WEE WAA, Australia – The world premiere of the latest Daft Punk album, Random Access Memories, was originally scheduled to take place on May 17 at a farm show in the rural Australian town of Wee Waa, population 2,100. The unconventional choice of locale made worldwide news, as intended. The event (and its marketing) was always about more than just two French guys releasing an album: It was an attempt to breathe life into the idea that a distinct collection of songs could still be relevant in 2013, when digitally downloaded singles dominate and launch dates have become almost meaningless.
Imagine Sony’s frustration, then, when Random Access Memories trickled onto the internet on May 14, three days ahead of the intended world premiere in Wee Waa, and Daft Punk hastily started streaming the album on iTunes to tide over listeners till the actual release date. The impact on the planned celebration was immediate. A journalist from the local newspaper The Narrabri Courier told Wired that the Wee Waa Motel experienced 37 out of 60 cancellations in the day following the leak. What had been sold as a world premiere now seemed humdrum, an experience that anyone with an internet connection, BitTorrent or iTunes could have.
To many music fans, Tuesday’s news was an inevitability, and surprising only in its lateness: most big releases appear online weeks, or even months ahead of their true street date. So what value, if any, does an album release event have after once an internet leak has removed the mystery? I went to Wee Waa to find out.
When I wake up on the morning of 79th Annual Wee Waa Show, I add Random Access Memories to my to collection on the streaming music service Rdio, a process that takes only minutes. During the seven-hour drive to Wee Waa, the temptation to listen to the album is powerful. After all, it’s right there. I resist, though, out of respect for the album and the experience ahead. I figure that saving that crucial first listen for the first night will be worth it.
Situated 560 kilometers (347 miles) north-west of Sydney, Australia’s most populated city, Wee Waa was previously known for its cotton production, and little else. The choice to host the album launch here had everything to do with sheer disorientation — hence the global headlines. Sony first floated the idea with the Narrabri Shire Council in February, two months before the news was made public in mid-April. The Wee Waa Show committee discussed at length how the showgrounds would cope with the influx of tourists; local accommodation was fully booked soon after the news broke.
This three-day event is an important cultural staple of the region, even when Daft Punk isn’t around. The show format combines elements of agricultural presentations (cattle judging, pet shows) with competitions (horse-riding, cake-baking) and carnival rides familiar to attendees of American state fairs. It’s easy for city-dwelling outsiders to poke fun at these meets, but for local farming families, these regional shows provide a welcome respite in their routine. It’s a chance to put down tools for a couple of days, socialize with one another, and celebrate successes.
In the days before the main event, rumors of a last-minute appearance from the French duo still circulate, and Sony stokes the flames by refusing to rule out the possibility. On Friday, there’s talk of the local airport being temporarily closed for a couple of mysterious, high-security chartered flights. Perhaps Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo had elected to make the trek after all, people say; perhaps their statements to the contrary were a smokescreen to deter all but the true believers, the fans who still thought an album launch meant something, leak or no leak.
For the full story, and more photographs, visit Wired.com.
Ryan Holiday is one of the most influential people in my life.
His blog, RyanHoliday.net, is one of the most valuable online resources I know of. This is a statement that I know will make him blush, because Ryan is a modest guy. I know this because when I first approached him for an interview in January 2010, he deflected my questions – which were extremely detailed, potentially to the point of exhibiting stalker-like behaviour. He wrote that when he felt he deserved an interview, he’d give it to me; he also said that mine was “the most in depth, investigative email I’ve ever gotten”.
At 24, Ryan [pictured right] is a year older than me. I’ve viewed his blog as a kind of counsel since I first became aware of his work. His thinking and writing has, in turn, shaped my thinking and writing. It is fair to say that I wouldn’t be on the path I am now if I hadn’t been closely studying another young male on the other side of the world, fearlessly kicking down doors in search and pursuit of his goals. For a couple of years, Ryan’s ambition, persistence and confidence all directly influenced my day-to-day thoughts and actions. Which is another statement that will make Ryan blush, because it’s a pretty fucking weird thing to type, let alone think.
Ryan first attracted my attention by attracting the attention of someone who I was closely studying at the time: Tucker Max, the American blogger-turned-author who is best known for his 2006 book I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell and the 2009 film adaptation of the same name.
Ryan wrote a review of Tucker’s website – which, at the time, was a collection of stories about Max’s drinking and sexual exploits – for his college newspaper, and sent the link to the author. Soon after, Max posted the review on his message board, which was a fairly popular corner of the web; it was deleted a couple of years ago. I immediately became interested in figuring out who Holiday was.
That review led Tucker to hire Ryan as an intern at his company, Rudius Media (now defunct). It led Ryan to work with the acclaimed author Robert Greene as a research assistant on the strategy book The 50th Law, co-written with rapper 50 Cent and released in 2009. And it led Ryan to be hired by the clothing manufacturer American Apparel, where he worked as Director of Marketing for a couple of years. He still works as an advisor to American Apparel, but moved from Los Angeles to New Orleans in mid 2011 to work on a book project of his own.
Since January 2007, Ryan has consistently used his blog as a platform for discussions about writing, running, online PR, media, philosophy, and stoicism, among other topics. I’ve consumed every word that he has written since his first post, ‘The Business Of Running‘. I often re-read his posts multiple times, which is something I rarely do online. That first post remains a valid starting point for understanding Ryan’s way of thinking and writing. I’ll quote the opening paragraph below.
“I run 5 miles every night. It’s where I go to digest my day, hash out the multitude of information that’s been poured into me in the last wild six months or so, and to try and condense it down to some sort of cohesive strategy to live my life by.” – Ryan Holiday, January 31 2007
When I visited the United States for the first time with my girlfriend Rachael in September 2010, I asked to meet up with Ryan in Los Angeles. We met at a burger joint on Melrose Avenue and talked for an hour or so. It was a huge thrill for me to meet a guy who’s been something of an internet hero to me for nearly five years. Rachael didn’t really understand why it was so important to me at the time.
Neither did I, really, now that I think about it. All I knew then, and know now, is that Ryan Holiday is one of the most influential people in my life. It’s an honour for me to publish the below email interview.
Ryan: I’m not sure if I ever told anyone this, but I’d noticed that Tucker tended to link to or write about any press he got (at least back then) and so I thought, “I’m a writer for a college newspaper, why don’t I try it”? It didn’t really go much further than thinking about it at that time. Then a couple weeks later I had the opening line of that piece floating around in my head: “If Hunter S Thompson had read this site, he probably wouldn’t have killed himself.” I figured I had something and eventually sat down and wrote it.
So the intended outcome was that I’d send it to him and he’d link to it (I reposted the article on my blog) and that would be it. But the reaction totally blew my mind. Within about 20 minutes he’d responded and… I went back to my Gmail and found it:
From: Tucker Max
[November 28th, 2005]
“Jesus Christ. Dude, that is fantastic. Seriously, I am awed by your grasp of me and my material. I am going to post this as THE example of a great review of me and my work.”
It’s funny to me now because that reaction has become a pretty routine occurrence for me since then. I obviously thought I wrote a pretty good article but I was still reluctant to send it off. Is he going to like it? Did I go overboard? What are the chances of it getting a response? Turns out I had nailed the target and didn’t quite understand the extent. That seems to happen a lot to me. You’d think I’d anticipate it by now, but still other peoples’ reaction (positively, anyway) tends to catch me by surprise.
What did that response change for you? Was that one of those ‘Fight Club moments‘ I remember you writing about years ago?
I think it was the opposite of one of those moments. I think of a Fight Club Moment as something that breaks you down and demolishes the pretense and bullshit entitlement you have in your life. This wasn’t that. It instilled a lot of confidence in me. It was like, “ok, I am better than I knew. That’s awesome, maybe I can build on this.”
What happened next between you and Tucker?
I think after he had the publisher send me a copy of his book to review, which I did, and after it was published I asked for his thoughts on the writing. He went over it on the phone with me about ways I could improve my voice and tone.
I stayed in touch—I think in my post about advice a couple weeks ago I called this ‘staying on the radar’, and that’s basically what I did. I would pop in and ask questions, for advice, send links etc. Any excuse I could think of to keep that connection alive. Only an idiot would waste that chance.
A year or so later I was in New York, where he was living and I told him I wasn’t looking for a job, or a salary or a handout but I had some thoughts on ways I could contribute to his company, Rudius Media. After the meeting, he offered me an internship, which 6-8 months later become a job. But it was all a very fluid thing, like I was saying.
To me, the act of writing the review and showing Tucker is a pretty solid example of figuring out what you want, and pursuing it accordingly. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t that lead to him offering you a job, you quitting college and moving to LA, and then working for American Apparel?
