It used to be all too easy for a band to be labeled a “sell out”.
Partner with the wrong company, tour with the wrong act, wear the wrong clothes, or heaven forbid, license your music to an advertisement. Never mind that conventional advertising and music have worked together hand-in-hand since the birth of radio shows or American Bandstand – it’s all about the music man.
For a characterization that was born out of the punk ethos of the late 70’s it has shown incredible resilience, dogging some artists through a large portion of their careers – be it Metallica, Green Day, or Kanye West. Heck, even indie darlings Death Cab For Cutie were indirectly labeled when in 2005 front man Ben Gibbard’s side project The Postal Service licensed a track to a Honda commercial.
Well, welcome to 2010. It is safe to assume that the cost of touring has never been higher, and record labels are increasingly reluctant to front the costs necessary for a band to get out there and make a name for themselves. Much less take a chance on a band that will most likely not contribute to the (shrinking) bottom-line. As such, it seems that 3rd party corporate sponsorships have become a viable alternative for generating exposure. Which of course should naturally lead to a firm affixing of the “sellout” label – but interestingly enough, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
Last week the Internet was abuzz when Converse (click here to save) released “All Summer”, a collaboration between Kid Cudi, Rostam from Vampire Weekend, and half of Best Coast (aka Bethany Cosentino) to near universal praise (save for Voyno, who thinks it sounds like a Christmas track). Curious, I hopped over to some of my favorite blogs to check out the comments – surely the term “sell out” must be dropped at least once right? Wrong. I was hard pressed to find anything that could even be remotely spun as selling out.
Looking for validation, I checked out the posts surrounding some other recent high-profile sponsorships such as Thunderheist’s track for the Bacardi B-Live campaign or Neon Indian’s inexplicable partnership with Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound to no avail – there were almost no mentions of either artist selling out for their partnerships. While I cynic in me thinks that perhaps these are such curated campaigns that any such mentions would be scrubbed from the internet, I will give these companies and blogs the benefit of the doubt.
As someone who is equally grounded in the worlds of marketing & music, this tiny revelation excites me. Have we finally reached a tipping point where it is culturally acceptable for artists to partner with companies without losing credibility? Or is the very idea of “selling out” antiquated? I sure hope so. There is a tremendous amount of value that artists can tap into by leveraging those who can bring their music to an entirely new audience.
But it isn’t all wine and roses. Just as in other forms of business, there may be some serious repercussions from jumping into bed with a company you haven’t done your homework on. Here are a few tips to make sure that any potential partnerships that are explored are not perceived as disingenuous by your fans:
1) Make sure there is synergy between your brands – As much as I hate using the word “synergy” it works well in this instance. If there is a disconnect between what you portray as an artist and what is portrayed by who you partner with, the difference may be too glaring to ignore. In other words, you do not want to be a black metal band that partners with Hello Kitty or Smirnoff Ice Coolers.
2) Know the end game – A simple question that might get lost in the shuffle. How will your music be used? Is this for a one-time-only commercial airing in Mongolia, or is this going to be playing in the super bowl and on the web for years to come? Know your commitments.
3) Have an exit strategy – Eventually things will wind down and partners will go their separate ways. Make sure you have a handle in how the transition is made and what impact this will have on you.
Take Control of Your Music