ridge Music as a company. When someone signs up for your mailing list or opts in to your social network, they are automatically part of your inner circle. Treat those people with respect and do not ask them to do for you. Only offer them things they can do for themselves while loving your art.
SG: How important is the quality of the music, or is that genre-specific?
JS: The quality of the music is extraordinarily important. One goal of an effective online marketing campaign is motivating fans to share music with other fans, and if you’re promoting great music it is much more likely that fans will want to share it with others. Genre lines tend to blur online, and that idea becomes less important. I think about the diverse array of music on my computer – 30% of it may be rock music, 20% of it may be pop songs, 20% of it may be urban music and so on – but the songs are all songs I want to hear, regardless of their genre. Greatness is the key. If it’s not great, fans will tune it out and find something else that speaks to them.
SG: How important is the look and style of the artist?
JS: Consistency and authenticity are the key elements here. Artists should pick a direction and be consistent with that direction. Find a look that feels comfortable, have some flattering pictures or imaging created to support that look, and use that look across all of your web properties.
SG: Do you suggest working with a separate PR agency or publicist? If so what do you do that is different then what they do?
JS: It depends what your goals are for a given project. My company specializes in creating visibility on the Internet and driving traffic to a product online, and these efforts are meant to complement a traditional PR campaign. In my opinion, hiring a PR company is a good idea if your project contains a strong non-Internet component such as a large tour, or perhaps a compelling element like a celebrity tie-in. A great PR company can be an excellent complement to a Rock Ridge online campaign – for example, if the PR company is able to secure a large television opportunity, Rock Ridge can then tell that story online and grow interest in the artist before, during, and after the TV appearance.
SG: Do you do "real" world marketing too or just work the “virtual” world?
JS: In my view, it is all “real world” marketing. The online world is a reflection of what is happening offline. If something is interesting and compelling offline, it will likely have some form of online component. The reverse can also be true. Online marketing, in its best form, is reflective of some effort that is taking place offline as well.
SG: Which world is more important now, “real” or “virtual”?
JS: Both worlds are important, neither more important than the other. The physical world is extremely competitive, and there is a perception that it is easier to compete online. That just isn’t true. There are so many new artists making music and uploading that music to the internet. The goal is to break through all of that clutter, the same way a new band must emerge from obscurity if they perform at local bars and clubs.
SG: What can the artist do to help himself even if he hires you?
JS: I am going to gear my answer toward developing artists who have not broken through from obscurity to the mainstream, and say that the artist must continue to do everything they can to help themselves. It takes a solid team to break an artist, and my company can be very helpful in that process. However, the artist must continue to work and be involved. We like to work with artists who work as hard as we do because those are the artists who often find success.