The Music Network story: ‘Sony Music London’s Creative Directors’, January 2010

A story for The Music Network that I arranged while in England last month.

'Trendsetters: Sony Music London's Creative Directors' story for The Music Network by Andrew McMillen, January 2009Trendsetters: Sony Music London’s Creative Directors

They’re each experienced within the music and advertising industries, but it’s largely the time spent in the latter that colours their development of a major label’s creative sector as both industry award-winner and music fan-favourite.

What sets them apart is that you won’t find their work on billboards or posters, which is unorthodox for a pair of music marketers. No, you’re more likely to come across the work of Steve Milbourne and Phil Clandillon – Creative Directors at Sony Music London – when a friend posts one of their video projects on your Facebook wall with an approving comment.

Top four in their recent portfolio, which can be easily found on YouTube:

  1. The world’s first Microsoft Excel music video, which was created to let cubicle-confined hard rock fans watch the latest AC/DC clip from behind corporate firewalls.
  2. A web short featuring the ‘humanthesizer‘, wherein body-painted, bikini-clad models debuted the first human synth to the Calvin Harris track ‘Ready For The Weekend’.
  3. A Google Street View ‘hack’ promoting rock band Editors, where fans could use the software application to visit the British landmarks that inspired the creation of their latest album, while it played in the background.
  4. And most recently, a giant game of Guitar Hero set to a Kasabian song, which is played by kicking soccer balls against a warehouse wall.

I met with Steve Milbourne and Phil Clandillon in Sony’s Kensington office to discuss their unique approach to web-based music marketing, and to understand how they took the Kasabian project from concept to execution, to nearly 850,000 YouTube views in a month.

In their own words

As Milbourne describes it, he and Clandillon essentially run a boutique advertising agency in-house. Their clients are signed to various labels under the Sony umbrella. And to their knowledge, there’s not really anyone else who operates within the music industry who operate as they do.

Milbourne continues: “The reason we can do what we do is because we’ve spent years gaining skills in design, programming, and video production. The sort of stuff we do is often experimental; we’re usually sitting on-edge; ‘Is this going to work or not? Am I going to waste loads of money?'”

Though they’re often sticking their necks out, the pair are able to operate cost-effectively. Their method isn’t as expensive as traditional advertising, so they’re able to work on projects that reach more people without spending as much money.

Phil Clandillon of Sony Music LondonClandillon [pictured left] explains: “We’re awarded the freedom to experiment and do more exciting things. It generally goes fairly well, but if you do make mistakes it’s not the end of the world because you’re only talking about relatively small amounts of money. But we haven’t had any that haven’t worked out, yet.”

When they presented their music industry work at Creative Review’s Click London conference in November, the audience asked questions like: “This seems very risky. How could I sell this to the client if I was at an ad agency?”

Their response was simple: a strong reputation built upon experience and dedication. As Milbourne says, “If you don’t have the experience, it can easily go wrong.”

Their approach mostly significantly differs from traditional music marketing because they don’t buy media. Instead, their innovative videos tend to become social objects, which are shared rapidly between individuals en masse, thus demonstrating the nature of viral internet content.

Clandillon elaborates: “Our work is designed to be shared. We don’t pay for advertising space, and in a way, as long as you’re doing something with good intentions, the worst thing that’s going to happen is it’s going to languish in the corner of the internet and no one is going to see it. It’s not like putting a really inappropriate advertising campaign across London on billboards. It’s a totally different proposition, which allows us to take a few more risks.”

Case study: ‘Football Hero’

Risk-taking, indeed: on paper, their ‘Football Hero’ short film was Clandillon and Milbourne’s most outlandish yet. Uploaded in October 2009, it was devised as an experiment to create a Guitar Hero-type game played by footballs. The game was constructed in a West London warehouse, before a talented team of young freestyle footballers were drafted in to play it. The project was created to promote the Kasabian single ‘Underdog’, and was carried out in collaboration with UK sports brand Umbro. [The video is embedded below.]

Clandillon explains: “The game was powered by the open-source Guitar Hero clone, Frets On Fire, and we used two projectors to create a three story-high image on the side of the warehouse wall. The coloured buttons on the typical guitar controller were replaced by five huge pressure sensitive pads, which were carefully positioned on the wall in order to line up with the game’s descending notes.”

Why Kasabian, though? He continues: “Whenever we’re about to promote a band, we refer to in-depth artist insight that sums up everything to do with the fanbase for that artist; essentially, what matters to the band’s fans. With Kasabian, there were really strong football and gaming themes coming out.”

According to Milbourne [pictured right], Kasabian’s fanbase audience seemed to care more about football and gaming than they do about music. Music is a secondary thing in their lives. As a result, in the video’s final cut, the story of the footballers and their quest to finish ‘playing’ the song is given prominence over the song itself.

“We knew we wanted to get some really cool freestyle footballers to do it as well,” he continues. “We didn’t know any, so as well as the whole process of finding out how we could build it and who we could use, we had to find out who we could get to play it…”

When asked about working on tight budgets, Clandillon elucidates: “The hardware didn’t cost much, and the software was all open source. There was a big production for the video, but it was only for a day. The R&D process was relatively inexpensive. Then it was a case of building it and seeing how it would go. We spent a whole day building the game, and filming it being played. We’re all about taking on ambitious experiments, trying to make them work, documenting the process, and telling people about it.”

Above all, the aim is for the ‘Football Hero’ project was to create an interesting story for people, who’re then compelled to pass it on to their friends. The pair explain that the goal is always to attract the attention of the type of people who might like that particular artist. Essentially, it’s targeted marketing, but under the guise of an entertaining video.

Steve Milbourne of Sony Music London

Highly engaged

Having had a few popular successes with these kinds of web video campaigns, how do the two feel Sony’s management view these kinds of campaigns?

Milbourne [pictured right] is philosophical. “The music and advertising industries are similar in that it takes a long time to turn things around to new models, and to change the behaviors of old. The biggest shift right now is in the way that people consume media. Any big company that starts looking at new areas like that, it’s a bit like turning a super tanker. In our case, it’s slowly but surely. The labels we work with, and Sony Music in general do attach value to what we do, because we’re continually proving we don’t need to do media spend, that we get really good engagement rates, and that we’re making content that people are interested in, as opposed to the standard album release.”

Clandillon concludes: “Over last two years, they’ve gradually given us more freedom and more autonomy to do what we do. We’ve got more trust from the managers and artists; that all comes back into the projects, so that we can do better work, next time around.”

View Phil Clandillon’s portfolio at:

Steve Milbourne on Twitter:
Phil Clandillon on Twitter:

This story originally appeared in The Music Network issue 770, January 18 2010. For a full-length transcript of our conversation, click here.

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