Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Kindle's Impact on the Music Industry?

The two most interesting things to me about the new Amazon e-book reader, the Kindle are:

(If I understand Bezos correctly...)

A) Once a person makes an e-book purchase, Amazon allows the buyer free access to all his or her purchases via storage on their server, at no additional cost. So if you own 300 e-books and carry around 200 at any given time, you can always swap out any titles any time you want to. In effect, your library rests on their servers.

B) Kindle is completely self reliant, no personal computer required.

Therefore a person can purchase and own all the e-books they want, forever, so long as they pay for them once; and so long as he or she accesses the content via hardware which isn't connected to the Internet, thereby preventing the copyright content from unauthorized duplication.

To me, this actually sounds like a reasonable model for distributing music files and other digital media.

I don't mean to suggest consumers should be prevented from amplifying the music they own from more than one device. Rather, if one allows that one can dock an iPod, for instance, on a variety of playback devices, from boom box to home stereo to car audio system, then allow that another similar device might also allow the consumer to amplify the music anyway they cared to, without also permitting them the capacity to move the actual files themselves from drive to drive.

This is unlike a subscription model whereby consumers 'rent' music, and lose access to it if they stop payment. Some suggest subscriptions as a viable future distribution method, but I like the Kindle plan better, where consumers pay once and retain free access to their music forever.

It follows that as long as one has unlimited and eternal access to his or her music, and the capacity to carry on their person as much as can fit on a given device at any given time –hundreds and thousands of selections– then both music producer and music consumer are served.

One member of an online discussion where I first initiated this idea (Kindle's Impact on Music Industry) queried how this model differed from previous protection technologies, such as copy protected CDs and DRM?

Here's the answer:

Consumers resist Copy protection on CDs because they want to be able to rip CDs to portable hard drives in order to customize playback. Of course, some also want to be able to copy content so that they may freely distribute it to others. I suspect that widespread general resistance to the format weighed more heavily on the former, although I do not have sufficient data to argue one way or the other. In my own case, I thought: if you can't listen to the music on your iPod, then what good is it?

I think it's also fair to say that even CD manufacturers don't believe copy protection works, or doesn't work for long anyway. Sooner or later, someone always cracks the code.

But even if it did, such CDs (at least as music transportation devices) would still only protect new music recordings, not recordings already ripped. Not to mention that generally speaking, CDs are simply becoming obsolete as the world goes increasingly digital.

As for Digital Rights Management, does DRM even work? Again, certainly not for files you’ve already ripped from your own CDs.

An ideal content distribution scheme must be easy, acceptable and convenient for producers, manufacturers, distributors and consumers alike, –even as it secures the rights of copyright holders.

As it happens, the Kindle appears to promise just that to authors, publishers and readers of the digital equivalent to novels, e-books.

The actual physical device aside, the content distribution and consumption model created by Amazon for Kindle content rests on these three points:

1) Consumers own the e-books they buy; free digital copies remain accessible on Amazon's server: They must purchase content from an authorized seller; in this case, obviously, Amazon. But once they do so, they are free to the change the content on their playback device at will, provided that the content –the e-book files– rest either on an Amazon server, or in their Kindle. Since a Kindle can hold upwards of 200 novels, plus access to a dictionary and Wikipedia, readers are guaranteed a virtual bookshelf of books and references to carry with them at any one time.

2) Proprietary file format: If a consumer purchases more than 200 e-books (@$9.99/e-book), the e-books that do not fit on their Kindle are stored on an Amazon server. The device is outfitted with a USB connection and spillover can also be stored on an SD card, but it's not as though you'll be able to open those files on Sony's e-book reader, Sony Reader. Back in September the New York Times explained "Amazon is using a proprietary e-book format from Mobipocket, a French company that Amazon bought in 2005, instead of supporting the open e-book standard backed by most major publishers and high-tech companies..."(NYT: Envisioning the Next Chapter for Electronic Books).

So, one wonders if the convenience of free storage at Amazon will be enough to dissuade consumers from trying to crack the files in order to make their own digital copies –if they know they can go back to Amazon at any time in the future in order to swap out any number of e-books for other previously purchased selections, at no extra charge, as many times as they like, forever (provided the number does not exceed the Kindle’s physical storage capacity). Further, one doesn’t actually swap out books off the Amazon server. The Amazon server preserves a copy of the e-book. Like the iPod, swapping off the Kindle amounts to deleting the file in order to make room for new content.

But the fact remains: You bought the book, and therefore you own it. Your copy simply and perpetually sits on Amazon's bookshelf, rather than your own hard drive (where it is subject to damage and accidental erasure, by the way). There it remains until you want to read it, which you may do as many times as you like, now and in the future.

