AN INTERVIEW WITH TOM MULLEN, DIRECTOR OF INTERACTIVE MARKETING FOR EMI MUSIC
Tom Mullen has been a music industry professional with over 10 years of experience in a variety of independent and major record labels focused on product management, online and general marketing. He oversaw various teams at leading independent labels while starting up departments in licensing and radio/video promotion. Currently he is Director of Interactive Marketing at EMI Music and works with artists Norah Jones, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Alice in Chains, Motorhead and Amos Lee.
Tom – thank you talking with us and for helping our readers gain a deeper understanding of the business-side of the music industry. Everyone of us loves music but few of us understand all the intricacies of how it gets made and of how we end up hearing about the bands that we actually listen to. So with that said – let’s start with the basics. What is Interactive Marketing and how did you get involved with it?
Interactive Marketing is just one of the many ways people describe Internet marketing. I have had titles that include New Media, Online, Digital, etc. The crux of the term is that our department within the label is responsible for the band’s online marketing. I handle 10-12 artists and assist in everything from the video delivery to YouTube, website design, interview requests, livestreaming of performances/chats, advertising, marketing plans, mobile apps and content rollout. Every single new idea that comes down the pipe we are on the front lines. How can we apply this to music and how do we reach the fans online? That answer changes every 24 hours and we are the department that is responsible for those answers.
I got involved with this about 11 years ago. My first job was at Cornerstone Promotion, which had a new online marketing department starting and back then I worked believe it or not, Linkin Park! Online marketing back then involved chat rooms and news posts/PR. It was so new and it was in essence the wild west. We could try anything because each day it was new. Back then labels tried to throw two people in a room and say, “Go do online marketing!” But as the years progressed they realized the intricacies and now some label departments, even at indies, are very big. I have had a few jobs in between – at indie labels handling most everything – but about 2 years ago had an opportunity to move back to NYC and do just online marketing here at EMI. My love for technology, music and NYC made it a perfect fit.
Ok – so how has all of this changed the landscape and the game for both music listeners and for record companies?
Change is good. Keep saying that to yourself. I love this time of change for labels and music in general. It has changed the landscape because those that love music are still here and those that liked their corner offices, huge expense accounts and 9-5 days are over. There is more music out there than ever and you can access it in a myriad of ways. I am not that old, but I heard about bands through going to shows, being a part of a scene, making mix tapes, etc. Now a kid can see who is playing at the local club and already form an opinion before going by watching YouTube, last.fm, see if his other friends like them on Facebook, etc. It’s a whole new ball game. I still think the good rises to the top. The bands still need to tour, make friends and influence those with new and exciting ideas. It isn’t just about playing shows but are your socials up to date, are you interactive online, do your fans react? The music listener must be even more tuned into what they like and one day they may like your band and the next they are onto a new band. It is that struggle the labels must do to make their artist seem important and music must come first. If it doesn’t, nothing else happens. Truth is finally out in the music industry and no more can you jam down a song to a fan. They are smarter and will gravitate to their favorites. It’s our job and in my heart to show a band’s fans their importance and hopefully build a life long fan and the band has a career. That’s the hope anyway. Many people like to poke fun at the music industry but in my eyes, they are sitting back and not actually in the industry itself to point fingers. If you are so smart, start up a label, find the bands and save the industry. It hasn’t happened yet but I am trying everyday.
So let’s take a real example. Can you please talk about one of the bands that you have helped place in the popular zeitgeist due to your interactive marketing efforts?
A very recent example involves a YouTube star, Keenan Cahill. A brainstorming session happened a few months back and the idea was to pair Keenan Cahill with artist David Guetta and help bridge all his dance hits in one big megamix. I reached out blind to Keenan and his management and I spoke multiple times, emailed and organized them together to record a video in Chicago. It has now over 15 million views!
What makes a marketable band nowadays? Is it different than the days before the Internet?
This is a great question. Marketing a band in essence is the same. The music has to stand on it’s own. You could have the best roll out with all the online marketing plans in place and sync’d up with radio, video, retail, etc. But if that song doesn’t connect, you can’t do anything about it. Our brands aren’t as easy as Charmin or Dentyne gum. Our brands change everyday and can turn on a dime with a new tour, song or brand alignment/commercial. The internet is just one more piece to tie in and get your ducks in a row. Now the bands have to be on top of one more department and in 5 years from now, it will be something else to deal with. I love it. Change is where the best ideas come from and I will still be here trying to find my way. Again, the music is paramount.
How will music lovers find new music in the next 5 years and if radio is dead, then how will musicians get paid royalties when their songs are played?
I disagree that radio will die. So many people still listen to the radio today and there will be new ways to enjoy music online with Spotify, last.fm, Pandora and hopefully Google will enter the fray soon. Radio will have a place in this but yes, in 5 years there may be fewer stations but more niche genres to enjoy from those stations.
Musicians get paid in a myriad of ways through those public performances. One of the new ones is YouTube and VEVO. When a band has an official channel and those videos are in their system, the band gets paid on those plays. There will always be new streams of revenue and bands will see those benefits.
Is Facebook relevant for music?
100% yes. When almost half of the worlds population is on Facebook, I think we have a great avenue for music. There is no official music application from Facebook yet but there are many out there that help an artist showcase their music and sell it through Facebook. The chance for a fan to interact with an artist is better than on any other social platform. New changes recently have seen the interaction for a band is greater. That connection is needed as fans are now in the millions on some of the larger artists. As of right now, it’s in the right place and Facebook has made changes all along to help subside any doubt they will adapt.
What are your thoughts about brands and bands merging? It seems that every company – including our – leverages music and the “music lifestyle.” There are always contests and promotions and I believe that this must fall under the larger category of Interactive Marketing. Is this healthy for the music industry or is this just an inevitable twist on utilizing these new social networking/ marketing tools?
Every label is different but here at EMI, we have a department that handles all of those relationships and pitches our bands with brands for many various applications. Some are small with just product to giveaway and it ramps up in scale to full promotions with tours or roll out of a release. Managers of artists also deal with these relationships. Where Interactive comes in is when there is an online component to cross promote with Facebook, Twitter, websites, etc. Music will always be cool and used in campaigns. It is that connection that bridges this relationship and makes it not a twist but something both parties want.
And lastly, what is the best advice that you can give emerging artists about how to promote themselves with these toolsets?
I am not sure this is the best advice but something I feel has to happen. The artist must embrace the new and try something new. I have a philosophy to try something at least once. If it fails, I know why and I can analyze why. The same must happen with a band. A long time ago, I was in bands and each day we tried to get more people to our shows, buy the CD or even just talk to us after the show. All of those skills needs to be sharpened everyday. The bottom line is that you must accept change and try these new ideas for expansion of your music. In addition to those new ideas, you have to make friends. The simple fact of trading shows with like minded bands does wonders. It still works. Years ago it was face to face meetings and now you just might of only emailed/IM’d or texted the other band. Either way build those real relationships and believe in the music. It’s the only way this will continue. The love and confidence in that your music will ring true if it’s done with truth and heart.
Thank you Tom!
This interview was originally published by Mike Dias for Ultimate Ears