"I think it’s that curiosity and willingness to listen that makes all the difference, it helps build a connection in our reviews and articles, and really lets our audience get in touch with an artist."
Thomas founded Broken 8 Records, one of Australia’s most successful independent music platforms back in 2016. Since then, he’s amassed over 50,000 dedicated social media followers, opened an online record store, and created a music marketing spin-off. Entirely self-taught, Thomas has built a large online presence with very little funding, making him an honorary full stack marketer as far as we’re concerned.
As a busy Founder / CEO of Broken 8 Records, Thomas generously lent us some of his time to talk about the future of his website, of digital marketing, and his predictions for 2021. Scroll down to read on!
Name: Thomas Bedward
Location: Sydney, Australia
Occupation: Founder / CEO
Could you tell us a little bit about your background, and your career in marketing so far? What led you to founding Broken 8 Records?
Founding Broken 8 Records was very much a spur of the moment idea. I had always played around with creating new music outlets, but they had never been serious businesses in the truest sense of the word. It was all trial and error, learning whatever I could wherever I could and pushing to create something new. I first started with a small blog called Anthem Review in 2014, which became pretty popular with a lot of independent artists in Australia and the United States, that was where I learnt all the basics of online marketing and began to expand my knowledge.
When it came to Broken 8 Records, I realised that there were so many talented and deserving artists that didn’t get enough exposure from the big music publications like Pitchfork and the NME. There were so many people looking for a chance, but very few people willing or able to give it to them, so I decided to try and change that.
What was your first job? What did you spend money on back then?
My first job was stocking shelves at Dan Murphy’s, the local liquor store. I was pretty much a ‘stock monkey’ as my sister used to say! Back then, I spent a lot of money on CD’s and records, some good, some bad, and some that are very embarrassing to look back on.
Prior to working at Broken 8 Records, you gained a considerable amount of experience running Anthem Review and working at UTS. What are a couple of key things that you learnt from these roles, which transfer over to Broken 8 Records?
Working with Anthem Review definitely laid the foundation for where I am today. It was a great starting point where I could get to grips with different platforms, marketing techniques and how to run my own little business. There’s still a lot of learning on the go, but I definitely owe Broken 8 Records to that early experimentation.
While my roles at UTS were more analytical based, I think they were another important stepping stone for Broken 8 Records. Doing my Masters, running classes, and teaching in the labs gave me a lot of chances to refine my communication skills and develop my problem solving skills. There was a lot that could, and often did, happen in the labs and practical classes, so learning how to flow with things and overcome obstacles all stems from that time.
Tell us about a company whose marketing strategy you admire and why?
Speedy Wunderground has got to be one of the companies I really admire. They started small and have been able to build really well without any gimmicks or tricks. They have a great belief in the bands they work with and do so much to help independent acts. When it comes to expanding Broken 8 Records into a label, they’ll be the guys we look to follow.
What’s the best marketing advice that you’ve ever received?
To always look for new opportunities and diversify. Times change so quickly these days, and it’s important to stick with them. If you can find a new way to market and expand your business, or a new feature to improve how you operate, then you’ll always come out on top of those companies who stubbornly stick to the same old methods.
Describe the most successful marketing campaign you have ever worked on. What made it so successful?
I’ve had quite a few successes so far with Broken 8 Records, but there are always a few that standout. I’ve had a really good relationship with bands like October Drift and False Heads, and I think that’s all come down to a shared respect and appreciation for what each other does. I remember also having Reverend & The Makers using my review on their posters and online marketing when ‘Mirrors’ had come out. That was a really proud moment for me personally.
Have you ever made a decision that went against your gut feeling? What was the result? What did you learn?
A few times. The main one was to close down Anthem Review back in 2016. It was a decision that I hadn’t made lightly, and it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I really wish I had pushed through and kept building on it. There was a lot more I could have done with that platform. The decision did lead me to build Broken 8 Records, which has grown far beyond what Anthem had been at the time, but you always wonder what might have been. Ultimately, I think it was a good lesson in perseverance, not giving up and really fighting to follow that idea.
Can you tell us a little more about Broken 8 Records. What’s Broken 8 Records’s mission?
Our main goal is to give every artist and band their time in the spotlight. It doesn’t matter your style or sound, just that you’re passionate about the music you make. The wonderful thing about music is its inclusivity and universal appeal, and everyone deserves a chance to be heard and appreciated. So while the main publications can fight to bright you Billie Eilish and Post Malone, we’ll be proudly championing the unsung heroes of the independent scene.
Storytelling is currently a big buzzword in marketing. How does Broken 8 Records tell stories? What is the brand story you are trying to tell?
I think in my role, it’s always more interesting and important to present the artist’s story ahead of our own. I’m a big fan of hearing how a band started, what their influences are and what they want to achieve. I think it’s that curiosity and willingness to listen that makes all the difference, it helps build a connection in our reviews and articles, and really lets our audience get in touch with an artist.
At its core, our story is all based on a love and appreciation for music. Every band in the world started out by playing to just a handful of fans in some dingy little venue, and all it took for them to make it the mainstage was someone to notice them and see the potential. While not everyone is destined to become a rock star, everyone deserves the chance.