Haha, I mean you pretty much figured out exactly what I was doing or trying to do with the last question, probably with a better sense of clarity than I really had at the time. But yeah, it was the door that ultimately led to the opening of all the other doors. I have him to thank for all of it. When I see a path to an opportunity–like a lane in basketball–I sort of put my head down and the next thing I know I’m through it and it took me somewhere I didn’t totally anticipate.
With the Tucker thing, I knew I wanted to one day be a writer like the kind of writers he was working with at the time – I’d known this since I first saw his sites in high school – so I did that article, and then I was working for him, and then I was working for the people he was working with, and then the people they were working with, and so on. I don’t think any of them every solicited me for a job either so much; it was just that I was around all the time, doing stuff and offering to do stuff, and then it eventually became official.
How did you come across Robert Greene’s work? Was it Tucker who first showed you?
Yeah, I’d heard of the books obviously but I think Tucker recommended The 48 Laws of Power so I read it. I marked up my copy so much and had a million questions to ask Tucker.* Then the first time I met him, Tucker walked me to a bookstore and bought me The 33 Strategies of War and said, “if you’re going to work for me, you’ll need to have read this.” I think that’s how I found out I got the job. All I took from that exchange was: “I better read this book on the plane ride home and know it backwards and forwards.”
* Ryan’s sidenote: that copy of The 48 Laws is priceless to me. Someone stole it out of my office at American Apparel. I was fucking distraught. It makes no sense because Dov [Charney, AA chairman and CEO] has a million copies laying around. Why would they want my marked-up personal copy?
How did the opportunity to work for Greene arise?
The three of us – Tucker, Robert, and I – had lunch in L.A. a few years ago and it kind of arose from that meeting. Although it almost didn’t, because I was so nervous I accidentally messed up when I gave Robert my phone number.
I have a suspicion that working on The 50th Law might have inspired a sense of validation, given your regular documentation on your life via the blog, and your personal reading and research via your Delicious account. Am I right, or way off?
I mean, it was very cool to have the privilege to be allowed to peek inside of project like that. But I don’t think validating is the right work. What it was was educational, from top to bottom. Researching for someone–particularly someone like Robert–is crazy because you get pointed in all these directions that you’d never have gone by yourself, given a very firm objective to gather from that direction, and a tight deadline with which to do so. When you read or research for yourself, it is kind of this wandering, directionless thing. For the book, it was like getting a crash course in a million different subjects. I was interested in all of them so I would mark down the stuff I would want to go back and look at later.
So it’s funny, when I see the book, it reminds me of loose ends I still need to tie up for myself and am interested in looking into.
More than anything, it helped me clarify my thoughts. Tim is awesome and he’s got a very impressive commitment to expanding the scope of blog all the time. He starting writing about productivity and got all these people hooked and the next thing you know he’s totally revolutionized how they think about health and science. I was lucky that he gave me the microphone for one of those digressions.
What you learn in a setting like that is how to tailor your message to different mediums. When I write for my site, I can be as self-indulgent as I want. When you write for someone else or on a bigger platform, you have to be much clearer and you have to catch them right from the beginning. They’re not YOUR readers, so you have to meet them where they are if you’d like to bother listening to your message. At the same time, it taught me that I don’t want to have to perform like that all the time which kind of freed me up to not have to chase acquiring that audience for myself. If didn’t learn that, I’d be spend all my time working to build something that at the end of the day, would make me miserable to have.
Could you tell me about your working space?
When I was in LA, I had a big office with 5-10 employees at any given time at the American Apparel factory. I had an office at my house at well.
Now, in New Orleans, I sort of went in the completely opposite direction. I’m in a studio apartment so I don’t work much there. I like working and reading and writing out of the library at Tulane or, I belong to an old school athletic club in the French Quarter that has like a library/parlor work space that I use.
On Mondays, I try to do all my administrative stuff—conference calls with employees, meetings, paperwork and then during the rest of the week I respond to AA emails in the morning and again at night. The middle of the day is mine. I try to write, go to the gym (run, box or swim), and read—in that order.
I still have the same quote, the one from Marcus [Aurelius], above my desk:
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.”
The other quote above my desk is from Seneca:
“Some lack the fickleness to live as they wish and just live as they have begun.”
In November 2007 , you wrote that “you have to be happy with you”. I understand it’s a work in progress, but are you happy with you in October 2011, nearly four years later?
Happier for sure. It’s not so much that it’s a work in progress as it is a process. I forget who said it, but someone smarter than me said that “happiness ensues, it cannot be pursued”. And I think it was Aristotle who said that happiness was the result of excellence.
Either way, I take that to mean that you’re happy when you are doing whatever it is that you’re doing, well. So: are you doing well at your career? Is your relationship the best it can be? Are you handling adversity or a difficult experience with excellence? Are you behaving honorably? Etc etc.
These are all opportunities to excel in the moment and cumulatively these moments create a sense of happiness. I’m fucking 24, there’s no way I’m doing well all the time at everything but I do feel I am getting better and more consistent.
I want to close on a cliched question, which I hope you’ll humour me on. What advice would you give to yourself five years ago, when all you really knew about yourself was that you ‘wanted to one day be a writer like the kind of writers Tucker was working with at the time’?
Fucking breathe. It’s not as precarious as you think it is. There’s no need to be anxious. See, it’s really easy when you’re that young and you don’t have a safety net to think you have to cling to everything for dear life, everything is a crisis, everything is mission critical, nothing else can be the priority.
When you’re in that space, it’s really hard to have the patience and compassion or even empathy for the other people in your life because you’re fucking fight or flight all the time. In reality, it’s not as dramatic as all that. Taking a more relaxed and accepting approach might mean losing a couple opportunities here and there but down the road, you end up turning down plenty of those anyway, so what does it matter if a couple never arrive?
If I told myself this and really listened, I feel like I’d have been happier along the way and be able to be prouder of how I behaved and the decisions I made.
For more on Ryan Holiday, visit his blog. Hopefully he’ll soon post some news about the publication and release of his first book.
I first met Blair Hughes when he began working the door at The Zoo, one of my favourite live music venues, sometime in 2008. We’ve since struck up a friendship around Brisbane Sounds, an annual compilation CD he started producing in 2007 to promote the city’s independent music scene.
Andrew: As you see it, what’s your role among the Brisbane music scene?
Blair: I view myself and the role which I have created with Brisbane Sounds as an educator or ambassador for Brisbane music. That obviously comes from my previous role working as a middle year’s school teacher and the fact that I’m very passionate about the Brisbane music scene and the diversity of genres and talent in Brisbane and want other people to hear that message. At another level I also see myself as an emerging music promoter that has created something important for Brisbane but knows that I still have a lot to learn in the music industry.
Was starting Brisbane Sounds one of those ‘ no-one else is doing it, so I’ll give it a shot’-type situations?
To an extent it was very much like that and it really just started out as a hobby. When I get behind an idea, I see it through to the end and I really had no idea at the start where this was going to lead. Brisbane music has been a part of my life since adolescence but I never imagined that I would end up becoming a promoter, let alone producing a compilation album.
Brisbane Sounds started in October 2006 when I was finishing up a degree in Education and Behavioural Studies at UQ and I had decided to head off to England to commence the first year of my teaching career. I produced Brisbane Sounds 2007 as a way to showcase Brisbane music to new people on the road and had a little success throughout the year, but on a coach trip from Cambridge to London towards the end of 2007, I wrote inside the cover of the book “How to succeed in the music business” a few goals for the following year. Those goals were to find a job in a music venue in Australia, promote a gig, make a professional CD release with Brisbane Sounds, and work at a music venue in England. A week later back in Australia I got a job at The Zoo nightclub in Brisbane, put on the first Brisbane Sounds gig in February 2008, have since produced three professional releases in Brisbane sounds 2008-2010 and worked at the Hammersmith Apollo in London.
How did your previous career in education help your work with this initiative?
I have always wanted to work with young people and after high school, education was an obvious choice but I also did a degree in Behavioural Studies which was also useful for understanding human behaviour. In the future I would like to find a positive way that I can combine both Brisbane Sounds and working with at-risk young people to improve their lives.
I was bullied every day throughout primary school and that made me want to become a teacher and never see the stuff that happened to me, happen to any of the students under my care. When I was transitioning from the school setting to the music setting, I found the transition quite easy to be honest as there were a lot of elements in the music industry that I found I was already skilled in from working with school students, such as planning, time and behaviour management.
From my experience, the parallels between working with children and working with musicians are that they both need guidance and counselling from time to time, they need a leader or role model with the knowledge and expertise in their area to then guide them forward, they need a lot of help getting organised and management of their behaviour and they also need someone who will help them harness their creative and hungry minds.
