Event Report: In The City, Manchester
Step off the train at Manchester Piccadilly and it’s a short stroll from the Northern Quarter, this year’s home to the In The City conference. The event, in its 19th year has, by new festival Chief Philip Coen’s own admission, perhaps “lost its mojo” in recent years. Philip told the Music Void how he hopes this year will be a rebirth, and with delegate attendance up by 70%, they were off to a good start.
Bumping into Philip, ever present over the course of the conference, he expressed his enthusiasm for “the bands, producers, writers, bloggers, web designers, the people that are going to provide the talent for the next 5 to 10 years, to take the music industry into a new model.”
As In The City first timers, we were keen to experience the 3-day event from our various perspectives – musician, journalist, promoter, business developer and fan.
A show of hands in panel discussions saw the range of industry types, scaling wide-eyed enthusiasts to pursed-lipped cynics, though it was clear, speaking to returning delegates, that the mood this year was more optimistic. The panels were challenging and varied in topic and the whole event included more genres than ever before.
The themes of diversification and adaptation seemed to present over the course of the 3 days of panel discussions.
In Community Spirit, panellists discussed how, within urban music, the ‘crew’ or ‘collective’ mould has expanded from DJs and MCs to include graphic designers, video makers, promoters and entrepreneurs.
The Blogging The USA panel demonstrated how bands who have honed their social networking skills have seen great success, how the more traditional types of media have attempted to adapt to blogging culture with mixed results. The panel concluded that music blogging is no way to make money, it’s merely a tool which, if used well, can help accelerate and measure success.
We focused on two linked panels; ‘Brand On The Wall’ and ‘What’s The O2?’ which both looked at how the relationship between music and product marketing is evolving.
Bands And Brands Go Hand In Hand?
The relationship between these historically uneasy bedfellows has changed. We hear key marketing words turning from ‘sponsorship’ to ‘partnership’, from ‘endorsement’ to ‘engagement’. The brands are learning how to work with acts in a less brash, more creative, mutually beneficial, and crucially, ‘cool’ way.
Why are the brands so keen to link up?
Brands are increasingly using experiential marketing to present the products not only in an appropriate setting but in an intelligent and emotive manner. The companies putting more thought into a music partnership are hoping to reap sustainable benefits, gaining “cultural resonance”.
O2’s use of the main growth area of the music industry – live entertainment, has enabled, through venue branding (they now slap their name across 16 varying sized venues in the UK) and the Priority ticket venture, to use the emotional bond between artists and fans. They have developed large-scale campaigns based around the ethos to get fans closer to the bands - the recent Gorillaz’s ‘Priority Walk’ being one of the more high profile.
This sees them tighten their stronghold on the gig-goer’s purse by respecting the elements of live performance, when they are seen to be, not just pushing their product, but understanding the connection and helping both parties build on it; linking the location (their venue) to the technology (their handsets and mobile network infrastructure) to the emotional experience of the live show.
The use of social networking and advances in technology means sharing the content made through the partnership is fast and easy. Backstage footage presented by the brand and forwarded on by the fan equals a winning formula all round. Head of Musical partnerships at O2, Jasmine Skee says, “Brands are measuring success in different ways these days. It’s about sharing, conversation, positive and negative commenting.”
Further credibility can be gained by brands showing care for the future of the arts – such as the Red Bull Academy and Red Bull Bedroom Jam. With unsigned band competitions like Orange UnsignedAct and Road To V, the brand gains not only access to the band’s fan database, website traffic from voting, but also valuable content assets which, when used with social network sharing, can increase exposure much further.
How can unsigned bands jump on the wagon?
As well as unsigned competitions run by brands, the simple ethos of Jagermeister as told by UK music manager Tom Carson – “We are looking to work with bands who are gigging regularly and love to drink our product (responsibly!)”, makes sponsorship accessible to thousands of bands. Panel members generally concluded that brands do prefer to talk to agencies, though if a band approaches certain companies with the right attitude, with thoughts for compatibility and ideas on how to work together, there is now more chance of being picked up and supported through a partnership.
Brands the new record labels?
Most were in agreement that though it could become more common for bands and brands to bypass the labels, it is definitely not going to kill the record company model. The brand may be able to offer the finance and exposure needed by artists, but in the fast-paced world of marketing, with brand managers on a regular rotation, the wow-factor always being chased, that relationship can only be short-lived. The brands don’t have a vested interest in developing a band’s catalogue as a label does, and the ultimate aim of the brand is to sell their own product.
How far can brands go?
Panel members thought re(brand)naming whole events a step too far, though this is seemingly growing more common. At a number of music festivals this year, such as Heineken FiB (Benicassim), Relentless NASS, we were surprised at the acceptance of festival merchandise for sale with the sponsor’s name as big or bigger than the original event name.
Gig-goers regularly experience the situation where a beer brand blankets an event , forcing ticket-holders into drinking the one beer on offer at a high price. Does this still work other than to give the company a monopoly on the event bar? Whether it adds to the brand’s credibility or not is debatable, but regardless, this kind of stale and garish brand stamping will always exist.
Back to leading brand O2, Jasmine announced that they will shortly be launching the O2 Academy TV channel. A new media app is also imminent, which searches the user’s Spotify, LastFM and iTunes playlists to recommend gig tickets at venues within the O2 circle.
Music will always be a cool to associate with but there can only be so many free download offers before the market bores and moves on again. The social networking phenomenon has opened up many networking and marketing opportunities, though long-term rewards and sustainability of the band/brand relationship remains to be seen.
As the internet settles into our daily lives more comfortably, will a universal working structure present itself ? Or will a series of flash-in-the-pan product ‘vehicles’ keep rolling out at random?
In The City certainly looks like it’s moving forward in the right direction. From the addition this year of The Hive, a learning initiative for young people, to the closing words of chief Philip Coen “We’re looking at In The City being a beacon. A place where people can come together and debate, discuss the issues, and then go forward to find a new model”.