Posts from the Marketing Matters Category

At 14:30 on Saturday, I’ll be at Midem talking to Peter Gregson about revenue streams, business models, music, technology, expensive coffee and free stuff. It’ll be fun. Here are the details from the Midem brochure:

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Last year, I got an email confirming my “Gold Status” at Midem*. Apparently I’ve been eight times over the space of a decade. This came as something of a surprise – it seems like only yesterday that a very kind colleague took me under his wing and showed me round Cannes for the first time.

Still, eight (nonconsecutive) trips later, perhaps it’s time to share some of that advice.


I like to think I came pretty close, once. If we’d released this album a year earlier, we’d have been almost guaranteed a nomination in the Best Polka category: there were five openings and only four entries. This, though, was the last straw for the GRAMMY folks, and so it was that what may very well be the best (or at least the most elaborately orchestrated) polka album ever made was released the year they dropped the category altogether.

Anyway. After a lot of therapy and with the help of my sponsor, I’ve been able to get over the injustice. In the process, I’ve also  learned some valuable strategies for coping with life without a small brass model of an obsolete record player.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the GRAMMYs, so let me explain how it works:

Any record released in the US is eligible for entry. You or your label can enter. There’s a form. Somebody has to fill it in.

You have to specify which category you want to enter (this year there are 81). This is fun, because the definitions of the categories are secret.

Inevitably this means some records are entered in the wrong categories, so a committee of volunteers from the industry goes through the thousands of entries to check they’re all in the right categories. I did this once. It took three days.

Once your record has been accepted (and moved to the right category), you have to get nominated. You can nominate yourself. There’s another form. Only voting members of NARAS can fill it out. To be a voting member of NARAS you have to pay an annual fee and fill out another form, enclosing proof that you’ve actually appeared on an album.

If lots of people nominate your record, you make it to the ballot, except that the names of the nominated records aren’t printed on the ballot because we learned nothing from the Patriot Act.

Consulting a second document containing the actual names of the nominees, the members of the academy (the 20,000 people who appeared on at least one record, paid a fee and filled out a form) fill out another form and select the winners.

If the definitions of the categories are completely secret, the criteria for selecting the winners is at least marginally less opaque. The letter accompanying the ballot cautions you “please judge by quality alone, uninfluenced by personal friendships, company loyalties, regional preferences or sales”. Clearly, the idea is you’re supposed to vote for the best ones.

Obviously, then, what everybody does is vote for themselves and then use their remaining votes for anybody they know, anybody on their label, anybody local and finally anybody they’ve heard of.

If you want to win a GRAMMY, I’d suggest you bear all of these things in mind, and for pity’s sake don’t forget to vote for yourselves. Orchestras? You know who you are.

When the votes are counted, you get to go to the Staples Center in LA to see the prizes get given out at an A-list televised event. Unless, that is, you want to see the classical awards, which happen somewhere else earlier in the day. All voting members can get tickets. You have to pay for them, and fill out a form, obviously.

Is it all worth it? Well, there’s some evidence that winning the GRAMMY for Album of the Year will improve your sales, but there’s not a lot of evidence that winning any of the smaller categories will sell a single extra record.

I was always more taken with the prestige of it, although as time goes by I’m less excited by this. You see, any prestigious club derives its prestige from its exclusivity, and while I have my doubts about any club that would have me as a member, some of the past winners make you wonder how many voting members live next door to the authors of “Who let the dogs out?”.

Similarly, if a miniature gold victrola is an essential accessory for the successful musician, how come so many big-time musicians have never won?

In the end, the GRAMMYs are a lot of forms and hoopla, which is nice if you like forms and hoopla, but it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t win. Led Zeppelin, Queen, Abba, Justin Bieber and Diana Ross all did ok without a GRAMMY, and so can you.