Of the 24 acts on this year’s compilation, which single band or artist would you recommend to the head of a major label?
If I only had time to name one band from the Brisbane Sounds 2010 compilation, I would probably go with Hungry Kids of Hungary who have a good management team, have a sound that would work for both the US and the UK music scenes and have the work ethic to make it happen. Apart from that, they have a handsome lead singer and girls just love that and it brings them to the gigs!
Is ‘getting signed’ at the top of the list of goals you’d like for Brisbane Sounds-associated acts to achieve? If it’s not, what is at the top?
No certainly not, the idea of an artist getting ‘signed’ is probably more like second or third down the batting order because Brisbane Sounds is more about promoting the Brisbane music scene as a whole and creating a movement to draw awareness to the quality and diversity of artists in Brisbane. It’s not just about promoting the artists on the compilation as Brisbane Sounds is inclusive for every band in Brisbane. The main goal is to actively promote how good the Brisbane music scene is and that more people of all ages should be coming out to gigs, purchasing local music and really supporting the artists that are part of their own backyard. I just feel that in Australia, people view ‘local music’ as being substandard and unprofessional when in fact our country has thriving local music scenes with artists creating quality music.
You’ve created this compilation to promote Brisbane music. Which is more important: the industry introduction aspect, where you’re trying to put the disc into the hands of labels, agents etc. Or is it aimed more at music fans, those who might find some new bands they love, and show all their friends?
Overall, the compilation is about putting together an item which serves three purposes. The first being that it can be used as a marketing tool for the promotion of Brisbane, the second that it can get into the hands of A&R and radio reps and the third and best point is that anyone can purchase Brisbane Sounds 2010 and play it front to back because there is something there for everyone. The way I structure the Brisbane Sounds compilations enables me to tap into those three groups by producing a CD that has all of them in mind. For example, Brisbane Marketing have been right behind the project since last year and have been distributing copies to international delegates to Brisbane, I’ve had meetings with A&R reps from Sony and Live Nation in London and the CD has been selling well through independent record stores across Australia. Red Eye Records in Sydney even sold out of stock before Rockinghorse Records in Brisbane did!
Are you able to comment on the factors that, in your mind, have contributed to Brisbane bands like Powderfinger, The Grates, Regurgitator, and more recently Yves Klein Blue and The John Steel Singers attracting attention from outside Queensland?
Overall it’s that they have hard working management and creative marketing systems and teams in place. I also believe that if an artist is to be successful then they have to have something that people want and will go out of their way to get. Ultimately the music has to stand out and be above average, but at the end of the day, it is great management and hard working people which get those artists to higher levels in the music world. There are very passionate and intelligent people who are behind the artists you have mentioned.
Have you approached triple j with the compilation? What kind of response have you seen from them?
Triple J has played the compilation which is great, but I’ve never had any direct contact or support from them as such. On the other hand, Brisbane independent radio station 4ZzZ has gone out of their way to support Brisbane Sounds. I hope that down the track Triple J becomes like the BBC in England where there are a few Triple J stations and perhaps a Triple J2 or something like that which has a main focus on local artists throughout Australia. In saying that I’m open to talks with the Jay’s so maybe Richard Kingsmill needs to give me a call.
I first heard about Bandtag through my boss at The Zoo in Brisbane. I was looking at creative and interesting ways to use new forms of technology to promote Brisbane Sounds and Bandtag was one of those exciting new opportunities. I contacted Erin who runs Bandtag on the Gold Coast and we struck up a partnership to take Bandtag to the QLD music conference Big Sound where we could promote both of our businesses at the same time. The benefits of Bandtag are that you can have the artist’s music tracks and artwork on a glossy card which has a code on the back that you enter into the Bandtag website. It means that for touring or going to conferences, it becomes a lot easier to carry and hand out then a CD. The ones which I have got for SXSW and Great Escape serve as a business card as well with my details on the back, artwork on the front and 15 tracks from the compilation embedded into the card.
What are your plans to promote the compilation in Brisbane throughout 2010?
There are many new elements that will form part of Brisbane Sounds over the next few months and leading into 2011. I’m organising a number of Brisbane Sounds spin-off gigs this year such as “Brisbane Sounds Presents….Hip-hop, Alt-Country, Rock, Indie” etc which will use artists from Brisbane Sounds 2010 as well as other Brisbane artists to create a night of that genre of music. I’ve set myself the goal of 20 gigs this year and I’m working hard to achieve that. I also now run a Brisbane Sounds stall at the West End markets focusing on what’s happening in the Brisbane music scene.
I’m also looking at starting a management side to Brisbane Sounds and down the track I would also like to develop Brisbane Sounds into an outside festival.
What about on a national level?
At the national level I want to continue to network with people in the music industry and increase the profile of Brisbane Sounds across Australia. I want to form more business partnerships and solidify my place as a promoter and producer in Australia. I’d like to do some interstate tours or rural tours with Brisbane artists as well as apply for a few national grants such as the JB Seed because like anyone in the arts, I could use a bit of extra funding. I also set myself the goal of meeting and getting some advice from all seven music industry leaders from Christie Eliezer’s book “High Voltage Rock ‘N’ Roll: The Movers and Shakers in the Australian Rock Industry” in 2010.
On an international level?
The next few months are pretty crazy with international travel to music conferences in Austin, Texas and Brighton, England for South By South West (SXSW) and The Great Escape respectively. I’m focused on networking and meeting people who work in the music industry outside of Australia to be able to increase their knowledge and educate them more about Brisbane music. I always envisaged going to these conferences as a punter, but it’s very exciting and rewarding to be able to take my business to them.
Who do you plan to meet while at these conferences, and why? What’s your networking plan of attack?
I have two goals for the music conferences that I will attend this year. The first goal is that I plan to meet radio and A&R reps as well as music supervisors who place music in films and advertisements. I have already started making contact with some of these people for both SXSW and The Great Escape in order to have meetings while I’m in the US and England.
The second goal is that I want to meet promoters, managers and artists to continue to get more skills and improve my professional development in the music industry. Overall, my plan of attack is to talk to everyone. I’m taking 500 of the Brisbane Sounds bandtags to these conferences and I’m going to try my hardest to meet music supervisors and promoters down to volunteers and local people. I’m very much the type of person who likes to talk and has the time to listen to anyone. You never know who you could be talking too and at these types of conferences that’s very exciting.
G’day, I’m Blair and I work as a music promoter and cultural producer in Brisbane, Australia. I promote gigs involving Brisbane artists and produce the only annual compilation CD featuring a diverse selection of Brisbane bands called Brisbane Sounds the aim of which is to increase the visibility of the Brisbane music scene in Brisbane, Australia and across the globe.
Cheers Blair. Visit brisbanesounds.com for more information on the Brisbane Sounds compilations. Check out my related story for The Big Issue here.
Australia-based online service Guvera (http://guvera.com) has been making waves among the music industry recently. It offers free high quality (256kbps) downloads to consumers, which are paid for by advertisers who can match particular artists to their brand’s ‘personality’. As you can see by the image to the right, Guvera is not particularly subtle when it comes to marketing.
Waycooljnr editor Andrew McMillen spoke with Guvera CEO Claes Loberg a few days ahead of its worldwide public launch on March 30, 2010.
Andrew: Hey Claes. Can you summarise what Guvera’s all about?
Claes: Here’s the gist of it: advertisers paying for downloads. There’s nothing new about the idea of advertisers actually paying for content. That’s how we’ve been receiving TV for free for all these years. What’s wrong with television at the moment, is that advertising is actually starting to lose value year, on year. People have got the power to click past it, sort of get around the advertising. That’s a reflection of all advertising across the board.
Now that the people are in control, Guvera’s business model is a reversal of the advertising process. Instead of advertisers being the annoying thing they used to be years ago, now they can be a channel that people will want to go to, to get content. It’s trying to change the value proposition away from ads-as-disruptors. It actually pays the artists for the content it’s created, and the people still get it for free.
This is the full transcript of the December 2009 conversation I had with Steve Milbourne and Phil Clandillon, Creative Directors of Sony Music London, in their Kensington office. I interviewed them on behalf of The Music Network; you can read the published story here.[Note: if you’re viewing this in an RSS reader, the video embeds might not work. I don’t know why. Click through and view it on my blog.]
Andrew: The main reason I’m aware of your work is because of the few campaigns you’ve been behind in the last year, like AC/DC, Kasabian, Editors, and Calvin Harris. Those are the ones I’m aware of, but before we go into those, I thought I’d ask you how you got into the music industry, and why.
