Feature

Music: Pete Tong talks brands

Music/brand partnerships are evolving. Genuinely supporting the creative vision of artists is the best way to move to the next level, Pete Tong says.

I believe the time is ripe for the next level of music-brand partnership.

Music is still a huge consumer passion, driven in part by the increasing number of technologies and channels for listening, plus greater "live" consumption, and a growing investment by brands.

And electronic music has never been stronger. These are exciting times, with many important lessons learned -about what consumers want and what they engage with most deeply.

On a personal level, I'm relieved the evolution of technology hasn't led to us all staying indoors, isolated and interacting with our screens in an augmented reality.

The opposite has happened. The live events and club scene is more vibrant than ever. File sharing and easy access to free music has undoubtedly damaged record company income, but it has also fuelled an interest and popularity in real experiences and content.

This brings huge scope for creative music/brand partnerships. We electronic artists can learn from "pop" and "rock" campaigns of the past, and try to develop collaborations that truly deliver enriched experiences, enabling DJs, artists and events to do things they wouldn't otherwise be able to achieve. My appeal to all you brand directors, agency creatives and media owners is that you can't just observe from your sofa, you have to be there to experience the real deal. You can't steal it. You can't fake it.

Twenty years ago, the perception was that artists who associated with brands undermined their credibility, "sold out" even.

It's something that has left a lasting effect on the industry and is why many of the best artists in the world tread cautiously.

Things have moved on considerably since then and brands are more accepted within the music scene. But there's still work to be done: brands need to understand talent and their fans - it's not about wading in with millions trying to create your own fame.

In Ibiza, which leads the way globally as a live music and experience destination, artists and their platforms are working harder than ever to create true lifestyle brands. These are multi-tiered experiences - club nights, daytime experiences, beach parties, merchandising, content and so on.

Ibiza has always been a melting pot of style, fashion, trends and cultures. But it's interesting to watch as it moves upmarket and consumers come in their hundreds of thousands to experience not just the clubs, but the lifestyle of one of the most beautiful and fun places I have the privilege of working.

Brands (particularly drinks) have linked with electronic music in Ibiza during the past decade with various degrees of success and, thankfully, we've come along way from a few free cases behind the bar.

But perceptions of Ibiza among brands are somewhat distant from the current reality - it's become an island where the glitterati mix with club kids, and balearic hippies mingle with the international jet set, all under one roof. The music and events on the island are the glue that brings it all together.

So the time is truly ripe for the next level of brand relationship. Associations with artists will always be complex, and the stumbling block is often the brand's need for ownership. This inevitably makes the talent a "resource", not a collaborator, and often means brands are reinventing things that DJs, artists and platform owners are already doing - usually (modesty aside) a lot better and more credibly.

Beyond "experience", "content" is the current buzzword within marketing. Artists produce content each and every day - it's what we love doing and what our fans love consuming. Instead of looking to own the artist, why not help them create new access channels and improved, rather than reinvented, experiences? Look at things such as talent incubation, film, TV, apps, e-books, magazines and new distribution methods and you will stand a better chance of credibly engaging people who love music.

The Bacardi/Groove Armada campaign has become a slightly disproportionate milestone for the sector, but while I commend the out-of-the-box thinking and the work of all agencies involved in that deal, some things don't quite sit right for me. I'll accept that the drinks company can help me put on an amazing stage show, but I'm not sure how I feel about the actual music being signed to them without record company involvement. I still think record and publishing companies play a key role and while there is a place for music to be delivered via brands, the music industry's expertise and deep knowledge of its own world can't be underestimated.

Look also at Heineken Thirst (2002-2005). The brand "booked" the venues instead of venues booking DJs, creating "one-off" mini festivals around the world. I was involved at the start, alongside my friends Paul Oakenfold and Tiesto. I know the experience had a positive influence on the evolution of their live performances, but I'm not sure how successful it was for Heineken, long term. While the events were usually good, the follow-up to develop new DJ talent - the underlying premise - was more complex and expensive than anyone planned for.

Other examples we can learn from include Smirnoff, Monster Cable and O2. Smirnoff's Be There platform offers consumers genuinely new experiences, and its investment in bar assets across Ibiza shows a long-term commitment and focus. Monster Cable's work with Dr Dre shows how much can be achieved when you work in a collaborative way with a talent, focusing on each partner's skills, contacts, relationships and influence to deliver products that are truly game-changing. And O2 has taken Carling's lead and driven venue support to new levels. It's surely only a matter of time before an iconic club venue is born with a key brand as it's figurehead.

So what are the next steps? I'd like to see partnerships that allow artists to drive more of what they are good at - creating amazing music and experiences - rather than being asked to follow an agency's "big idea". I don't think the future is in brands continuing to "own" experiences and "employ" talent. I believe the relationship should be focused on talent creating experiences, and brands helping to enhance them, giving credible relevance and reasons for being involved.

Come to Ibiza, attend the International Music Summit and see the experiences being created across the electronic scene. Get artists and brands working together, win over fans and consumers and drive our respective brands forwards. I got a feeling.

- Pete Tong is an international DJ and the owner of the Wonderland brand.

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