3) Free wireless broadband distribution. Can you lend a book to a friend? Sure, the device allows you to email excerpts, but if you want to loan out an entire novel, just give them your Kindle –as you would a physical book. However, consumers are not given the capacity to rip Kindle content to their computer's hard drive, thereby making wholesale unauthorized distribution theoretically impossible.

Instead content is swapped in and out of the Kindle, and to and from Amazon, via a cellular connection. In this case by way of a direct EvDO radio connection to Amazon (and for which the book consumer need not sign up with Sprint to enable). Amazon makes the transfer of content from their store (or your library) to your Kindle as transparent as possible. Buying a book is just like getting a ringtone.

The bottom line: Consumers get access to all the books they can afford (at a fair price). They get unlimited access to all the books they purchased, anytime they want, forever. Perhaps most importantly, they can experience the books on a portable device that apparently fulfills reader experience expectations in every way that matters.


Of course, we can't literally use a Kindle because while it plays mp3s, its slow E Ink display isn't the optimal choice for navigating through a music library. Nor can we use the current Apple or MSN (or other) set-ups. We need a new device that operates within a suitably closed system: Let’s call it a 'kPod' (although I’d rather call it a Cryptonomicon [nerdy humor alert]), and you fill it up with content at the kTunes store. (For the sake of this overview: Despite some cries of monopoly, Apple's iTunes/iPod set-up is defined as an open system here because although Apple's AAC files are theoretically copy protected, a consumer's own files are not; not to mention the set-up is connected to the Internet, allowing files to move freely).

I imagine that a consumer might access the kTunes store via a Mac or PC in order to peruse selections, make purchases and manage their library. But the kPod itself will not connect to one's computer. Rather the Ktunes store sends the kPod content, just as Amazon sends the Kindle content, over a free wireless cellular broadband service.

As consumers retain eternal access to their purchased content they can therefore access previously purchase content at no additional cost. You bought the music; you own it.

If a consumer damages their kPod, they will certainly be liable for the cost of a kPod replacement, as they would be with any consumer purchase. But they will not be required to re-purchase music that they already own. All they have to do is log into their kTunes account and download their content from their library.

While the kPod is incapable of burning CDs, or making readable copies to external drives, secondary kPods or home computers, consumers will nevertheless be able to dock their kPod to any number of commercially available playback devices, such as their home stereo, a car sound system, or some other 3rd party amplification system. Docking will allow consumers to amplify the audio from a kPod, but it will not allow them to actually transfer digital files from a kPod to another device (capable of reading those files).

The bottom line is:
Consumers get access to all the music they can afford (at a fair price). Unlike a music subscription, they get unlimited access to all the music they purchased, anytime they want, forever. They will certainly have to pay for any new music they desire, but they will only have to do so once. They will never again have to purchase the same song twice. Perhaps most importantly, they can experience their music on a portable device that fulfills listener experience expectations in every way that matters, and still protect the rights of copyright holders.

Add to that a store that offers every single recording ever made, from anywhere in the world, and free content from the public domain, and you may be on to something big.

One question remains: How will current owners with existing digitized collections of music get this content into the kPod without giving the kPod reciprocal ability to export content to distribution channels? Maybe there is no way (to do so). Or maybe imported content will be automatically transformed into the kPods proprietary file format before becoming functional (which in effect would also take care of DRM).

Whatever the decision or method, if producers of music can convince young consumers to choose kPods over iPods, they can offer those consumers something Apple isn't even doing: They can help a new generation begin building non-destructible music collections, and from a very young age, saving every title they purchase for future and unlimited use, on and from a perpetually accessible server, in an account in their possession –if not on their person– for their entire lifetime.

Or maybe music should just be free.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Breaking Into the Ad Music Biz

While browsing the Sound-On-Sound Music Business Forum recently, I came across a conversation regarding the trials and tribulations one might expect attempting a career creating music for advertising. As it happens, I have had to give the subject considerable and repeated thought given five earlier commissions over the last five years by clients seeking to gain entry to the industry, or by established firms seeking to expand services. This as a result of having held the position of Executive Producer for two leading U.S. production companies, and the entrepreneurial experience I later gained as co-founder and Executive Producer of a pioneering interactive music outfit in the late nineties called Blister Media, and whose uniquely combined studio practices the publishers of Mix Magazine, in their April 2001 Internet Audio supplement, suggested was a portent to ‘The Future of Music Production’.

Sound-On-Sound is a British publication and while I'm not deeply familiar with the U.K. scene, I do have a passing familiarity with it as one client I provided consultation services to was and is a U.K. concern interested in setting up shop in the United States. As I'm not currently bound by any non-disclosure agreements, I therefore decided to throw in my two cents and offer some background and advice to the aspiring freelance or newly independent commercial composer or young music producer. As my post to the forum turned out to be a little longer and detailed than I intended, I thought it might make for good reprint here on the CRITICAL NOISE blog.

