Music Biz 101: Developing your Marketing Story with Tom Mullen

As we continue our new Music Biz 101 interview series, we’ll be connecting with key industry professionals to get the best tips and knowledge allowing you to grow your brand and learn the in’s and outs from the experts.

We had the luck to be able to chat with Senior Director, Creative & Marketing Partnerships at Legacy Recordings, Tom Mullen. When it comes to marketing and the music industry, Tom has some serious connections across many genres of labels and experience with band managers to those running the legacy catalogues of the likes of Michael Jackson and Dean Martin. In addition, he has a passion project of a website/podcast, WashedUpEmo.com, dedicated to the late 90s emo genre which is pretty legit!

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Check out our exclusive interview with him, allowing us to get the scoop on best practices when developing relationships in the industry, marketing campaigns and more!

First, can you tell us a little about yourself and what you do for musicians?

My name is Tom Mullen and I have a double life. My day job is at Legacy/Sony Music as Senior Director, Creative Marketing and Partnerships. I help on the marketing team to come up with ideas and work with new partners on promoting Sony’s catalog of artists. I have another life, around emo music, where I’ve run WashedUpEmo.com for the last almost 10 years and a podcast for the last 6 related to the genre and a champion of the whole history of the genre.

What do you love/enjoy most about what you do?

I love music. I can’t do anything else. I can’t sell shoes or work with another type of entertainment. Music has been so important to me over the years that I can’t think of another profession. I enjoy most when there is someone that gets into an artist or type of music because of something I had a hand in. Music is very personal to many and to get through and create an experience or moment where a fan is connected to an artist, then that’s all that matters.

 I read once that you were one of the first 10,000 individuals to sign up for Twitter. It is evident that you are very knowledgeable on bridging the gap between fairly new brands and fans: What would you say is essential to building a solid fan base for the independent artist?

The Twitter story is that I signed up very early for the service, which you used to be able to look at what number you signed up for. I’ve always been interested in what’s next for technology and what things could make things easier, create marketing opportunities or just fun. Twitter was very different when I signed up back in 2006. I feel I know when seeing a technology that there is a way to apply that to an artist. In turn, the artist could be seen as relevant to a new audience. It’s a constant game and I’ve had some misses with this but Twitter was one that I guessed early on it’d be a hit. At least for now.

What was the biggest challenge that musicians faced promoting their music in 2016? How can they navigate this issue?

Since I work with catalog artists, there is a bit of an easier time with the story. That’s the most important part of this. I want to feel connected to the artist and it’s harder and harder to get the attention of someone so you have to have the better story to tell. On top of that, you have to have it on the right medium and in the right voice to the audience you’re trying to speak to. To be successful, you have to know the platforms, know the voice of the fan and know how to speak to them. The only way is to experiment with all of them and try them out for yourself.

 As you know, the indie artist is all about DIY best practices, including marketing and promotion strategies. Do you have any tips on cost-effective ways to book gigs or growth hacks to increase brand exposure?

It starts early in your career of how you act. If you’re nice to door guy, nice to the other bands, cool to the label that the other band is on, etc. All those things will help you when you’re asking to be on a tour a few years later. Maybe you’re signing to a label and you need a friend’s band to help tell them you’re good too. Any example you can think of, this industry is so small. Even today I met with someone I’d never met before but we had countless of mutual friends. Sure, that’s with any career, but as a band or in the music biz, you’re weighed heavily by your friends and who will vouch for you. Be a band that people wanna vouch for you.

You’ve worked with companies like Sony and Beats Music in your 15+ years of experience in the music industry: What trends do you see in the most successful digital album campaigns?

In terms of successful digital campaigns, it’s not about being first in something, it’s about doing it right and having the story match the campaign. What I mean by that is, don’t just do a 360 video to do a 360 video. Does it play into the story of the album? Can PR hook onto the story for a press angle? Does the music match that style and way you’re going? You have to ask yourself these things as you craft the ideas/thoughts around a campaign. When it’s done right, then it’s talked about and copied. The best part about digital, is in 6 months, it will look obsolete. Look at your phone, how long have you had that? Constantly new, constantly changing. It’s what I love most about digital.

What is one of the best marketing campaigns that you’ve stumbled upon?

I of course loved the “Straight Outta Compton” campaign for music but for me, I look outside of music campaigns to see how other brands, countries and agencies are crafting stories and marketing campaigns. Spotify’s Discover Weekly is another that comes to mind from the tech world. In 2016, Legacy had a great run with some awards for a Bob Dylan project that led to some Cannes Lions, Clios, etc. We had a Miles Davis project that was part of the best music marketing of 2016 from Ad Age. That was a huge deal because we were up against huge current pop artists that were alive and giant brands with huge budgets.

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Taking into consideration the up-and-coming artist Chance the Rapper, who released the first streaming-only album to chart on the Billboard 200 without signing to a label: Do you think artists need a major label deal to be successful?

Many do, when you’re a big artist like that and grow your fanbase without a label, great. Or you’re a huge artist and can leave the major label system, but for the most part, a label is helpful to an artist. This goes for both independent and major labels. There is a level of work that both sides must do to be successful. You can do this any way you want and both work depending on the situation. You have to decide that as an artist. I’ve mentored at SXSW in the past and spoken to many up and coming artists about their marketing, etc. I love doing that and it’s all about helping the next artist, helping the next label figure it out. My mantra is try anything once and if that’s self releasing or signing a deal, go for it. Last bit of advice, get a lawyer either way.

 

What advice would you give me if I wanted to be successful in your line of work (or major)?

To be successful in the music industry, it takes an understanding that it’s not math. There is no right or wrong way to get to the answer. Things change on the fly and you have to adapt. There is no 9 to 5 with this job either. I’m answering you at 10:30pm because it’s quiet now and I’m able to answer without distraction. You have to love music and know that sometimes everything you do for an artist may not work. You have to be ready for that. Finally, be open to a new idea or a new way of doing something. No one has figured out the music industry yet. It’s ripe for new blood, new ideas from anyone. If you’re in a situation where it’s the same old, find a way to break through and take that leap. Every time I’ve taken a scary leap in my career, it’s paid off

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