Beyond the Music: How Artists Can Stay Relevant during a Pandemic
Chasing a career in music is a challenging and brave thing to do. It can be a rollercoaster ride presenting you with challenges and bursts of success. One truly has to stay resilient and patient, more so when the challenges arise. It is when an artist manager is brought to the test to keep the artist focused on the goal and create a plan of action.
The role of an artist manager goes far beyond managing the business affairs of an artist. Over the past two years, particularly in the heights of the Covid-19 pandemic. The promotion of artists and their music took a hit, which later affected artist revenue.
The pandemic presented challenges for the artists and their team, such as cancelled tours and stalled album launches. It also afforded artists opportunities to take a step back and become creative in their interaction with their publics and employ various strategies to stay relevant.
This article explores five strategies artiste managers can employ to keep their artists relevant during a pandemic. It may be easier for artists who have a team to develop and build on these strategies, but for those who do not- no need to feel discouraged and assume it won’t work. While options may seem limited, artists find ways to push their content, brand, and music to meet a wider audience. If it’s one thing that the pandemic has proven, the world is unpredictable, and people can become global sensations overnight once consumers find value in what you offer- so get going.
Make use of technology.
Yes, not being able to tour means an artist would not be able to sell thousands of tickets and connect with their fans in a kaleidoscope of thrill, lights and excitement that the idea of “I was there” brings. Technology has afforded artists to try to entertain their fans in other ways- virtually. Dua Lipa and her NPR Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, Live performances on Youtube from Doja Cat, Ariana Grande and even Chronixx, and let’s not forget the live stream Spice performance on the Jimmy Kimmel Show alongside Shaggy and Sean Paul to promote the collaboration 'Guh Dung'.
Look at these as examples of ways you can promote your artist and provide content to the masses. Speaking of content creation, technology has allowed artists to create official music videos without actually leaving their homes and exposing themselves. On July 10, 2020, Dua Lipa premiered an animated video for her song ‘Hallucinate’, which has over 61 million views to date.
Similarly, in 2018, LSD featuring Sia, Diplo and Labrinth released an animated video for their song ‘Genius’, which as of November 23, 2021, stood at over 280 million views. The point being made is that fans will support what you produce once it is worth it. So though artists may not be able to create videos that people may want to see, giving them something substantial that you put your stamp on is enough to stay relevant.
Another avenue available for artists and the free time Covid has presented is the making of podcasts. Let’s talk stats. According to Vulture, 41% of the total U.S. population over the age of twelve, or an estimated 116 million Americans, can now be considered monthly podcast listeners. Additionally, the extent to which Americans are aware of the medium — continued to grow, present among 78% of the total U.S. population, or an estimated 222 million Americans.
See where I’m going? The fact is, podcast streaming has increased, and people have begun to see the value in sharing their stories on Google Podcasts or other sites. Artists can consider sharing content about their own experiences working in the industry or commenting on entertainment news. Snoop Dogg is doing it, RuPaul is doing it- you can too.
When I say collaborations, I am talking about fellow artists and corporate entities. In the heights of the pandemic, when people were stuck at home with their families, their dogs or even just their plants, Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber released ‘Stuck with U’ which tried to make light of the pandemic and trying to get people to look on the bright side. The track was used in ads to remind people to stay home and #StaySafe. The Rolling Stones also released a Covid-19 related track called ‘Living in a Ghost Town’, which garnered 11.8 million views on Youtube, which is interesting because they have roughly 2.5 million subscribers. The fact is it was Covid related, and artists like Ariana, Justin and TRS saw a chance to be a part of the conversation by spreading hope through their music. Talk about staying relevant while the world was dealing with the collective trauma that the pandemic brought. It was indeed a good move.
Jamaica’s Beres Hammond collaborated with Popcaan on the track ‘God is Love’ to build his reach in the Caribbean context. Beres, who is affectionately connected mainly to those born before the ’90s, strategically moved to connect with a younger audience. At the same time, they were trapped at home and were deemed “captive”, according to Hammond’s manager, Shane Brown.
Corporate collaborations require a different approach, though. Care package distribution was corporate’s way of helping with Covid relief. Some distributed tablets to students, and some offered food items to the poor. From a public relations standpoint, artists helping with such initiatives help to build their profile and build morale which translates to support. Shenseea was one of those persons who donated tablets in addition to Aidonia and Ding Dong. Pro Bono support to corporate initiatives goes a far way in securing future deals with companies that you help in their most trying times. Don’t forget that.
Connect with your fans on Social Networks
2020 was the year of TikTok. It introduced us to challenges, trends and competitions. An artist looking to stay relevant should use a platform like this that allows users to become influencers overnight based on what they produce. Create dances or videos to promote your music or show a side of you people do not see most days- that could look like playing innovative games with your family or creating reels to display a talent you hardly share. Be and #StayTrendy.
Social media was flooded with posts of people baking predominantly banana bread. A tactic an artist and his team could utilize is offering a chance for fans to win an opportunity to bake with you virtually. This could be facilitated through Zoom, recorded and posted on your social and streaming platforms. Remember, people will never forget how you make them feel, and so an opportunity like that would give you die-hard fans for life. Imagine doing that monthly with five fans each time. There is so much good that could come from that. Thank me later.
Social media also allowed Chloe X Halle to promote their album, make announcements and connect with their audience through IG Live sessions called “Tea Time” held every Tuesday evening.
Market - Not the time to go silent
When people try to find distractions from what is going on outside, the more marketing you do, the better it is for you. All that have been mentioned before are approaches to build or maintain relevance, which is an objective of marketing. However, what is important is remembering that a critical element of marketing is the value proposition- what are you offering me, and can I find value in it?
Artists create music to help people feel and express those feelings. People dance, cry and even express rage. Make sure that whatever you are marketing, take the time to think it through and make sure it aligns with your brand.
This digital takeover does not render traditional media obsolete. Some persons are not on social media, and you still want to capture them. Connect with TV shows virtually, call in and do radio interviews to promote your work.
Take the opportunity to rest and work on your craft.
An artist goes through many stages as they develop called the Artist Lifecycle. The first stage is the ‘Getting Ready’ stage, where the aspiring artist prepares for the road ahead. In this stage, the talent goes through voice training, does some writing, develops a plan, and even makes the connections to further your career. An artist being grounded due to Covid can use this opportunity to revert to doing those things. It is not a case of them starting over but rather building or bettering what already exists. Have more voice training sessions, develop on the talent, and build on weak areas like choreography, research styles and ways of writing.
There are many other things artists could do to build on their craft during this time. One thing I would urge managers to help their artists do is to understand aspects of the music business. Enrol them in classes about the industry and expose them to materials that could increase their knowledge on elements such as 360 deals, contracts, publishing, among others. Moreover, if your artist has a passion outside of music, such as Economics or even Human Resources, allow them to do virtual certification courses. That way, they can have something to fall back on when they get to the stage of retiring.
The pandemic and the internet both require artists to adapt in different ways. While some methods to connect with fans, such as touring, are not currently available, artists need to see that many opportunities still exist for music promotion and staying relevant. Through digital means, artists can still meet and reach loyal and even new listeners to grow their audiences in preparation for when live shows return.