This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Succeeding in the Independent Music Industry: Application of the Product Life Cycle Theory to Extend and Strengthen an Artist’s Career
By: Megan Williams Under the guidance of Prof. Gurram Gopal, CBE. Elmhurst College
Succeeding in Music 2
Table of Contents 1. Introduction 2. Model 3. Methodology 4. Key Findings & Results 5. Recommendations 6. References Introduction Why is it that some bands have one hit album then disappear; while others have multiple successful albums over a period of time; and still others never find success? This paper will examine the music industry, particularly independent music, and determine what factors affect an artist’s life cycle, not just during the period of an album being released, but over the course of the artist’s career. We will look at eleven bands, some in the introductory phase and some that have gone on to have major label success, and present data on how the band moved from one stage in the life cycle curve to another. We will look for patterns to determine what will help an artist move to more successful stages of the life cycle curve, as well as extending the length of the curve. In addition, we will also look to the fashion industry to help draw conclusions on the groups in the adoption curve and how the music industry can define these groups better and more effectively market to these groups to help extend the length of an artist’s life cycle. In popular music, the term “indie music” has several different meanings. Indie can refer to the label being independent from the big four major record labels (Warner, Universal, Sony BMG, and EMI). Some can take that classification further to create a distinction between the big and small independent record labels; where the small label can be associated with a scene and the creative mission is more important than the commercial drive. Indie also refers to a style of music and all its sub genres that is characterized as being independent of mainstream and commercial styles of music. For the purposes of this project we will look at indie music as a style of music instead of referring to the label, since many larger independent labels work in the same way as major record labels with regards to A&R and marketing and style. Model The adoption curve shows when different groups accept ideas and the relations between the groups that some are leaders and others are followers (Perreault, 333). In the traditional model of the adoption curve, we felt that the traditional groups didn’t fully represent the groups of consumers in the music industry and the difficult there is in moving from early adopters to early majority. We looked to the fashion industry to help develop new terms for these groups that would allow bands to identify their markets and target them better. The groups that we established are the (music) Elitist, Trend Initiator, Mainstream Trend Establishers, Mainstream Trend Follower and Trend Killer. However, they still have similar defining characteristics to the original model where word of mouth decreases over time and connection with mainstream sources increases along the curve.
Succeeding in Music 3 Elitist – This group is the first group of people to be introduced to a band. They may have seen a local show or downloaded their music off of a band’s website. They learn about new music almost solely through word of mouth. They follow underground opinion leaders or their peers. They are 100% willing to invest in un-established music. Trend Initiator – This group helps establish a fan base outside of the band’s geographic area. They help create the numbers that get the attention of more independent media. They don’t just buy music at shows, but also through mainstream and non-mainstream avenues. They seek out new music from opinion leaders that are less mainstream and follow independent and underground music media. This group is still introduced to new music through word of mouth, but a little less likely to invest in un-established music. Mainstream Tread Establisher- This group seeks out opinions of the previous group. They also put forth less effort in actively seeking out new music. They are exposed to new music through some word of mouth, television, radio, and other media. This group is even less likely than that Trend Initiator to invest in un-established music. Mainstream Tread Follower – This group also looks to the group before it to establish what will be popular. Their music taste is probably less varied and only willing to invest in music that has been established as successful. Trend Killer – Once these people embrace a trend, the success of that band is about to end. All previous groups will abandon the trend. The identification of these groups is important because we would like to emphasize that like the original model, each of these groups builds on the previous group. One group will look to the group before it as opinion leaders. We propose that each group has their own curve, and that the next group adopts the trend at some point in the highest popularity of the group before it. And it is the combination of each group’s adoption curve that makes up the total adoption curve. However, the adoption of the next group isn’t always a given and actions must be taken to make the jump to the next adoption group.