So with minor alteration and enhancements, and without out any further ado:

Having produced music, sound design and sonic branding projects for two leading US production co.'s., perhaps I can offer some helpful background and advice to those looking to break into this arena:

It's increasingly difficult for an unknown composer to break in to the business of writing music for advertising for at least three reasons:

A) More and more commercials use licensed tracks from recording artists or license libraries. That means fewer commissions for original music.

B) While commissions have diminished (for TV Commercials), competition has increased by an exponential number. When I started my first job for Elias Arts in 1991, ten U.S. music production houses of note were listed in a national industry registry. By the time I left Machine Head in 1998 to start my own shop, Blister Media, there were at least fifty good ones nationwide I could name –and now it seems there are also hundreds of boutiques located in every major production center, such as LA, New York, London, etc.

Moreover, as a result of a strike by the Screen Actors Guild in the late nineties, U.S. agencies began producing more work overseas. Once exposed to talents in Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, South Africa, England and elsewhere, –and receiving top shelf creative at a lower cost–, US vendors in every area of production found themselves having to adjust their bids in order to compete with new overseas competitors. More so than other post production professionals, employees of US music houses suffered especially so because their income was also based (and still is) on performance royalties. As you might imagine, the Internet (and global access to non union talent) has, among other things, made the competition pool that much wider. Not only is the pie smaller, there are more people who want a piece of it.

In an attempt to gain an advantage over the increasing competition, established houses began providing more demos for the buck to their clients, and presenting them nearer to what might call the final stages of completion. What was once an original fee for one semi-produced demo now has to be amortized over several full-up tracks, only it really can't. And what was once the possibility of a profit on demo budgets, now has dwindled to the break even point, and often not even that.

In 1993 the company I worked for produced an average of four or five demos per project. By 2001, it wasn’t unheard of to deliver up to twenty demos per project –from a single house! Multiply that by the three or four other houses and you realize advertising agencies may consider forty, fifty or sixty original tracks in demo stage, before they settle on one.

Fortunately the quality of samples is much higher than it once was, saving the cost conscious composer from having to hire session musicians for demos, (or even finals much of the time). But that circumstance comes with its own set of problems (When Marketers Hear Double). If you think you have a hard time as a composer getting work, be thankful you're not trying to make a living strictly as a studio drummer.

C) Errors and Omissions. Agencies generally now require composers to carry insurance against the odd claim of copyright infringement. E&O is essentially malpractice insurance for musicians. It may be that it was always required of vendors, but when I first started in the business no one ever demanded that I actually produce evidence of holding the policy. Now agencies regularly ask new, prospective vendors to produce a copy before allowing them to participate in the bidding process. In the 'old days' some people I know didn't really carry the policy, but said they did in order to secure work. Rather, they signed the agency's work-for-hire agreement that stipulated they carry the policy, even if they didn't. Then they crossed their fingers and prayed they wouldn't get sued.

Of course, most composers will tell you they are highly original and that they would never plagiarize another musical work, so carrying an E&O policy isn't an issue for them. But as I've mentioned elsewhere in this blog (The Cinematic Reincarnation of Classical Music), composers of music for film and video, –whether they are scoring a two hour movie or a thirty second TV commercial– are frequently asked to use another work as a model and reference. In fact, such temp tracks often arrive with the rough cut, and the expectation is that the commissioned composer's new music will work with picture bearing a substantial degree of similarity to the temp track, without actually infringing.

If you don't want to carry an E&O policy, or can't afford to, remain freelance and solicit work from the big production companies that do carry it.

The good news is that what was bad for the big boys –i.e. union strikes, lower production budgets, non union workers, global competition, etc– actually sometimes works in favor of those trying to break into the business, whether they are local or working over the Internet. And increasingly, the big houses are moving from –if they haven't already– from hosting exclusive staff composers to representing armies of freelance independent talents. Recently SOS published a profile of Amsterdam based music house Massive, describing the company as having relationships with "a worldwide pool of approximately 75 freelance composers".

Ten years ago a company might exercise discretion regarding any use of freelancers, fearing outward perception that the core of the brand lacked the necessary wherewithal to execute a given creative vision internally. It's sort of like hearing your favorite band had to call in a session guitarist to do the leads. But today, that notion has been completely turned on its head, and the stigma (of using freelancers) faded. Music houses have become less like film studios retaining exclusive talent, and more representatives of free agents.

Naturally, this has good and bad aspects for the modern independent composer. It's good, because you now have a better chance of succeeding than you did before: Someone, somewhere is likely to give you a shot, eventually; but the negative is that you're also up against an even greater amount of competition than your predecessors, and everyone is equally and adequately armed with ProTools.