Steve [pictured right]: The reason I got into the music industry is because I’ve always loved music. From my early twenties, what I wanted was to get into the business side of it. Then I kind of got into the whole creative thing. I went to work at an indie label after graduating from uni, called Kitchenware Records, which is based up in Newcastle. They’re sort of big old indie from the ‘80s. I had lots of success in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, and then they sort of reformed the label. It was a new entity in 2003.
I went to work for them in 2004 at the exact same time they signed a band called Editors, which you know of. I got interested in their situation of not having any money to do anything with, so it was like I was given a band to work with and then I’d have to do the artwork, make a music video, do stuff online, make websites, and all that sorts of stuff with zero pounds to work with, which is quite good. I might have spent a few years just sort of honing all these skills that crossed a wide range of areas, from web programming to production and film, so it all kind of came in handy when I came to Sony about two and a half years ago, and then Phil came in. They brought us in separately but then we got put together as a creative team and that’s it.
Phil [pictured below left]: I’ve basically spent the last ten years doing half my work in the music industry and half in advertising, in sort of digital agencies. I started off doing digital work around TV and then interactive TV. Then the dot-com crash happened and there weren’t any jobs, so I came to London. I got heavily into the club scene at the time, and met some people that were running nights and things like that. I ended up getting an office in an online radio station, which is in the Truman Brewery, and basically electronic artists were coming in to do shows and DJ on the station. I just ended up getting freelance work through that and I worked for years for an outfit called Sancho Panza, who are most famous for Notting Hill Carnival, for doing a big stage at Notting Hill Carnival. They also did warehouse parties and things like that.
From there I got offered a job at a record label, Sanctuary Records, which is now part of Universal. I started doing web stuff for them and after about three years there I got kind of fed up with the record industry as it was then and went back to advertising stuff. I worked at a digital ad agency and then a larger advertising group after that.
About two years ago I decided it was a good time to go back to music. Sony came knocking so I came and met Steve and decided I could probably work with him, and that’s that. We kind of kicked it off from there, essentially.
Is Creative Director a very common role within labels? I’ve not really heard of it before.
Steve: Not particularly. We’re quite unique in what we do, with regard to the type of work that we do in the music industry, I guess. Essentially we run almost a boutique agency in-house and our clients are with various labels within the Sony umbrella. I don’t think the other labels do that.
What it means is we essentially take on various groups from the big labels in here, which are Epic, Columbia, RCA, Syco, which is Simon Cowell’s label, and then some smaller labels, as well – Jive, and Deconstruction. What we do is get a brief of a band that Sony Music want to promote this band or this artist, then we come up with the creative and sort of service them as our clients.
Phil: We sort of created the advertising creative time type model inside of the record label, which is kind of unique. There really isn’t anyone else doing that. The reason we can do it is because we’ve spent years gaining these skills of design, programming, video production, music skills in Steve’s case as well. We don’t do tons and tons of that stuff, hands on, but if we have to we can. When we’re commissioning the work we know what to go and get. It makes it easier for us to run a complex project because we’ve done it all in the past and we know how to do it, essentially.
Steve: A lot of that stuff gets really complex at times. It’s quite weird; the sort of stuff we do is often experimental. You’re kind of always sitting on the edge; “is this going to work or not? Am I going to waste loads of money?”
Phil: We’re always sticking our necks out, I guess, and one of the reasons we can do that is because what we do is very cost effective. It’s not as expensive as traditional advertising so it means we can do things that reach more people without spending as much money. That gives us a little bit of freedom to experiment and do more exciting things. To be honest, 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.
Steve: Yeah, we haven’t had any that haven’t worked out, yet.
Phil: We presented all our work at a creative review conference, last week. A lot of questions we had from the audience were all about “This seems very risky. How could I sell this to the client if I was at an agency?” On the one hand our answer was you need the experience to be able to pull stuff like this off. If you don’t have the experience it will go wrong. The other thing is a lot of the stuff we do is designed to be shared. We don’t buy media. 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 somewhere and no one is going to see it. It’s not like putting a really inappropriate advertising campaign across London on billboards or whatever. It’s a totally different proposition. That allows us to take a few more risks, I guess.
Steve: Going back to your question about our job title; I guess it depends on what you term as Creative Director. I think that’s slightly misleading. That’s what our titles are, and it’s in the context of what we do. I guess other labels have got creative directors, but probably do different things to us. I think what other labels – I’m not aware of any other labels who’ve got a creative team, in-house, who do this sort of work that Phil and I do. There are other creative directors in this building who look after different things, like artwork, or styling, and stuff like that. That’s just a title. It’s more about what we do, really.
I mentioned the four campaigns of yours that I’m aware of: Kasabian, AC/DC, Editors, and Calvin Harris. I’m interested in how you run these as online marketing campaigns. Say, for example Kasabian [‘Football Hero’ video embedded below]; could you talk me through how that idea started and how it came across through the production?
Steve: We work closely with a consumer insight team here. I guess part of what is loosely termed “briefing process” is that the consumer insight team, every time there is an artist with an album coming out, they do a lot of market research on that artist, on the audiences for that artist, and we have this thing called the ‘Segment Bible’, which is the UK music market split into 28 segments of consumer, based on age, interests, everything from what brands they buy, where they hang out, how much money they spend. It’s very in depth actually, so when we take on an act to do the online campaign for, we get told who the applicable segments are, and we get the opportunity to speak to people within that segment. They come in and we can talk to them. With Kasabian it was kind of – we already sort of know about Kasabian quite well because it’s their third album and –
Phil: But there were some pretty obvious things coming out. With Kasabian, we were looking at – we have this thing called an artist DNA, which is a document that sums up everything to do with the audiences for that audience, what matters to them about the band, and so there were really strong themes coming out of that to deal with football, gaming, and the way they hung out with them, what they actually did, what they’re into.
Steve: It’s interesting, that audience actually cares more about football and gaming than they do about music. Music is sort of a secondary thing in their lives.
Phil: It was kind of sensible to try and reach them through those channels so we basically said let’s come up with a piece of content that –
Steve: Kind of seems really obvious but I guess it wasn’t like a eureka moment but it was like – Kasabian is sort of synonymous with football, especially here in the UK.
Phil: If their music is used on the titles of the iTV football program and stuff like that and they’ve been on the Sony Bravia ad with Kaka, the Brazilian and AC Milan footballer. And also, the band are fans of football. They’re fans of Leicester City.
Steve: They are big football fans. We kind of started off on this idea of doing something with football and then I guess that kind of progressed. We were thinking about loads of different ideas and kind of progressed into gaming.
Phil: I guess quite a lot of that stuff involves music as well, so that kind of came around to trying to build a giant game of essentially a Guitar Hero type game that people could play with footballs. That was the pipe dream, and from then on it was trying to make it a reality. It was quite a lengthy process in the end!
Steve: I think that we were sitting downstairs there, when we finally got exactly what we wanted to do. Especially, we knew we wanted to get some really cool, freestyle footballers to do it as well. We don’t know any, so then we had the whole process of finding out how we could build it, who we could get to play it, where we could build it, and all that sort of stuff.
Phil: Again, we always work with fairly tight budgets and that was the case with this, as well. It had to be doable for a reasonably modest sum of money so that was a challenge as well. We used the hardware, and the software was all open source and it was pretty low cost, all that stuff. There was a very big production on the day 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, essentially, and spending a whole day building, and filming it.
Throughout the whole process is there the risk that the thing wouldn’t work or the footballers weren’t good enough to make it work?
Phil: Absolutely, yeah.
Steve: I think so, but –
Phil: We kind of knew that it would be okay.
Steve: Just the experience, you minimize all the risks, so –
Phil: The hardware, the actual game we built wasn’t technically complicated.
Steve: No, it was one of the least technical things that we’ve done, really.
Phil: That was okay. We knew that was going to be alright so it really came down to would the footballers have enough time to practice, because it was something that wasn’t going to be easy to play.
Steve: And, just the logistics of them playing it, balls bouncing everywhere, and all that sort of stuff.
Phil: And the camera gear, as well, to be honest; there was a lot of expensive gear on the shoot and the balls were just flying everywhere. I was sure we were just going to smash everything.
Steve: Yeah, it was like – you can see in the film, there are the five footballers and each one of them has got a ball boy who is feeding them balls. Then, behind them are literally about 20 people shielding all of the cameras –
Phil: And jumping in front of the balls, saving something.
Steve: The cameras, and the monitors, and all that sort of stuff.
Phil: Yeah, the directors and monitors did get hit in the screen at one point, and it didn’t break. Luckily!
