No Sellouts: How Fans Become Customers When An Artist Keeps Control

September 28, 2017

By Jarred Goldner



For musicians, technology is a double-edged sword. Today, every musician has access on a laptop to the full firepower of a recording studio. And when they've created their masterpiece, they need only press a few buttons to distribute their music around the globe. These are the benefits of living in a world where digital streaming has made music a constant part of our everyday lives. The challenge is that those same technologies also cut the recording industry machine to pieces, decimating a top-down model where gatekeepers could throw money and promotional resources at a handful of bands and garner legions of fans. In the wake of that transformation, musicians and audiences now face the same challenge: how do they discover each other?


Brands Step In

Unlimited music streaming on-demand is an opportunity for brands to play a prominent marketing role in helping artists connect to their core fans. Lifestyle brands like Bacardi, Dr Pepper, and Red Bull — to name just a few — have had successful partnerships with artists and seen positive audience responses and brand lift as a result.

But the value of partnering with musicians is about much more than just brand lift. Music is one of humanity's most meaningful connection points. There are psychological studies that speak to music's value for social bonding, but we can also point to ample anecdotal evidence. Every school has its fight song, every nation has its anthem, and yes, when we ask strangers what kind of music they like, we're making a judgment about whether to admit them to our social circle.

Brands can leverage music's powerful connection. A brand's promotional budget can help musicians create greater visibility in public spaces, airwaves, and digital platforms, exposing their music to new and existing audiences. These marketing campaigns provide audiences with more access to their favorite bands, increasing their connection with both the music and the personalities that dominate our playlists.


Authenticity is Essential, Partnership is Non-Negotiable

Brands also get a chance to expand and vary their marketing message and tone through an artist, which helps them register with an otherwise unreachable audience. In fact, a vital step in creating a successful musician/brand partnership comes early on at the concept phase, because any content or messaging must be authentic to the musician and feel true to the audience. Fans know when it's real.

To create something authentic, marketing departments need to see artists as partners, and they need to communicate about creativity from the very beginning. A good example of authenticity is Morton Salt partnering with OK Go to help the indie rockers create one of the most visually inventive music videos their fans have ever seen.

OK Go collaborated with Morton Salt on one of the most visually inventive music videos the band's fans had ever seen. OK Go.

Another great example is Ford, which presented the norteño band La Maquinaria Norteña by telling the story of their families' long relationship with Ford vehicles. Both partnerships worked because the brands made sure their partners were sharing and magnifying authentic aspects of their identities, rather than insisting that the musicians parrot company jargon in exchange for a big check.

Ford's partnership with La Maquinaria Norteña told the story of the band's long relationship with its vehicles. Music Audience Exchange.

For brands, the key to being a good partner is to fulfill a need. Brands can support new musicians in their challenge to be heard. For more established musicians, brands can create experiences that give fans better access to the bands they love. The goal isn't to own the conversation between the musician and their fans; the goal is to facilitate and amplify that conversation. This approach makes brands an ally helping to promote great music, and a welcome voice that fans will remember after the music fades.


Jarred Goldner is the director of artist relations at Music Audience Exchange (@musicaudex). He oversees the team and the execution of everything music-related in MAX brand-artist partnerships, including sourcing artists, managing relationships with labels and artist managers, executing contracts, and just generally being the "go-to guy" for all artists the MAX Platform partners with brands.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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