One of the key differentiators between how music was marketed "back in the day" and how it's been packaged over the last decade has revolved around artist branding and promotion - or the lack thereof. I'm sure our friends on the label side have an opinion on the topic, but from my viewpoint, the emphasis on songs rather than artists has taken its toll on overall sales.
Of course, the standalone song mentality of iTunes has been a major determinant of how music is perceived and processed by fans. But there have been singles since there were 45 RPM records, and yet, albums and artists were always part of the industry's overall marketing efforts.
I was reminded of this with the release of a new book - Travelin' Man - On The Road and Behind The Scenes with Bob Seger - by two good friends, Gary Graff and Tom Weschler. The former is a renowned rock/music writer and maven whose columns, reviews, and observations you have no doubt read over the past few decades. The latter was once the tour manager for Seger, all the while taking pictures with his trusty Nikons, cataloguing the life and times of one of the most important artists to emerge from the Motor City.
Travelin' Man is a reminder of the days in rock when artists and albums ruled. The fact that there's never really been a Seger bio will make this cool picture book desirable for his fans. But more than that, it's a testament to the time and effort it takes to build a career in music. Travelin' Man is loaded with incredible pictures of Bob and his various bands, but some of the most important "label guys" (Craig Lambert, Ken Calvert, and Denise Moncel) who had a hand in his success are also featured. And deservedly so.
As many of us in rock radio remember all too well, the release of a new album from a major group back in the '70s was an event. The audience was jazzed, radio was excited, retail readied itself for the onslaught, and everyone had a great time (except for the station that somehow didn't get the record until it was already on the air at the competition).
Today, the release of new music is rarely anticipated, much less embraced, by a populace too busy and distracted to even notice. Yes, they still get amped up for a big new movie release, a hot new video game, and even the occasional TV debut. But for music, there's rarely any buzz, and stations no longer brag that "you heard it here first."
Perhaps that's why Jon Bon Jovi and Today are trying something a little different next month. Every Wednesday in November, Jon will be featured on the show, highlighting the new album (The Circle), the new single ("We Weren't Born To Follow"), as well his life, on and off the stage.
Bon Jovi is a real marketer, a smart businessman, and a humanitarian, which separates him from many others in his line of work. But he also realizes that in 2009, you have to try new things, take some risks, and expose music and maintain the brand in novel ways. (Remember that Bon Jovi hit the scene in the early '80s as part of a "Homegrown" radio album from New York's WAPP. Jon has always understood the power of marketing, promotion, and reflecting the excitement of an audience.)
For Today, this is the beginning of what they're calling their "Artist In Residence" program. Bon Jovi will receive promotion on other NBC Universal channels and properties during November. You'd have to think that this focus should keep the band and the new album very front and center in living rooms all over the U.S.