Media Forum: Can brands/musicians gel?

Are brand/music partnerships the next big deal? Alasdair Reid reports.

It has taken the digital world less than a decade to suck the goodness out of the record industry - and how feebly a once vibrant, swaggering and almost omnipotent cultural phenomenon has succumbed to its fate.

The business that began burning with a bright, gem-like flame in January 1956 with the release of a catchy little tune called Heartbreak Hotel, finally fizzled out in July 2007, when Prince, a would-be inheritor of the mantle (or should that be cape?) once proudly shouldered by Elvis, launched his new album as a promotional free giveaway with The Mail on Sunday.

And the industry had only a matter of weeks to digest this development when the rock band Radiohead made its new album, In Rainbows, available for unrestricted download, asking merely that people make a voluntary donation.

A business that played an enormous part in shaping the cultural history of the late 20th century was now forging an apologetic new role for itself - somewhere between busking and a digital version of a car boot sale.

But the music business might yet find salvation coming from the unlikeliest of quarters. A couple of weeks ago, we saw the launch of Harvest Entertainment - a company led by Ric Salmon, a former vice-president of Warner Music International, but which includes Naked Communications among its joint venture partners.

Its goal will be to match up music acts with brands. This might involve an advertiser sponsoring a band's tour or helping to fund the distribution - via download or CD giveaways - of recorded content. While, of course, using the artist as the face (or faces) of the brand. And it's not the only such initiative. Earlier this year, for instance, WPP set up Brand Amp, a joint venture with Universal Music.

We've clearly come a long way since the 90s, when the music industry tended to sneer disdainfully at the advertising business. The most obvious example of this saw Apple Corps, the guardian of The Beatles' oeuvre, instigating legal action against a company for even thinking about using Revolution as the soundtrack for one of its ads.

But will this emerging opportunity add up to very much? Matt Jagger, the managing director of Naked Ventures, will represent Naked on the new company's board. He certainly believes this will be big: "We don't think it will work for every artist and for every brand. There is more scope with bands that have an established audience, and the artist community has been very responsive. It's clear, though, that, on the media and advertising side, there's a genuine interest in new types of communications strategy."

And Laurence Munday, a founding partner of Aegis Group's content development agency, We Are Space, says we have to look at this in a bigger context: "Music and music marketing is becoming increasingly important - though we don't separate it from entertainment content in general. The principles you must observe to get the best of this are the same."

Meanwhile, Mike Tunnicliffe, the president of Tuna Music, a New York-based brand-music partnerships consultancy, points out that traditional labels no longer hold all the cards, while artists increasingly want and can command more control over their product and its route to market. He adds: "New business models are developing at a rapid pace, be it Madonna signing a long-term deal with Live Nation, a tour management and promotion company, rather than a record label; or P Diddy forming a joint venture with Ciroc Vodka to market the brand and split the profits; or Starbucks signing Paul McCartney."

Ed Sharp, a managing partner at MindShare Performance, agrees. He says: "The added advantage is that there's an increasing awareness that music is more flexible than the film space, which is driven by more rigid cycles tied to release dates. Music offers a fluidity that can make it extremely attractive for brands - and they can connect to it in so many different ways."

YES - Matt Jagger, managing director, Naked Ventures

"There will be many opportunities to take global, mass-market artists and twin them with brands that appeal to a similar sort of demographic. It can be a powerful way of reaching an audience."

YES - Laurence Munday, founding partner, We Are Space

"Music is fundamental to the way that some advertisers are looking to engage with consumers. So, yes, this will be important. Advertisers are predisposed to spend money in this area."

MAYBE - Mike Tunnicliffe, president, Tuna Music

"Seismic changes in the music business present multiple revenue-stream opportunities for agencies. The trick for agencies and brands is having the expertise to work through the maze of opportunities."

YES - Ed Sharp, managing partner, MindShare Performance

"It's easier for brands to partner music acts that wouldn't have been available even two years ago. There's a growing realisation now that there's a mutual benefit. It's a vibrant content space for brands to get into, offering an attractive flexibility."

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