Feature

I’m with the brand: how artists and advertisers can work in harmony

Bands are increasingly climbing into bed with brands, and ‘selling out’ has long since lost its stigma. But how can the relationship work for everyone?

The path to musical success used to run through one narrow channel – that of the label. If a rep discovered you, the label would throw some money behind you and you’d get radio play enough to boost your record/cassette/CD sales and you’d tour in support of the album.

Even as radio remains strong with many listeners, the rise of digital music and streaming has brought a huge shift in how people consume music, and that has changed the way musical acts go from unknowns to stars. In many cases these days, the path to stardom goes through, and in conjunction with, brands.

It’s not selling out, it’s selling up

Musicians who courted brands and sold their songs for advertisements used to be shunned. ‘Selling out’ was a negative term for bands. Some, like Fugazi, made sure they never sold out to any corporation or entity, keeping the music solely between them and the fans.

But times have changed, and brands and bands are fast becoming chummy for the benefit of both sides.

Kenny Ochoa has witnessed it from a licensing aspect. Ochoa is a co-founder of Quiver, a creative music licensing and supervision company, and was in early on the licensing movement, working with Sanctuary Records, Sony Music and Warner Brothers. He has seen it grow from an industry afterthought to one of the biggest trends in music and says that, early on, around 2000, getting a song licensed for an artist wasn’t a real sales driver, mainly because people were still buying CDs.

“When I would get a song into a television commercial or into a film, it was kind of gravy. They were happy to see a little bit of money, but they were more concerned with their radio position, their video plays,” he tells us.

Then came shows like The OC and Grey’s Anatomy, which broke some artists, as well as ads using music more prominently. Ochoa saw things start to change when Apple introduced its silhouette commercials for the iPod. He helped get songs by the Ting Tings and Franz Ferdinand on some Apple ads, and later worked with Warner Brothers to record the hit Everything is Awesome by Tegan and Sara for The Lego Movie.

Now, selling out isn’t much of an issue. Citi, one of the world’s biggest financial brands, is in bed with quite a few artists and thinks collaboration is natural for bands and brands.

“When we talk to artists, we talk to them all day long,” says Jennifer Breithaupt, the managing director for media, advertising and global entertainment for Citi and 2017 Clio Music juror.

“We’ve been doing this for a number of years now so we do have the credibility in the space of the artist community that we will never do something that stands between those two things. We share one thing with the artist in that the fan is our customer as well. If our goals are aligned then it’s really all about the artist, the live experience, or coming up with something jointly. I don’t think it ever compromises that.”

Ochoa adds: “I think it’s just about making sure that the brand you’re partnering with is right for you as an artist and your brand as an artist. There’s no selling out if there’s a win-win for both of you.”

The changing face of music consumption

A new poll by Morning Consult found that only 12% of respondents don’t listen to radio at all, while 19% said they listen daily and 32% more than once a day.

But while radio is far from dead, neither is it the powerhouse it used to be and how people consume media has changed the way songs are licensed. Many people stream television or record shows, so commercials aren’t always being watched. And paid streaming audio also means fewer commercials are being heard.

Digital has obviously changed the game and as digital consumption has grown, so has its importance and revenue.

“Back in the day, if somebody came to you for an internet only campaign, no one really cared about it because there weren’t that many eyeballs and there wasn’t a whole lot of money,” says Ochoa. “Now, it’s completely changed because digital is almost more important.”

Brands as producers

Licensing music used to just be a one-off, where a brand would get the rights to a single song to use in a single spot. Some were highly successful for both the brand and the artist, like the late artist Nick Drake getting a second life when Volkswagen used his song Pink Moon in an iconic ad.

Now, brands are helping not just break artists but also build their careers. Joe Belliotti, the director of global entertainment marketing at Coca-Cola and 2016 Clio Music juror, thinks that brands and artists really started getting together when hip-hop embraced collaboration.

