Marketing - The Importance of Listening
A clever marketing manager once told me "I am the ears, eyes and mouth of the company.
It is my job to observe the market, listen to the customer and then tell them about our products."
"If your product
is not selling," he said. "the very first thing you should do, is get out there and find out why. If there is something
wrong with it, spending large sums of money, telling people about it is not going to help.! If you want to sell anything,
you are going to have to listen to your customers first."
Let me tell you the true story of two European studios
that suddenly found themselves without any trade. Both happened at more or less the same time and both tried to solve
their problems though marketing. One failed utterly and one succeeded brilliantly.
was a large studio right in the centre of a big city, with a large and vibrant music scene. This was a ‘happening’
city and small studios that were just a step away from being toilets, were just about everywhere. I know, because I
worked in many of them!
Studio A was the biggest and best studio in town, with two rooms, the larger being a
magnificent wood-lined hall, sporting the obligatory full concert grand piano and a warm and airy control room with nice,
new prestige analogue desk and two Studer 827s, as well as the usual DAWs. The second room was just for mixing and sported
an older desk of the same make and the same machines and monitors.
The studio belonged to a national label and
publishing house with excellent international connections. This gave the studio a steady stream of bookings at full
list price, for which the studio paid the parent company a substantial commission. Given this healthy flow of regular
trade, there just was no need for much marketing effort. Label work was augmented by local bands seeking that big studio magic
and international acts wanting to record in a hip city that was not the usual London, New York or Los Angeles. The full-time
staff of eight had little reason to worry.
Then the label was bought out by an international concern and the
studio was put up for sale. The manager, a professional businessman who had never before worked in the music industry,
together with his engineers and some outside backing, bought the studio. Getting the money was no big problem, one look
at the books was enough to persuade the banks and other backers that they were onto a good thing.
But the new
parent found reasons to not honour guarantees to the contrary and stopped all bookings. Deprived of those connections
that came with being part of a larger company, the studio went from a completely full bookings sheet, to a completely empty
bookings sheet in a matter of weeks.
The best way to describe Studio B
would be as a ‘lean, mean, recording machine!’ This was in a converted hall in the outskirts of a major
city with two large broadcasters and several play-out centres, ad agencies and television facilities, all of which used the
studio more or less each and every day.
The owner-manager and former musician, had the only large recording facility
in that city and the only one with the same prestige desk as Studio A, the same recording equipment and even had the same
monitors. He too had a smaller second room and even had the same piano in the live room. With only one full-time
employee, a girl who did all the bookkeeping and other admin work, he relied on freelancers, interns and part-time staff to
keep things going for as little money as possible. Life was good and he could afford a lovely house, big cars and to
send his children to the most expensive school in Europe.
Then all his dreams came true and one of the nation’s
biggest acts decided to develop a major label and publishing business and the first step on this road was to book the studio
for an unbelievable two-year lockout.
During this halcyon period, the broadcasters and local acts had to find
other studios and some of his competition formed an alliance and built a studio every bit as nice and large as Studio B.
over a year, the project to launch an international label ran out of money and failed and our owner found himself suddenly
without any trade whatsoever and, because the now bankrupt label had failed to pay their bills, with a great deal less money
than he had expected.
All Hands on Deck!
The former musician and owner of Studio
B reacted immediately. With all his former customers now happily going elsewhere, he re-equipped the studio
with two even more expensive desks, this time opting for the very latest in digital technology and by doing so early in the
product life-cycle, managed to get a ‘two-for-the-price-of-one’ deal. He informed the press that his was
going to be the most modern studio anywhere in Europe.
At the same time, he booked advertising anywhere and everywhere,
to tell the World of all the new technical goodies now on offer. This was backed by another slick advertising campaign
by the desk manufacturer. Two flagship desks in the one studio - everyone in the business was talking about Studio B!
professional manager at Studio A could not have reacted more differently. A quick phone-round to labels
and producers told him that absolutely no business was coming his any time soon. His first move was to call his staff
together and put his cards face-up on the table.
