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Interview with STEWART RAND, expert on music branding - Nov 16, 2007

“There’s more credibility in exposing a band to the market than there is being this global sponsor of people who’ve already made it,”

picture ... says Stewart Rand, head of music branding at Brit Hit Music Publishing (No Angels, Backstreet Boys).

Rand has provided HitQuarters with the pleasure and opportunity to highlight some of the newest frontiers in music marketing, in an industry that is very busy looking for new avenues and possibilities to financially sustain artists - both established and new.

Rand talks to HitQuarters about educating brands to get more involved in sponsoring music, and about making sure the artist's integrity and quality always remains unharmed in the process.

How did you get involved in the music industry?

I got involved initially through my son, who’s in a band called Blue Sky Blonde. They needed some guidance and management. I decided to try and get them somewhere in the music industry.

I just finished working at Robert Dyas Holdings Ltd. I was a sales marketing director for several retail companies in England.

Through promoting and managing the band, I met Steve Foster, who works for Brit Hit Music. We discussed how to best get the band promoted and progressed in the industry.

With my contacts with some brands, we thought it would be a good idea to look at sponsorship and things like that.

When did you join Brit Hit Music?

I started working with them about a year ago. In March 2007, I was in discussions with Brita Water, the water filtering system company in Germany.

I know the UK Managing Director. He said they wanted some new music for their TV commercial. I said that we could arrange that for them.

My son and Brit Hit collaborated. We wrote some music and they liked it, so they put it on the TV ad.

Do you work with any artist directly?

I work on the brand side more than on the band side. Steve Foster is picking up bands. But we’re concentrating mainly on Blue Sky Blonde.

I’m talking to other brands to come on and help sponsor them.

How do you help people to get on track with their career?

The music industry is looking for new ways to generate new artists and provide them with exposure.

The way we’re looking at it is that we talk to top brands and get them to help support the artists, get the PR involved, and talk to record companies about trying to bring in the databases.

So we’re utilising their marketing as much as anything else we can to get the band known to their audience.

Is it necessary for unsigned artists to know about marketing and promotion?

It’s always good to know how to make it in the industry, but marketing in itself is something you have to study and do full time.

As a band you should concentrate on the music. The management should be looking at ways to promote and market you.

How can a band achieve ‘consumers confidence’?

By the music being very good! Obviously, by what people want to hear. Going out on the road. You still have to perform and attract some sort of following so that your music is being heard.

In this day and age, being on MySpace is a way of giving people confidence that the band is to some degree serious. An additional official website only increases that.

And, interacting with the fans as best they can in terms of emails and any feedback they get on the website or on MySpace.

How should they present their material nowadays?

It has to be good to listen to in terms of the audience they’re trying to sell it to. They have to know who they’re trying to sell to, and make sure they do everything they can to make their music commercial.

What game plan needs to be in place with regards to sponsoring and supporting an artist?

We’ve been trying to tie in brands that have a music requirement or brands who believe they should have more involvement in music.

We’re talking to Energizer about their TV commercial as well, for example. We think there’s an opportunity there.

We’re talking to some TV channels, that don’t have enough music on. It’s about bringing the right artist to the right brand to maximise the opportunities of both parties.

How do you approach a TV channel for a certain commercial you have in mind?

That’s down to me to try and utilise my previous relationships with them. I can approach the right people, who will open the right doors.

You need to have contacts. Mine aren’t limitless, but I talk to the people I believe have the right understanding of what music can bring to them. And I try to make sure that they like what we bring.

Who are the most important people within your network?

The people that I know who are in the marketing departments of the brands that I deal with.

Can you give an example of a marvelous marketing strategy and a bad one regarding an artist?

I’m not a music marketing man in terms of music experience. I’m a retailer with brand marketing experience.

All I’m trying to do is bring to the people at Brit Hit the branding side, and leave them to carry on with the music side.

The re-launch of Take That, for example, has been very well done. They did it at the right time. They did the right things. They got on to No.1. They started a new wave of boy bands.

There are lots of music marketing stories that didn’t work, which would be wrong for me to comment on because I haven’t been in the industry long enough to make those sort of judgments.

What’s the right order to follow when setting up a marketing campaign?

You’ve got to have the music first. If you haven’t got the music, then there’s no point of trying to create a band or create some sort of success.

We concentrate on the music. Once we have the music, we then decide how best to market that music, and through what vehicle, whether it would fit a certain brand or a certain way of being marketed.

I’m new to this. We’re still feeling our way about what’s the right thing and what’s the wrong thing. Once we know what market certain music is targeting, then we can try and market it in that direction.

What’s usually discussed in meetings for a marketing plan?

The main thing we talk about is the music. Have we got the right music? Have we got enough? Are we happy with the production quality? Steve is very much focusing on that.

For me, it’s a case of where are we going to get the sponsorship from? Who we can try to get on to the program? Have we got the right activities in place to drive the volumes we want to get out of the plan?