In the April 2001 issue of Shoot Magazine I argued that while the broadcast advertising pie was getting smaller, and the amount of competition increasing, there was still room for everybody (Too Many Notes To Choose From?). I still think this is true, but as I said then, only if your business model allows for multiple streams of income. If you're relying only on thirty second TV advertising commercials for income, then it's likely you have already gone out of business. A music house today, even a freelance composer, needs to be able to solicit work for, and accommodate projects from, across a wide swath of media options: advertising, film, electronic game, interactive media, theme parks, special venues, in store locations and other on site platforms, as well as get into the business of licensing a library of works. It can be a daunting exercise.

By the way, if you think of yourself more as a songwriter who would like to license tracks rather than as a composer who takes on commissions for original music, follow this link to read more about How To License Your Songs.

It bears mentioning that the barrier to entry is indeed lower than it once was, at least when it comes to equipment and building costs. So long as you work as freelancer to other music production companies, no one will care what you made your music on so long as it sounds great, does the job, and you are able to deliver it according to the technical specifications required of you. Additionally, if you've been retained by a music house, your employer is the de facto client liaison, and thus you won't also need to lay out the cash to build out a gorgeous facility for entertaining said clients. One day you might: Tomorrow you could very well be a first call Sonic Branding guru. But for now, let's concentrate on getting your foot in the door.

Regardless of whether you chose to solicit work from music production companies, or directly from agencies, studios and other clients, you will need to build a reel demonstrating your talent. Your 'reel' may not be an actual reel. It may simply be a website with quicktime samples of your work. In all likelihood you will need to create hard copies for distribution as well, in the form of a DVD.

Some question whether it is ethical to build a demo reel by scoring existing TV film, adverts or video footage. I say: Do it, do it, do it. Get on the Internet and find ten to fifteen beautiful or über cool TV commercials to download and score them, and/or add sound design. If you can't mix, have someone else mix them down for you. To be honest, if you want to compose music for advertising, you are going to have to learn how to record and mix. Schedules often move too fast for anyone to wait around for a dedicated engineer to do his or her thing. Your demo reel has to sound ready for broadcast, and you should really be capable of executing such a task. But even if you do mix yourself, get another pair of ears to judge your work. In advertising you will have many people review and criticize your work before it goes final. Get used to accommodating other people's opinions now.

That said, pairing a musician/composer with a musical engineer or creative producer makes for a great team, but no one's going to pay you twice as much to get the job done. You'll have to split the budget between you. Mind you, many established music houses were founded by dynamic duos, so if you do work as a duo, money may be tighter at the beginning but your collective energies may pay off later as you build a business.

As for the reel you build, as you gather video also collect the agency and the director info for each spot. Once you've assembled the credits, note them on the label and/or on your site, along with the title for each spot or project: Each item might be therefore be labeled something like this:

Product/Title/Length/Agency/Director/Demo or Final

For instance:


1) Title: Adidas ‘Sport’ :30
Agency: Harajuku Worldwide
Dir: Ridley Scott (Demo)

But if what happens if you then send your music to the actual music house that produced the actual track that went final, or the ad agency that produced it? Well, they might like it, they might hate, they might ignore it. The music house might even think that your score was a demo the agency had someone else do, which happens all the time as I mentioned above. As for the agency, I suspect they will probably be flattered –if the people who review your work are even the same people who created the original spot. Given the number of people who work at a large multinational advertising agency, and the growing number of freelancers working at these agencies, the creators of the original spot may never come across your reel. In fact, it's unlikely that they will unless i) Someone at the agency recommends they look at your reel or ii) You actually contact them personally and ask them to review the music and/or sound design you composed inspired by their work (this is actually a good way to make a connection as it provides a reason for what is otherwise a cold call).

Anyway, as you weren't formally commissioned, you therefore didn't need to consider any branding issues or need to work around a Voice Over. Ostensibly you were free to treat the video as art. Theoretically then, your composition, in contrast to the final music, is not compromised by any utilitarian marketing function and is therefore creative for its own sake. I suspect agency and production people will undoubtedly appreciate your efforts (assuming you are competent, and if your work is also engaging as an entertainment piece, as it should be).

In fact, if you sent me to your web site and I couldn't help but notice that all the featured work was demos, I wouldn't necessarily know that you weren't formerly commissioned to participate in the demo process. For all I would know, you were one of several participants, and it so happens that this particular work did not go final.

Also, presenting demos doesn't mean you haven't ever produced a final. What do you think plays better on a reel? A demo for a cool car spot or a final for toilet paper? Even established houses will present a demo that didn't go final if the picture is better than anything else that went final. The trick though is to make sure you present the demo music against final picture, not the rough cut. How do you get the final cut? Off the Internet. The companies who produced the spot will often host them on their site, as will the Industry trades. Or you make friends with someone who works in the business and they serve as your connection to quality video. Sounds like a dirty little business, doesn't it?

Another word about not going final when you haven't actually gone final: Not going final is not an indication of quality. It does not mean you or your work is incapable of the task. Assuming you are actually competent at scoring picture and/or experience, it simply means your work did not adequately score the brand or support the story in the way someone at the agency wanted it to, on that particular day. For whatever reason, something else went final.