* Which they write out in all caps, a trademark issue everybody else quite sensibly ignores

Naxos is celebrating its 25th anniversary with, among other things, a book chronicling the company’s official history. One of the most interesting parts of this story is the bit about the origin of the company’s name:

I wanted to buy a condominium. In Hong Kong some people purchase a condominium through a shelf company for tax advantages. I called my lawyer and said, ‘Look, I want to buy a shelf company, what can you offer?’ And I guess they have people who come up with ideas for these companies, and register them, and some guy had gone through all the Greek islands. So my lawyer offered me Crete Ltd, Rhodes Ltd, Lesbos Ltd and I said, ‘No, thank you’. But I liked Naxos Ltd, partly because of Ariadne auf Naxos, Richard Strauss’s opera. So I bought Naxos Ltd and Naxos Ltd bought the apartment. That was in 1985. Then in 1987, there I was, stuck with those masters and looking for a label name, and I said, ‘Well, I own Naxos Ltd, let’s call it Naxos.’

– Klaus Heymann, in The Story of Naxos by Nicolas Soames

What if…

Labels often create series of recordings. Occasionally, these form part of a coherent project that means something to the customer. Most of the time, though, the connection between the recordings is only important to the record label*, and the real reason for having a series is because it saves time when you’re trying to convince retailers to stock them.

How, though, is the customer supposed to make sense of this?

Don’t fret. I’m looking out for you. Here’s a helpful glossary of the most common catalog(ue) marketing terms. It’s all you need to know:

Original = Old

Legend = Old

Classic = Old

Great = Old

Master = Old

Gold = Old

Platinum = Very old

Pleasure = Cheap

Ultimate = Cheap

Best = Cheap

Most = Cheap

Supreme = Very cheap

Masterpieces = Cheapest

Complete = Big

Essential = Too big

Greatest = Old and cheap

Edition = Same record, different cover.

Collection = Too old, too big, and not nearly cheap enough.

Library = Run for the hills. Do it while there’s still time.

* Are these all recordings on which the artists are no longer due royalties? Are they 1960s vinyl releases having a last shot at incremental revenue before they enter the public domain? Have artists active on the label recorded the same repertoire, triggering a price drop on the old records? Are these better than the new recordings but not nearly as easy to market? Who cares. The covers are crap, but they’re cheaper now.

I deleted this post because, in retrospect, it could easily be construed as an attack on Eleanor Careless, which was unfair.

My intent was for it to serve as a caution to PR/marketing professionals who might consider promoting their artist by denigrating the rest of the field. It was not intended as a warning to journalists that a band of angry pedants awaits anybody who tries to write something nice about a violinist. That doesn’t do anybody any good at all, and “older guy shouts down young woman for voicing an opinion on the Internet” is, I think we can all agree, not a great look, regardless of the motivation.

Of course we need to be able to talk about what is and isn’t true, but being enthusiastically rude about it is a rhetorical device best saved for the people who are really asking for it.

If you find yourself looking for freely available data on music and entertainment sales and popularity, I recommend:

BPI Awards Search – Look up gold and platinum albums/singles in the UK.

RIAA Database – Look up gold and platinum albums in the US

IFPI – Publishes data on global recorded music sales

Nielsen Soundscan – Publishes a useful annual and mid-year report on US record sales

Billboard – US charts based on a mixture of sales and airplay

OCC – UK charts

Grammy Winners Search – Look up an artist or album to see what they’ve won

Wikipedia’s top-selling lists are a good starting point, because they reference a large number of sources for reliable sales data.

Box Office Mojo – US cinema box office receipts – Broadway receipts

If you think old people are in increasingly short supply then you might like to take a look at this.

Still, it’s probably not a bad idea to try to get some young people to come to a concert once in a while. How, though? They’re a notoriously fickle demographic. To make things easier, I’ve enlisted the help of some trendy yougsters from to explain, saying things that hipsters never say. Except ironically, of course. They’ll do anything ironically. Well. Anything but regarding the consumption of art as just another form of self-expression, of course. Because that shit’s serious.


I’ve admired the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment‘s publicity materials since I was a student. Early music has known its share of ill-considered outfits and dated hairdos, but the OAE always looks fun and classy. I wanted to know how they do it, so I cornered Will Norris, the orchestra’s communications director, and asked him. Then I stole a bunch of pictures off their blog, because that’s what you really want to look at. Enjoy.

Anthony Pay (clarinet) and Roger Montgomery (horn), 2010