Summer’s Here and the Time is Right for Branding of Your Beats

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As concert and festival-goers don their denim cut-offs and band t-shirts this summer, they should also get ready for the usual barrage from brands clamoring for their money and attention.

This year fans will encounter everything from advertising and promotions to carefully integrated digital and live experiences from brands including Jim Beam, HondaBudweiser, Vans and even Staples, which is sponsoring Katy Perry’s Prismatic World Tour (seriously, office supplies? What happened to sex, drugs and rock & roll?)

Old school purists may not like it, but concert sponsorship is nothing new and the presence of big corporate brands in music is a reality we may all have to get used to. 

As Lady Gaga noted at SXSW back in March, “without sponsorships we won’t have any more artists in Austin, because record companies don’t have any f*cking money.” And as music labels recede, the big brands are marching in.[more]

But we’re not only talking sponsorship, with 2014 the summer of branded music experiences. More and more, we are seeing brands shift from just associating with bands and artists through sponsored events to producing and distributing music.

Red Bull has run its Music Academy for over a decade, which now encompasses a record label and a global series of concerts and gigs. The Converse Rubber Tracks program offers musicians in North America the opportunity to record at branded studios in Brooklyn and beyond. Burberry’s creative officer turned CEO Christopher Bailey has turned his self-described “obsession” with music into the Burberry Acoustic initiative, featuring musicians as models and employing a full-time music team.

Music, of course, is the key to engaging that desirable demographic: youths. That’s why Pepsi and Coca-Cola have made music a cornerstore of their respective global brand platforms. It also speaks to the socially-savvy, maker mentality of Generation Y and Z. As Mazda’s North American VP of marketing noted here last week about its strategic music investments, “We could buy a piece of music and call it a day but we’re trying to actually have our customers create content.”

Significantly, three of the big four platform brands, Google, Apple and Amazon, have also made serious moves into the music space.

Apple led the way with iTunes, disrupting the entire music industry in the process, and now has Beats Audio and the Beats Music streaming service to help it reconnect with the pulse on the street. Apple is also taking iTunes (and other apps) into the car with Apple CarPlay, using the powerful connection people have to their music to help them dominate the dashboards of tomorrow’s cars. The iTunes music festival concert series, meanwhile, is bringing live music to the masses and featuring Pharrell Williams (among other artists) this year.

Other brands aren’t idling by. Google joined the party with Google Play and recently acquired Songza, which offers playlists curated by mood—a data source that could offer magical opportunities for advertisers. Amazon has added music streaming to its Prime offering, rivaling services like Spotify. Facebook has yet to make a significant music move, but with acquisitions of Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus under its belt, it’s not hard to imagine its own music app joining the stable.

Music and mobile go hand in hand, of course. Samsung has gotten into the streaming game with its Milk music app, building on its earlier music coup, last year’s exclusive Jay-Z record release via the Samsung Galaxy phone.

Forget for a moment how the musicians fare in all of this. Jay-Z, who’s also expanding his Made in America festival with Budweiser this year, is doing just fine, but for everyone else music streaming pays artists a pittance per play, even when listeners are paying for a subscription—but that is a conversation for another day.

For the fans, it seems that one thing is clear: if you want music—live, streamed, in your car or otherwise—it’s a big brand (or few) that will be bringing it to you.

—Claire Falloon is an Associate Director in Verbal Identity at Interbrand New York and after-hours music maker. Follow her on Twitter: @Clonzy

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