Kate Bush’s song “Running Up That Hill” has made a comeback on popular social media platform TikTok, changing the mindset of today’s music marketers.
by Keith Jopling of MIDA
There’s not a lot of good news right now. It brightened my summer a bit, however, to see music legend Kate Bush (or “our Kate” if you’re British) acknowledge that her song, ‘Run up that hill’, has been given “a whole new life” thanks to the recent sync to the Netflix series Stranger Things. As reported here, the song was the number one most-streamed track in the world on Spotify in the last week of the rankings. The song would also be number one in the UK if chart rules did not favor new releases.
It’s a great sync that has worked on every level, including introducing Kate’s music to a whole new generation. For those in the music industry, this is just another example of a very familiar narrative: classic songs of yesteryear rejuvenated by placing them in a modern context. Kate Bush now joins the ranks of Fleetwood Mac (this TikTok by Dogface208), Phil Collins (this YouTube reaction video by Twins the new Trend), Elton (this remix and Dua Lipa single) and many more ‘legacy acts’ who enjoyed a Sugar Rush revival for their catalogs. Songs can be pulled from the past and catapulted into today’s popularity in an instant.
A new marketing mentality
To make my point here, I will now drop the terms “legacy acts” and “catalogs” because, for audiences who have discovered these artists recently, the two terms are irrelevant. In the age of streaming/social/TikTok, music consumers don’t care when music was created or released. Music consumption has no timestamp. This requires a shift in marketing mindset in the music industry. Thinking about new releases and catalogs in isolation makes less sense. Progressive record label marketers have already combined “new release” and “catalog” (streaming analytics and playlist marketing) marketing services into an integrated whole.
Industry standard definitions for the catalog directory have long been redundant. The report released earlier this year that “more than 80%” of streaming music in the United States is catalog music (later corrected to 73%) both surprised and misled many (especially the growing community of investors buying music rights!). The assumption is that “old music kills new music”, while the reality is that new music just takes a little longer to peak on streaming platforms. If anything older than 18 months is defined as catalog (and for more than 3 years “deep” catalog), then an increasing proportion of that is essentially new music that is still being discovered through streaming. It is probably time these definitions were dropped.
With timestamps no longer relevant, here are some examples of marketers’ new mindset:
- Any new release by a major artist has a very short window to achieve two things – consumption per se and triggering further consumption of that artist’s catalog. This in itself requires a joint marketing strategy between the “front line” and catalog teams within the labels
- That means not giving up on new music too soon, as evidenced by the success of Glass Animals’ Heat Wave (which hit the US Billboard top 10 after 42 weeks, eventually reaching number one). This one is tough for marketers and artists. Priority releases from label marketers arrive weekly, making last week’s release yesterday’s news. There are an increasing number of releases that are considered “soft”, which means no marketing or promotion is done. For many artists trying to break through or build their brand, this poses a dilemma of how long a current record can be marketed before the desire to create and release something new takes over.
- It also means the end of demographic audience targeting. With music discoverable anytime, anywhere, and at any age, the idea of any artist having a target audience based on demographics is outdated. Music marketing now needs to be aimed more broadly at everyone – something most artists think applies to their music anyway.
A dynamic at work, of course, is that the above trends are contributing to the “streaming super-hit”, usually confined to the top five songs by any established artist (again with rare exceptions). So Kate Bush shouldn’t expect to see huge spikes in full streams from her classic 1985 album, Hounds Of Love. Which is ironic, of course, since this disc is a famous “body of work” – its second side (analogue reference) comprising seven songs in one continuous motion about being trapped underwater. So while a whole new audience discovered Kate’s supernatural genius, very few would settle on planet Kate for good. There’s simply too much music and too little time to dig deep into an artist’s catalog these days.
Ultimately, the question I’m asking here is how in tune is the industry really with listening trends? If the gap was closed, then Kate Bush would become more instantly, pleasantly discoverable. How many new Kate Bush listeners know that her 22-night residency at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in 2014 was one of the cultural highlights of the decade?
Compete with all the music ever made
It’s a daunting prospect for artists to think that every new release not only competes with other new releases, but with all the music in the world. The music is unique from other entertainment content here because it ages so well. So much new music is derived, which often means that older songs from the 80s, 90s or 2000s sound contemporary. Anything post-1980 is fair game even to the youngest of ears – a phenomenon that doesn’t exist for film, TV or games (if you put remakes aside and with rare exceptions ).
Some of Spotify’s more recent innovations, such as “Blends”, ignore any notion of music timestamps by simply amplifying organic listening trends. YouTube’s algorithm has always been good at delivering trending and relevant content regardless of age, perhaps even favoring older content with “cultural authority”. The discovery of music is more linked to culture than to age. More often than not, a cultural catalyst sparks renewed interest in a song or artists far beyond one country or demographic group. And there are plenty of catalysts: syncs, TikTok, remixes, covers and tweens, hit documentaries, podcasts, and more. Yet music marketers may not have fully understood how to take advantage of marketing based on cultural trends.
Keith Jopling is Consulting Director at MIDiA