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Ryan Gilpatrick

Band with a brand

(First appeared in MediaPost)

I’m pretty meticulous about my iTunes library. Admittedly, I’ve spent (probably too much) time updating tags, making sure album artwork is correct, and building that “perfect” snowboarding playlist.

Needless to say, I was pretty surprised when I opened my laptop one Tuesday night to find an album I hadn’t downloaded staring me in the face atop my “recently added” smart list. I had seen the Apple press conference earlier that day announcing the new iPhones, a smartwatch and a new U2 album to boot. But somehow I didn’t interpret Tim Cook saying “and the album will be free for all iTunes users tonight” to mean that it would be automatically added to my library (and therefore synced with my phone and tablet via Google Play Music).

I didn’t feel offended or violated as many users felt; I was intrigued.

By adding U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence to over 30 million unsuspecting users’ iTunes libraries and iPhones across the world, Apple created the largest album release of all time.

The Internet was seemingly divided over the bold release strategy. The complaints ranged from mere disapproval of Apple’s musical taste to ethical arguments about Apple invading users’ privacy by planting files on their personal devices. The release strategy began to overshadow the music itself.

Brand partnerships are nothing new for musicians. The collaboration between Apple and U2 began over a decade ago, when Apple used the single “Vertigo” in commercials for the iPod Nano.

Even folk legend Bob Dylan has penned tunes and made commercial appearances for Victoria Secret, Cadillac and, yes, Apple. However, this partnership was deeper and bolder than licensing music for an ad or tour sponsorship.

Apple is sharing in some of the timeless cool factor of U2. U2 gets the slick branding, not to mention bandwidth for the largest album release of all time.

Who benefits more from this partnership, Apple or U2?

I’d have to say U2.

After declining album sales and struggling to find relevancy in the contemporary rock market, they needed a boost. Now, not only are they sharing ad space with a tech giant, they’re implanted into consumers’ playlists.

We’ve entered an interesting era for brand partnerships. The consistent decline in physical album sales and moreover, album sales in general, has made fertile ground for artists to collaborate with brands.

Artists and the organizations they work with (labels, management groups, brands), can derive value from brand partnerships. Never before has music been so accessible to such a large audience, yet countless artists are struggling to generate revenue from their craft.

Enter the brand. Strategic partnerships can allow both parties to capitalize on the paradigm shift that the music industry is experiencing. In this age, the sheer amount of distractions means brands and bands alike have to fight tooth and nail for a slice of users’ attention. Why not team up?

Brands can offer the resources and access to media platforms that have the potential to rejuvenate an artist’s career, or virtually guarantee the success of a particular release, while an artist can use his or her influence to give a brand credibility, or introduction to a new audience.

Hip-hop legend Jay Z’s 2006 “comeback” album “Kingdom Come was sponsored by Budweiser, shortly after he took a position at the company as the co-Brand Director of the Bud Select to increase the brand’s relevance within his fan base. While he may no longer work for the company, the partnership is intact today, as Budweiser sponsors his “Made in America” concert series. His latest, “Magna Carta… Holy Grail”, was released in conjunction with Samsung. The latter is a particularly interesting example, in that Samsung went as far as to purchase a million copies of the album to pre-load on the latest line of Galaxy devices, essentially granting a platinum certification to the album prior to its own release.

Each band has its own brand already—from how it is perceived in the marketplace, to the content of its music, to the people who come to the shows. Morgan Spurlock goes into it during his satirically branded-documentary, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”, In order to be functional, band/brand relationships need to be symbiotic. Brands want a marketable product and the coveted cool factor, but it should never come at the expense of a band’s creative integrity.

The key here is a strong partnership between brand and band. They each need to help the other achieve their goals. For artists, pairing with the right brand can be much like finding the ideal agent, manager, or drummer. For brands, it can mean playing to the right audience with the crowd begging for an encore.