Steve: The thing is, and this is kind of what all our work is about; it’s an experiment and we’re not aiming to do things that are going to be perfect. What we want to do is to tell a story about how we did it, what we’re trying to do, and gear that towards an audience that is interested in that. No one is ever going to believe it if we made this –
Phil: It would be easy to fake –
Steve: … came in and faked it, and all the footballers play and get 100% and everyone is really happy. That’s not believable. To us, what we try and do is to create stories that people want to talk about. I think one of the main things that came out of the Kasabian one was most people said, “I’d love to have a go on that. It looks really difficult. It’s obviously difficult but how much fun is that.”
Phil: It’s like during the shoot, every time we’d stop the take and the footballers went off to have a drink or whatever, the whole crew was playing the game and we were creating just as much carnage ourselves as they were.
Steve: Most people we’ve spoke to since are like, “Where is it?” [laughs] We had to take it down, which was a shame.
Phil: As Steve says, it’s all about telling the story of what we’re doing. It’s not – we’re all about taking on ambitious experiments, trying to make them work, and documenting the process, and telling people about it. The way that works is it becomes an interesting story for people. They pass it on to their friends and it travels around naturally like that.
Steve: More importantly it becomes an interesting story for the type of people who we have an insight that they sort of might like that particular artist. Then it’s targeted marketing, essentially.
Phil: But it’s not that we’re pushing a message at people. We’re letting them spread it. It’s up to them. We’re not even expecting people to do it. It’s just if we create a piece of content that is good enough and interesting enough to those people, then they’ll naturally spread it around. That’s how your message gets out.
The way you describe it to me now, you knew that Kasabian fans were into football and gaming. It seems obvious that it was going to be a winner. I looked at it this morning. It was up to 800,000 views.
Phil: That’s been out for about a month now, so I think it’s still growing quicker than the AC/DC one did. [The Excel-based ‘Rock N Roll Train’ AC/DC video embedded below.]
Steve: That’s because it’s not the same segment as AC/DC. We sort of have an idea of population numbers of people in those segments.
Phil: There’s about 5 million, isn’t there?
Steve: 1.5 million in the UK. Then obviously our stuff sort of spreads around the world, as well. You can kind of get a good idea of whether you’re hitting the right people or not, and the amount of people in each territory that are hitting, and you get a good percentage on that from what you’ve spent to do it against how effective it’s been.
Beyond the view count, what are the metrics you use to measure the effectiveness of these campaigns?
Steve: We look at – I guess you could say a lot of people write stuff about what we do, and blog about it, and that’s one of the aims – to get people to share.
Phil: It’s less about the view count, to be honest – actually, those view counts, on average 70% of those views come from embedded videos and articles, and blogs and things. It’s much more about securing coverage in the right channels, that we know that the targeted audience reads. If ‘Football Hero’ pops up in the tech channels, the gaming channels, and sports channels, it could be newspapers, blogs, or whatever, then we know that we’ve done the job.
Steve: That one – most of the stuff that we’ve done often spreads out into traditional press, TV, and stuff like that as well.
Which is the ultimate, in many ways, wouldn’t it be? Obviously, your work is online based, but making that leap across is quite the achievement.
Steve: It’s quite interesting the way that you see it. It all transcends through various audience groups. When you read a newspaper, you’re kind of always reading yesterday’s news online. It’s like you pick up today’s newspaper and apart from the breaking stories, you could have read about all this stuff yesterday on Twitter, or blogs or stuff like that. It is interesting when you see – we don’t really press release what we do so it’s nice when you see a journalist has obviously seen it, and picked it up, and then written about it in the newspaper. It’s kind of cool.
Phil: Yeah, that’s kind of that natural spread. That’s what we kind of aim for. What we try and do is to earn our own media so that’s really the magic – getting in the right media and in the right place. If we did, then fine, that’s the job done sort of thing.
Steve: We believe that you shouldn’t have to pay for media, especially not online, because banner ads are really ineffective, and companies still spend a lot of money putting these banner ads on various sites.
Phil: Yeah, they’re utterly ineffective. I think it’s fair enough; if you want to advertise outdoors, for whatever reason, then you’re going to have to pay to get billboards. It’s as simple as that. But, if you want to advertise online, then it makes much more sense to me to try and earn your own media, in the editorial of sites, and stuff, rather than trying to buy ad space where no-one’s looking. And in order to do that, there’s no shortcut to it. You have to create content that people care about, essentially.
And as well as the content, the relationships with those people who write the content, I assume.
Phil: Oh, not necessarily. You’d be surprised.
Steve: I don’t think that’s as important because even the way that we sort of go about launching a campaign, we kind of experiment with a lot. Pretty much, our launch plan is to send it to a couple of blogs and –
Phil: Yeah, so in a particular area there might be a fanatical blog about something to do with electronics, or football, or something like that. Then we’ll send it to one of them and say, “We’ve made this thing. Do you like it? Do you want to cover it?”
Steve: One thing that we’ve sort of found is that generally bloggers and journalists want to kind of write their own content. They want to write their opinion on things and I think when you press release stuff, and you sort of bombard them with the copy, you tend to get a fairly uniform story but there’s not going to be much passion in it.
Phil: There is not much variety, so you get the same story everywhere. What we try and do is don’t even press release.
Steve: We just let people pick up on it because I guess if it’s good, people will do that. If it’s compelling, people want to share it. That just happens.
Phil: They’ll come to you with questions if they have questions, and you can answer them.
Steve: But you get people who write in about it for real, and you get people saying, “I’ve just seen this in Wired and here’s my opinion on it.” I guess people will talk.
I saw AC/DC on Wired last year. I saw Editors on Creative Review[‘Editors Hack Google Street View’ video embedded below], and I’m not sure where I found the other two.
So you guys didn’t really coordinate those placements?
Phil: Well, Creative Review, we’ll tell them what we’re up to. They don’t have to cover it, but we’ll tell them.
Steve: We’ve got a bit of a relationship with Creative Review, just in terms of we speak at some of their conferences and stuff like that.
Phil: Which is like a London digital industry, digital advertising conference run by Creative Review. Inevitably, you end up making some contacts, so next time we go back to – do you know Make Magazine, which is like a – we’ve got a great contact at Make, a real nice guy who’s interested in the technical side of what we do. We’ll tell him about what projects we’re doing and he’ll go, “Oh, I like this one, and I’ll write about this one,” or whatever. He’ll ask us some questions.
Steve: Yeah, but it’s not a formal thing. It’s more like conversation, only it’s the work that we’re up to at the minute. I think that it also depends on the type of project that you do because Creative Review, I guess will cover our stuff; it’s more of an industry thing. It sort of – because the projects vary quite a bit, you’re looking at different target audiences for it. We might not always have stuff that Make are going to cover, or Wired or people like that. It’s more about allowing self discovery in the channels of that audience.
Phil: When it came to Kasabian, we didn’t really know anyone in the gaming channels at all, but we didn’t have to worry about it – or football, but we didn’t need to worry about that. It just came up in all the major gaming sites, major football sites. It’s much more about making good content. You need to get it out there, at the same time. Once it’s out there, small waves –
Steve: I guess our theory is that if it’s good, and it’s compelling for people to share, it will do it anyway. If it doesn’t, then your content’s not good.
It’s interesting to hear you say that, because it’s such a different way of thinking from the old way of spending on billboards, like you said earlier.
Steve: It’s like Phil said; instead of being a push model, it’s a pull model. Yeah, you’re exactly right; it’s completely different from just putting things in front of everyone’s faces. It’s allowing –
…the right faces, ones who will be interested in it, because it appears in those channels.
Phil: Yeah, so instead of pushing a message out and paying for media for it to be there, you are putting a piece of content out and hoping it will pull people to it, and that people will share it around. It’s totally about making the content compelling and tailoring it to the right audience. It would be difficult to be doing that without the targeting information.
Steve: We sort of talk about this a lot and talk about this with other people; I guess a lot of it is sort of digital creative agencies or creative agencies doing this type of content – I know a lot of people who do some really great work, and it’s really cool ideas, but I guess what we do which a lot of people don’t do is really think about who we’re targeting, rather than just having a cool idea. It’s having a cool idea for the right audience because it might be, sometimes, that we have to sell something to a bunch of 35-year old women, and it’s really easy to make assumptions and make mistakes when you’re making something that you think’s going to appeal to them. So having all this insight and artist DNA and stuff like that helps find something that you’ve got a good idea that they will be interested. They won’t feel like they’re being advertised to.
Phil: You’ve got to get out there and put yourself into their head essentially, and think, “Alright, if I was this type of person, what would I…” The actual people in the insight department will go as far to do this. They’ll spend a week in the life of a particular segment; they’ll consume the right media, go to the right things, so they’ll try to experience that person’s world so they understand it better.
