Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 6: K-Pop (A Case Study)

Over the years I have become a big fan of Korean Pop Music (K-Pop). The business of K-Pop is as lucrative as the music is catchy, and makes for an interesting case study for record labels and artists worldwide.

The Korean Wave (Hallyu) refers to the increase in the popularity of South Korean culture since the late 1990s. In terms of K-Pop, Hallyu equates to a high profit margin.

Screen shot 2014-06-22 at 4.50.36 PM

What makes K-Pop so profitable? K-Pop stars have become all encompassing entertainers: singers, dancers, actors, presenters; which takes years of training and artist development.

Sean Saw, S.M. Entertainment’s strategy and planning rep, notes that “each of S.M.’s 20 to 30 trainees costs $100,000 a year, for anywhere between three and seven years. As is the case with the majority of these systems, once artists have been selected to ‘debut’ as part of a boy group or girl group, they’re offered a contract, or, as Saw phrases it, ‘partnership,’ that can last as long as 15 years.”

Read more: Seoul Trained: Inside Korea’s Pop Factory

What’s the pay off? For S.M. Entertainment, the pay off is massive. S.M. Entreatment’s revenue increased by 82% jump in 2012, taking in $225 million, making it the biggest label in K-Pop.

Landing a spot in a K-Pop group, however, is not easy. Over 300,000 applicants from over nine countries apply for spots in music groups each year. For the few who make the cut, and survive the years of training, their hard work and efforts can lead to a prosperous career.

Read more: Korea’s S.M. Entertainment: The Company That Created K-Pop


When Franchises Lose Endorsements: LA Clippers Face Repercussions

Following the aftermath of Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling’s racial comments that led to his eventual lifetime ban from the NBA, the Clippers franchise face potential financial losses due to suspended endorsement deals.

Anyone with access to the radio, tv or Internet is familiar with the idea of endorsements: partnerships between a famous person or organization and a product or service to increase sales. What happens when one party to the partnership is involved in a publicly unacceptable scandal? And what happens within complex relationships when a person associated with a party to the endorsement partnership jeopardizes the entire deal?

Let’s first explore why and how public scandals can destroy endorsement deals. When a company is paying a celebrity or sports team to help sell more products, any scandal in which the celebrity or sports team is involved can harm the reputation of the company. Most endorsement deals involve moral clauses that allow deals to be suspended or canceled if one party to the deal publicly diminishes his or her reputation. I touch on these clauses in a post entitled (Reverse) Moral Clause: Protecting One’s Own Brand. So harm to one’s reputation is usually the “why” and moral clauses usually cover the “how.”

Next comes the question of complex relationships; when a person who is not a part of the endorsement deal diminishes the reputation of a party to the endorsement partnership because of personal or professional associations. Let’s look at past practices, in particular the Lady Gaga Monster Ball and planned Fame Kills tours.

Back in 2009, Lady Gaga ran into bad luck with touring with rappers. Gaga and Kanye West were set to headline the Fame Kills tour which was called off following West’s infamous interruption of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech during the MTV Video Music Awards.
Statements regarding the tour’s cancellation range, with speculation pointing towards poor ticket sales due to anti-Kanye sentiments. Gaga’s bad luck continued when Kid Cudi, an opening act on Gaga’s Monster Ball tour, left the tour five days after jumping off stage to attack a fan during a performance in Vancouver.

Although no statements were made regarding the behaviors of the rappers, their relationship with Gaga or tour sponsorship, speculation arose about the negative affects of the rappers’ behaviors on tour sponsorship and repercussions that Gaga could face with her fan base.

Gaga’s situation is similar to that of big-name Clippers players like Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, both of whom have endorsement deals that are directly or indirectly connected to the Clippers franchise and – consequently – the detrimental actions of Sterling. Like Gaga’s situation with both rappers backing out of the tours, Griffin and Paul’s reputation were saved due to swift efforts to disassociate ties to Sterling.

The Clippers franchise, however, may not be as lucky. Several companies have stated that endorsement deals are suspended, but statements about future relationships with the franchise have not been publicly made since Sterling’s lifetime ban. Public statements also fail to discuss the extent of the suspensions, leaving the question of whether Griffin and Paul’s endorsement deals will be affected because both players are associated with the Clippers franchise.

Moral clauses help protect parties to endorsement deals from the negative reputations and scandals that may arise, but how can parties protect themselves from loss of endorsement deals and blows to reputation due to associated parties?

One option may be by creating a legal relationship with associates that outlines monetary damages or other recourses when associated people and organizations ruin endorsement deals or otherwise get in the way of business ventures. Partnership agreements are common when two or more parties engage in business relationships and/or professionals ties in which one party’s actions could cause financial harm or damage to reputation merely because of association.

