Music And Brands: What Marketers Need To Know About Music Partnerships

For artists, being heard and standing out from the crowd can be a challenge, but by partnering with brands, artists are able to reach a much broader potential fanbase, provided the marketers in question know what their doing and can avoid damaging the image of both the band and the brand itself.

It’s hard to stand out as a musical artist today. Even the biggest acts work hard to stay relevant and to constantly challenge themselves and their art. This is one reason why many artists look to brand partnerships to help fans discover their work, or to broaden their listener base. For their part, marketers value musician partnerships to help build buzz, stand out from the crowd, or reach fans who may otherwise be elusive or skeptical.

Music sponsorship is a booming business, epecially in North America: brands spent an estimated $1.4 billion on music partnerships in 2015, representing a 5 percent increase from 2014, according to IEG, a consulting firm. But when it comes to partnering with musical artists, marketers often adopt strategies that are disappointingly boilerplate. Occasionally they‘re downright cringeworthy. The wrong approach can do real damage to both an artist and a brand.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five things marketers need to understand about music partnerships.

Understand that music is about culture.

A good music tie-up should be more than a way to be cool by association or to reach a certain segment of the buying public. The best partnerships are informed by a deep understanding of the music, the artist, and the culture of that artist or genre. This goes much deeper than a fan demographic. The music itself should be honored. When I worked on big-brand music partnerships, I found that many marketers miss this point.

But those who understand different music subcultures can be more successful, primarily because that point of view truly informs an authentic relationship with the artist and an understanding of the fans.When done right, you’re not only creating a relationship with the artist but also with the audience around him/her.

Start small, listen to the scenes and their needs, build added value and offer the tools and knowledge that fans normally wouldn’t have had.

Take Red Bull. The Red Bull Music Academy started 15 years ago as a way to extend its content marketing, but what the brand did so well was to take the dance music subculture seriously. Today, RBMA is a returning experience for artists and music fans alike, and an important platform that has had a real influence on the music landscape.

Red Bull’s serious investment in its music program is money well spent: Nielsen’s Music 360 report found that 76 percent of festivalgoers say they feel more favorable toward a brand that sponsors a tour or a concert, and 51 percent of all consumers feel the same way.

Give artists a platform.

Big fees aside, this is usually the chief reason artists want to work with brands anyway. For up-and-coming artists, or those who are pushing at the boundaries of their genres, gaining reach or experience is a strong draw. The collaboration is strongest when brands can offer artists something they don’t already have or wouldn’t otherwise access. In some cases it’s a proper studio and a bigger audience.

For example, Converse’s Rubber Tracks, based in Brooklyn, selects up-and-coming bands for free studio time in one of their professional grade studios, and books them for their Rubber Tracks events. In 2015, the platform took the program global, giving artists access to renowned studios like Abbey Road Studios in London and Sunset Studios in Los Angeles – a rare opportunity for all but the biggest music stars. Since taking its program global in 2015, Converse has received more than 9,000 applications from artists around the world, and has given 900 of them recording privileges since starting the program in 2011. That’s a tangible contribution to rising artists.

Keep it real.

When creating a brand partnership, it’s best to think about credibility rather than popularity and reach. Fans can smell a fake a mile away. It’s just not enough to throw a big fee at artists and plaster your brand all over the place at a concert. Fans can tell when there’s no real relationship – think of some of the ridiculous hashtags you see on some artist social feeds.

Can the brand play a natural role within the artist’s subculture? Does make sense for the artist or fans, or ideally, for both?

When it comes to being a natural fit, Sprint has also been a standout here. The brand premiered a Spanish-language commercial during the Latin Grammys, and also re-hired Latino pop star Prince Royce to help develop new music. Both moves had strong, real links for viewers: Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure, who starred in the commercial, is a Bolivian-born native Spanish speaker, and Prince Royce – back when he was still known as Geoffrey Royce Rojas, growing up in the Bronx – worked at Sprint in his very first job. He even credits the Sprint job with being able to pay for studio time, which led to his first record deal.

Music partnerships can be a useful part of growing a brand’s reputation while building a career for artists. With so many opportunities for brands and artists to work together, it’s important to get it right. A poorly conceived or executed music partnership is the last thing either party wants – but the great ones create new artistic experiences that will last forever.

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