This interview was originally published in January 2013.
Marty Maidenberg is an independent marketing and management executive with over 25 years in the music business. He is also one of the co-founders of Music Consultant. He got his start in the industry right out of college, when he took a job at PolyGram Records as a publicist, working his way up over the course of 12 years to a position as Senior Vice President of Marketing and Creative Services. Eventually, he moved onto Epic Records/Sony Music, where he was the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, directing marketing efforts for international signings. In 2001, he co-founded S-Curve Records, which he helped shape into the #1 independent label. S-Curve sold over 10 million albums in its first two years of operation and joined forces with EMI Music. Marty continued to work as General Manager for S-Curve/EMI until becoming the full-time manager of Joss Stone for six years. As Stone’s manager, he joined forces with Sanctuary Group Management and continued to help her establish her career as a multi-platinum artist and producing all her performances at live events, including the Super Bowl, Oprah Winfrey, The Today Show, PBS’ Kennedy Center Honors, among many others. During this time, Marty was also part of the management team for Elton John, working through Twenty-First Artists, a division of the Sanctuary Group. After serving five more years as Chief Operating Officer of S-Curve from 2007-2012, he began his own marketing and managing consulting business.
Marty talked about the evolution of the music industry during the past 20+ years and what both developing and established artists should be doing to market themselves in the current climate. He also shared some tips for artists that want to develop a strong brand and build sustainable music careers.
Thanks so much for taking some time to talk, Marty. How did your career in music get started?
I graduated college with a degree in business and communications and got a job at PolyGram Records in the publicity department. I worked my way up at PolyGram over a 12-year period until I ended up heading both marketing and publicity there. When that company was taken over by Universal Music, I went to Sony and ran their international marketing department for a few years.
Eventually, I decided to go out on my own and started S-Curve Records. While I was there, I worked with a lot of developing artists and some established artists. But one of the biggest developing artists I worked with was Joss Stone, whom I worked with from the ages of 14-20. She actually asked me to be her manager after being her marketing representative for several years. From there, I went to Elton John’s management company and worked with both Joss and Elton.
That ran its course, and I ended up going back to S-Curve Records and was the COO there for around four years. I just left there last year to start my own marketing and managing consulting business, which I have been doing for about the past year.
You’re in a situation where you’re working with many established and aspiring artists, so you get to see people at many different stages of their careers. Have you found that there some things people really could be doing on their own to advance their career that they aren’t paying attention to? I would imagine there are some very basic elements that people could be handling but are not.
There are. And the things people are missing are basic things, but also based on misconceptions among both established artists and developing artists.
People who don’t have a lot of experience and are managing their own career for the first time seem to have this idea that one or two big items or promotions will make a career. I can’t tell you how many people who have come to me and said, “How can we get into an iPod commercial or a movie?” Licensing and television inclusion is the hot thing of the moment. And what people don’t realize is that sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn’t. Most of the time, it ends up just being background music. It’s very rare that one promotion or link to an artist’s music is going to inspire people to go out and buy it and establish that artist’s career.
People aren’t necessarily aware that in today’s marketplace – while everyone is talking about how easy it is for people to be promoted online and through social media – that all these available tools have diluted their marketing efforts. There’s not any one placement, one TV show, promotion or review in Rolling Stone magazine that is going to make or break someone’s career. Having a solid career is about a series of events and being credible, because, in this day and age, if you’re not credible, people can find out online. I think that’s what damns a lot of people: When people find out an artist is a produced entity that can’t really perform.
There has to be a measure of honesty to what you’re doing as an artist, because our lives are all much more accessible than they have ever been before. The side effect of that is that if you’re not truthful and are trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes, or if you’re trying to use your music as a commodity rather than something you want to do as a real career, people will find out. And that’s not going to come across very well.
So, to go back to your question, “What don’t people do that they should be doing?” I think a lot of people don’t stay true to who they are as musicians and kowtow to whatever the trend is, who is at the top of the charts or whatever has just broken through. We can’t all have a song on Grey’s Anatomy that works and turns into a hit. Efforts have to be well thought out, and the music can’t exist in a vacuum. So, when someone hears a song on Grey’s Anatomy, they also need to see that the band or the artist is on tour and that there is an album of material that is solid and not just around the one song. I think as an artist, you also have to string these disparate elements together to create critical mass for someone who is going to take his/her money and actually point, click and buy what you have to offer above the thousands upon thousands of other records, albums and songs that are out there. You have to give people a reason to hear your music, want your music.
To sum it all up simply, I think the biggest misconception among artists is that old idea that being a musician is easier than it actually is, and that there’s not a lot of work that has to go into the marketing or promotion of their music. It used to be, “Get a song on the radio, and you’ll sell albums.” We all know that doesn’t work anymore. And it certainly isn’t, “Get your song in a movie, and it will explode” either. Some people still think that’s the way it works.
I find that so much of music marketing goes way beyond the music; it’s also about persona, culture, etc. Are there things people should be thinking about before going out and hiring a marketing consultant like yourself to help them break their band, even if they’re doing it on their own?
I think there are a couple of answers to that question. Before you decide to “market” yourself, the best thing you can do is have a firm idea of who you are. It’s similar to what might happen when you go in for a job interview. If someone asked you, “What do you want to do?” you might say, “I want to do A&R. I like artists.” That’s a broad generality. There is a similar problem when an artist is asked by a marketing professional, “What kind of music do you like?” and that artist says, “Oh, I like everything. I can do a little bit of pop, rock, whatever.” Marketing is about knowing who you are before you set out to manufacture who you are.
