October 5, 2010
Steve Bartels has spent the better part of two decades in the business - with a good deal of it in or overseeing promotion. On top of knowing what it takes to generate airplay and translate that into sales, Bartels has to look at the bigger picture now, one that includes multiple marketing platforms, a growing reliance on digital sales and a PPM-monitored radio world. Here he explains how IDJ is operating under a digital paradigm.
The music industry has certainly undergone dramatic change over the past decade in almost every area, be it radio promotion, retail and A&R. What's your perspective on the overall music business, going forward?
While the business is certainly going through challenging times, the times are also rife with opportunity. Music listening is at an all-time high and the dexterity needed to grab consumer attention with great artists opens amazing possibilities and exciting roads to drive down. The continuing challenge to develop new artists is what really excites me. There has been a lot of press about how that just doesn't happen at a major label anymore, but just in the last 18 months at IDJ -- look at Justin Bieber ... look at The Neon Trees ... look at Taio Cruz....all different ... all breaking!
How have all these changes impacted the way you do your job, run your company and negotiate artist deals?
In a way, yes. I try to look at everything that can help us grow forward. Change brings opportunity, but when you mange a large group of people you have to garner trust and time spent so that they can move in the same direction with you. That isn't always easy; in a creative environment, having real consensus to drive forward is key. Also, I love working with artists who work hard at what they have done and what they believe in. The whole company thrives on that.
Do 360 deals work?
I believe these types of deals can absolutely work -- when you have the right partners, the right artists and a strong skill set to be able to manage the opportunities that come in the right ways. Each campaign is specific to the artist involved; our biggest overall success in this area to date is the relationship with Justin Bieber. We get opportunities; his management (Scooter Braun) brings many opportunities, etc., etc. It works when you have the right artist.
Do you feel the dust has finally settled in terms of the label's business hitting bottom? Has it reached a point where you can grow the business again?
In a business where art and commerce intersects, there will always be a flow of change. Those who are able to react and be aggressive in the environment will be ready for whatever comes. The technology shifts in the music business have brought change faster than one could have expected. You certainly can't hit the enter button on your computer and send an automobile to your friend, but a song in a digital format can go around the world to millions of people in seconds. That in itself brokers change. The business can and will continue to grow ... in different ways, but in broader ones. The great artistry that comes from the creators will be timeless.
What areas of that revenue pie seem especially promising toward that growth?
There are so many subsets to the revenue pie that come with success and worldwide appeal. No one area stands out; the strength of an artist will lead here. An artist might be great in the live touring space, so that part of the revenue pie will stand out. Others may be of an interest that fans would want to read books about them, so that would be a revenue stream strength for them, while others may have clothing lines associated with them, etc., etc. The label partner's job is to help solidify and develop approaches with them alongside.
It seems that the definition of sales success been has lowered from Platinum to Gold or even 100,000, depending on the history of the act. If you agree with that, how have those downsized expectations translated into how you promote and market an artist or group?
You absolutely have to take a hard look at what are you doing, based on the return you see. However, in the case of marketing costs, filling the pipeline with other partners' branding and cost offsets (advertising, product placement, brand awareness campaigns, etc.) help get even more muscle behind an artist and song than one could have gotten even when Platinum albums were flying out of the stores.
In each case it is different. We have some artists that are big album sellers, but sell no singles. Then others who might sell 100,000 albums, but also 6,000,000 singles. Each revenue pie with each artist has its own evaluation of how to go about it ... and then off course if there is a 360 relationship.
As one who spent many successful years in radio promotion -- and who is now overseeing Island Def Jam's entire operation - has your perspective on the promotion and marketing process changed, and in what ways?
It has changed to the degree that I am in a better position to help provide the overall story now and connect all the departments together to make sure the artists we market have a buzz in the marketplace and a real story. It makes it easier for the radio team to do their job more effectively when that occurs ... and while that isn't always the way it works, it is my goal each and every time to accomplish. The beauty of having a diverse roster, as we do at IDJ, enables us to see different strengths coming from the artists and that allows us to do things differently, as opposed to being a genre-specific artist brand only.
What are you doing differently in promotion and marketing that has led to the breakthroughs of Rhianna and Justin Bieber, and to ensure the success of their future releases?
We tailor each artist campaign to the individual artist -- and while we love having immediate results, we always keep an eye towards longevity and how to give consumers more of what they want ... great music, artist interaction and a connection to their favorite artist overall process. Justin Bieber, for example, has developed an incredible and loyal social media relationship with all his fans. They believe in him and he talks to them through these platforms; they are the first to know what he is doing, recording, performing, eating, etc. It's a very powerful connection; the honesty on his part makes it all real and we work hard on supplementing that with content, as opposed to being viewed as "the label is behind it."
You've done some very extensive one-on-one marketing and promotion at the station level with Justin Bieber. It's obviously paid off well in establishing him. Any highlights come to mind?
There are many great instances that I can think of with Justin; two come immediately to mind. He went early in his campaign to Q100 in Atlanta to appear on the morning show; word got out and the station was flooded with screaming fans looking for him. The other at Z100 NYC when they began supporting the first single, "One Time," and after his visits the requests practically shutdown the phone bank. In the beginning we did a lot of explaining that this was all real and not coerced ... the fans were that active!
Has the implementation of PPM and Mscore data changed the way you choose singles and promote your music? If so, how?
It has not changed the way we choose singles. While we are always mindful of various forms of research, as they can be helpful in targeting a specific demographic when you want to know where to spend and address your marketing budgets, we mainly choose with our gut unless there is a research artist or single we pick up in the marketplace that already has something driving behind it.
Personally, I am fascinated by PPM and Mscore and how it becomes trumpeted. While it is important to have all those tools in the local market promotion process, I'd ask, "Does it take away the passion of breaking an artist in programming and allowing\having the time to really spend really getting behind the analysis of how it works? There are so many schools of thought ... who is the expert?"
Despite the growth of the Internet, videogames, and TV/movie placements, radio is still the number-one exposure point to drive sale. Do you agree?
There are many ways to find music, build plans, help build familiarity through press, TV, online, films, award shows etc, but once it is built into the right zone, I have yet to meet an artist who doesn't want to know how their song is doing on the radio. And, when a song is in power rotation across the country, you'll know the power.
Finally, what newer projects, which are not as yet charted, are succeeding? What others that do you have high expectations for in the coming year?
There is a new band at IDJ called My Darkest Days that is in lift-off mode. Formed through a relationship with Chad Kroeger (from Nickelback). They are beginning to move the buzz indicator needle. We also have a great initiative called Teen Island that Justin Bieber connected out of - and more young exciting artists on the horizon are starting to get critical mass through this concept. Bryan J, Aaron Fresh, Khalil and Burnham ... all coming next year strong out of the Teen Island sector. Additionally we will have strong holiday releases from Rihanna, Bon Jovi, Kanye West, a Mariah Carey holiday album and Jay Z Greatest Hits, among them.