If you have questions about morals clauses, partnership agreements, or legal relationships regarding your business and/or musical ventures, please contact a licensed attorney.

Music Sites 2.0: Giving Your Fans What They Want, How They Want It

Band websites have long been a crowd pleaser – at least in Internet speak. As we continue to grow into a society contingent on accessing content via various digital platforms, indie bands must expand their Internet presence to include more than just the traditional computer screens.

Most musicians create band pages and fan sites with one objective in mind: quenching the thirst of music fans by providing the latest music news, concert photos, newest merchandise, etc. etc. ad nauseam. But many indie musicians don’t know their screens.

Understanding your target market and the demographic of your listenership can clue you in on the mobile devices used by your fans. In internet speak, this is knowing one’s screens.

Knowing your screens is important for a few reasons. One, there is a heck of a lot of people online; and the amount of users accessing multiple screens is on the rise.  According to eMarketer, there is an estimated  34 million tablet users in the US.  Additionally, about 274.2 million Americans have internet access via traditional computer screens, and about 117.6 million Americans are mobile internet users, according to Nielsen.

Second, not all elements of websites translate well – if at all – to the different screens. With the amount of people consuming music, entertainment and news on a variety of screens, understanding little tricks to creating a mobile site will increase your ability to adapt your music to your listeners’ changing mobile tastes.

Know your screens tip #1 – Less (content) is more; be mindful of screen real estate. Different mobile devices have different screen sizes, different screen resolutions, and engage users differently. For example: Having a ton of content for a regular website is fine if viewed on a computer screen, but the ton of content will get skewed when viewing the same website on a BlackBerry.

Know your screens tip #2 – Reduce bandwidth. This goes along with the previous tip. Having a ton of content will cause mobile browsers to slow to a long, exaggerated speed. Even worse, when a website takes to long to load, the mobile browser will timeout. This is frustrating for you fans, and you could turn away potential fans who are annoyed with your website. This, however, is an easy fix. You can create a mobile version of your website, and you can get rid of big images or unneeded content.

Know your screens tip #3 – Use a sleek, simple layout. Decked out websites are cool, and can definitely convey your band’s personality. However, having too much going on for a mobile site can make your website difficult to follow on smaller screens and can take up too much bandwidth. You can work with website designers and your website host to come up with a unique mobile site design that shows off your band’s personality. Remember, simple doesn’t have to equal boring; but simple will keep your fans from hating you(r mobile site).

Know your screens tip #4 – Know your screens types. Consider whether your fans will be using touchscreen devices, scrollbars, joysticks, and all the rest. This is important when it comes to adding links to your mobile site. If you want your fans to click something on your site, you have to make it clickable. Make links and buttons big enough for a fingertip to press; and the one-size button/link can be used in a site created for both touchscreen and non-touchscreen devices.

Know your screens tip #5 – Keep navigation simple. Do not use up your valuable screen real estate with a million tabs, links, buttons, etc. Make your site easy to use. Again, this will keep your fans from hating you(r mobile site).

Know your screens tip #6 – Consider multiple mobile sites. If you are absolutely adamant about having the coolest, most content packed website, regardless of the device, then create a different mobile site for each mobile device.Customizing sites for the respective device will allow you to create unique, personalized sites. However, this can get pricey and time-consuming. If you have the time and/or money, your fans and your web  designer will love you. If you don’t have the time and/or money, simply following these tips will still help you create a pretty amazing mobile site.

Know your screens tip #7 – Let your  users decide: mobile site or full site. Providing a link to your full site is usually appreciated by fans who choose to navigate the full site. It is better to let your fan decide what he or she likes rather than you deciding for him or her.

Know your screens tip #8 – Be mindful of font size and colors. Small screens do not show small text and light colors well. If you respect your fans, you should also respect their eyesight.

Know your screens tip #9 – Flash – just don’t do it. Period. A lot of cell phones do not support flash. Until flash is widely available on mobile device, just consider other options.

Know your screens tip #10 – Make contact simple: twitter, facebook, youtube, blogs, etc. If you want to connect with your fans via social media, make following you easy. Plus, as a bonus for you, these sites are already dumbed-down for mobile device. Link to them, and let them do the work. Your job is done. Congratulations, your fans love you.

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 5: The 20 Branding Commandments

There are no recipes or secrets that will ensure the creation of a successful brand, but there is a lot of advice that artist can consider when developing branding strategies.  Here are a few tips on branding that many business, PR people and marketers have used in the past, including some strategies that I have used when helping some of my (social media and SEO marketing) clients:

1) Take criticism with a grain of salt.  Some criticism is perfectly okay to ignore, but others may help artists to improve their brand.

