21 Questions* to ask an artist before working with them

21 Questions to ask an artist before working with them

Not a 50 Cent reference.

When I start working with a new artist client the very first meeting I do is a discovery session where I to get up to speed on their brand and understand how I can help as a music marketing consultant.

This article is part 21 of my go-to questions I ask the artist before the album campaign and part my process for what I’m trying to uncover at each stage of the interview. Their responses are what I use to get my brief — what it is I’m being asked to do, understand the artist’s vision, and how I bring it to life.

If you want the Google Doc I use with just the checklist of questions, subscribe to my newsletter, Deep Cuts. Here we go!

Audience

Artists (typically) have the most intimate knowledge of their fan base since they perform to them, meet them out and talk to them online. Getting an idea of the audience from the artist should provide more details than social listening exercises can. Here you can identify audience bases adjacent to the core to target for growth.

  1. Who are your fans? Who is most vocal online? What’s the crowd like at shows in the US vs. EU vs. APAC etc.?
    (Illustrates current audience. If this is different from what you hear in the “goals” section you’ll identify your audience targets for growth)
  2. Who is someone that doesn’t listen to your music who you think should?
    (Identifies potential audience opportunities. Also, shows the areas they are already thinking of so you can identify overlooked audience opportunities)

Positioning

Understand the market space the artist occupies and if there is a need to change for the upcoming album cycle.

  1. How would you describe the project to someone at a dinner party that’s never heard of you?
    (Shows what the current positioning is)
  2. Who is your dream support slot? (both for artist to support and acts to support them)
    (Shows where they see themselves both sonically and culturally)
  3. Once this is out, how do you want people to describe the project in a tweet?
    (Get them talking about how they want to be seen, which may be different to how they described themselves to someone at a dinner party. Having them stick to a tweet encourages brevity — less waffle, just the point)
  4. What’s your ideal press headline 12 months from now? In which publication? Why?
    (Gives direction of the cultural conversations they wish to be a part of, as well as the value of press in their mind)

Goals

Here you need to dig for where point A is, the place you’re starting from and where point B is, which will inform the strategy of getting there.

  1. What are your goals at each of these stages: release week, 3 months after project drops, 12 months after project drops
    (Identify short term and long term goals)
  2. What do you think you need to do to hit those goals?
    (Get them talking about marketing techniques and other artist campaigns to know their familiarity/interest in marketing and where you share knowledge)

Strengths

Identify their strengths and make them stronger throughout the campaign to expedite their development.

  1. What are you most proud of to date? And, what keeps you making music
    (Shows the bar you need to exceed. Also, provides a motivation to keep the artist engaged)
  2. What is the one thing that would make your contemporaries nervous?
    (Dig for what makes the artist special to identify their competitive edge)
  3. What is one thing you’re not getting credit for that you absolutely should?
    (Dig for new narrative angles — things that make the artist special that hasn’t been told yet)

Weaknesses

Dig around for areas that the artist is uninterested in, annoyed by, or sensitive to. Then you can take those things off their plate and provide solutions for some of their biggest problems.

  1. If you were to completely start over again from day dot, what would you do differently?
    (Uncover constraints they may be unaware of)
  2. What keeps you up at night?
    (Problems you can address head-on. Also, areas of their personality and business you’ll want to be sensitive of when working together)
  3. Why do people NOT listen to your music?
    (Uncover internal issues holding the artist back. Rule out audience segments)

Product

The most important piece of the equation — the music! Get a detailed description of the album you’re working on as well as any other music-related plans in the works.

  1. Tell me about the album/EP/project/single. What’s it about? What was the process for writing and producing it? Is the track sequencing significant? Any features?
    (Identify narrative hooks to inform how you speak about the project)
  2. Who makes up the existing team? I.e.: photographers, video directors, social media managers, paid media specialists, stylists, hair and makeup.
    (Identify gaps that need filling)

Appetite for marketing & expected involvement from the artist

“Marketing” means different things to different people. For some, it’s running digital and social ads but for others, it’s social media and community management, content creation, sales, press and radio plugging, or creative development.

You need to establish parameters of the artist’s expectation of marketing — what they look to you to impact and how much involvement they’ll have. If the artist is in another country there’s no use pitching local performance-based ideas over and over again. Or if they're not cool with promoting work on socials then suggesting Spotify playlist shoutouts isn’t great.

  1. What do you expect to change with marketing this time around?
    (Shows area of marketing they are most concerned with. If this is different to what you identify as the strategy, a conversation needs to happen around KPIs)
  2. What do you think I/we will solve for you?
    (Shows their current expectations of you/your team so you know you need to deliver this plus more)
  3. What is the approval process for creative?
    (Shows how hands on the artist will be throughout the ideas and creative concepting and who on the team is trusted to get stuff done)

Partnerships

Get an idea of potential partnerships by understanding what the brands and categories the artist genuinely cares about. If you’re working with a sneaker collector that’s great info to have to pitch apparel brands.

  1. Send me a photo of what’s in your kitchen cupboard, fridge, wardrobe and bathroom cabinet.
    (Shows the products the artist genuinely eats, drinks, wears and uses to pitch to brands)
  2. What social issues are you most passionate about?
    (Identify charitable contribution opportunities)

I write about music marketing via my fortnightly newsletter, Deep Cuts, Subscribe to be newsletter friends.

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