Figure 1. Individual curves that form adoption curve
Succeeding in Music 4 But when a band is ready to take the steps to move from one group to another, the most difficult transition can be between the Trend Initiators and Mainstream Trend Establisher, where there is essentially a gap between the two groups. There is a gap here because it is the first step towards mainstream success. Mainstream success could be a song appearing on a popular television program or featured in a special “new music” segment on a radio station or MTV. The difficultly comes from the fact that the Trend Initiator are actively seeking out new music and the Mainstream Trend Establishers are exposed to new music. A band could move from Elitist to Trend Initiator with little to no effort, just time. But to move into the establishment of a trend that will get wider spread attention that would take more effort. And once a trend is established, it won’t be hard to create followers.
Figure 2. Gap in the adoption curve Methodology We searched band websites, and their fan websites, independent music publications like Pitchfork Media, and Billboard to help construct a time line of the band’s history from which we would be able to identify trends and patterns in their careers. Key Findings & Results One might think that the best thing for a band is to gain as much exposure as possible early on. However, we suggest that this process of exposure should be slow and controlled. Bands should carefully choose where and with whom they tour. When first establishing a band, we suggest that a band stick to a specific geographic area for a period of time. By sticking to a single geographic area during the introductory phase of the product life cycle curve, a band might be able to establish a solid fan base of Elitist creating an air of exclusivity for this group by the band being only available to them. Also by sticking to a general area, a band might be able to establish itself with a particular scene, where a band can
Succeeding in Music 5 become popular from its connection with a scene or a scene might gain more attention because of its connection with a band. Sticking to a central geographic area might be one of the many reasons that a band like Rilo Kiley became successful. In 2001, Rilo Kiley played over a dozen shows only in Los Angles with a vast majority of the shows at the music venue Spaceland. By sticking to a central area, Rilo Kiley might have been able to associate with a scene that was developing in Los Angles at the time, as well as show their loyalty to their Elitist fans by not branching out too quickly. Eventually the band ventured outside of Los Angles in 2002 to other California cities, but not too far to alienate their original fan but realized when they had to move outward before the original fan base would have become tired and bored of the band.
Figure 3. Segment of Rilo Kiley’s timeline Now it isn’t just where you perform, it is also who you perform with. It might seem like the best idea to tour early on with the largest and most successful band possible to gain the most fans, but that might shorten the band’s life cycle. At the beginning of their career a band should tour with other musicians that have already gained the target market fan base that is most appropriate for their position along the product life cycle curve. One of the things that we have noticed is that successful bands aren’t, in the beginning, touring with bands that are in the market maturity of the product life-cycle curve or have adopters that are mainstream trend followers. Early in their career Rilo Kiley toured with Bright Eyes; Sufjan Stevens toured with Laura Viers; and Spoon with Superchunk and Guided by Voices. All were bands that hadn’t achieved large scale mainstream success. Touring too soon with a mainstream band could alienate your elitists. You have to spend time developing each group. And if you take the steps to associate your band with mainstream styles too soon, your elitists might considered your band as having sold out by not spending enough time in the indie scene which would have the next group of adopters, the Trend Initiators. And without the adoption group Trend Initiator to influence the fans of the mainstream band, these fans might not accept the new band. These Mainstream Trend Followers are looking to the early groups to endorse trends and establish what will be popular. Without the fans in the earlier groups, the mainstream followers might not know how to react to that band. A better way to explain this would to propose the same situation in the fashion industry. Imagine the department store Marshall Field’s (Macy’s) attempting to start a new fashion trend that isn’t seen on the runways of New York or in the pages of Vogue. The store would be equivalent to a mainstream band and the people shopping at these stores are mainstream followers. Without the opinion leaders of the followers accepting this new fashion, the followers might be less inclined to adopt that fashion trend without it being endorsed by the people they look up to, to determine what is cool.
Succeeding in Music 6 When you tour, you are gaining the same exposure as that band that you are tour with. Whether you are the opening act or the headliner, the audience, unless they are late, will see you both. And if the fan base of the band you are touring with consists of mostly followers that are connected to more mainstream styles, you might risk alienating the people that are establishing the trend and without the trend leaders, there are no trend followers.