By the same token, if a track did go final, that in and of itself doesn't mean that everyone who participated in its production is happy with the final music. This happens ALL the time. That's why even the directors who shoot TV commercials, or the editors who cut the spot, or even the advertising agency staff themselves will sometimes have a different composer score the spot for their own reel (the director’s cut, the editor’s cut, the agency cut, even the animator’s or designer’s cut, as opposed to the final version).

In fact, doing director’s cuts is an excellent way to build up a reel, not to mention make contacts. To do this, offer your creative services for free (or for no more than a typical demo budget if it requires live musicians/technical personnel/studio other than yourself and your rig) to produce a full up direction of music that fulfills the director's (or whomever’s) musical vision. You find these people by approaching production companies, 'repping*' firms or agents who represent directors or production and post-production companies and pitch them on your availability to compose treatments for director's cuts. If you find them on MySpace, shoot them an email with a link back to other samples of your work.

*Reps and Repping firms are individuals or companies that represent talent to the advertising agencies. Typically reps represent directors, film production companies, post production companies, editorial firms, and yes, even music and sound design houses.

On your website, or printed label, you would then neither notate ‘Final’ or ‘Demo’, but ‘Directors Cut’ or which ever party you composed the alternate version to. Make no mistake these alternate versions have a bit of caché to them, sometimes even more than the Finals, depending who you did the work for and who is viewing it. Do you think that anyone in the business cares what went final, if Ridley Scott uses something else on his own reel? Only the composer of the former and his or her mother cares about what went final.

But if you really don't want to produce a track that already is final, you can still find killer looking video by working with designers, who now amazingly seem to outnumber musicians these days. Here's a link from Digital Thread that purports to feature the Best of Breed Design firms. If you begin by offering your services for free (or a very nominal cost covering fee) people who to this creative group, in a year or two you may have a show reel that will get you work and launch your career.

By the way, I don't just mean to approach the businesses that you'll find if you follow the link (which span the gamut from one man shops to multimillion dollar operations); but rather in the case of a multimillion dollar shop, try approaching individual creative artisans who work for those businesses and who are likely doing independent work of their own. How do you get the names of individual creative artisans who work at multimillion dollar sites? Well, check out the websites first. You can run searches on major social networking sites, too. Run the name of a business on MySpace for instance and see who comes up. Or simply run a search on your favorite search engine that pairs the name of the design firm your interested in with a likely job title like 'Art Director' or 'Junior Designer', etc. In other words, you need to dig.

Along the way you will make contact, acquire acquaintances and make friends and build your professional network. Don't expect first contact to result in a job unless you are very lucky. Typically the people you want to work for may already have booked other professionals for the jobs on deck for months on out. You will need to keep at it without being annoying. A rep will do this for you, but at this stage you are likely your own rep, as well your own intern, producer, composer, receptionist. The silver lining in this is that the relationships you make will be your own, not your reps. It will feel right when it feels social. It will be feel wrong when it feels like selling. This too takes practice.

One disclaimer before I close: as you might imagine, it is not enough to simply follow the steps outlined here. One must also be talented, and I think immensely so, and in ways that are specific to the nature of the form. You won't possess all the skills when you start out, but you can learn as you go, and you should learn all you can.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Music As Collateral: Concepts in Co-Branding

Click on any link below to read all the articles in the three-part November 2007 MUSIC AS COLLATERAL series exploring exploring the new paradigms for Music Distribution:

Part 1: Compatible Archetypes
Part 2: Collaborative Marketing Concepts for Musicians
Part 3: The Hottest Brand in the World

This Series link also includes the May 2006 explaining Camelback Collateral.


* * *

Like this Topic? Click on any link below to read all the articles in the four-part Fall 2006 AUDIO AS ADDED VALUE series exploring exploring new paradigms for Music Distribution:

1. The Compact Disc Is Dead
2. Saving The Music Industry One Brand at a Time
3. Self-Referential Jingles are not Content
4. Synergy = Energy

Music as Collateral: The Hottest Brand in the World

This article represents the final part of a November 10, 2007 post on the subject of music as collateral.

Read Part One here: Compatible Archetypes.
Read Part Two here: Collaborative Marketing Concepts for Musicians.

The three posts together continue a series explored throughout this blog discussing potential uses of Audio as an Added Value Component .

In the past I’ve attached the label ‘Strategic Audio Partnerships’ to the general concept of subsidizing musical artists by companies that produce products or services; the artists that accept such subsidies ‘Rock Brands’; sponsors, foundations, contributors and even ad buyers who commission musical works with a return promotional effort as a requirement, as following a ‘Medici Model’; and the method by which the music is distributed via as an accompaniment to another purchase as ‘Camelback Collateral’, because the music isn’t selling itself, but rather being carried into the home via another sale.