“Chris Lighty [the late founder of Violator, which specialized in managing the careers of hip-hop and R&B performers] and hip-hop in general really started to pave the way for brands in music,” Belliotti says.

“If you think back to it – LL Cool J doing The Gap, Sprite’s involvement with Tribe and Missy Elliot and Pete Rock – it’s hip-hop that, from a brand perspective, really started to shape the brand in music culture.”

He notes that artists like Rock and Grand Puba used to record freestyle in the studio as a spot for Sprite, which helped connect the culture, and from those beginnings, and especially over the last couple years, he has seen more alliances between brands and artists.

“You’re seeing a lot more collaboration between the brand world and the music world. Not just creative collaboration, which has always been there, but collaboration to really create something meaningful for both sides. You now have brand people who either come from or understand and have relationships in the music industry, which is great,” adds Belliotti.

When collaborations work well they have power and they combine the best of the artist and the brand.

“Looking across the industry, you see the most brilliance in deals that are authentic to the artist, valuable to the fan, and aligned with the values of the brand,” says Glenn Minerley, vice-president and group account director for music and entertainment at Momentum Worldwide, and 2016 Clio Music juror.

“Last year, Lady Gaga’s partnership with Intel around the Grammys really worked. Her Grammy performance was a tribute to David Bowie and leveraged Intel technology to make it groundbreaking. The digital content narrative was really effective, showing Gaga’s tech prowess and Intel’s authentic role in the process.”

Good for the brand and band

Integration of the artist with the brand can lead to great success for both sides, as has been evidenced by Zendaya and Mattel with the Zendaya Barbie, and OK Go with Honda.

“The evolving band-brand dynamic is about the value exchange and not always about the check. Yes, brands bring money, but they also deliver distribution, new audiences, and often fund creative initiatives the artist can’t get the label to underwrite,” says Minerley.

Citi’s entertainment access program Private Pass, which Breithaupt leads, brings card members closer to their favorite artists through curated offerings and VIP experiences (lounge access, exclusive meet and greets). Through Private Pass, Citi offered card members access to more than 6,000 events in 2016 featuring artists such as Guns N’ Roses, Coldplay, Selena Gomez, Andra Day and Luke Bryan.

“That program is the largest consumer music access platform because we’re actually offering all the value and all the assets and access out to consumers,” says Breithaupt.

“It’s not putting our name on something. We’re out curating and finding music opportunities for our customers or music fans across the board, from country to rock to pop. There’s something for everyone in there, including emerging music as well.”

Citi has strategic partnerships with Live Nation and AEG which will work with over 60 of the top 100 tours, and with over 1,450 bands and artists. Beyond that, they’re working with technology to try and improve the fan experience, like wristband technology, ticketing, access to concessions and even private and backstage experiences. The company is also working with NextVR to give people a live music experience through virtual reality the week before the Grammys.

“There’s going to be a whole experience that happens where that artist takes the stage, so you’re seeing what happens throughout that day, leading up to that moment – that second before they actually pop out and step on to the stage,” Breithaupt says.

Whether it’s enhancing a fan experience or finding the right partnerships and collaborative efforts on the artist and brand front, it’s certain that the face of music will continue to trend this direction.

“From an artist standpoint, it’s all about balance,” says Minerley, “how they can leverage brands to create new revenue streams while providing new opportunities for creativity and distribution.

“From a brand standpoint, it’s about creating platforms over one-offs. One-off ideas are effective if launching a new product and in need of quick-fire eyeballs, but platforms deliver long-term brand affinity.”

This feature first appeared in a special music issue of The Drum, published in partnership with Clio Music. You can subscribe to The Drum magazine here.

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Kyle O'Brien

I am a reporter for The Drum covering a wide array of topics but always trying to tell the best stories possible. I am a former west coaster from California and Portland, Oregon, now living in Pennsylvania — with time spent in NYC each week.

I also play saxophone professionally.

All by Kyle