Are phone and videogame companies the new record labels?



IT’S THE BRAND, not the band. In a fractured and fissured music world, old ideologies are revised and principles reshuffled as bands are increasingly drowning not waving.

Just 10 years ago, it was an article of faith for anyone ploughing the alt/indie furrow to high-mindedly scorn any form of “commercial sponsorship”. Today, though, there is merely a resigned shrug of the shoulders from fans to even the most Pitchfork-endorsed indie fundamentalists doing the shill for some product.

With Bon Iver flogging Bushmills whiskey and other alt.deities snuggling up to the most unlikely of products, for a band getting a brand is now an economic imperative – especially for those acts without a TV talent-show push or add-water-and-stir pop chart/radio appeal.

Granted, the purists are still out there, shouting from the sidelines as the rest of the music world buries its snout in the multi-platform marketing trough. The rules have effectively been rewritten: you can and must get down’n’dirty with the brand, but the trick is to do it in such a way that you emerge with most of your integrity (and what’s left of your credibility) intact.

Alt.rockers Royseven have a refreshing and honest approach to negotiating the modern obstacle course of commercial sponsorship. Last year the Dublin six-piece won a Volkswagen “Sound Foundation” competition, with the result that their We Should Be Lovers was commissioned for the global advertising campaign for the VW Up car. The song went on to become the most-played Irish track on radio in this country in 2011. This week it was announced that Royseven are to be the ambassadors for the new EA video game, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, one of a massively popular series of games.

“There are two questions we always ask when we are approached by any company looking to use us or our music,” says Royseven’s Paul Walsh. “The first is if the brand in question has some sort of meaning for us – and most of them don’t. The second is what the offer can do for us in terms of the band – financing touring and recording, for example”.

Walsh says Royseven routinely turn down offers on the basis of them simply being inappropriate. “There was a clothes brand we didn’t do because I would never wear any of the clothes we were asked to be associated with. I just didn’t like them, so it made no sense to do it purely for the money/exposure on offer.

“On a related note, “we’ve also turned down TV coverage because the programme would have been of a ‘celebrity’ nature, which really just isn’t us at all.”

The band did the Volkswagen deal because of what it meant for their ability to work. “The company bought us a tour bus and arranged tour dates for us all around Europe,” Walsh says. “Those dates were vital to us and one of the consequences was we got a track on a big German film.

“The exposure from the tour dates also helped get our music used in TV shows on Sky Sports and in Masterchef. We really could see a direct result.”

Going for the videogame tie-up was a relatively easy call. “On a tour bus you simply can’t get an agreement between band members as to what film to watch, but we all agree on videogames and we spend a lot of time playing them. So this was a perfect fit for us.

“The upside is there is promotion and exposure for the band on the back of it. And if you’re serious about a career in music, these types of tie-ins are important. For an Irish band you can supersaturate the market here so you do need that international exposure and anything that can help that is welcomed by us.”

You could say that the brand/band is the new norm in the music industry, but in fact something even more powerful is happening. There is no music industry as we used to understand it anymore. Instead, telecommunication and video gaming companies are now fulfilling the role of the record label of developing a band in terms of exposure, promotion and tour support. I’m with the brand.


: Find the clip of Duke Special in Amsterdam covering Van Morrison’s Orangefield. Awesome.

Hate: It wowed all and sundry at the London Film Festival this week, but we’re still waiting – many months on – for a cinema release of Good Vibrations: The Terri Hooley Story.

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