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In The City: Digital Creativity & A&R

By: NMK Created on: April 17th, 2006
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From Madchester to mociology and mobisodes, Ralph Simon considered the plethora of opportunities for labels and artists to extend their A&R and build relationships with consumers via the mobile channel at this Interactive @ In the City session on 30 September 2005, reports Deirdre Molloy...

Interactive @ In The City KEYNOTE: Ralph Simon Creativity and A&R In The Digital Age

From Madchester in the eighties to mociology and mobisodes in the noughties, Ralph Simon considered the plethora of opportunities for labels and artists to extend their A&R and build relationships with consumers via the mobile channel at this In The City interactive session - in association with NMK - in Manchester on 30th September 2005...

Report by Deirdre Molloy

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As an A&R phenomenon of yore, Ralph Simon took Madchester as encapsulating the power of creativity. Things got mad all right, but in a good way. A&R is changing fundamentally and its happening fast. You need a mobile strategy that connects with your A&R. So how should record labels mobilise?

With mobile strategy one of the key elements is that you dont have to play by the existing rules and hence theres great scope for creativity.

Think of the identity of artists in a mobile form. It should start from the song upwards. What should the artist and manager plan for? How does A&R interface with seeding the early-stage development of an artist, song or sound/musical texture?

Phones evolve into personal & social objects

With mobiles global ubiquity you can have a much wider pick-up of your artists and music, he explained. Mobile is now at the point of pick-up where it is a manifest platform for development and growth. In the UK we are in 2.5G moving into 3G. With wifi and DVB-H built-in, Nokia now have devices equivalent to a Playstation 2, leading to an interesting marriage of video and audio content.

Mobile subscribers around the world by the end of 2005 will reach 2.4 billion. Thus the discipline of mociology. In the way that people personalise their lifestyles, mociologists look for ways to personalise their devices. Theres a plethora of new, multimedia devices the Gizmondo, the PS2, and the new Microsoft smartphones arriving in autumn 2005 which allow you to store 2-3,000 tracks on your phone. As such, music becomes more of a personality option.

People will not be referring to them as mobile phones any more, but as mobile social computers a storefront for people to personalise and purchase. In China, only 20% of the population has a mobile, but thats 20% of 1.2 billion people.

A new discovery channel for content

Another benefit is that from a piracy point of view, theres much more protection. Mobile brings added value to labels and creates great new A&R opportunities. In terms of urban mobility, most people have several lifestyles in one day eg. sport, work, family, partying, financial. Theyre served by print, TV, web, radio, and now the mobile. The mobile internet brings new discovery channels, demonstrated by moblogs and location-based devices.

As far as recordings go personal content is now always with the consumer, with incoming access to yet more; access to mobile communities and new content programme formats.

requires new content formats and creativity

Steve Barnett, President at Epic Records said: I want to mobilise what you do. Rumour has it that Sony paid them $40m for the AC/DC back catalogue. The guitar phrase the beginning of the bands Back & Black that Sony turned into a mastertone ringtone now ACDC have sold 2 million ringtones of such phrases. Events have also been enhanced by mobile.

Mobile users want mobile video and audio and lots of it. In terms of entertainment, theres always new stuff and the market is wide open. Multimedia content is an area ripe for development, eg. behind the scenes footage, interviews, out-takes all many directions in which creativity can extend.

An easy and intuitive user experience is also paramount, although Apple and iPod users are tethered in this respect. Mobile phone companies will all be testing very interesting new models in the coming year that will accelerate personalisation of mobile phones and mobile lifestyles.

Labels, artists and communities

The driving force for artists and labels is to share their content experience with peers and friends. For example Jack Johnson got picked-up virally in the US. Other factors and content types are impulse buys and immediacy, mobile TV clips, mobisodes and multimedia music. The new phones released in autumn 2005 can store 4 hours of video content, and this will drive take-up.

Jac Holzman who founded Elektra Records (label to The Doors, etc) is now in his seventies but is into technology, and with Warners he has launched a wireless mobile label called Cordless Recordings. Their approach is to promote music as a cluster, not a track or an album. They put out a cluster of 3-4 songs every few months, so we get the best of that bands music [like the mobile EP].

