You can listen to the latest MBW podcast above, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart etc. via this link.
On this podcast, MBW founder Tim Ingham is joined by two people who know all about music superfans: Alexander Seidl, the CEO of Aviator, and the company’s COO, Lindsay Jones.
Aviator, headquartered in Hamburg, Germany, specializes in serving these superfans rare content from the artists they love – often with archive video that has long gone undiscovered and has been gathering dust.
It’s worked with artists including Mark Knopfler, James Taylor, Cliff Richard, Cher, James Brown and Olivia Newton-John.
Aviator also specializes in rights clearance and rights management. You can see how that expertise marries with its archive content business – Aviator finds, for example, long-forgotten content from a French TV performance in 1986, clears the rights, smartens up the audio and video using hi-tech tools, before finally releasing it to superfans.
This expertise in serving superfans, especially superfans of catalog artists, puts Aviator squarely in the center of one of the defining questions of today’s music business: Is the industry getting enough money from superfans – and is it serving them adequately?
Listen to the podcast above or read an abridged version of the Q&A below…
Alex, in a recent Q&A with MBW, you said that when the Boomers retire, they will be the biggest music market. What did you mean by that, and what significance does this hold for the future of the music business?
Alex Seidl: What I mean is that they will consume more music when they retire than they do now. These demographics demand high quality, as well as quantity, and on the whole, [they’re] not very interested in the more recent music, actually.
Currently, no digital platform exists where these target groups are specifically catered to en masse, with carefully curated content in an appropriate environment in which they feel at home.
On most existing platforms these demographics are offered a lot of content that simply, well, doesn’t interest them.
We’ve heard a lot of discussion about the shift in consumption in recent years towards catalog recordings, and away from new artists, on streaming services. We had a great example of this last year with Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill, which gained a new generation of fans thanks to Stranger Things. Young people might be experiencing catalog artists as new artists. What’s your take on this and how the industry treats that consumption?
Lindsay Jones: It’s true… The vast majority of legacy artists that we represent are indeed finding considerable uptake amongst younger generations. We’ve worked with a lot of artists, we’ve got access to analytics, and we can see what the demographics look like.
Our artists are often very surprised to hear this, but… it’s actually quite logical, because the younger generations obviously are massively influenced by their parents, and their grandparents as well, who grew up with a lot of this older music. And as they get older, they’re finding artists that they particularly like, while nonetheless, the seed has been planted much earlier…
We had this week, for instance, with [Sweet’s] Fox On The Run that was used in a Marvel movie. There are more to come, there is a lot of value still in matching up the old with the new, and obviously tapping into the young [generation]. The fact [is] that this music still is relevant, continues to be relevant, and always will be relevant.
“Artists, labels and broadcasters need to open their archives. That’s very essential, so that experts… can work more closely with the artists in management and labels to catalog, plan, source, restore, remaster… this incredible material.”
Alex Seidl, Aviator
Also, the other important aspect [in what] younger generations are seeing, learning from their parents and grandparents, is this massive loyalty towards the artists that produce these amazing evergreen songs. It is a long-term loyalty and it’s very inspiring for younger generations, because it links them up to a particular artist… and it helps them, as [it] did with us and also with our parents, to kind of find their own way through life.
Alex, you previously said that ‘the industry is not prepared’ to deal with this shift, where Boomers, who have disposable income, retire and devote themselves to one or two artists. How can the business best prepare for this?
Seidl: We’ve been serving superfans for many, many years already. So this is a major aspect of our work, it’s part of our DNA. That’s how we define our content strategy. The formula is actually quite simple – although, as we all know, the execution can be very complicated.
Artists, labels and broadcasters need to open their archives. That’s very essential, so that experts – such as Aviator, but not limited to Aviator, of course – can work more closely with the artists in management and labels to catalog, plan, source, restore, remaster, whatever, this incredible material, to create a long-term release strategy, and to [link that to] a story. That’s something that the superfans need – a story that they can share, basically.
“It all starts with open[ing] your archives. Check what you have. There’s so much stuff in the archives. And so much stuff that’s all held back, unfortunately, for various reasons.”
Alex Seidl, Aviator
So it is very simple, and it all goes back to the good old days. I mean, for example, the Beatles [manager] Brian Epstein invited the superfans in the early days, in ‘62, to his home for tea and biscuits, [to] motivate them. And they… spread the word and made the Beatles what they are today. Same thing with Linkin Park. I mean, Linkin Park went to schoolyards to give free cassettes to their fans. So very simple things, but very effective.
Basically, it all starts with open[ing] your archives. Check what you have. There’s so much stuff in the archives. And so much stuff that’s all held back, unfortunately, for various reasons.
What happens when you find some archived material, and the artist says ‘Oh, I’m embarrassed by that performance’ or ‘I never liked that performance’ or ‘I was performing with a drummer I don’t like, and we haven’t spoken in 10 years’? Yet you know that this material will bring joy to superfans, it will help them to fill a gap in their story about that artist. How do you handle that kind of situation?
Seidl: Well, first of all, you have to respect any decision that an artist makes. So for whatever reason, if an artist decides not to [release something], then you have to respect that. However, we have learned, through the years, that artists can change their minds. A couple of our clients refused in the beginning, [so] that some of their performances weren’t getting released at all. It was a kind of virtual black box where we put everything in[to].