A lot of people come to the table and say, “I’ll do whatever it takes.” But that doesn’t work 99% of the time. There has to be some sort of credibility and honesty about what you’re bringing to the table. And that only comes from knowing who you are, what your tastes are and what your talents are. You can’t come to me as a marketer or a manager and say, “Make me an artist.” You have to know what it is that you are looking for.
And a music career has to be something you’re passionate about, because, this is a hard business that’s going to take its toll on you. And there are going to be so many more places down the line where you will have to compromise your vision and idea for the sake of commerce. You shouldn’t start out sacrificing who you are or compromising on who you are before you need to. It takes a strong personality to withstand this industry, both as an artist that is not successful and an artist that is successful. They each come with their responsibilities. You have to be ready to work and work on something that you’re going to be passionate about.
Part of your gig as a freelance marketing executive is making sure all the parts come together and there’s a schedule and a plan. I think there are so many misconceptions people have and so many mistakes they make when they are releasing a record, marketing or on tour. Are there basic steps people should think about when they are putting up music online to sell, etc. and organizing a campaign?
I think timing is the most important thing. So many people finish an album or an EP and want to put it up online, then figure they’ll promote it after the fact. But once you put something up online, the clock starts ticking. If it’s not a new product or something that has come out with a lot of heat around it, you’re not going to generate what you need to generate in terms of ears to listen to your music. There has to be a reason for people to listen to it. If you look at iTunes, you’ll see there are so many songs and albums that come out each week. There used to be over 10,000 albums a year released when the major label system was king. Now anyone can do it.
In terms of timing, you have to realize that there are sales programs going on at a certain time of year. Your song or album can’t come out in a vacuum where you are not on the road or able to promote it. You also shouldn’t send a song to radio at a time that can’t help you get to critical mass.
I know a lot of new artists will throw out records in November or December, not realizing that all the big companies are putting out their grand slam artists for the holidays.
And those are basic mistakes that, if you don’t know the business or the industry, you just need to make. The reasoning behind that for new artists is there are more people buying music in the fourth quarter. But they don’t realize that while people are buying more music, there are also more releases and more high profile releases. And that means less space for you and less of a presence wherever you are, which means a diluted marketing effort. If you go on The Tonight Show, that’s just one thing, and it’s gone in a day. It’s no longer the case where a Saturday Night Live appearance will sell records for you. If you look at every artist that’s been on Saturday Night Live this year, very few have seen significant sales bumps after their appearance. And that’s because of the dilution of the market, the number of albums and artists out there.
You can’t have the tail wag the dog and say, “I have a product. I’m going to put it out and then figure out how to get people interested in it.” You really have to build steam ahead of time and get people interested not only in the product, but also in you. That way, when the time comes, if there are nibbles and bites where you see spikes in interest, you can actually go and support that. You can play live for people, tour, do publicity and interviews and understand what you’re talking about rather than just be giddy that you have an album coming out. Because, it will come out and go away, just like the thousands of other records that came out last month. If Rihanna has an album out, she’s not helping you because more people are looking at iTunes; she’s taking time and space away from you and attracting the attention of people that could be listening to your album or watching your videos.
Marketing is about competition. And it’s about business practices with sales programs. It used to be the case that as an artist, you’d get an ad in the Best Buy circular, and your sales would go up 40-50 percent. That doesn’t happen anymore. And right now, the brick-and-mortar retailers like Best Buy or Target will only take your album if you can guarantee a certain number of sales. Target won’t take albums that sell less than 10,000 units. And who does that, except for superstars?
You have to realize that every other artist is in competition with you. And you have to win other people on the inside of the business over first, like promoters, agents, etc. And then you move onto utilizing all those people in harmony with each other to get your message out to people. You can’t start with the premise, “The people are going to love me, and this music is so good, it’s just going to work.” If that were the case, there wouldn’t be so many extremely talented people who just fell by the wayside.
You are someone who was successful in the traditional record label system and continues to be successful today in the digital era. Can you point to ideas from the traditional label system that people are still clinging to that just no longer hold water?
I think some of the major labels are slow to come around to new ways of thinking. There are people that have been in this business for 15, 20 or 25 years that are either not up to date on the digital arena or don’t understand how damaged the brand of the major label is. It’s no longer about signing artists to multi-album deals; it’s about signing artists with multi-platform revenue streams. That’s why I think a lot of the large companies who have these contracts with artists that are for three or four albums are suffering. They’re not flexible enough to adapt to selling singles, which is the way the market is going right now.
In a way, we’ve gone back to the 1950s, where singles are a lot more important to people than albums. Every ten singles sold represents one album. If you look at someone like Katy Perry, in the old paradigm, she would be a mid-level success. She’s sold about five or six million records. Back in the day, someone with five or six #1 songs off one album would’ve sold 10, 12 or 15 million records. Katy Perry has sold millions and millions of singles.
I think when as an artist, you say, “I just want to sell singles,” it contributes to the commercialization of your product. Then it cannibalizes on the other end the fact that you might not be credible and might be a one-song wonder. Carly Rae Jepsen is a great example. She had a huge song and sold lots of singles. You’d think the album would come out and sell tremendously. It hasn’t.
In the current climate, there’s a disposable element that’s around now that is being embraced by the old school, because that’s what makes money. There’s not a lot of focus on albums and careers at the major labels, or by people that used to do artist development. I think that’s a lot of the reason the music industry is suffering: There aren’t a lot of artists out there who are looking at their careers; they are looking at a record. I think if you want to look toward making it and doing what you want to be doing for the long haul, you need to look at your career and make sure you’re lined up and running your business in a way that makes you sustainable.
You can also read more about him in the About section of this website.