Every few months another article is written about how brands are the new record labels. They rehash the usual claims, brands have financial resources, brands have reach, brands can promote your music. The latest one of these articles is here. It sites the usual suspects, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Red Bull and so on. Links us to a success story and off we go. The song remains generally the same.
I am not here to tell you that a brand association is a bad thing. On the contrary, association with the capital resources and media reach of a brand can be extraordinarily lucrative for both parties.
What I would like to do is state for the record that brands are not the new record labels. I think that is important to note. Artists should enter into these associations aware of both the potential upside as well as the risks.
Brands are brands. Pepsi is not in the record business. I think their stockholders would be loathe to ever hear that they are. Pepsi is in the beverage business. Mountain Dew’s ultimate goal is not to promote music. Mountain Dew’s ultimate goal is to sell Mountain Dew. The same goes for Red Bull, Bacardi and all of the others who are trying to create brand associations with music.
The goal of a record label is to try and run a financially successful business promoting artists and selling their wares. When you sign a record deal the label’s success is ultimately tied to your success. When you sign with a brand that is not necessarily the case.
Brands do not associate with music to sell music, they associate with music to sell more of their particular product. That is how success is gauged. If their audience and your audience align. If their consumers are also your consumers, or consumers that they would like to be their consumers, then your partnership may be successful. If the stars do not align in such a fashion, as they didn’t for one of the world’s largest advertisers when they made their foray into the record business, then the plug will be pulled. P&G spent millions launching TAG Records in 2008. When the music failed to move the needle on their merchandise, the business was silenced.
P&G’s music business like Pepsi’s and Mountain Dew’s was a carve out of their marketing arm. It was borne of the idea that music moves people in a visceral way. It creates an association with the consumer that more traditional marketing cannot. If the brand can capture some of that musical equity the brand image is enhanced. If not, the brand moves on.
By all means, if you have the opportunity to work with a brand, and the association seems like a good fit both financially and from a career perspective, sign the papers. There are passionate music fans operating in corporate America who would like nothing more than to launch a successful artist. They share that passion with a lot of their compatriots in the record business.
Just please keep in mind the one other thing that brands have in common with record labels, self interest. Ultimately the deal is not about the artist. The deal is about the corporation behind the artist. In case of conflict the brand will always trump the music. It has to. The empire was not built on music and ultimately the success or failure of music will not determine its future. The empire was built on laundry detergent and cell phones and automobiles. Those are the products the brand must sell in order to survive.