In the current parlance, individual aspects of these related concepts are increasingly being re-bundled into the separate ideas and executions known as 'Branded Content', and '360° deals'. However, at its essence, Branded Content , " ideas that bring entertainment value to brands and that integrate brands into entertainment". And 360° deals typically describe a relationship whereby a record label will theoretically lay a larger role in an artist's development in return for a share of profits that includes merchandise, touring and other streams of revenue.

To learn more about Branded Content, click on either of the Branded Content links above.

To learn more about the positive potential of 360° deals, read Jeff Leeds' excellent New York Times, November 11, 2007 article, The New Deal: Band as Brand. (As it happens, I've commented on a Jeff Leeds article before. Check out my November 14, 2006 post, Diplomatic Corps Rock Fest). Also check out Bob Lefsetz's Music Analysis blog, The Lefsetz Letter, where he writes in response to Leeds': "Under the guise of artist development, the major labels are spinning this fantasy that 360 deals are good for the artist when the real story is they’re a land grab, a desperate attempt to insure the labels’ future."

Like Branded Content, the concepts of Strategic Audio Partnerships and Rock Brands describe Artist relationships with 3rd party sponsors for the purpose of bringing entertainment value to brands but excepting collaborative promotional ventures, the models stop short of recommending reciprocal integration of those brands back into the artist's entertainment or works.

In contrast to 360° deals, third parties may or may not be active participants in the production of a collaborative marketing venture with an artist: they may simply be sponsors, following a Medici model, with no marketing plan proposed or required). But in the event of a commercial project in which an artist is commissioned in the support of promoting a brand, the artist (and his or her creative and/or management team) will certainly be active participants, if not take on creative leadership roles, and perhaps even manage the production of the effort.

In effect, Brand and Band commission each other in the creation of media of some sort, which serves a dual purpose of promoting both partners to the venture.

The intent is to thereby define the Artist not simply as musician/s under contract for a traditional endorsement or production deal, but as an independent creative and marketing consultant/s at the helm of their own brand –with their own agenda, and inclusive of the professional responsibilities such titles suggest– regardless of what kind of relationship they might have in place with a record label.

Strategic Audio Partnerships and Rock Brands describe an alternate music industry, one supported by sponsors, contributors, arts foundations, patrons, and other strategic or 'brand partners'; and when partnering with advertisers, the Artist (and their creative/ production/ management team, i.e. the 'Rock Brand'), takes on a creative leadership role, as a partner, expert and authority, in the development of any commercial endeavors. The Artist isn't directed by an advertising agency because the Artist is the Advertising Agency (although the deal between Brand and Band may certainly be (and probably will be) brokered and supervised by a traditional communications firm. That is to say, acting at the bequest of Brand, Agency will play line producer to Artist's (or Brand/Band) Creative Direction.

As you might have guessed, I believe the future will indeed resemble 360° deals, but my model positions the Artist/Rock Brand at the hub, with label and partnerships representing but individual revenue streams/spokes in the wheel; as opposed to the model as it is proposed now with the label at the hub, –unless it's worth it to the artist to accept such a contract, and it very well may be in some cases.

There's a reason why I keep using the term Rock Brand. In contrast to traditional endorsement models, the term Rock Brand implies the notion that the artist is not just reading from a script, but that he or she and their team is assuming many –if not all– of the functions typically handled by creative consultants, marketing agencies and commercial production companies. I rarely mention management in this equation, but my supposition is that artist management will represent the fuel cell, build or manage 'the team', and provide much of the energy in this model. In fact, a great place to assemble brand and production consultants under one virtual roof is via management. That said, there's no reason a successful artist might simply start their own production or marketing companies independent of their management's control, and possibly retain other artists as clients or even partners in these businesses.

The question remains: Why would an ad buyer want to forge a strategic audio partnership with a Rock Brand? Certainly that money might be put to better use if spent on a traditional print or TV advertising campaign. Wouldn't it?

Let’s address the issue of budget: In the case of television, consider that production for a national TV commercial might cost between .25M and 1M, not including the media buy, and perhaps run for 13 to 26 weeks. Then it's over and finished, and once it is off the air it quite often erases itself from the popular consciousness. In fact, given the ubiquity of TIVO and other hard disc recorders it may never even connect with (and deliver its message to) its intended target demographic. Likewise, print suffers a parallel effect that TV commercials suffer at the hands of TIVO. People simply turn the page, if they’re even reading print anymore. Suffice to say that every dollar in any advertising budget is gambled.

I often consider how far a million bucks would go if spent on a young emerging artist or band –one perhaps overlooked by the record labels, but identified by an ad buyer's in house A&R team as having the potential to capture the public imagination –or even one small segment of it.

