Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Medici Model Revisited

There’s a historical precedent for patronage. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven –all the great classical composers– wrote music at the bequest of a variety of benefactors, be it the church, a member or royalty, or another extremely wealthy person. Michelangelo’s masterpieces were all created as commissioned works, and I don’t think anyone ever accused Michelangelo of selling out to the Medicis or the Roman Catholic Church.

As such, I don't understand why today our largest corporations do not commission symphonic works of some substantial length to merit an evening of music. If classical or concert music is dead, I can certainly imagine this kind of patronage changing the whole game, not to mention the potential contributions to the arts and culture such largesse would afford. By the way, I'm accepting such commissions beginning immediately.

As it turns out, some corporations already do employ art buyers: to decorate their lobbies and offices; to contribute to environmental branding needs and to enhance an investment portfolio. So, if a company has an art buyer in their employ, why not also create an artist relations role? Or develop in-house music producers who not only are capable of eliciting world class musical performances from the artists and entertainers they work with, but who also specialize in cultivating, selecting and filtering works of art (i.e. the composition, performance, tonality and recording process) through the lens of a client's brand strategy.

Of course, artists averse to selling out –if they perceive it as such– don't have to participate. And there will certainly be those whose material is so offensive or politicizing that they would be hard pressed to attract mainstream sponsors. But for others, the idea of piggybacking on a pound of Starbucks coffee or a can of Pepsi will be considered a perfectly acceptable means of guaranteed distribution should they choose to accept a corporate commission or grant (certainly, if the result is getting heard by millions of people).

Has any one who loves building cars or driving them ever said, “No, I can’t accept a sponsorship because that would be selling out; and therefore, I will limit all my driving to public roads?”

No, of course not: The best professional drivers want to get behind the wheel of the best-made cars and drive them on the most exclusive, prestigious and challenging tracks in the world. There’s no reason a similarly constructed music industry can’t adopt something from the NASCAR model.

Can you envision a day when consumers make all their music purchases at a grocery store because all the produce they purchase comes with –or provides access to– the music they want? I can: It will either be an economic nightmare or a gilded age.

Perhaps a can of beans is not an ideal stage for a serious composer. Perhaps the public will be turned off by an artist who arrives home with them with their organic carrots. But at the same time, I can't help but think it still is a commercially viable model for the production and distribution of entertainment, given the suitability of artist and corporate partner. I'd be more than happy to bring home the complete remastered works of Duke Ellington with a Lexus, and I wouldn't think less of the man or his art. A market exists for this delivery system right now, and it is probably larger than anyone right now can even imagine.

This may mean that companies such as Proctor & Gamble –to mention one company which is perfectly poised to take advantage of the proposed model– could eventually come head to head with companies like SONY/BMG. No doubt, today’s corporate titans are on the verge of a market shake-up that will define tomorrow’s entertainment behemoths and modern day Medicis. As a result, a company best known for selling soap and detergent today, just may win the upcoming war for consumer loyalty, and do by simply creating connections with artists; by funding music and distributing it with or without explicit tie-ins to their products and services (the music/ entertainment/ art might be made available only at their website, or by via some kind of non-commercial venue).

Proctor & Gamble is an especially formidable player in this regard because they already have a significant, if often overlooked, history as a content producer.

It bears mentioning that reasons for corporate patronage also include a desire or necessity to curry political favor in another country, as Lorenzo de' Medici is known to have done. By investing or contributing in another nation's arts and artists, one possibly wins favor with its members of government. For American and European interests (seeking foreign industrial contracts), it may seem like good strategy to spend dollars developing tomorrow's Chinese rock stars and East Indian gangsta rappers. Likewise, we may one day witness Asian governments sponsoring indigenous African and mid eastern cultural activities in a bid to compete for those country's petrol resources.

It should also be noted that government sponsorship of artist tours abroad are neither new nor even revolutionary. We are reminded by the Heritage Foundation on the Americans for the Arts website, that:

“Cultural exchanges are part of our first line of defense, helping to bridge ideological gaps and policy disagreements with person-to-person contact and close-up views of the United States. Such programs helped end the Cold War and could have reduced costly complications for America in the global war on terror.”

Future artists will greatly benefit from national patronage –or another form of sponsorship– if only for the guarantee of distribution and exposure, and if not always as a result of an association with the underwriter. –Although negative perceptions of artists (for participating in these relationships) by existing fans can largely be avoided if both parties –brand and band– make good public partners. New fans won’t care if patronage, endorsements or sponsorships are in play because that will be how they discovered the artist/s in the first place.

For other articles in this series:
ROCK BRANDS: Tomorrow's Rock Star Marketing Partners
Branded Mixes
Medici Model Revisited
Artist X Brand X Not Available @ iTunes
Strategic Audio Partnerships
Diplomatic Corps Rock Fest

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