2) Social media and online branding success is not about the technology itself; it’s about using the technology to create opportunities for your listeners to passionately invest themselves in your music.

3) Create an immersive experience.  Tap into the power of fandom.  Create more than just music that the listener can listen to, create something that listener can incorporate into their lives.  Let them live your brand.

4) Bond with fans. Fans are friends; they are looking for artists who they can relate to (via weaknesses, life experiences, interests, nerdiness, etc.).  Fans want to see a part of themselves in the artists they cherish.

5)Know who to please.  Are you trying to please your fans or trying to please everyone?  If you go after the wrong group, the appropriate group may abandon you.

6) Always seek new fans.  Look for opportunities to increase your fan base (collaborations, endorsements, etc.).  If an artist creates an “exclusive” fan base, the artist wills money.  Artists can actively target a particular demographic while passively gaining members of another demographic.

7) Choose your battles.  Beef can be good; look at the history of hip hop.  However, beef can be bad; look at the history of hip hop.  Having controversy with another artist, organization or product may help your brand, but may also ruin it; it doesn’t work for everyone.  Don’t destroy your brand, fan base or put yourself in legal jeopardy in an attempt to create and/or maintain a brand.

8 ) Be true – to yourself and to your fans.  Don’t compromise your sound to appeal to a wider audience.

9) Be unique.  Great brands offer listeners a unique experience.  Look at Lady Gaga…enough said.

10) Sell more than just your music.  Actually, don’t sell your music at all.  Sell the emotional and personal connection that will force fans to invest their person in you.

11) Be intuitive to your brand’s timeline.  When your brand’s timeline is coming to an end, consider reinventing your brand before it dies off.  This could be through new collaborations, exploring other genres, etc.

12) Know your enemy.  Know your enemy’s battle plan, ammunition and armament.  Know that having your enemy can help you increase your brand; by making yourself distinct from your enemy, you are creating uniqueness.  Remember, the music biz is a constant battle; win the war.

13) Understand economics, specifically, understand elasticity.   As your brand grows, and as your fan base increases, understand how supply, demand and cost will affect your fan base.  Don’t make assumptions or relay on other musicians’ experiences.  Each fan base is as unique as each artist, and various economic factors pertaining to your fan base will directly affect your personal economics.

14) Be ambiguous, but do so strategically.  A part of the intrigue that fans have towards artists is the vision that the fan has created of the artist.  Tell your story, but allow fans to use their imagination to fill in the gaps.  At the same time, being too mysterious may work for some artists and not others; and may work up to some extent, but not beyond that.

15) Work in the best interest of your brand when choosing between public relations and marketing: PR (having others talk about your brand), marketing (talking about your brand yourself), or a combination.

16) Be revolutionary.  People usually remember the unusual, not the norm.  If you do something has never been seen, fans can’t help but remember.  The unusual, however, is either a great thing or a detrimental thing.  Being different creates passion, but being creepy looses listenership.

17) Avoid, and withstand, the hype.  Too much hype creates too high of a pedestal.  Allow hype to come natural so that fans have a realistic expectation of you, your brand and your music.  And keep in mind that word of mouth is still one of the best methods.

18) Have passion.  Do what you’re passionate about doing. If there is no passion, it will eventually show in your music.

19) If you stand for something, live up to it.  Otherwise you risk losing your fans and risk looking phony.

20) Think like a high school psychology student.  Learn more about the impact that psychological, conversational and social impacts have on your fans.  You don’t have to be a psychologist to figure out what moves your fans and what influences their music choices.

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 4: Factoring the Branding Figures

Branding an artist is tricky.  It takes a lot of skill, a lot of effort, and a lot of luck.  Some people think that the only successful artist branding is that of major artist.  But this is a gross understatement.  A successful brand, like a successful artist, is not measured by chart position: consider earnings, fan base, the longevity of the music, social impact, etc.

Whatever the goal that the artist is looking for in creating his or her successful brand, there are three tips to consider:

Click to enlarge

  1. Know your fan base – Know what is important to your fans.  If you forget your fans, they will forget you.
  2. Think about media mix – In my last post about branding, I mentioned the need to develop marketing campaigns that are specific to the types of media on which the artist seeks to target listeners.  With the wide range of media available – computers, smartphones, TV, etc. – artists may have the biggest advantage in increasing their fan base if they expand their branding efforts to various media.  Doing this depends on many factors, including the media used by the target market, financial resources, and creative resources.
  3. Prove and improve your branding – In order to know the effectiveness of the artist’s branding efforts, the artist should have some technique in place to evaluate the effectiveness of the marketing campaign.  Once the artist knows how well or how poorly their branding efforts are, or has been, the artist is ready to develop strategies to improve.