A lot of people say, “That’s not very cool, targeting stuff, and consumer insight,” but what you’re doing is instead of filling the world with advertising which is generic, not aimed at anyone, and annoying for vast quantities of people, instead you’re trying to make something a certain type of person will be interested in. It will reach them naturally, through their friends, and the rest of them through channels they’ve been seeing, and the rest of the people just might see it. In a way, I would argue that type of advertising is more sensitive to end users than the current model of push advertising.
Steve: Yeah, and it’s interesting that it’s not really about numbers, either. It’s about quality of engagement and the people that you’re engaging.
Phil: Some of the segments have a very small active population so what we call the fanatical segments, which are really enthusiastic about music, and there’s not many of them. There might be 50,000 in the country.
Steve: If that’s who you’re aiming for, if that’s who you’re aiming a particular creative ad, in order to get something back out of it, then it’s not really about numbers; it’s about engaging those particular people.
Phil: So on the fanatics, we’ll look for smaller numbers, but engaging them for a longer period of time. The Editors project, that’s aimed at a fanatical segment, and that’s looking at smaller numbers. Something like 100,000.
Steve: But you’re looking at stupidly high engagement rates.
Phil: Yeah, like over 3 minutes per person, and an average of 4 tracks each across the application. That’s the opposite way of doing it. Some of the segments are, “Right, let’s go for a big audience, with low engagement.”
Steve: I guess it depends on the objectives of what you’re trying to do, and it really has to support the wider market and campaign for the ad, as well.
Phil: There will be other activity going on, posters and things like that, and events. Ideally, our activity will create a sort of buzz in the news at the same time as all that auxillary stuff is going around. Next time somebody’s buying some music, they’ll have it in their head that they’ve enjoyed this bit of content with that music in it.
You’ve had a few successes with these kinds of campaigns now. How do you think the label management view these kinds of campaigns? Are they starting to see more value, giving you guys a bigger budget to work with for these kinds of projects?
Steve: Kind of, I think it’s like anything; the music industry is very similar to the advertising industry as well. It sort of takes a long time to turn things around to new models, and to change the behaviors of old, in terms of something huge like advertising. Really, it’s about the way that people consume media, which is changing. Any big company that starts looking at new areas like that, it’s a bit like turning a super tanker. I guess it’s slowly but surely – we’ve kind of started rolling these campaigns out. We don’t spend enormous amounts of money, at all. In fact, anything but – it’s really modest sums, especially for the advertising world. It would be like pocket change.
I guess the labels and the company in general sort of do attach value to what we do because we’re kind of proving we don’t need to do media spend, that we get really good engagement rates, and that we’re making interesting content that people are interested in, that isn’t just a Kasabian album out now. I guess budgets are going up a bit, but then –
Phil: I think we may be seeing that over the last two years, they’ve gradually given us more freedom and more autonomy to do what we do. It isn’t directly giving us more money for our projects but they’ve made it gradually easier for us to do.
Steve: I think that’s like a trust. I think sometimes an artist or artist manager might kind of see on paper what we’ve proposed to do and kind of go, “Ew, that’s different,” and they’re very sensitive to how artists are perceived by the public and things like that. I guess when we do stuff they feel like they’re taking a bit of risk, as well, but I guess the more we do this stuff, the more people see that it actually works and we sort of do the artist good. I guess more freedom comes from having that trust.
Phil: I’d say that’s been the major change to the artists. It’s not like we’ve suddenly got tons of money to spend, but we do definitely have more freedom now and definitely have more trust from the managers and artists and people like that. That kind of comes back into the work, so that we can do better work next time around.
Steve: The other thing about budgets is sometimes having endless budgets stifles your creativity. I think it’s nice to be able to execute stuff within the budgets that we do, and execute it well. Often, it means that we are very hands on, but I guess that being hands on means we also sort of keep an element of control and ownership over what we do so we get it the way we want it. We don’t just have an idea, then pass it to someone else and say, “Go and make that.”
Phil: Under some extreme circumstances, we’ve actually been cleaning the floor after the shoot. If it has to be done, we’ll do it.
Steve: Exactly, and I think that’s good too, because you think, “What’s the best that I can achieve for this amount of money that I’ve got to spend, when I can’t actually just go in and pay for lots of people to go do it?”
Phil: It’s a bit like you’ll spend what you’re given, generally, so someone gives you fifty grand, you’ll spend fifty grand, but that doesn’t mean the work is going to be any better than if they’d given you twenty.
Steve: I guess one of the things, as well, is that because we’re kind like an internal agency, we’re not trying to make money out of anyone. We’re actually just spending what we need to spend to do the project. It might be sometimes that actually what we need to spend is half of the budget that we’ve been given, and in that case – brilliant. Often, it’s not. Often, we’re sort of sitting on the very edge of what we’ve got to spend because it’s often not very much, but –
Phil: Yeah, in theory, if we didn’t need the whole thing, we wouldn’t spend it, but in practice you’re talking about such small budgets that we do spend it all.
Steve: We’re working on a new project at the minute. It’s quite difficult. One of the guys that helped on the Calvin Harris project. [‘Humanthesizer’ video embedded below.]
Which other labels or teams in the industry are you aware of who do similar stuff to you guys? Do you think you’re unique?
Phil: There isn’t anybody doing what we do.
Steve: In the advertising industry, for sure.
Phil: There are some campaigns, like you might have seen the Oasis campaign –
Phil: Yeah, and that’s BBH in New York, an ad agency.
Steve: There are a lot of ad agencies that we really like the work of, and that we see doing really good work.
Phil: That’s who we see our peers as other people in the advertising industry, rather than –
Steve: Rather than the music industry. What we do is advertising for the music industry. That’s why we’ve got interesting projects to work with. We’re not trying to sell dog food. It kind of makes your job quite fun.
Phil: Less soul-destroying.
It does sound like a pretty awesome job, to get to be creative with artists’ work.
Steve: It is really cool, actually. We have a lot of fun.
Phil: Can’t complain.
Steve: We have loads of fun doing what we do. It sort of is cool to be able to have really creative ideas and then be able to execute them for products that you’re actually quite passionate about or even if not passionate about, just sort of is more interesting than something which people generally find mundane. I’m not hugely into commercial pop music, but when you’re doing something for a really commercial pop act, and you see the people that you’re engaging, they’re really passionate about it so it kind of makes what you do feel worthwhile, rather than sort of –
Phil: Trying to sell people something they don’t need.
Steve: Yeah, try to sell a product that people don’t have – don’t care about at all. It’s completely different and it does make the job sort of really worthwhile and really good fun to do.
Phil: I guess the other side of it is we’re always seeing R&D on new ideas, new technologies, and new things that we might develop and we have the freedom to be able to do that alongside our normal work, so that’s really good fun. We’re always tinkering with something, making something new, or trying to investigate how to do something.
That’s what I really enjoy, just getting my teeth into something that looks impossible and trying to make it happen. We’ll be trolling through the Internet, looking at writing programs, and drawing things, and trying to work out if we can make something work. It’s another fun side of it, what’s coming next, what are we going to do next.
I’ll leave it there. I’m out of questions. Could I grab a photo of you two as you are now?
Music videos that achieve so-called ‘viral’ spread via word-of-mouth referrals are one of the biggest components of the social web – over half of the most-viewed YouTube videos of all time are music-related. In recent weeks, the ‘JK Wedding Video‘ showed that the inclusion of a particular song can boost sales significantly, as in the case of Chris Brown’s ‘Forever’. Years ago, Australian band The Sick Puppies found the same thing when their song was included in Juan Mann’s 2006 clip ‘Free Hugs Campaign‘, which is still the #1 viewed video of all time.
Andrew McMillen investigates two tales of recent Australian viral video success: one a signed act, one unsigned.
Abbey Road, London, early one February morning. Dozens of vehicles are bound for dozens of destinations, but not before the daily crowd of tourists continually hold up traffic to re-enact that famous image from The Beatles’ final studio album. Footage is alternately fast-forwarded and slowed to normal speed as group after group step over the crossing’s well-trodden white lines, while Blame Ringo’s wistful indie pop provides the soundtrack to a mesmerising display of human imitation and reminiscence.
Released in February 2009, Brisbane’s Blame Ringo [pictured right] found a worldwide audience with their hastily-filmed video for ‘Garble Arch'; subtitled ‘A Day In The Life Of Abbey Road’. Though starring none of the band members and – aside from the name – thematically distant from The Beatles’ work, nearly 400,000 pairs of eyes and ears across the world have absorbed the band’s creation. At what cost?
