Every media outlet with a passing music / culture interest compile their ‘one’s to watch’ lists in January. The premise is that the UK’s best tastemakers are letting us all know what we’ll be listening to over the next 12 months. Absolutely, there has been a degree of success for some that would back-up claims that 2016’s lists were ‘on the money’: Blossoms debut No1 album, NAO’s Brit nomination, Mura Masa’s huge A$AP Rocky collab.
But behind all this remains one fact.
Just ELEVEN singles hit the top spot in 52 music-releasing weeks. (There were 24 in 2015)
Justin Beiber, Shawn Mendes, Zayn, Lukas Graham, Mike Posner, Drake, Major Lazer, The Chainsmokers, James Arthur, Little Mix and Clean Bandit dominated our laptops and phones through streaming apps, keeping them in the Top 10 even longer, and therefore important enough to continue high rotation in national radio playlists.
It probably had some bearing on Calvin Harris announcing in Sept that he’ll be dropping the album format to concentrate solely on singles.
This provides an interesting time for brands seeking music talent to partner with on their campaigns.
The traditional album campaign gave a healthy, year-long ebb and flow of activity between artist and brand where you could predict an upcoming trend in popularity and negotiate a deal at an early stage that should prove a healthy return come the end of the campaign. Inclusion in those January lists were a great first bullet point for the rationale.
Now streaming’s evolution has elevated the power of the single, brand placement in a promo video increases visibility by months and can be very impactful… but it’s a big play. The global appeal of of those top tier artists dictate an increasingly high price.
There’s also a valid question - does such short-attention consumption of music (against buying, holding and devouring an album) erode some of the connection between artist and audience, and therefore weaken the brand message when working with big artists?
Put the two together and it’s an expensive equation to get wrong.
The strangle-hold on the popular sounds of today by an ever decreasing list of artists limits the promotional oxygen new artists sorely need to become successful. New artists are looking for more innovative ways (and support) to connect – and that’s where the real space for brands opportunities with impact can lie.
Loyle Carner and Mabel (2 inclusions in the BBC Sound Of Poll 2016) are set to release debut albums THIS year. Loyle Carner’s album has been received with across the board critical acclaim and Mabel is one of the new faces of the new Adidas campaign. These signs back up the thinking by many within major labels that the natural window to break a new artist is now 2 years.
For brands looking to challenge and be disruptive there is a sweet spot, but it requires long term thinking:
Identify artists based on personality traits and attitudes that fit the brand and are before the curve – unsigned / independent, ambitious, with the right elements to make next year’s tips lists. Help them realise their potential and join them on their journey to tastemaker success.
Then when next year’s polls are published, you have a natural springboard to shout about your partnership in tandem with an artist who truly values the brand as a partner.
The January ‘Best Of’ polls aren’t indicators anymore, they ARE the profile. The new first wave, almost a promise of support from the media outlets that don’t want to see them fail.
Identifying talent that early requires an eye for data, healthy communication with every area of the music industry and experience in the (dark) art of talent spotting and A&R. But when done correctly it can breed healthy partnerships with a strong message.