As mentioned above, there are different ways to measure the success of a branding initiative.  A 2011 study by Nielsen, entitled Beyond Clicks and Impressions: Examining the Relationship Between Online Advertising and Brand Building, shines light on reasons why an artist should interpret branding success on various factors.

Click to enlarge

According to the study, the click-through rate of digital advertisements does not illustrate the relationship between clicks and brand awareness.  This means, for example, that just because the listener did not click the link on the artist’s facebook contest doesn’t mean that the branding effort was a failure.  The listener likely took in, and remembered, the brand.

The study also shows that brand awareness correlates to offline sales impacts.  As mentioned before, the listener may not have clicked on whatever it was that the artist had in association to their marketing campaign, but the branding effort may have been successful because the listener may have purchased music, merchandise or concert tickets that were not associated with that particular advertisement.

The study shows that online ads can increase the impact of the brand; however, artists should use the brand awareness to differentiate themselves.  Since online branding efforts are working, artists need to take advantage of their digital efforts to showcase how amazing they are as compared to similar artists.

With 249.3 million Americans on the Internet, according to Nielsen, it is also useful for artists to do their homework in developing branding efforts and measuring success.

According to The Kern Organization’s 2011 Mid-Year Marketing Trends Study, 37% of marketing organizations believe that Facebook is the most important social media channel (followed by Twitter and LinkedIn).  In light of this, 16% of marketing organizations find satisfaction in current social media efforts.

Although this study looks at marketing companies in various industries, and is not exclusive to the music biz, it does highlight the importance of social media and highlights the need for artists to revamp existing social media marketing campaigns.

A similar consideration for artist to take in is search engine optimization (SEO).  Kern’s essay finds that Google has 88 billion search queries per month while Twitter has 19 billion, Yahoo has 9.4 billion and Bing! has 4.1 billion.  By understanding the services that a potential fan base uses to search for music or information about artists, an artist can develop a more impactful SEO and marketing plan.

There are many ways to determine the success of branding.  By coming up with strategies to best achieve the desired success, and evaluating the results, artists can create the brand that best suit their goals and their fan base.


Similar posts:

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 1: Odds, Facts and Figures

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 2: Avoiding Premature Hype and Pigeonholes

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 3: Branding 101

Protecting Your Brand

Branding is key in maintaining a loyal fan base, gaining new listeners and ensuring longevity in all aspects of the music industry.  As such, protecting one’s brand is just as important as branding itself.  Artists and music entities can use various federal and state laws to protect their brands. Here are just a few:

Trademark/Service Mark – A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design used to identify and distinguish the source of a good.  A service mark is just like a trademark, but instead identifies the source a service.  The symbol  and  are used to identify an unregistered trademark or service mark, respectively, and ® identifies a federally registered trademark.

Although registration is not required, there are many benefits to registration; such as having a public notice of ownership, a presumption of ownership, the ability to bring a trademark claim in federal court, and international protections.

Copyrights – A copyright provides exclusive rights to the author of an original work of authorship, and extends to literary, musical, dramatic, artistic and other forms of intellectual work.  The symbol © is often used to notify the public of a copyright, but this notification is no longer mandatory.

Like trademarks and service marks, the owner of a copyright is not required to register the copyright, but registration provides the owner with a number of advantages.

Defamation – Defamation is a cause of action that arises when a person makes a false statement about another, which subsequently causes harm.  Classifications of defamation are (1) slander – an oral representation, and (2) libel – a fixed representation, such as a comment made in writing.

Some harmful comments are not considered defamatory, such as statements of truth, opinion, and fair comment on issues of public interest.

Misappropriation – Misappropriation is the intentional and unauthorized use of property or funds belonging to others.  This cause of action extends to the unauthorized use of intellectual property, as well as the unauthorized use of a person’s name, likeness and other personal attributes.

Moral Rights – Moral rights refers to a creator’s right to control his or her work.  This protects the reputation of a creator, rather than the value of the work.  Moral rights are generally not protected in the United States, but protection can sometimes be loosely granted under copyright, trademark, privacy and defamation laws.

Right of Publicity – The right of publicity protects persons from the unauthorized use of one’s name, likeness or personal attributes for commercial purposes.  This rights gives a person the sole right to license his or her persona commercially.

Right of publicity is generally found under state law, and is often classified as a right of privacy.