And I've also wondered how long thereafter that a band's young fans might connect a brand endorsement with a band's music. Might that connection continue so that it is able to influence a purchase not now, –not in the next 13 weeks, nor even a year from now; but well into adulthood? It's only conjecture but I have to imagine that two music instrument manufacturers continue to sell a significant bit of product today because thirty years ago a generation of kids read in the liner notes that ‘The Hottest Band In the World’, –KISS– "uses Gibson Guitars and Pearl Drums because they want the best".

Likewise, in a March 30, 2001 article I wrote evangelizing the use of Sonic Branding, titled Branding With Audio, and published by Internet marketing resource, I wrote: Oats may be oats, but if I'm making babies to your music, then chances are my babies will be eating your oats.

And keep in mind that not every dollar of any given ad buyer's promotional budget is necessarily meant to translate into a direct sale. Coca Cola's sponsorship of The Charlie Rose show doesn't translate into direct sales, but it does translate into a general feeling of goodwill that may spur a Coke sale in the future, and perhaps even a lifelong relationship with the brand. Isn't a lifelong relationship with the people who enjoy their music what every artist wants, too?

For a band, if a relationship with a product or service can be contextualized by the public as a collaborative promotion rather than as a paid endorsement by one party of another ('selling out'), then perhaps a band can benefit from being framed as representing the essence of a certain aspirational lifestyle. The worst that can happen is probably not a career killer for the band, nor the brand. Even if the public does not wholeheartedly embrace the relationship, then at the very least one might expect a bit of fame, notoriety and/or interest to sustain the next stage of market evolution for either party, even if the two partners chose to part ways after one campaign.

Consider rockstar Sting's collaboration with Jaguar. The campaign left no doubt that both Jaguar and Sting are luxury items. Maybe you can't afford a Lexus, but you can afford a Sting album. Press play; close your eyes, and now who needs a car to bask in the rich and global lifestyle package Sting represents?

True, I may never listen to Sting again without thinking of Jaguar, –and such associations would be problematic for some artists– but in the case of Sting and Jaguar, this pairing doesn't necessarily distract from my enjoyment of the artist's music. This means that Jaguar's dollar, or pound, stretches quite far, well beyond the actual campaign and will possibly even resonate across the Artist's new works and future appearances. For Sting, the association reinforces the public perception of his position as a celestial body in the Rock universe. It is precisely because the collaboration paired two equitable archetypal figures, and presented them as creative collaborators, that their past partnership will continue to serve each to great mutual advantage.

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Click on any link below to read all the articles in the three-part November 2007 MUSIC AS COLLATERAL series exploring exploring the new paradigms for Music Distribution:

Part 1: Compatible Archetypes
Part 2: Collaborative Marketing Concepts for Musicians
Part 3: The Hottest Brand in the World

Collaborative Marketing Concepts for Musicians

In the past I’ve defined the following general concepts: ‘Strategic Audio Partnerships’; the artists that participate in them ‘Rock Brands’; sponsors who commission such works regardless of a return future endorsement or mention, as following a ‘Medici Model’; and the distribution method ‘Camelback Collateral’, because the music isn’t selling itself, but rather being carried into the home via another sale.

Aspects of all these concepts are increasingly being referred to as Branded Content, and can also be found in '360° deals'. That said, the term 'branded content' as often as not refers to works in which the content itself integrates the brand in some way, for instance as presenting a name brand product as a pivotal plot element of a TV show, or a scripted use by an actor; –and not simply as presented in ads during commercial breaks.

According to the London based Branded Content Marketing Association, "Branded content is ideas that bring entertainment value to brands and that integrate brands into entertainment."

Branded content has been around a long, long time. As media strategist Tessa Weggert reminds us in her article, Advertorial's Kissing Cousin, branded content can also refer to entertaining or informative content produced, controlled and published –and therefore 'framed' or 'contextualized'– by an advertiser. Think of, for instance, the articles you might find in a health and fitness newsletter provided by a pharmaceutical company, or even your local gym or family doctor. The actual content maybe factual and otherwise neutral, but it's been brought to you by a brand, even if that brand is your own family doctor.

360° deals typically describe a relationship whereby a record label will play a larger role in an artist's development in return for a share of profits that includes merchandise, touring and other streams of revenue.

To learn more about 360° deals, read Jeff Leeds excellent New York Times, November 11, 2007 article, The New Deal: Band as Brand.

In contrast, the concepts of Strategic Audio Partnerships and Rock Brands describe Artist relationships with 3rd party sponsors for the purpose of bringing entertainment value to brands but stopping short of a reciprocal integration of those brands back into the artist's entertainment or works. These third party sponsors may or may not be active participants in the production of a collaborative marketing venture with an artist, but the artist (and his or her creative and/or management team) certainly is; and this thereby defines the Artist not simply as musician/s under contract for an endorsement deal, but as an independent marketing consultant/s at the helm of their own brand, regardless of what kind of relationship they might have with a record label.