But after a year or two, or maybe three or four years later, they were asking me, ‘What about this performance? [And we said] ‘You didn’t like that, so we’re not going to do it.’ And they say, ‘Well, I’d love to see that again. I think it could be great.’ This happens quite a lot. However, we also have moments when an artist says ‘Never ever,’ and obviously this material will never see the light of day.
There’s been a lot of talk in and around the industry about monetizing superfans, the idea that there’s an as-yet unlocked multi-billion-dollar opportunity in superfans who would be willing to pay extra each month to access special or additional content. You’ve been working with superfans for a long time. What’s your take on this idea?
Jones: On the surface, it is extremely intriguing. There’s a good opportunity, potentially. However, when you kind of look at the whole thing a little bit more deeply, then you start to ask yourself some questions.
We’ve worked for many years… with the artists and also with our superfans. We know very much the personality of the superfan and have a lot of experience with it. And we know how demanding they are… From their point of view, quite rightly so. I mean, they invest a lot of time and already a lot of money. They buy the boxed sets and all that kind of stuff, in shoring up their connection to the artists.
So… if you want to ensure sustainable activation of these superfans, there needs to be an extensive long term strategy in place, and someone needs to be in the driver’s seat to ensure that their strategy is going consistently in the right direction.
“If [superfans] are massively disappointed, they’re not going to take out their disappointment on the platform. They’re going to take out their disappointment on the artist. So you do run the risk of the superfan not being a superfan, but also not a fan anymore… at least for a period of time.”
Lindsay Jones, Aviator
The problem is that you otherwise run the risk of something like this being a flash in the pan, simply because superfans are not getting what they need consistently over a long period of time. If they are prepared to spend extra money, then they need and expect to get their money’s worth, they want a first-class service because they are the superfan. So if they don’t receive this, then it’s likely that they won’t be a superfan for very long, at least on whatever particular platform we’re talking about here.
And if they are massively disappointed, they’re not going to take out their disappointment on the platform. They’re going to take out their disappointment on the artist. So you do run the risk of the superfan not being a superfan, but also not a fan anymore… at least for a period of time.
So… the question is whether there are enough experienced people who are in a position within the industry to ensure that these superfans are kept constantly happy over a long period of time. We’re talking about people that are able to locate new content, are able to clear it, secure it, but also to plan long term, en masse. So I think it is an opportunity but it is definitely something that will take an awful awful lot of work and a lot of investment.
But that to one side, it is something that both the artists and the fans would love to see happen.
Do you have a particular example of a story where you’ve worked with an artist to uncover material that maybe they didn’t know existed, or maybe there was an intriguing bump in the road in the process of finding and delivering the content to fans?
Seidl: We were collaborating with Sony a couple of years ago on the Falco 60 project. [A double CD and DVD release celebrating Austrian artist Falco’s 60th birthday.]
I was in an office in Indiana, and they had this tiny little room in the back and there were a couple of videotapes. And I said ‘Can I have a look?’ And they said, ‘Sure, just go ahead’ and I found this one tape [that] was just listed as Falco and I asked ‘What’s on it?’ ‘Well, we don’t know, take it with you, check it out.’
So I did. It was Falco’s first live performance ever. It was never broadcast, because he obviously wasn’t happy with it, and it was absolutely incredible. And when we released it first on DVD with Sony and later as a digital product, the fans were totally blown away by this. It was just one tape, basically, with the name of the artist on it.
“Every artist and manager also needs to be aware that these archives, they contain gold, if not now, then later.”
Lindsay Jones, Aviator
Another one [that’s] also really great [is] about the band Sweet. We found this concert [tape] that was not broadcast by [German local TV station Radio Bremen] at that time because the band and the producer got into a fistfight, actually, so the only thing they did was film the rehearsal. And in between the songs, the camera crew there were booing the band going like ‘Boo, you suck. You’re terrible.’
So the band was really angry and they played aggressively. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. And that was basically buried in the archives since I think ‘73. And nobody has seen that before. So when we showed this performance to Andy Scott, the guitar player, the only surviving member of the band, he was completely excited. He told us the story [about how] they were fighting with the producers, and they literally were kicked out of the studio after that.
If I could give you a magic wand right here and now to change one thing about the music business, what would it be and why?
Seidl: Obviously love, peace, happiness and ice cream for everyone!
No, seriously, we know that the industry isn’t perfect. And there’s a lot that has been constantly going wrong for decades. But to be honest, we wouldn’t change the thing on the whole. It’s the imperfections and how we all deal with them, and with each other, that makes the business unique and constantly exciting. Comparatively speaking, the music business has a very positive effect on society as a whole and doesn’t cause anywhere near as much damage as other industries I could mention. It’s charming, it’s chaotic, but we love it.
Jones: What Alex said. I mean, it is an amazing business to work in and really, genuinely, I love the people that we work with. I love the artists that we work with. I love the challenge. I love coming to work every day… It is a business that really does draw you in, and I’m extremely happy and I’m very very proud to work in it.
But specifically… I think that we would like to see more awareness of archives in general… [TV stations], especially… private stations, they put their archives in order, but [they could] have more of an awareness of the value of archives in general. It’s not just labels. Every artist and manager also needs to be aware that these archives, they contain gold – if not now, then later.
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