When bands meet brands: the mutual benefits of music partnerships

When it comes to music and brands it feels like there’s a genuine opportunity for both parties to benefit. The two need each other like never before.

Today’s artists have been raised in a branded world. They benefit from brand support and income and really engage when campaigns are creative. Meanwhile brands benefit from access to large, passionate audiences and an association with music and celebrity.

Fans and fandom
Brand associations needn’t be limited to star names. The YouTube vlogging phenomenon has shown that you don’t need traditional celebrity associations to shift products and drive engagement. Using the fans themselves as a form of engagement is now an option. What better influence than that of your friends and peers? Official means nothing and brands are realising this. Just look at Copa 90, the fan-powered football channel (“For fans, by fans”) or All Things Hair, a consumer-powered Unilever YouTube channel featuring hair styling tutorials from vloggers.

Making music special
It’s telling that vinyl sales are on the up, with a 54.7% increase year-on-year globally. When you package music as collectible art, people’s enthusiasm soars. You can see the same in live music with events such as Sofar Sounds repackaging small live gigs to become a magical mystery nights out.

There’s an opportunity to take this to the next level. Music partnerships have so far been largely confined to basic campaigns (ad soundtracks, product placements, ambassadorships and so on). With artists now more brand-aware and willing to collaborate, as well as a more structured music environment, brands and agencies have the opportunity to work on more creative, deep and long-term partnerships.

Three years ago energy drink company Relentless worked with Professor Green on its TV ad, but it would have been refreshing to see this partnership extend the traditional TV ad format. His role could have gone further and deeper across platforms to become a long-term ambassador capable of affecting a real brand perception shift, rather than just being a short-term, tactical ad.

Music packages and platforms
In the US, about 70% of brand sponsorhip spend goes towards sport. A big reason for this will surely be the vast number of established and reliable assets. Take football in the UK, for which you have the Fifa World Cup, Uefa Champions League, plus domestic leagues and competitions. Building a multi-market, long-term partnership strategy in sport is relatively easy.

It’s a different story in music, where there are few global artists and fewer who have longevity and young audience appeal. Artists who are successful in this area, such as Beyoncé, are expensive and already have a range of brand partnerships in place. It’s hard to stand out. You have single market festivals that disappear as quickly as they arrive, and music TV offers little beyond the odd award show or talent contest, most of which are already sponsored to the hilt.

It’s hard to ever see music rivalling football, but as brands and labels crave partnerships, we’ll see more attempts from brands, agencies and music rights holders to create events with global reach and scale.

Rights simplification
Music rights are important; artists need to be paid for their art. However, rights complexity continues to discourage brands from getting involved with music. Labels, publishers, live promoters and managers need to be better aligned if they are to attract brands.

If a brand sponsors a festival, they will want access to artists and their music. Very few festival promoters are set up to offer rights to artists, but using a dedicated specialist music and brand agency to help navigate these situations, and even negotiate on your behalf, will help to ensure both brand and artist get the most from the relationship. While a simplification of rights laws is unlikely to happen overnight, we’re starting to see a centralising of conversations, which can only be a good thing.

Involving the artist
Successful campaigns have a clear purpose and understand the needs of all stakeholders. Brands and agencies should look to tap into the creativity of the artists. Delivering platforms that artists believe in and helping them achieve their personal ambitions is likely to result in a decrease in rights fees. A good example of this is The Creators Project, a site and video content hub created by Intel and Vice to showcase the work of those who are using technology to push the boundaries of creative expression. The artists are given creative freedom and, since launch, the project has generated more than 250m video views and won a list of awards and honours in the process.

From music to music culture
They say “music can sell everything but itself,” which is a very astute observation. Music is more inclusive when part of a lifestyle, rather than the sole focus. There is a reason why MTV stopped music-only programming or why Top of the Pops was axed.

Music is increasingly enjoyed alongside other things. People go to music festivals for more than just the music. You might not be able to name a Rita Ora song, but you’ve probably seen her on The Voice, The X-Factor or in Samsung commercials. Brands want alignment with an always-on culture, not a finite, short-term moment. Music culture provides a much richer narrative to which brands can align.

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