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Click on any link below to read all the articles in the three-part November 2007 MUSIC AS COLLATERAL series exploring exploring the new paradigms for Music Distribution:

Part 1: Compatible Archetypes
Part 2: Collaborative Marketing Concepts for Musicians
Part 3: The Hottest Brand in the World

Music as Collateral: Compatible Archetypes

In previous articles I’ve suggested that collaborations between artists and ‘Ad Buyers’ –businesses that provide products and/or services (and their advertising agencies– are one way musicians might be subsidized by corporate sponsors other than a traditional record label; or alternately serve as their record label; or work in tandem with a record label or management company, but 'outside' the traditional music industry universe.

I’ve also knocked around ideas in an attempt to forecast how future Ad Buyer/Artist relationships might veer away from the current endorsement deal model, and become more collaborative. Traditional endorsement responsibilities can be perceived as hawking by fans and thus damage credibility. Likewise, sponsorships appear most effective when sponsors appear carefully selected by an artist, –and not accepted on the basis of monetary valuation alone.

Consider National Public Radio: Sponsorships are never construed as inherent endorsements by a program, host, celebrity or even the network. But the context in which such sponsorships are presented results in all sponsors framed if not as caring contributors concerned with 'giving something back', then simply as neutral supporters of the arts.

In like manner, I think that providing music as a complimentary gift that accompanies a purchase of either a product or service by a provider who also subsidizes either the artist or artist production may be but one method that music production and promotion in the future will be funded and distributed, with positive effect for both artist and sponsor.

You don't need a strategic partner to make this happen, however. An independent artist might move product in combination with the sales of their own branded merchandise.

What is important is that whether the music is distributed via Artist merch or via a relationship with a partner, it should never be referred to as a ‘freebie’. Perhaps it is framed as a gift, –perhaps as ‘complimentary’ with one’s purchase, or some other term or tag to be decided, but never as a valueless giveaway. A giveaway yes, but one that came at some expense to the giver, and from a giver who actually cares and connects with the gift. This is important: both music and purchase must relate to one another in some credible manner, as I’ll explain presently:

Presently when we purchase music, we buy it for it’s own sake. For instance, you buy a Jay-Z CD because you like his music. And when we buy a product or commission a service, we buy that for it’s own sake, too. One purchases a certain car because you like that make and model, or it serves a utilitarian purpose in one’s life. I think there is an increasing opportunity for both artist and ad buyer to connect with consumers and fans by providing what I might call a ‘lifestyle package’.

In an advertisement for a lifestyle package, the product might be a car, and the soundtrack a licensed piece of music by a certain band. But in contrast to the yesteryear model, whereby the licensed music supported the filmed story, product demo or brand message, in the new model the product and the artist whose music is being used will support each other. Sting's 2000 promotional collaboration with Jaguar represents one relatively recent and notable example of lifestyle packaging between auto manufacturer and rock brand. Likewise, the 2007 Lexus campaign featuring Elvis Costello and Diana Krall.

Ideally, both brand and band serve to sell each other.

Core Costello fans from the artist's punk past might feel affronted by the ads, but his new base probably thinks it's wonderful to see their favorite artist on TV again, in any capacity. Televised promotions are additionally beneficial to the artist because commercials serve to function as an artist's video, and are produced at no cost to artist.

For an example of a lopsided pairing, recall the popular 2000 VW ad that used Nick Drake's song PINK MOON as its soundtrack. In the end, the ad proved better as a music video for Drake than it did as an ad for VW. Simply put, the commercial did more to rehabilitate Drake's career than it did to sell Volkswagens. Not to mention that no one at the time could seem to remember that the ads were actually promoting a specific model, the VW Cabrio.

I suspect that the entire VW 'Drivers Want It' campaign, which featured exceptionally tasteful music choices across a series of quirky spots, did much to keep the music industry afloat with new sales at a time when Napster was biting off big chunks of its bottom line. Meanwhile, VW fired the ad agency that developed the campaign because their cars were collecting dust on lots.

For a strategic relationship between brand and band to work, and benefit both parties, both brand and band must represent compatible archetypes. It will not work when an artist is used to drive sales by overtly pitching products or services directly.

Reciprocally, it will not work when the artist’s fan base does not align with an ad buyer’s target demographic.

But it will work with positive effect when both partners in the relationship are a natural and logical fit for each other, and so long as they remember the silent parties to the contract are fans and consumers. Further, advertiser and artist must not appear to promote each other, but rather fulfill roles as symbiotic symbols in a given lifestyle arrangement, for which the target demographic is shared between both consumer base and fan base.

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Click on any link below to read all the articles in the three-part November 2007 MUSIC AS COLLATERAL series exploring exploring the new paradigms for Music Distribution:

Part 1: Compatible Archetypes
Part 2: Collaborative Marketing Concepts for Musicians
Part 3: The Hottest Brand in the World