“The budget was $100, which covered the express post and mates-rates wages,” reveals Blame Ringo singer/guitarist Pete Kilroy. “A mate of ours was staying near Abbey Road, so I asked him to record people crossing for a couple of hours. He express posted the tapes, and since I’m a film editor by trade, I just edited it myself.”
When asked why he thinks the video became such a hit, Kilroy explains that they tapped into an indelible element of The Beatles’ folklore. “The love for The Beatles can’t be matched, and on a world scale, probably will never be matched. Besides that, when you watch the video, you think, “Look at all these tools. Who do they think they are?”, but your next thought is, “Man, I wish I was there doing that!” It sort of shows human nature.”
Six months on, are the Brisbane four-piece still feeling the effects of the video? Kilroy is optimistic: “The video really opened some doors, as it got us album distribution. It made people interested, whereas with any kind of traditional advertising, it’s hard to get people to buy your record, to see your show; to give you their time. Creating something that people can identify with – while acting as an advertisement for our music – fast-forwarded our career around 6-12 months. But there’s no point dwelling in the past. The video will sit on YouTube and keep ticking over for years and years. We get fan mail from across the world, and that’s really cool because you’d never reach those people otherwise.”
What advice would Kilroy give other bands attempting to follow that kind of viral video trajectory? “I was a film student and all they ever told us was that it’s the idea that counts. Look at ‘Garble Arch'; we’re not even in the film clip. It’s not about us. To release a good clip, it’s about the quality of the idea and creating a concept that people will want to see. It’s important to simply offer something different and unique.”
From a story of serendipitous viral success to an adventurous, label-funded production: Dew Process signees Bluejuice [pictured left] released their ‘Broken Leg’ video on July 16. The six-minute extended version of the clip finds the band’s two vocalists portraying embittered former jump-rope champions in a mockumentary format, before the parody gives way to a choreographed World Skipping Championship Final battle between the five band members (‘Team Bluejuice’) and a children’s dance troupe (‘Shimmer Extreme’).
Though the viewer is led to believe that the performance took place before thousands of screaming skipping fans, vocalist Stav Yiannoukas – who plays the fictional character, Spiridon ‘Mr Invisible’ Savvas – reveals that it was filmed at Sydney’s Metro Theatre. Post-production wizardry blended the empty theatre with stock footage of a stadium crowd.
“The actual day of shooting was reasonably torturous, having trained for six weeks. Being filmed for 12 hours while skipping constantly is incredibly exhausting.”
Hang on – six weeks’ skipping training? That’s dedication to a music video!
Yiannoukas confirms: “Three hours a day, three days a week. It was absolutely necessary; we had to commit to the idea. And we also had to get an understanding of how good – or ultimately, how bad – we were going to be at skipping.”
The band’s dedication has paid off: besides creating a clip that’s both hilarious and memorable, the band have since amassed a combined 55,000 views for the video and its bonus mockumentary off-shoots, in addition to a mid-August triple j award nomination for Australian Music Video Of The Year. Dew Process’ Marketing Manager, Graham Ashton, elaborates on the success.
“‘Broken Leg’ was different from a lot of our other projects. While we normally work on finessing longer campaigns, we decided to go all-out for a big hit single, and that’s certainly looking like it’s going to happen. So far, it’s sold around 5,000 copies without traditional marketing. It’s all been based on a word-of-mouth online campaign in the lead-up to the song’s release. I won’t disclose the campaign budget, but you’d be surprised at how little it was.”
Ashton admits that it’s difficult to measure the returns on online marketing campaigns. “Its success can be put down to word-of-mouth, more than anything. Both externally, within the punters’ world, but internally within the music industry. We did a tastemaker mail-out at the time of launch, and the response was fantastic. Another way of measuring its effect is the email database the band has since built, based on the opportunities surrounding this video and the campaign website.”
Based on the strong responses to the band’s three Sam Bennetts-directed clips – 2007’s ‘Vitriol’ (150,000 views), 2008’s ‘The Reductionist’ (38,000 views) and ‘Broken Leg’ (55,000 combined views) – it’s fair to state that the band are adept at combining an excellent sense of self-deprecating humour with a penchant for creating memorable music videos. When asked how the band plan to top their finest visual achievement thus far, Yiannoukas is cautious: “It’s a difficult task. I think we’ll rip it away from the mockumentary format, as it’s important for us to keep challenging ourselves, and to reinforce that we’re more than that one-dimensional approach. The idea itself is ‘to be confirmed!'”
Andrew McMillen is an Australian freelance music writer.
Operating outside of the rush of the day to day, but integrated within SMG, the team focuses on using the human condition as a compass for delivering ‘best-in-class’ communications. Its key obsession is understanding where brands live, and seek to live, within the web-like relationships that exist with consumers and their environment.
Fuck off. What’s the point?
Both the writer – probably an eager-to-please junior or intern – and the wider company knew that they were lying, or at least, stretching words far beyond their practical, meaningful application.
Already, the press release – which was likely the result of several hours’ work and several minds’ input – is being lampooned within the advertising community for its doublespeak, and for blurring the edges between reality and marketing.
It happens everywhere. That’s the whole premise behind public relations – a constant, concerted attempt to shape our opinions and perceptions.
An entire industry founded on unnecessary distortion. Unnecessary to me, because I value honesty more than cleverly-written releases that mean approximately zero in the grand strategy.
So, what’s the point?
Who’s impressed by superfluous press releases, anymore?
I’m all for receiving information from sources I care about – companies, individuals, brands, bands – but if overblown press releases are just a waste of everyone’s time, then why the fuck does the industry survive?
Meet James Drewe, Digital Planner at Starcom Worldwide‘s Brisbane office. Starcom is a media agency that focuses on the strategic implementation of advertising and marketing objectives. James deals with sweet digital projects every day. Jealous?
James, Starcom seem a lucrative company to break into. How’d you first hear of them, and how’d you talk your way inside?
I had the possibility of taking two subjects’ worth of work experience in my final year of university and I really wanted to take advantage of that opportunity, so I did a lot of research on advertising agencies and weighed them all up based on a few factors which I thought (at the time) were important to what I wanted to get out of my career. I looked at the global size of the company and their clients. Starcom was on the list, along with half a dozen other agencies with offices in Australia.
How did I talk my way in? The old fashioned way – networking. University is about what you know, but the workforce is also about who you know. So I began to network in order to approach the right people in the industry. Timing was also on my side, as Starcom happened to be looking for a new digital person at the time I made contact with them.
Which degree did you study, and, thinking about your career, how effectively did the coursework prepare you for life in the real world?
Originally I wanted to study 3D animation and work at a company like Pixar, but in my first year I discovered advertising and in my second year I switched to the Queensland University of Technology’s Bachelor of Creative Industries. It was an open-ended degree that allowed me to study the bulk of marketing and advertising subjects from a full Business degree, but also continue my passion for arts by taking electives in film, television and website development.
After looking at how many business subjects I could take, I took as many advertising specific courses as possible, everything from consumer behaviour to copywriting, marketing and PR. Some subjects prepare you better than others, but I can’t comment on the current course because it might have changed.
There are very few courses which focus specifically on media. A Business degree and in particular the Marketing/Advertising Major is very broad in its scope because marketing is a very broad field. Marketing covers advertising, public relations, the look and feel of your brand, consumer behaviour, media, research and more, so it is very tough to focus on your particular interest unless you went on to do post-graduate work.
At the end of the day, you can only learn so much at university and most of it will be theory rather than practical. There are a few team-based subjects where you get the opportunity to prepare a marketing/advertising strategy for a company (made up or potentially real) and these are the closest you will get to applying the theory in a real-world context until you actually land on your feet in the industry.
Tell us about your role at Starcom. How has it has changed during your time there?
My role at Starcom is Digital Planner which encompasses research strategy, media planning, campaign implementation and reporting and analysis. This means that I sit in with our client teams at the time of briefing and help develop their campaign strategies, specifically how those campaigns will play out in the digital space (be that online, digital video, social, mobile or other forms of ‘digital’). I also plan the intricacies of the campaigns, including which sites we will use suggesting ad formats to creative agencies, and implementing (booking) these campaigns. Once a campaign is over I assist with the reporting and analysis of performance and what we can learn for future campaigns.
And, because I know digital (and therefore computers), I’m also substitute IT guy when ours is out of the office!
This role has evolved since I started in 2006. When I was fresh to the agency my primary role was to look after reporting and material management (making sure the correct ads appear in the correct places). The role has definitely grown and my responsibilities are now far greater.
In this Mark Pollard article, he and his merry band of marketing/advertising commentators joyously bash the words and phrases with which you deal each day. Is your blood boiling, or do you agree that the industry tends to disappear up its own arse on occasion?