What does a typical day at Broken 8 Records look like?
It’s a lot of screen time and a lot of engaging with new artists. Every morning starts with checking updates on our social media pages and emails, looking for new connections and work to be done, getting in touch with PR companies, A&R, and artists. There’s a lot of new music to cover, and new features to write, so more often than not it’s a simple case of putting a record on, opening up a Word document and getting stuck in. There’s no real set schedule or plan, it’s very much staying current and rolling with the punches.
Tell us a bit about your martech stack. What couldn’t you live without?
There’s so many different tools on the marketing, that I’m still learning to build my martech stack more effectively, but at the moment it would have to come down to Salesforce, Shopify, Hootsuite, and most recently Heropost. Heropost are relatively new when it comes to social media analytics, scheduling, and automation, but they’re expanding and updating quickly, so I’m very excited to see how they develop.
What are three components of a successful inbound or digital marketing strategy at Broken 8 Records?
Understanding my audience is definitely a big part of our strategy, along with link building, SEO, and of course automation. If I can better understand my audience and what they like, I can more accurately build a campaign for my clients, getting them more engagements while also furthering my own reach. Plus, if I can use that information to automate our services, then I can be far more efficient in what I do.
What is the biggest digital marketing challenge your organisation faces?
Building our social media engagements has continued to be a big challenge, and I think it’s where a lot of bands and artists suffer. A lot of platforms are using new algorithms that lower your reach and exposure, so breaking through that barrier is constantly an ongoing struggle.
What does data-driven marketing mean at Broken 8 Records? How do you leverage data to inform your decision making?
Data is at the core of all my decisions, whether it’s in building a campaign for a client or looking at expanding our own reach. Knowing who our audience is, when they’re most active, and what they’re looking for is key to getting the best results, but also for streamlining our own ads and marketing. Getting the best value for money is always essential no matter how big or small your company is.
How have you and Broken 8 Records structured work since the COVID-19 pandemic?
Thankfully the recent pandemic hasn’t hit me too hard, and I’m very grateful for that. The majority of the work I do is online, and I’m a big believer in not growing outside what I can sustain, so I’ve been able to keep building fairly well despite all the changes, lockdowns, and quarantines.
In terms of the recent shift towards working from home, do you think this is long overdue for many organisations or unsustainable in the long run?
I’ve heard arguments for both sides of this debate, and I think it ultimately comes down to the employees themselves. While it’s often more relaxing and comfortable to work from home, there will always be more distractions at hand. If a team can work effectively from home, then I can’t see that becoming unsustainable in the long term, but for it to work everyone needs to take accountability and do their part.
What are some digital marketing trends that you believe we should watch over the next 12 to 18 months?
Programmatic advertising is something I’m very interested in for the future. The idea that you can effectively and automatically target specific groups with your ad buying seems like it has the potential to be a real game-changer. I think for a lot of products, the use of influences and conversation marketing is still going really strong, as well as omnichannel marketing. I know cross-platform marketing isn’t a new idea, but with new apps and social media platforms coming out every year, I think its still going to be a core feature in any strategy.
What advice would you have for young professionals working in digital?
I think the main thing is to keep expanding your knowledge base and to not be afraid to experiment with strategies and platforms. Even if a plan doesn’t quite come together, you’ll be able to take something away from it.
In the ever-changing digital marketing environment, learning is a constant cycle. Which websites, blogs, and/or courses, are your go-tos when it comes to staying up to date with industry developments?
I think the Moz Blog and Content Marketing Institute have to be the two standouts, they cover pretty much everything you could ever want to know about marketing trends, techniques, and developments.
If you had the time, what marketing skill would you like to improve? Why?
Definitely my SEO. I’ve fallen shamefully behind on that, but also I’d love to spend more time really getting into the automation side of things to make my workflow more efficient.
What are you currently reading? Are there any marketing books that you’d recommend to someone fresh out of university?
At the moment i’m reading ‘A Fabulous Creation: How the LP Saved Our Lives’
by David Hepworth, it’s a great, albeit very romanticised look at how vinyl came to take over the world. In terms of marketing books, i’m a big fan of ‘Failed It’ by Erik Kessels, and ‘Start your own f*cking brand’ by Maria Erixson.
What did you last watch on Netflix? Any recommendations for us?
The last show I watched was ‘The End of the F**king World’, it’s a very off-kilter show, but it had me hooked. Next up on my list is the new Penny Dreadful series, hopefully it’ll be as engaging as the first few!
What do you do to push yourself out of your comfort zone? What did you learn?
Lately it’s all been about expanding into unknown territories, diving into new things like setting up our own radio station, putting out our first record, and building an online record store, which will hopefully one day become a true bricks and mortar store. It’s all brand new for me, so there’s a lot of learning by mistakes involved. So far it’s been rewarding, but it’s definitely a steep learning curve in regards to finding stock, managing profits, and all the red tape and paperwork that comes with it! Mostly I’ve come to realise that while there’s a lot I don’t know, it’s all completely achievable, so that has me pretty inspired to keep working away.
Thank you Thomas!