“It’s really all about the song.” Advice from Dale Kotyk, VP Marketing Warner Music

Dale Kotyk is the Vice President of Marketing at Warner Music and has worked in the business for over a quarter of a century in almost every facet of the business.  You can meet him in person on May 26th at the Toronto International Music Summit where he will be sharing more of his expertise!  He graciously accepted an invitation to be interviewed for the Songwriters Association of Canada‘s blog.  Here’s what he had to say…

1.  What are the different paths for getting label attention for a performing artist versus a songwriter?  In either case it is crucial for the artist to build their own brand up to the point where it can no longer be ignored. Labels in this country are hesitant to sign acts without a sizeable social media profile. Building from scratch is no longer a practical proposition. Beyond that, song and performance are synonymous. Since we are primarily in the recorded music business, we are looking for engaging performers with tremendous songs, whether they are self-written or not. In saying that, it’s really all about the song in the end – and that has been our mantra when seeking and developing new talent. There are many outstanding performers out there who haven’t made it over the hump because they haven’t managed to find the proper vehicle to channel their abilities i.e.: the right song.

2.  What are the different facets and tools used in designing an online music marketing campaign for your artists?  Before anything else, you need to establish who the audience is that you want to speak to. You use all the metrics that are available to you to target your approach. You may want to stay within the social media realm and attempt to recruit new fans/feed existing ones through engagement strategies, or you may want to run large-scale campaigns such as site takeovers using rich media i.e.: motion spots or pre-roll. We have a small digital marketing team consisting of just three people. That’s what’s so attractive about marketing online – it is efficient and much less of a strain on resources… cheaper than traditional advertising (print, radio, TV), virtually turnkey to place campaigns, easier to hone in on the desired consumer, and your campaign’s effectiveness is measurable.

3.  What do you see as a coming trend in terms of style of music?  I don’t think that labels set the trends, the artists do. One of our top executives said recently when speaking about one of our heavy rock acts, “Rock music doesn’t sell…until it does.” What he meant is that it only takes one break-through recording in a particular genre to open the floodgates. Without Nirvana there is no Pearl Jam or Soundgarden. The path gets paved by the innovators for the next artist in line. Look at Adele. It didn’t fit radio. But once it started to get penetration, it couldn’t be stopped because it was GOOD, and all of a sudden radio playlists started evolving, and now Top 40 radio has broadened its scope a little, and we have renewed hope for an up-and-comer such as Ed Sheeran at that format. It’s tough to ignore what is “hot” at any given time because there is an urge to go for the low hanging fruit, however we pride ourselves on being as genre blind as possible. Great music is great music, and you have to have faith that in the end, originality and substance will trump the current trend.

4.  With a slew of independent artists flooding the internet, what strategies have you used to make sure your artists stand out above the noise?  Cream rises to the top. What we do is provide the best possible value to the consumer, and expose our repertoire in the best way we can to the audiences we feel will appreciate it most. The consumer is king in this equation.

5.  What are the key elements that need to be in place for successfully launching an artist?  (i.e. the right song, vs., the right look, vs., the right story/strategy?)  I think that all those things are important and can certainly assist you – a catchy tune, an attractive face, a great personality, a rags-to-riches type story…but you can’t manipulate an artist, they have to be themselves. The most successful projects are those that grow organically, ones that aren’t manufactured.

6.  When you receive a demo, how far into the song do you listen?  (i.e. to the first chorus, the intro only, etc.,)  You’d have to ask our A&R team about receiving demos, but I can tell you that discovery occurs most frequently via word of mouth within the industry and not through the demo submission process anymore, and usually only after the artist has independently built up his/her/their own brand to a degree that the labels take notice. The old school demo rule of thumb was to place your best material first in descending order, 3 songs max – I guess that is still true to some degree.

7.  What do you think are key elements of a good song?  Outside of the obvious verse/bridge/ catchy chorus stuff, what I want is to “feel” the song – it has to have emotion – or at least empower the listener to feel something. That could be inspired, boisterous, euphoric, or melancholy. When the hair on your arms stand up, you know you’ve heard something exceptional.

8.  How engaged are artists in the design and implementation of their marketing plans?   Sometimes they are very involved, sometimes not at all. Most of the artists and management teams we work with have faith in our abilities – after all, this is what we do and we are good at our jobs. With many artists there is a process where we will sit down at the beginning of a project to brainstorm ideas and if it is a new artist in question, get a feel for who they are and what they want to become.  A great example of an involved artist is Blue Rodeo. At the start of just about every record, we will go down to sit with Jim & Greg and their management team. We throw out ideas and they throw out ideas – some of our concepts may get shot down, others they may want to explore.

9.   As a professional in the music industry, what advice do you have to give to aspiring singer/songwriters?  Be true to yourself and forge relationships in the industry before your songs are ready for mass consumption.

10. As one of the key speakers for the Toronto International Music Summit, coming up on May 26 –  Why do you think there is a need for the Summit and How do think it will impact the independent music artist-songwriter?  I think that any dialogue among aspiring songwriters and musicians is positive dialogue. Just to be together to talk about common issues has big value, but also to be able to listen to and gain knowledge from folks who earn a living in this business is invaluable. Attending a conference such as TIMS can only be of benefit in the long run.

About DALE KOTYK – Vice President Marketing, Warner Music
With nearly a quarter century in the music business, Warner Music Canada VP Marketing, Dale Kotyk, has  practical experience in virtually every area of the business. Over that time, Kotyk has held posts in radio promotion, sales and marketing – where for the better part of the past decade, he has guided Warner’s marketing team through the digital revolution, and has spearheaded many of the company’s new business initiatives.

Kotyk can lay claim to helping shape the careers of a diverse list of prolific Canadian artists including Blue Rodeo, Billy Talent, Michael Bublé and 2011 Juno Awards Best New Artist, Meaghan Smith.