However, touring with a mainstream band at the right point can help a band jump the gap between trend initiators and mainstream trend establishers, as may have been the case of Death Cab for Cutie touring with Pearl Jam in late 2004. Having sold several multi-platinum albums, Pearl Jam is at some point in the curve where their fan base is mostly mainstream trend followers and they can be classified as a mainstream band. Death Cab for Cutie has been and opening act and a headliner, but never in the size venues that Pearl Jam plays in. Touring with Pearl Jam allowed Death Cab for Cutie to be exposed to a larger fan base that might not have heard about the band. What were followers for Pearl Jam become Mainstream trend establishers for Death Cab for Cutie giving them the numbers to gain a lot more media attention like their appearance on the popular television program The O.C. Death Cab for Cutie toured with Pearl Jam a year before their most successful album Plans in 2005 that was certified gold and on the Billboard charts for several weeks, as well as the single Soul Meets Body that was certified platinum.
Figure 4. Segment of Death Cab for Cutie timeline
Solo tours by a lead singer of a band could serve as refresher advertising for already established fans. The solo tour is an opportunity to create an intimate performance with the audience, usually as an acoustic performance. The singer can refresh the audience of songs that they already love. For example with the band Spoon, Brit Daniels (lead singer) whet on a short solo tour in April 2004 to a handful of towns in the south. The tour was about a year after their last full tour and a year before their next album was released (Gimmie Fiction) and the tour for the album in the US. The solo tour seems to fall right in the middle of a period of inactivity for the band. The solo tour might have served as reminder advertising for the fans, giving them enough to sustain them till the next album and tour. The solo tour can also serve as an opportunity to introduce scaled down versions of songs that might be on an up coming album and create hype for that album.
Succeeding in Music 7
Figure 5. Segment of Spoon’s timeline In the case of The Decemberists, Colin Meloy’s solo tour might have helped to great hype for the band. Two months (January 2005) before the release of their album Picaresque, Colin went on short solo tour to eight US cities just after coming off tour in October the previous year. He played as smaller venues and performed some covers of Morrissey songs. It could have also given him the opportunity to perform some works from the up coming album. However, we suggest that solo tours would only serve as reminder advertising for the Elitist, Trend Initiator, and Mainstream Trend Establishers. During solo tours, the singer will be playing music that is less than established. And since the Mainstream Trend Follower and Trend Killer only invest in established music, the solo tour will only serve as reminder advertising for the earlier groups.
Figure 6. Segment of The Decemberists’ timeline
Because these bands are creating a style of music that is independent from the mainstream style, they have to look to less than mainstream ways to promote their music. Bands have to aware of where they are on the product life cycle curve and should slow down the adoption process. Actions that too soon target groups further along the curve can alienate your original fan base, which would have become the opinions leaders for these later groups. You must show loyalty to your consumers for them to show loyalty to you. However, you must also realize that fads and trends fade away and eventually the people that follow them will move on too. So you have to be able to realize when your target market is shifting away from your product to be able to take
Succeeding in Music 8 steps to move to the next group of adopters while there is still a fan base underneath and the product hasn’t been completely abandoned.
References Beverland, Michael & Ewing, Michael (2005). Slowing the adoption and diffusion process to enhance brand repositioning: The consumer driven repositioning of Dunlop Volley. Business Horizons, 48, 385-391. Meenaghan, A. & Turnbull, Peter W. (1981). The Application of Product Life Cycle Theory to Popular Record Marketing. European Journal of Marketing, 15, 1-50. Moore, Geoffrey A. (1991). Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers. New York, NY: Collins Business Essentials. Perreault, William D. Jr. Essentials of Marketing: A Global-Managerial Approach. Burr Ridge, IL: McGraw-Hill. Sproles, George (1981). Analyzing Fashion Life Cycles – Principles and Perspective. Journal of Marketing, 45, 116-124.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.