Steve Jenkins is the most influential man in music that you've never heard of. He's helped shape the careers of stars such as Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and others. What's the secret? Good marketing and pr.
I believe that good music will fail with bad marketing and pr.
In market research, if a hundred people were asked, I’m convinced they would all agree.
It's something I learned many years ago whilst visiting Island Records, the label owned and started by Chris Blackwell and most famous for bringing the world Bob Marley and U2 amongst many other successful artists.
Island Records were the first to introduce an open plan office where all their marketing, promotions and sales people operated. It’s design encouraged communication between the departments, so if promotions obtained airplay on a record, the sales and marketing departments, working in the open plan office, knew instantly, could react and spread the word. In todays world the majority of companies prefer open plan offices but back in the late seventies it seemed revolutionary.
The area that was open plan at Island’s offices was called the ‘War Room’ dedicated to promoting, marketing and selling Island’s product. I was there one day and a large poster caught my eye displayed on the wall, the headline read ‘WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DON’T PROMOTE?’ below the heading was the Island logo, which filled the poster, a palm tree.
The poster drew me towards it, searching for the answer and there at the bottom of the palm tree, in very small letters came the answer...
That poster stayed with me for many years and I have relayed the story many times, so we start from reality and a proven fact, good music will fail without promotion, will fail without marketing and will fail without sales and distribution of that there is no doubt.
The other side of the coin suggests that if you have a good track or record, apply great promotion, marketing, sales and distribution, you will succeed, this is not necessarily so. To succeed the general public has to be so smitten with your music that they are compelled to purchase it to enhance their lives.
The general public have many ways to spend their hard earned money, especially their disposable income, hence your track or record has to be so special, it is only then that the cycle begins to work.
Many new artists and musicians ask me what is the trick to having hit records, well, there is no real trick, it’s a matter of getting everything right, then adding promotion, marketing and sales to the mix, one by one.
First comes the song without that there is no ticket to ride, do not come up with one chorus and say that’s it, write a better one. Do not come up with one intro to the song, write a better one, always remembering that the first few bars of your song will determine whether people listen further or mentally turn off. If the intro and the chorus are not compelling, nothing will work and promotion, marketing and sales cannot fix that.
I think that most artists or bands believe they just weeks or moments away from being successful, they probably have to be that way to continue to push forward in what is a very difficult industry. The dream of the overnight sensation is also high on the list of possibilities, on this statement; there are no overnight sensations. Investigating a band or artist that seemed to appear from nowhere will always reveal a long journey of effort, dedication and application.
So there are many areas to consider and every area has to be functioning properly to succeed. Good marketing and PR will not deliver a hit track or record without it being a fine piece of work in the first place.
Finally the Music Industry has always been the unlikely marriage of art and commerce, when they are working together it’s the most fantastic arrangement, when they are in opposite corners, it is the worst of wars.
It has been that way for as long as I can remember and will probably always be so, but that’s ‘The Fun of The Fair’ isn’t it, that’s where the excitement and passion resides. If you want some of that then it’s there for you, if it’s too hot in the kitchen, best get out and leave it to others.
Songwriters, musicians, bands and artists, I wish you all well, it’s a tough road to follow but it was always the one for me!
Steve Jenkins is a former managing director of Jive Records and won record label of the year three years running. He had a hand in more than 300 top 40 UK records. His autobiography 'The Future Is In The History' is now available. His website is here.