How brands are saving new music

As long as there has been stuff to sell, there have been artists happy to advertise it – albeit, traditionally to the detriment of said creatives’ credibility.

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Despite the rare occurrence of events like the Vans Warped Tour, which has been cosying up to underground artists since the ’90s, it has traditionally been seen as a cardinal sin for up-and-coming artists to get into bed with brands.

However, with their revenue diminished by streaming, poor album sales and the dilution of the market, independent artists are finding it harder to make a living out of their talent. That doesn’t mean that brands are taking advantage of the situation though. Massive names like Budweiser, Adidas, Nike, Bang & Olufsen and even Rolls-Royce are discovering that by supporting credible talent (not getting them to advertise their product) some of that credibility is rubbing off on them.

Brands are keener than ever to connect with youth culture, but what makes for great branded content? For some, like Doctor Martens, Timberland or Topman, it’s about going back to their cultural heritage and brand identity. For others, such as Maybelline, Versace or Drambuie, it’s about becoming associated with leftfield scenes.

Red Bull has been leading this new charge for nearly two decades. Before it permanently closed its doors in October this year, Red Bull Music Academy celebrated 20 years of philanthropy, having spent that time globally hosting lectures, gigs and workshops and supporting new artists from the furthest fringes. Despite the Academy’s projects clearly costing a pretty penny, there was no demand for quid pro quo corporate shilling – a genuine enthusiasm for music and culture and a desire to help new music reach more ears was very much what Red Bull were in it for.

Collaborating with more obscure artists is not only a way for brands to become part of a scene but it’s also a good opportunity to not be overshadowed by the talent. Almost certainly gone are the days of Spice Girls-style Pepsi team-ups. Brands are becoming more open to performers who don’t necessarily come with a large following but have a unique identity. What’s more, with marketing budgets to spend, they’re increasingly open to making creatively crazy ideas a reality – a day we spent with LOOK MUM NO COMPUTER in a skate park capturing drone footage of a flame-throwing organ is testament to that fact.

Most importantly, what could be perceived as big-brand commodification of new music by fans is instead very much seen as how things are done these days. Fans care more that their favourite performer is able to keep on keeping on than decry their selling out to the ‘Man’. As fans find more ways to satiate their passions for free – Spotify, YouTube et al – they’re increasingly aware that if they’re not contributing to the artists’ mortgage repayments, then they’re cool with big brands chucking some money at them.

Simply put, as long as the music keeps coming, we can roll with the times right?

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