Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Blurring the lines between bands and brands

Brands want maximum bang for their bucks but some have shown that the slow and steady approach works better when it comes to music

Interior of the Red Bull Music Academy 2013 space in New York

Fri, Sep 19, 2014, 09:00


Are you with the band or the brand? The lines between the two continue to blur with every passing week. Be it U2 and Apple making out like spam-happy Nigerian spivs with “Songs Of Innocence” or Guinness paying huge fees to big acts to play in small rooms, there’s little subtlety when it comes to how brands use bands to get their way. They pay the money and they call the tunes (or throw them without asking into your iTunes library).

It doesn’t have to be like this. Simply put, both sides want something. The brand wants exposure and association and the band wants cash. They can paint it up all they want, but that’s it in a nutshell. And this exchange can actually be done in ways which don’t require the kind of build-up and execution usually only seen when small countries are invaded.

There’s a couple of great examples of how music and brands work well together. The Red Bull Music Academy is regularly cited, along with Converse’s studios in Brooklyn and Boston. Then, there’s the recently opened House Of Vans venue in London. Indeed, there’s now another branded venue in the UK capital in the shape of the temporary Jack Rocks the Macbeth, sponsored by Jack Daniel’s whiskey.

While every single brand looks at what Red Bull have done with the RBMA and wants a piece of that pie, very few are prepared to invest the time, patience and stealth tactics used by the energy drink. The story of the Academy has been one of a slow, steady build since it debuted in Berlin in 1998 with the pay-off in recognition only coming of late.

For years, the Academy didn’t bother advertising or promoting who attended their workshops and panels so it took a bit of digging around to discover the identities of the lecturers and students.

As you’d expect, the lecturers were top drawer names, while the attendees tended to be the cream of the who’s next crop. Such electronic music luminaries as Katy B, Hudson Mohawke, Flying Lotus, Fatima, Objekt and many others all appear in the Academy’s roll of past pupils.

However, the chances that any other brand would be prepared to invest 17 years in a similar project are slim to none. The brands want immediate bang for their bucks, hence the current fad for shoving big acts into small rooms and why many will look at imitating the U2 Apple shock and awe (or shocking awful) approach. Doing things incrementally and beneath the surface is not popular with brand managers.

It’s a pity because many bands and musicians would respond really well to such a low-key and subtle approach. The acts want to get paid for sure – even Bono wants his money – but a little tact and understanding would go a long way too in establishing a fruitful relationship.