Saturday, December 16, 2006

Marketing Music

I remember back in the winter of 1994 reading an AP article in our local (small midwestern town) paper that a recording of Gregorian Chant performed by the Benedictine monks from the monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos was on the top of the pop charts in Spain. The story, as I recall, mentioned that a DJ at a pop radio station decided to put a recording of Gregorian Chant on the air during rush hour, and the response was tremendous. People who were normally frazzled were somehow lulled into a state of religious calm.

I was working at a radio station at the time, and I knew that the only way a recording of Gregorian Chant could make it into a pop radio station was if it was sent there gratis from either a record company or a record distributing company. I think that promoting the "Chant" recording was a way for Angel Records to test the waters for marketing. The very smart marketing people behind this particular frenzy might have had certain controls to work with for their particular marketing challenge:
1. Find something really old and would be completely unfamiliar to the pop audience. It could even be something religious.

2. Make sure that the music is in the public domain so that nobody needs to be paid royalties when the profits come rolling in. How about monks in a monestary?

3. Give it a one-word title and a catchy cover that combines the far-away sacred with the eternally hip mystery of Rene Magritte.

4. Don't spend any money. Use only the media, particulary the international news media, to promote it. Make up stories if you have to. Send copies to pop radio stations all over Spain. Call the DJs at the pop radio stations and encourage them to give it airplay. Assume that they will judge the record by its hip cover. Let reports of the recording's odd popularity raise people's curiosity. Who cares if they ever listen to it again after buying it?
This marketing scheme actually paved the way for the then "new age" audience of twenty-somethings that embraced (and bought recordings of) the music of Hildegard von Bingen (produced by Angel, by the way), and for groups of monks to come out with their own far-superior recordings of Gregorian Chant. But isn't it odd that these resulting frecordings of Gregorian Chant made on record labels other than Angel Records never hit the pop charts or sold millions of copies?

I wonder how Gorecki’s Third Symphony made it to #3 on the British pop charts in 1991, and I wonder if Angel was following Nonesuch's marketing strategy--or testing it.


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