The Lana del Ray Music Promotion Experiment – Part One

Earlier this year, I started working out several theories based on research I did in 2011 on how music marketing works (and doesn’t) in the current landscape of media, venues and marketing.

One of the theories was that for a musical artist to be taken seriously in 2011/2012, they had to be on YouTube and they had to put enough promotion behind that video to get it to a “tipping point” where it would show up more frequently in search results and get a few hundred “replays” in organic traffic.  I based a lot of this on what Lana del Ray did in 2011.  She made three videos back to back, promoted them feverishly on VEVO and then fumbled her live network debut on Saturday Night Live.  She also had no album to speak of – just the video “singles” that were setting records on VEVO (YouTube’s officially co-opted area for the music industry.)  This begged the question – “what if I put the same YouTube strategy to work for bands that I know have ‘the goods’ both live and in recorded material to back them up?”

By sheer coincidence, I met a guy at a party in January who was looking to make a video.  He had a director lined up and a new album coming out to follow it, but an unexpected household emergency (collapsed retaining wall) had left him short the money to get the video done.  He was thinking about crowdfunding through Kickstarter or Indiegogo.  I asked him how much he needed to get it done – $1500.  That seemed so reasonable to me that I offered to pay for the video cost myself, then and there.  This musician was a friend of a friend, and even though I’d not heard his music yet or seen the director’s work, $1500 seemed like a worthwhile number to throw at this experiment on a small scale.  I did this not to directly try to promote the video, but to see if what this director could produce was something I considered good enough to potentially buy additional videos and really get some promotion behind them.

That’s how I met Jesse Kates and director Zac Eubank and how we came to make “What We’d Do” for Jesse’s band The Sexy Accident.

Like it or not, I had nothing to do with the video besides the angel investment and as such, I was its executive producer only.  I thought the video was incredibly well shot, looked great and matched up with the concept Jesse described to me.  For what I wanted to do, there were a couple of problems with it:

  1. It was published and promoted primarily on Vimeo.  For a music video, that’s almost a death sentence.  Vimeo is a fantastic site with a much better community than YouTube – especially for filmmakers.  But it has some major drawbacks including not always playing directly inside of social media and not playing at all on most mobile devices.  When we later put John’s video up on YouTube and Vimeo, we put promotional dollars into both and found very quickly that the Vimeo route was something of a scam.  The hits were from fake accounts, not unlike those in the recent story about Newt  Gingrich buying Twitter followers.  The video was being seen, but mostly it was crowdsourcing at work – farms of people paid to create accounts on Vimeo and other free sites to inflate views.
  2. While the video was being used as a commercial for the band and it’s new album, the promotion was creating what I felt to be an unnecessary barrier to entry.  Beneath the video were links where you could listen to the music on an embedded stream or name your price to buy a download.  All proceeds from the pay-to-download were going to charity.  They had the right idea, and certainly the charity was a worthy one, but this was confounding to those who might have downloaded the album on impulse while watching the video.  Here’s what I mean by barrier to entry:

    “What We’d Do” path to the album:Step 1: Link under video to
    Step 2: User choice: Listen to the album free (press play on the page) -OR- Click to buy album and name your price
    Step 3: Assuming the user clicks “buy,” they are then asked to name the dollar amount, edit their credit card information, and can then choose from various digital formats to download the album.  (I combined these into a single step, though it could be argued that there are really a half dozen steps here)
    Step 4: Listen to the album however they want – local, iPod, burned to CD etc.

    Compare that to what we did for the videos later in the year, including “Smile” by John Maxfield:

    “Smile” path to the album:
    Step 1: Link under the video on YouTube to a short URL (so we can track the click source) which downloads the entire album in a ZIP file instantly.  No payment, no choices, no explanation, just free.
    Step 2: Listen to the album however they want – local, iPod, burned to CD etc.

    There’s a lot more thinking behind this method, particularly our “it’s free to share and we WANT you to give it away” model – but for now, that’s the pertinent comparison.

  3. (Personal preference) It’s not obvious to people that “What We’d Do” has actors in it vs. the band itself.  The issue here is that the actors lip sync along with the song and the actual singers are never shown singing if at all.  The male voice is Jesse’s, and he appears in a cameo.  The female voice belongs to Camry Ivory who is never shown.  Instead, the two actors appear to be “the band” and that leads to some unnecessary confusion.  If you think those people are the band, would you be disappointed to learn that the real band doesn’t look that way?  It sets a strange precedent that will be jarring if the band put up live footage or video that actually features its membership.  I put personal preference on this because although I feel strongly about this and see it as a problem and missed opportunity to show the real band singing somewhere, it might matter to other people less than I think it does.

In Part Two of this series, I will talk about the creation and promotional experiments centered around the three videos I made with Zac Eubank following my meeting him through making the “What We’d Do” video.


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