"We’re broke!" he said. "There is nothing
coming in, nothing is going to come in and, to be honest, I have no way of paying you."
He told them
that they would have to work for three months without pay and in those three months, they would have to work harder and longer
than ever before! In exchange, he was offering them shares in the business (which, if they did not turn things about
very, very quickly, would be worth absolutely nothing pretty soon).
Three jumped ship and five remained.
the first month, he and his new partners went out all over the city, talking to owners of project studios and rehearsal rooms,
musicians, producers of techno and hip-hop, indie bands, cabaret singers and folk singers in the back rooms of smoky bars.
They took forms with them and filled in every detail of every person they spoke to and listed every requirement and desire
mentioned. He turned his small workforce into a market research company.
At the end of the month, armed
with all this information, he offered the best small studios and producers for each and every type of music in that city a
deal. They can take any project into his studio at a cut-price rate and with themselves as engineers. Not only
that, he would also train them to use the bigger toys as part of the deal. At the end of a year, he would take the best
material and put on a showcase event, inviting tour managers, promoters and labels to see the very best new talent in the
Word spread throughout the techno, hip-hop and indie rock scene
and soon, musicians were seeking out those studios that had an arrangement with Studio A. This was, of course, of great
advantage to those who were ‘on the list’ and had the added enticement, that all owners and engineers in small
studios dream of one day sitting behind the big desk with thousands of knobs.
The scheme was a success, and after
the inevitable hiccoughs, bands started booking the studio and bills and wages could be paid once more. The showcase
event sold more than enough tickets and the studio and its owners have, after several similar concerts, become important local
In the mean time, Studio B remained empty. Yes, the owner had become the talk of the industry,
but that just refused to translate into sales. Those magnificent digital desks may have been the envy of the competition,
but they were exactly what his customers did not want and they told him so. They would have preferred to have the old
analogue desks back. Today, the building is a vegetables wholesaler.
difference between the two studio managers was that the owner of Studio B did not take the time to find out what the market
wanted. Instead, he just ‘beasted’ forward, regardless, doing more of the same. He already had the right
equipment, it was his business model that did not fit the market any more.
Studio A was run by a man with an
MBA. I remember seeing it on the wall behind his desk, along with all the gold disks that had been recorded there over
the past 30 years. He went back to basics.
"Find out what the customer wants and then give it to them!"
said Henry Ford.
With label buisiness dead or dying, he realised he had to talk to musicians and they wanted
a seamless process, whereby they could take a project into a cheap demo studio and take the same project and even the same
engineer into the prestige city centre studio and from there, present it to a wider public. Within just a few years,
the business became a smaller version of the original parent company and turnover now far exceeds that of the original studio
business in its heyday.
I sometimes get the impression that everybody
is talking nowadays and nobody is listening any more. Everybody has a website, everybody is on some public access forum,
but we have lost the ability to listen.
If you run a studio, listening to the music has to come after you have
listened to your customers. The problem today is knowing just who those customers are going to be.
of Studio A told me later, "We were so busy at being busy, that we had lost the ability to see the what was happening
around us. The studio was fully booked when we bought it, but the industry was changing so rapidly, that there was little
chance of survival within the old structures. That’s why the [new owners] sold it to us in the first place!
We had to get out there and find out where our future trade was going to come from. If we had not done that, I would
not be sitting here now!"
Just fulfilling a need will not be enough
- customers have to know that you are there. You are going to have to make a real sales effort.
of finance company Media Lease, "Too many studios think all they have to do is fill a room full of kit, put up a pretty
website and wait for the customers to come rolling in. Life isn’t like that! If you spend one day a year
on the phone, talking to prospective customers, that would be one day very well spent. One day a month would be even
better. Better still, get a professional sales person to come in one or two days a month and sell the studio properly.
But get them to note down any reasons for not wanting to use your studio and pay close attention to what they say! Just doing
something as simple as that could turn your business around!"