Ralph met the manager of Green Day and the Goo Goo Dolls who he said he was frustrated with the traditional model. Why not add a new song to an album you are promoting or to one thats already successful and add it onto the web or mobile storefront? Then sell it for 1.50, which gives the artist more, even considering being outside the volume sales of iTunes.

The mobile touch point

For the 14-28 year-old demographic, mobile touches every aspect of their lives. Its a social object. Networks tend to work with mobile publishers or aggregators (eg MonsterMob). Marketing in this sphere is also different its more like the web, and we have learnt the lessons of internet marketing. Finland is ahead because of Nokia; while in Korea earagsms and eyegasms are common on the street.

Now in order to grow the audience, Ralph explained, you have to deepen the linkage between artist and consumer, like Paris Hilton has done in being signed by Warners. She already has a community, and as a postgraduate fashionista one of the things that she wants to do is on her site to include not only what music shes working on, but also to feature things like Im going shopping in Beverly Hills and I want you to help me decide what to buy, and people can suggest choices online or by mobile. People will text in and they will decide.

Ralph then outlined the mobile music value network. The players are: content owner; mobile content developer; handset manufacturer, network operator, marketing partner, and two further partners. The mobile tools for record labels are mobile video; mobile marketing; mobile personalisation; and the mobile TV experience.

All-embracing experience via new handsets

Graham Ferguson Vodafone's Director of Global Content (who runs Vodafone Live!) is always bullish about being the first out with a promo, noted Ralph. For the new generation of UK melodic bands Kasabian, Franz Ferdinand, etc, the song is important. Mobile music rights are key in this respect. The new Nokia N Series already boasts examples of personalisation that make it look like an amp, and like an old radio. This fits with the mociologists lifestyle.

Billboard magazine, in the week of the In The City conference in Manchester, launched the mobile Billboard charts with text alerts that send you the Billboard Top 20, and then you can chose to download any of them straight away.

Ralph was in Helsinki earlier in September and saw what Nokia were lining up for 2006. The notion of the mobile personalised computer is real with these new models, and he flagged up the evolution of mobile jukeboxes such as the Nokia N91, and of music communities with blogs, moblogs and podcasts.

Marketing & merchandise trends

Taking a step back, Ralph stressed the importance of the easy music collection. The challenge is how to merchandise your mobile content. As well as through networks and labels, you can go direct-to-consumer. Tom Silverman, Tommy Boy Records founder, also owns his artists' name and image rights.

So how do you give a mobile skin to the uniqueness of your music and artists? Ralph was involved in Live 8, which ushered in a whole new era of A&R, on so many levels and channels, right through to the blogosphere.

Festivals are another very important layer that touches your audience, he reiterated [in line with another In The City panel 'The Festivalisation of Music'] Examples of mobile A&R in this sphere are the digital mosaic wall at a gig, which facilitates live global interaction.

Its all about growing and deepening the one-to-one relationship with the punter, he reminded us. Video phones are on the rise and in closing, Ralph recapped the important trends to note for todays mobile A&R: made-for-mobile video content; mobile phone companies working closely with labels; full-track downloads; mobisodes; behind-the-scenes content; and personalisation.


See the original EVENT PAGE

About Ralph Simon:

Ralph co-founded the Zomba Group, the world's most successful independent music publishing and recording organization, acquired for $2.7 billion by Bertelsmann. Prior to that, he served as Executive Vice President of Capitol Records and Blue Note Records, where he founded EMIs New Technology & New Media division. Ralph is currently Chairman of the influential Mobile Entertainment Forum - Americas (MEF), the official global body of the mobile entertainment industry.

Interactive @ In the City 2005 Panels:
NMK ran the Interactive panels at In the City in Manchester on 30th September 2005. The other Interactive panel reports are here:
The Digital High Street - 30th September 2005
Tomorrow People - 30th September 2005
mPod The New iPod? - 30th September 2005

For more information about In the City's annual music conference and convention, visit the In The City website


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