Canadian Music Week 2011: Marketing Artists in a Digitized Music Industry

Canadian Music Week 2011: Marketing Artists in a Digitized Music Industry


Tiffany Wong is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

This year’s Canadian Music Week (March 9-13, 2011) transformed the ritzy, historical Royal York hotel in downtown Toronto into a multi-floor concert fest with large screens, concert lighting, stages and rows of seating in front of stages adorned with sofas and mics. Attending the events were lawyers, law students, music production students, journalists, musicians and music industry executives from Canada, the US and abroad (including Europe, South East Asia and Australia).

The venue was buzzing with band stickers and concert flyers on every table surface, dudes in leather jackets and long-hair or dreads schmoozing with music industry executives dressed in suits and sneakers while volunteers flanked live music performed at exhibitor’s booths alongside a rock-themed photo shoot – all contributing to a laid-back, creative, and professional atmosphere. It was an IP and music fan’s paradise with logos, performances, and digital media abounding left and right on screens, banners, t-shirts and other branded merchandise.

The festival’s events included panel discussions, award shows, trade shows, a film festival and live concert events starting from early in the morning until the wee hours of the night when band performed in various concert venues in the core of the city.

I had the opportunity to attend many panels that taught aspiring musicians how to reach their big break, but also debated issues relating to intellectual property in a digitized entertainment industry. In one particular panel about independent record labels (“indie labels”), speakers were concerned about the equalizing effect of digital media in allowing independent artists and labels to promote new music without signing with a major record label.

It was discussed that to market a band these days, “content is valueless” and “context has value.” Namely, the content is the music itself and the context is live musical events. While I think that music content still has value as a literary work, the context of how the music is presented is increasingly viewed as an important element to be monetized as property, namely as performance rights. But what about user-generated content (USG) by fans taking photos or video recording a band performing live at a concert that is then uploaded by the indie label onto the band’s website? The panel valorized the notion of “joint ownership” because the context of the photographed or video-recorded concert by the fan added value to the intellectual property of the musical content that has marketing momentum. However, ownership becomes a mixed bag when a work moves from the hands of the fan attending a concert to the band adding their commentary to it and passing it over to their record label who then packages it for digital distribution to more fans.

As such, indie labels are experiencing a paradigm shift to becoming curators and gatekeepers of good music, rather than primarily distributors of physical CDs to music stores. As indie labels gain a reputation, a brand, they can monetize that aspect of their intellectual property as a trademark. This too can be a protectable intellectual property for indie labels that are increasingly outperforming major record labels that have clung to a traditional model of marketing artists in pre-packaged deals, while indie labels as smaller, less bureaucratic organizations have been able to adapt more flexibly to the needs of individual artists in a manner that is earning them a greater market share by promoting primarily online.

Speaking of music marketing, privacy issues surfaced briefly in another panel about social media and creating brand loyalty. The general orientation of the panel was that an artist sharing information on social media (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, blogs, websites) did not translate necessarily into a loss of privacy, but rather an opportunity to market an artists’ unique personality and to converse with fans in an “authentic” manner like a big “cocktail party.”

Indeed, as discussed by the panelists, artists are in control of how much they share. If fans are interested in what an artist had for breakfast (or more seriously, their political views), and the band is comfortable publishing this information as a part of their personal image, then that may not present a problem from either side. The main issue is the risk of oversharing to the point of losing privacy in order to appease eager fans who want to know everything about their favourite rock stars or conversely losing fans’ interest with the same kind of boring news feeds. The key balance is to share with the audience what they are interested in knowing and the artist sharing information that they are comfortable sharing online. Social media should therefore be aligned with the artist’s marketing strategy to enroll fans in the creative process; something that could not have been done prior to the invention of the digital platforms and the subsequent rise of privacy concerns.

For me, the highlights of this festival was having the chance to volunteer as a “law scribe” that allowed me to sit-in at a table discussion with high-powered music industry experts at the Global Forum and in the evening, checking out some of the live independent bands, naturally, with these musings about intellectual property in mind. Overall, it was an informative and engaging event that featured an eclectic mix of music, business, and law – my ears are still ringing from the sounds of it!

* Artwork created by Jamie Goodman, IPilogue Art Editor and JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.