That’s something we talk about and evolve every week. We have a weekly meeting. We sit and talk about the progress from the previous week.

You have to review what you’ve done and revise your plan regularly, because things come up and you have to be dynamic and change as and when things come up.

Is the artist present at those meetings?

If we’re talking about the music, they’re present. If it’s purely about budgets then not.

It isn’t a negotiation about who is getting what percentage. It’s just about how we are investing the money we’ve got from any sponsors in the best way we can to maximise the exposure for the band.

Steve has a weekly meeting with the band as well. To make sure they’re up to speed.

It’s not as formal as it used to be when I was working in big retail companies. It’s more dynamic, because things happen and you change things as you go along.

Is it harder now, as compared to previous years, to find new avenues for branding?

It’s always competitive when it comes to finding the right sponsor or the right brand for any project. It has never been easy, and it never will.

In my perspective, it’s newer in the music industry to some degree than it is in other areas that I’ve been involved with.

For a certain extent, that’s because the product isn’t quite as obvious as it is to certain brands and sponsors as selling a kettle, an iron or a toaster. Music is a bit more difficult to grasp for some people.

How can artists provide an attractive and powerful brand image?

Exposure is one of the ways. Being visible with a big brand, and getting the support from that big brand to create exposure in terms of PR and newspapers. Internet is still a very good way of doing it.

We have some other ideas with other music we want to expose as we go along over the next couple of years. But I don’t want to give all our plans away.

What will be the new music industry’s routes to the consumer?

For me there are no boundaries. You have mobile phone people in the UK getting involved in music. For me they have been mainly passing it from their point of view, not necessarily the music’s point of view.

They aren’t really developing new artists and new bands. They’re taking the sponsorship route at the top level. Big venues, festivals, The O2.

What we need is more money coming at the bottom end to develop new bands and create markets for those bands. And that’s something I don’t think many, if any brand, has got their minds around yet.

There’s more credibility being at the bottom end of the market, exposing a band to the market, than there is being this global sponsor of music of people who’ve already made it. One of our main goals is to get more sponsors bringing new bands to market

How important is actual musical talent to an artist’s success, as opposed to marketing and luck?

There needs to be a business and marketing strategy put behind the talent to make it visible and to bring that career to the marketplace.

If you haven’t got the ability to write the really good music, then your sponsors and the brands wouldn’t want to get involved with you.

There’s still no second class music that’s going to make a big success. The quality of the music is the first and foremost.

What needs to be in place to supply the artist to any music, film and TV sector?

There is no one package. We take each artist and each brand package, and we try and make sure we’re marrying the right artist to the right brand package. And make sure we have a win-win for both parties.

It isn’t about us. When we manage to launch some artists it means we’ve got the backing to launch new ones.

We have to find out what works for the sponsor, so that they get their return from having invested in a new artist.

Are there situations where damage has been done to artistic integrity?

In the projects that we’ve been involved in we have not allowed that to be touched.

Can an artist remain creative and soulful while making money in the music business?

I believe that totally, yes.

How can new artists serve radio best in this day and age?

I don’t think of any one individual form of media specifically. For any artist and any branding, we would look for what’s best for those people and what avenue is best to deliver the success.

Radio isn’t as visible as TV in terms of the image. But we don’t think like that. We think band, brand, and what’s the best medium for that band or that brand.

How can you think outside the box of traditional approaches?

That’s what we’re trying to do. We understand that the music revenue stream is not what it used to be.

We’re looking for ways to bring value to both the artist and the record companies and the brand, to maximise everybody’s potential, and get a win-win-win out of it.

We’re not saying that we can do this on our own. We need the brand support. We need the record company support.

If everybody starts asking, how is this project going to work? How are we all going to make it win-win for the artist, the record company and the brand? Then there’s a chance of success.

How did you turn high street failures into profit making companies?

Robert Dyas Holdings Ltd, which was the main focus over the last few years, was losing money. The management was not giving the customers what they wanted.

It wasn’t me on my own, but I went in and listened to the customers, found out what products they really wanted, and gave them those products for prices they wanted them for.

We did that with the support from the brand, who saw the opportunity. Together we developed the business that went from losing 5 million GBP a year to making 10 million GBP a year, over a five year period.

It’s partnership. And that’s really what I took out from that part of my retail life and I am trying to bring to the record music industry. Because everybody has to win. We’re looking for win-win situations here

What are your future plans?

Keep developing Blue Sky Blonde. We’re looking to launch a single in the autumn on the back of a TV campaign.

Developing music stuff for Energizer and a couple of other brands.

When will you reveal the secrets regarding your marketing plans?

In the next two to three months we’ll be very clear about what our next project is going to be. When it’s available to the public or when it’s set to be released, we’re happy to talk to you again.

If you wish to publish this article, or parts of it, you are welcome to do so after having received an approval from us. Requirements are statement of origin and link to HitQuarters. To get an approval, please contact us.

Interview by Kimbel Bouwman