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Tales of alternative music marketing

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There I was on a February morning, looking for hope. I, at age 41, had crashlanded in the music industry, after writing for 10 years on gaana-bajaana.

Before getting into other things, I will mention that the brief of this article was how I marketed albums by Linkin Park and James Blunt. By some God-known miracle, or simple twist of Dylanesque fate, I was hired to handle the Warner repertoire in India, through a licensing agreement with EMI Music as Label Manager responsible for “shortlisting, marketing, promotion and sales of both old catalogue and new releases.”

Everything seemed Greek but challenging. Better, many people including Billboard magazine and BBC India interviewed me on how an old journalism warhorse landed up in a different profession like this. I was clueless myself.

EMI label manager Heena Kripalani, Warner label manager Narendra Kusnur and singer Gary Lawyer at the Warner launch.

I shall talk only about the first three months. The first day was fun. Lunch at Gajalee with the bosses. Bombil fry and pomfret masala. The next day, I was introduced to terms like ICPN and UPC. Whatever their full forms, they were were codes to differentiate each music album. Ten years before Aadhar linking.

Obviously I felt I knew my Warner repertoire. What my job profile needed was to be on constant email touch with some Warner person in either London, New York or on some flight over the Atlantic Sea. They would send me a list of albums to be released. Old, new or not even conceptualised. I had to discuss quantities with the sales director who would show me an Excel sheet on how many units Rhythm House, Planet M and Music World wanted. Damn, music journalism was so much easier. Write anything which some liked, many didn’t.

Our March 2005 launch coincided with some event at Famous Studios, Mahalakshmi. I carried 50 gift packs of Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, Alanis Morissette’s ‘So-Called Chaos’ and the Linkin Park-Jay Z album ‘Collision Course’. Distributed it around. Barring Luke Kenny of Channel V, I doubt anybody opened it.

Linkin Park

A month passed. I was terrorised by numeric codes, sales strategy and formal marketing plans. Those devils called sponsorship deals, digital music, TV channel push and media promotion. Yeh kahaan aa gaye hum? (Where have I arrived?) But to earn my salary, I had to go with the flow.

My good fortune was we released Linkin Park’s ‘Hybrid Theory’ and ‘Meteora’. They had earlier been released by Tips, Warner’s previous partner, but we ensured the packaging was better, and arranged interviews with the band’s Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda.

We had Linkin Park theme nights too. The first was in Bengaluru, which I curated and compered. Popular DJ Matthew was at the console. On an open air venue, some 200 people rocked their minds away. We had a quiz where we distributed ‘Hybrid Theory’, ‘Meteora’ and ‘Collision Course’ to those who gave right answers. Even to the pretty girls who did not answer.

Sales grew. We had a few more such sessions. Who needed formal marketing plans with numeric codes? I also created a Linkin Park page on Orkut, the social media site that preceded Facebook, under a fictitious name. My colleague Setul Radia chipped in with trivia.

Around that time James Blunt released his album ‘Back To Bedlam’, featuring hits like ‘You’re Beautiful’, ‘High’, ‘Goodbye My Lover’, ‘Wisemen’ and ‘So Long, Jimmy’. The young ladies loved it but how to convince the guys?

Music marketing begins with three outlets – radio, television and press. Blunt wasn’t giving interviews as he was touring. So we tried the television route as only one station played English music and they obviously couldn’t play him all day.

James Blunt

It was a headache. MTV wanted to play him exclusively, so did Channel V. Nothing really moved the way we wanted.

The next thing I did required some convincing with my boss Shamir Tandon. I told him I would go around town and meet disc jockeys everywhere and insist they play Blunt depending on the venue’s profile and audience mood. The ploy worked. Lower Parel, Chembur, Bandra and Malad. Distributed a few free copies to those who seemed excited. It meant an initial loss but yes, eventually sales picked up and how! MTV and Channel V played the videos on their own, exclusivity forgotten.

And yes, I even played Blunt at the Linkin Park sessions. Wonder how many knew the difference. Maybe the beer sponsor did a great job. Whatever, ‘Back To Bedlam’ was the biggest selling Warner album in 2005. It even beat EMI’s major release, Coldplay’s ‘X&Y’, despite a 200-page marketing strategy sent by their London office. What fun.

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Narendra Kusnur

Author: Narendra Kusnur

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