As you can tell by the number of comments on Mark’s article (45 at last count), this is a sentiment shared by a quite a few people within the ‘digital’ community – I’ve even thrown my two-cents into that post as well.
Marketing as a whole is full of jargon and catchphrases, it’s not just the digital fraternity. However, it seems to me that along with the rise of online and digital marketing, the number of buzzwords has proliferated – you can’t just use generic terms anymore, you have to put your own spin on it.
My blood certainly isn’t boiling after reading the article, it’s been a great opportunity for some of us to have a laugh at ourselves, because at the end of the day we’ve all been guilty of using at least some of ‘those’ words – I know I am.
What are your thoughts on the recent commercialisation of social media – wherein many companies are realising that people are talking about them online, and that they’d best monitor those conversations – and do you think this concept is solid, or a mere phase?
Social media still has a ‘flavour of the month’ feel about it to me but I don’t mean that in a bad way. It just seems that a lot of companies see social media as something they have to jump into because everyone else is. Unfortunately, very few people know how to do it properly and actually turn it into something which can drive measurable business results.
Social media has been around a long time, digital has just made it easier for groups to congregate and get their voice heard. I’d include word-of-mouth marketing, public bulletin boards and to a certain extent free newsletters in the social media category because these are all about people voicing their own opinions. However these three examples are much easier for mass audiences to ignore due to the limited reach these mediums have.
The internet made it a lot easier for groups of like-minded people (say, bitter Walmart employees) to get together and share their passion. When the issue of physical distance is removed from the equation, you no longer have just a small, local community – instead you have a national, or even global – group which has a lot more weight behind it.
I think social media is a great way for some companies to extend their customer service and public relations into an environment that their consumers are actively engaged in; however, there is a very fine line between utilising this space correctly and simply jumping in because ‘Twitter is in the press at the moment’. There are some great examples of companies using social media to their benefit, including Dell and Zappos on Twitter, and there’s just as many examples of companies who have created a lot of bad press for themselves, such as RyanAir.
Financial crisis. Big and scary for advertising agencies. Right? Have the last six months been kind to you?
The financial crisis is affecting different companies and agencies in different ways. There is certainly an overwhelming mood of cautiousness at the moment. Many companies, regardless of industry, are doing it tougher this year than they were at the same time last year – some are choosing not to increase their budgets, others are cutting theirs, some are continuing on with business as usual.
Okay, recession. We get it. Tough times for the job market. Near-impossible to get a start in the creative industries if you’re a recent graduate. Fact or fiction?
Near-impossible might be taking it a bit far, but it certainly is a lot tougher to get a job at the moment, and it is the same in many industries. That doesn’t mean that without some determination you can’t land a job though.
Bearing in mind that Craig Wilson at Media Hunter has recently opined on how to avoid the ‘resume run-around': if you’d just graduated and wanted to get a start in the advertising industry – with no formal experience – what would you do? You mentioned networking earlier, and that Starcom were on your hitlist when you were looking for a job in 2006. Run us through your self-marketing pitch at the time, and advise how you’d approach the same task in 2009.
I quite liked Craig’s article – I hadn’t seen it previously – and the overall tone of the article certainly rings true. Personally, there is one sentence that stands out for me, right at the start: “I encourage starting a relationship before asking for the job,” and this can only be more important in the current environment.
If you are still at university (or out of university, it doesn’t matter) the best way to build a relationship in an industry you have no contact with is to do work experience. Your course co-ordinator can help you out with organising this and will more than likely they have a few contacts in the industry to help get you started. This is how I got my foot in the door.
I worked at a media agency for two full days a week for 13 weeks with no pay. A lot of people won’t like the ‘no pay’ aspect but to be honest, if you enjoy it then it shouldn’t matter. Build up a rapport with your co-workers, ask if you can go into meetings with them with the media, ask to meet clients and, if you are enthusiastic, and get the work done. Then people will take notice.
This is the same route I took – except I also ended up joining my co-workers when they went to the bar every other Friday night, it’s a great way to meet people in the industry! – and while I didn’t get a job with the agency I did work experience for, I was able to make some calls and find a placement. I had an interview the day after I called in, and a job that afternoon. Sure, I still had a formal interview and had to submit a resume, but I was able to avoid a lot of cold calling and rounds of interviews.
In today’s job market, a similar route will still get you in the door, and that is the important part. You might not be able to land a job with the company you do work experience for, but it will allow you to add some real experience to your resume and you will be able to demonstrate a knowledge of the day-to-day tasks and workings of a company that university can’t teach you.
Great advice, James. Finally, Simon Van Wyk of Hothouse Interactive spurred discussion within the advertising community by declaring that interactive web agencies need to stop behaving like digital advertising agencies. Since Starcom seem to be positioned directly between the two – I might be wrong here, please clarify – what’s your take on Van Wyk’s rant?
First off, I’ll try to clarify the different types of agencies that make an appearance in Simon’s article, and then I’ll get back to the question.
HotHouse Interactive is a company that produces websites and content management systems for their clients (purely based on the content of their website). Then we have digital advertising agencies, I would put companies such as Amnesia|Razorfish and Tribal DDB in this category. Starcom is a strategy and media agency, in that we focus on our clients’ messages being in the right place at the right time. We don’t focus on one particular medium over any other, nor do we create any of the ads, since this is usually the role of a creative agency. For me, when digital suits a client’s objectives, that’s when I get involved.
So back to your original question. Not having worked in an interactive agency (such as HotHouse), I can’t really comment on how much these agencies do (or don’t) want to be like digital advertising agencies, but there is obviously a bit of contention in the industry about how these agencies fit in and act within the industry as a whole. There’s also a slight issue (as many commenters have pointed out beneath that article) that Simon’s rant is exactly that, a rant. Like many rants, it gets off topic a little and I feel like he contradicts himself in places too.
I agree with the stance on social media, as I’ve stated above and some of his points in this industry code of practice also hold some weight. Unfortunately there aren’t any facts or case studies to back up the claims he is making. Ashley Ringrose made a great point that the valid points are muddied by some invalid and sweeping statements.
If the purpose of the rant was to start a discussion about where the different agencies fit within the industry – and there is quite a lot of overlap these days – then Simon has done a fantastic job. However I think a few revisions might have given the article a lot more weight.
James – thanks very much for your thoughts, advice and time.
There’s so much bullshit flying around the whole marketing/social media fields that it’s temporarily killed my interest in both.
Twitter has started to become more of a hindrance than a help, wherein the benefits of constantly monitoring my channel is increasingly outweighed by the cost. The Dunbar effect in action: following >150 people = discontent.
But staring too deeply into the web’s bottomless pit can cause a loss of focus. It’s time to step back.
My reality is this: I recently quit my job to focus on projects that interest me.
I’m studying my final course toward a Bachelor of Communication. It’s a creative writing elective. It interests me greatly, as I’ve rarely dabbled in fiction or narrative writing.
Incredibly, I look forward to class each week. Can’t say that I’ve felt excitement toward university very often as an undergraduate.
This is the narrative introduction I used during the first creating writing tutorial:
Andrew has stretched his three-year Bachelor of Communication into four years, in order to latch onto the Australian myth of tertiary education for as long as possible.
This course was chosen as an elective because Andrew has always avoided writing fiction, but he has decided that 2009 is the year for trying new things.
This yearning for new experiences is the reason why Andrew quit his first real job yesterday, and is also the reason why Andrew is travelling to Japan in June, although he does not know Japanese.
Andrew is extremely fond of music and writes for two local publications – Rave and 4T – and one national website called FasterLouder.
Andrew wrote and spoke this introduction in third person because he really likes the sound of his name.
Such introductions are always interesting to write and speak, as one tries to find the balance between fact, humour, and appearing clever. Everyone wants to appear clever, always. Wit as a currency.
This is the reason why my current bio [pictured right] makes me look like an asshole, although when I wrote it last year, I thought I was being clever.
I’ve worked reasonably hard to keep this blog ‘clean’. Professional-like. I carefully consider everything that’s shared on here; whether it’s appropriate, whether it’ll reflect well on my character. Whether I’ll appear clever.
I could trace this moderated perfectionism – which is perhaps dangerous and restrictive in itself – to the enormous amount of time I spent on video game message boards throughout my youth, effectively sharing my life with a bunch of strangers.
Call it mature, call it neurotic, call it overly analytical. Or all three.
The point is that since I want to be known as a writer, I need to improve my ability to articulate and share my thoughts.
To this end, self-administered publishing filters aren’t very helpful.
So I’m going to attempt to reduce their influence on my psychology.
It’d be awesome if you could help me out, by calling me out on any unjustified or unclear bullshit.