False Endorsement – False endorsement is a claim under federal trademark laws, which protects a trademark owner from the unauthorized use of his or her mark to show sponsorship or endorsement.

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 3: Branding 101

When it comes to artist recognition, understanding the essence of branding is essential.  Artists have many considerations when developing, altering, and even understanding their personal brand.  For instance, who owns the brand – the artist or the label?  Many times the answer is in formal and informal agreements, found by following the cash flow associated with building the brand, or determined through tireless and expensive litigation.

Additionally, figuring out what it takes to create a brand is nerve-wracking – especially for indie bands, publishers and labels looking to make a start in the music biz.  Fortunately, many aspects of artist branding share commonalities with product/company branding in the business world.

As with the launch of any business, artists must determine what exactly they seek to brand – their music, their merchandise, their look or them as a franchise?  Songwriters, for instance, may want to brand their music since they desire to remain behind the scenes writing for others who will eventually perform their creations.  Bands, however, will want to brand themselves as a franchise since seek they stardom as performers.

Once the artist determines what she/he wants to brand, artists needs to understand the demographics of their potential fan base and how to break into that demographic.  There are many artists of various fame levels who have broken into their fan base by luck.  Although luck is a huge factor in breaking an artist, that alone should not be the artists’ game plan.

According to the 2007 Interbrand Brand Marketers Report, the six most important aspects of successful branding are:

Click image to enlarge

  1. Consistency of the Brand – Making sure the artist presents the brand in a way that does not confuse the fan base, dilute the brand, or try to please the public as a whole instead of the fan base.
  2. Understanding of the Customer or Target – This is pretty self-explanatory.  If an artist wants to brand him or herself as a country music star, he or she should probably know what attracts country music fans.
  3. Message/Communication – A brand will die off if the brand is never communicated to the potential fan base.  An artist needs to have some sort of marketing plan, or a public relations campaign, in place so that the artist can reach the target market.
  4. Creative/Design/Brand ID – In a world that is becoming more reliant on technology and entertainment, it is detrimental for artist to hone in on the creative aspect of the brand.  This could be visual or oral – sound is just as important as a look, which is just as important as the feel of the brand.  This applies to the music, personas, live performances, and any other form of communication.
  5. Relevance – Marketing efforts used to brand the artist should relate to the artist.
  6. Differentiation/Uniqueness – Fans don’t listen to music because it is exactly like something else that they like.  They want something different, something unique, out of every song and every artist.  Even if a song or an artist is similar, something unique should exist.

Artists should also consider the technology that is available and used by potential listeners.  We live in a mobile society where technology is present in most aspects of our lives.  However, just because a new technology has emerged doesn’t mean that the artist should create a marketing plan specific to that technology if it is not being used by his or her fan base.

According to a 2011 study by Aimia, Inc., 79% of persons age 19 to 29 have a laptop, as compared to 65% of persons not within that age range; only 8% of 19 to 29 year olds have a tablet, as compared to 47% of persons outside of that age group; and 47% of 19 to 29 year olds have a smartphone, as compared to 30% of persons outside of that age group.

Even with the insane amount of digital devices that are available, TV is more relevant than ever.  Given this fact, artists should continue to take advantage of it – via videos, commercials, endorsements, show appearances, etc.

When it comes to other forms of media, artists need specific marketing plans since not all communications are transferable over different mediums.

For example, computer marketing campaigns should give listeners a sense of competitiveness.  According to a 2011 report by Aimia, Inc., 44% of persons between the age of 19 and 29 are willing to promote brands through social media in exchange for rewards.  Offering a sneak peek to an upcoming album, advance ticket sales, etc., can benefit the artist.

Effective campaigns are  something that the listener can easily share or show off to social media contacts.  In the 2011 Aimia, Inc. report, 72% of 19 to 29 year olds used Facebook often or very often, and 17% of that age group used Twitter often or very often.  With that in mind, remember the importance of viewer friendly campaigns, as branding efforts are easily accessed by younger, or more sensitive, audiences.

Likewise, mobile marketing campaigns are best crafted specifically to this medium.  Because an artist sends the campaigns directly to a listener’s personal mobile device, the best campaigns are those that are more intimate.  These intimate marketing campaigns should show that the artist knows and understands his or listeners, otherwise it will seem obtrusive and may cost the artist a potential fan.

Creating the right marketing plan, that takes into consideration the demographic of the fan base and the mode of communication, is essential in effective branding.


Similar posts:

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 1: Odds, Facts and Figures

Breaking an Artist in the Digital Age Pt. 2: Avoiding Premature Hype and Pigeonholes