Tie Me In and Radiate Me
On The Newish Lifestyle Brand Patronage of Independent Music
by Domenic Maltempi
(June 2011)"Today, you are never more than a click away from a personal-branding expert. There's even one personal brand consultant, popular with certain behind-the-scenes captains of the creative industries, who does the Well-Stocked Mind. Which openings to attend, what films to see, books to read, music to listen to—her clients are given a new cultural hinterland." - Peter York, manager/author
Will more and more music be created by independent artists—artists and bands that will then be quickly redirected in critical ways-after flashes of brilliance and promise, to appeal to an audience of shoppers and product scrollers after feeling compelled to align themselves with brands willing to give them money?
Will some of these bands thrive more under this rubric? Will they be put in a better position, something less pyramidal in terms of profit expectations foisted on them, scoring a less compromised relationship with so called branded companies than was possible in the past with many record labels? Branded companies seem to be increasingly supplanting traditional record labels, and with the general upheavals in the music business also conditioned in the umbra of general chaotic changes of economy, dwelling on such concerns seems more than relevant.
There's obviously nothing inherently wrong with artists taking brand company cash to move towards that next level of overall development. Many bands will prosper from this sort of support, being able to get exposure by playing festivals that may not have existed if it were not for the patronage of 'X.' What exactly does 'X' want in return? There has not been a lot written about the relatively new phenomenon of brand companies acting as record label, and the particulars involved in partnerships with bands as it relates to economics and beyond. The few pieces that have dealt with this topic focus on lack of support of artists form consumers--- necessitating bands forging partnerships with brands that are particularly on the hunt to win over the well-drooled over youthful demographics.
In general, there seems to be little out there covering this phenomenon in different critical ways, attempting to project how this new model might change for better or worse for artists in terms of creative integrity or even potential long term success. It's not simply a matter of potential backlash with core fans (but that's a mighty component), it may also come down to subtle shifts of band redefinition promoted within by alignments with brands, which might in turn promote shifts in sound diluted by a difficult (any beyond the scope of this article) to describe, constantly morphing-market conformity.
Is it possible that the music we love might drift more and more into becoming an adjunct of a lifestyle company's vaguely inspiring mission understatements-subordinate to brand awareness-or simply walking hand in hand in unperturbed partnership through the valley of mutual marketing ummpha? An overstated fear (maybe). A bit romantically dystopian depending on what year you're reading it (Hello 3000!). But what are some of the immediate and possible long term effects on some artists, and the music industry in general, of relying more and more on brands for patronage due to traditional labels disappearing, and other sources non-existent or undesirable?
Bethany Cosentino of the well regarded west coast band Best Coast was asked by sneaker company Converse to join forces with Cleveland born rapper Kid Cudi, and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend, and cut a single that would be a free download on their site. She was stoked to do it. It's easy to see why someone in Bethany's shoes, whose band is still relatively new, and wants to get her music out as far and wide however she can, would see such an offer as anything but an excellent opportunity. Everyone has to make a buck, and where is it going to come from? Who could have a problem with that? I certainly don't, but that doesn't mean there are no potential snares that will pop up as this still newfangled business relationship between lifestyle brands and artists develop.
So, here it is. Converse lets you record at their 'Converse Rubber Tracks,' for free, it tells you that it won't meddle with the way your music sounds, or even use them in ads but they kind of are if looked at a slipslap more deeply, as in using a tune to play for free on a product or home page. No doubt, this brand-band alignment seems a lot less compromising than straight up making music for products or services, but in some ways, it may be fraught with more pressure as a business relationship grows along with many more indirect pressures to make sound reflect something not originating from artistic vision or what have you. Nothing's perfect, compromises have to exist, but will the compromises made by artists be more difficult to detect within this new nexus, their existence denied, leading to a misleading sense of autonomy?
Just to clairfy, I'm not concerned here with a band just pushing out some fun content, made specifically to accompany a funny commercial. If a finance company that owns a car company pays a band such as the Sea and Cake for the rights to use the tune "Sporting Life" to sell convertibles... so fucking what? That's great as far as I'm concerned.
The Sea and the Cake
OK, so there isn't some hippie bogey-establishment MAN playing the 'I'm just like you artists' middle man guy' over at the sneaker company that's going to make you sound sonically-friendly enough to be lukewarmly oozed into the waiting area speakers of your local Apple Time or Flummery Jacks franchise. Those older historical concerns no longer exist, or are hardly salient at this time.
I certainly sympathize with up-and-coming bands in need of quick infusions of cash, and opportunities for exposure, even if they realize that longer term growth is really about building a base of solid fans, not consumers that only want to be associated with band XYZ, because it's been casually linked with hot at the moment Brand Y, which inner-super-coolest clique kids in City B often sport while at V. Yeah, that stupid kind of interlocking shit. I'm not saying I wouldn't take the money from some condom company because they thought one of my tunes would work well as the tune to hear whenever one clicks onto their website to get coupon-codes for rubbers or what have you. Especially, if I had a base of core listeners that were picking up my 7 inches faster than I could have them pressed, that more than likely might use that particular condom, or not give a shit for that matter. One does have to consider the context of course.
Zach Baron, writing for the Village Voice, understands Converse Rubber Tracks as a symptom, and not a pusher of new problems and upsetting compromises (selling out, et cetera) between artists and patrons. I would agree with that, as well as chiming in with many others who realize that artists are increasingly dependent on these brands to fund them because most of 'us' aren't buying albums--no matter how big or small the record label. Yes, it's obviously well-nigh impossible to be critical of bands selling out if we don't even support them. Music lovers need to do so more than ever.
See Part II of the article- Free Form radio interviews
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