How to connect with your audience: Insight from Defected Records

James Kirkham, Chief Business Officer at Defected Records, explains why community, passion points and high-impact activations are the recipe for marketing success in 2021.

While coronavirus presented unprecedented challenges for Defected Records – known for their club nights and festivals as much as their roster of house music artists – the pandemic also ushered in a new era of innovation for the brand. 

James Kirkham defected records
James Kirkham, Defected Records

James Kirkham, Chief Business Officer at the London-based record label, says they’ve found new ways to connect with their audience. And rather than return to the way things were before, it’s something they intend to build on further. 

“We’ve got a whole bunch of learnings from this last 15 months,” he says. “What we did during COVID was double down in the social space, double down on content and double down on storytelling. 

“For everything we did, it had to be about being an authority around the record or the music and making sure that we always gave that extra value. It’s why we’ve invented a whole bunch of new formats and micro formats. For example, we’ll put out two hour pieces on Twitch where one of our top artists like Purple Disco Machine will take viewers through his remix of a new Boys Noize record. We think it’s important that people can get into it that way. We can then, of course, cut it up, edit it up, disseminate it onto other channels, send it around socially and so on.”

Community for us as everything; the sheer positivity that you get from fans, that feeling of growth and family.

It’s activity like this that Kirkham recommends for other brands too – by doubling down on storytelling within their communities they can fuel marketing. A big benefit of growing a community is that it means brands don’t become reliant on paid advertising. 

“Community for us as everything. And there’s some lovely touchy-feely stuff that comes from that; the sheer positivity that you get from fans, that feeling of growth and family, but also there’s some big commercial advantages. It means you can market new artists and new records to them and, if you get it right, they can do the marketing for you. They share it and it can transcend their community.”

Tapping into passion points

House music is a passion for millions of people, which clearly gives Defected a head start when growing a fanbase. But even brands that don’t have one can win by tapping into other passion points. 

According to Kirkham, there’s a “big blurring of the lines” at the moment between different interests, which means brands that make the right alliances can earn attention in niche communities. For Defected – and other music brands – this trend has led them to integrate into the gaming world.

“Gaming is a huge area of consumption of dance music, electronica and house music. There’s more and more artists and talent leveraging that in all sorts of different ways,” he says. 

On Twitch, you’re getting this constant feedback loop, much like people reacting on a dance floor to a track they love.

Marshmello’s Fortnight concert is an example of how successful these collaborations can be; the virtual event attracted more than 10 million people. Rapper Travis Scott’s concert, staged in the game in April 2020, took things to new heights, with attendees treated to an incredible virtual experience.

“There’s a wider piece there, where people are spending an awful lot of time in open world immersive gaming formats,” says Kirkham. “It stands to reason that they would be able to access a concert through them or hear talent for the first time or a DJ set or an artist. 

“What might have felt like a novelty or gimmick a year ago simply isn’t for an awful lot of people who consume these games and spend much of their time in open world environments. So I think we’re going to see more of that.” 

While Defected is yet to stage an artificial reality concert within a game, they have staked out a presence on the streaming platform Twitch, which is popular with gamers (it also leans strongly Gen Z, as our 2021 UK media consumption report discovered). 

2021 UK media consumption report

Learn where to find your audience across broadcast, print and social media with the latest consumption data from UK consumers.

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“Twitch was an important play because it reproduces sound very well. Certain platforms don’t have the greatest music quality but Twitch sounds bloody brilliant and it’s also got this incredible community interactive piece. 

“We started from complete scratch. It was kind of crazy when you think Defected is approaching 10 million followers across all of its platforms, and Twitch was like nil for us. It was quite a leap but we’ve built this core community, who are very vociferous and excitable and interested. 

“What we noticed when we started doing live shows on Twitch was that DJs and artists came off stage, as it were, and said that’s the closest they’ve felt to being out and about because they are seeing the live reactions to their performance. You’re getting this constant feedback loop, much like people reacting on a dance floor to a track they love. And I think that’s going to stand the platform in good stead.”

Defected Records on Twitch

Blending digital and physical

Looking ahead, Kirkham sees Defected adopting a hybrid model for their events with pillars of the real-world festival experience made available digitally, like a meet and greet with artists via Zoom. 

At the same time, the label is breathing new life into formats rooted in the past, which now conjure feelings of nostalgia, like vinyl and fanzines.

Faith was an iconic noughties fanzine, which Defected relaunched in 2020. It’s available for free in both print and digital and is another value-add for Defected’s loyal army of fans (our media consumption report found that a quarter of Millennials read a physical magazine at least once a week

“Faith has a huge heritage, with big links to the industry. It has this beautiful understanding of house music and what it represents; the kind of people and the kind of culture. And so there was all this good stuff that was really lying dormant.

“It’s been an honour to be able to resurrect it and the response has been incredible; Paul Weller’s been involved, Todd Edward has been on the cover and we have an exclusive feature with Fat Boy Slim coming up. People are loving the credibility of it. I think, for us, it was never a money-making scheme, it was always a chance to do something with a brand that we could then build out.” 

It gives us a legitimacy to broaden the reach into certain people that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t normally come under the Defected umbrella.

There are now plans for a Faith stage at one of Defected’s forthcoming festivals and possibly an episodic series. Kirkham says the authenticity and heritage of Faith is opening new doors for them. 

“It gives us a legitimacy to broaden the reach into certain people that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t normally come under the Defected umbrella. We can talk about it on social and widen the scope to be able to get to wider audiences.”

Achieving a ‘moment of impact’

Kirkham’s view of advertising is that it works best if it has built-in virality. He believes brands should focus more marketing budget on the campaign concept than on buying media, with the aim of achieving a ‘moment of impact’. He cites PlayStation’s takeover of five London Underground stations to mark the launch of the PlayStation 5 last November, alongside Dua Lipa’s multi-screen, choreographed Zoom performance as great examples.

I think we’re in a new phase, one where you land a moment and the moment will spread. 

“It’s so important right now that people have a conversation or talk about what they’ve seen or heard or interacted with,” he says. “We all know the basis of the old Mad Men-style ‘interruption advertising’ but I think we’re in a new phase, one where you land a moment and the moment will spread. 

“And it’s interesting that those moments are still spreading even at a time when we’re locked down and there’s zero footfall. They still catch fire on social; you only need that trigger. But I believe you have to allow an audience of fans to take it on themselves, to market to one another by sharing it and showing their love for it. I think a lot of smart brands are doing it.” 

Right now, though, Defected are still facing the challenge of uncertainty around coronavirus restrictions – making plans to get back to dance floors around the world, while also factoring in not being able to.

“The challenge is you’re marketing for both, but neither. And you’re having to do contingency planning and scenario planning every time you want to make a piece of promotion. It’s like playing this weird game of four dimensional chess from marketing and promo. 

“You’re asking yourself, is it virtual or real or somewhere in between? And if it’s virtual, are you competing with people going out? Is it on-demand or is it a linear as live piece? And is that going to conflict with what you’re doing from a physical perspective? That’s a real game at the moment.”

On the plus side, Kirkham says we can expect ‘mad creativity’ to come from the chaos. “For the punters and for the fans, I think that’s going to be amazing.”

2021 UK media consumption report

Learn where to find your audience across broadcast, print and social media with the latest consumption data from UK consumers.

Get your copy now

Bel Booker

Senior Content Writer 

Bel has a background in newspaper and magazine journalism but loves to geek-out with Attest consumer data to write in-depth reports. Inherently nosy, she's endlessly excited to pose questions to Attest's audience of 100m global consumers. She also likes cake.

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