Music & Industry – An Introduction

The Pitch

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Hi, my name is Jimmy, and I’m the Information & Marketing Manager for Rapture. I’d like to tell you a story about the music industry.

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There was a time when describing the production and distribution of music as an industry would have raised eyebrows. Music is one of the oldest art forms, and one of the most visceral – its ability to evoke emotions in people from all walks of life is unparalleled. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer may have been one of the most miserable people ever to have lived, but even he had to admit that “Music is so much more powerful and penetrating than the other arts. These speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence.”

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Viewed through this lens, the ongoing collision of music and industry is as natural and inevitable a partnership as icing and cake, or Mitchell and Webb. Savvy businesspeople and advertisers the world over covet the power of music to enhance their campaigns. They know music can elevate the public’s view of products and services beyond utility, beyond logic, to reach that emotional, essential connection Schopenhauer recognised. Businesses want the artists’ pull mechanism, artists get money and exposure, so everybody wins, right?

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The Problem

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Not so fast. The relationship between art and money has been a long and tricky one – some great artists have had wealthy patrons and benefactors, some have made money from their own success, and some have died impoverished and unappreciated in their own time. There exists a school of thought that says real artists only do it for the love, that money is a secondary concern, even something that should be shunned. This philosophy is perhaps more popular now than ever, probably in response to the perceived over-industrialisation of music that’s occurred over the last few decades.

But everybody’s got to eat, right? Like it or not, there aren’t many patrons left in the classic sense of the word, and businesses are the natural successors to fill that gap. Artists need money to keep making art, and, for many, a day job is a distraction from what they love to do. In an increasingly competitive industry, it’s getting harder and harder for artists to make a living from traditional models – streaming and the internet are great tools in many ways, but there’s no doubt that sales have taken a hit, at least in the short term. And yet this idea of artistic purity pervades mainstream culture, and rears its head most often in the form of the dreaded phrase “selling out”.

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The History

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Selling out was like Treasure Island’s black spot – it signified that the fans had decided you were more interested in money than their loyalty, love and affection. Since the 60s, if not before, music has been at the heart of modern counterculture. Lest we forget, The Beatles were once considered subversive hippies, and the FBI called Elvis “a danger to the security of the United States”. Given the historic perception of business and industry as being part of the establishment, it should come as no surprise that artists who were viewed as being too close to monied interests and people trying to sell you things were viewed with suspicion, and sometimes even contempt.

Countless books, essays and articles have been written about the phenomenon. No one was safe from accusations of abandoning their principles – even Nirvana, the pioneers of modern grunge, suffer a pretty even split as to whether they maintained their integrity or cosied up to the man for a quick buck. As recently as 2009, Iggy Pop came under fire for his questionable decision to appear in a series of adverts for car insurance. As a rebellious icon associated with drugs, hedonism, and an irresponsible lifestyle, Pop’s capitulation to the machine was particularly jarring. If even the flagbearers of rock’n’roll are taking money to tell you to be safe and mature, who can you trust to stick to their ideals?

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The Solution

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And to be fair, those people have a point. While the logical extension of their puritanical position might lead to more starving artists, and thus not as much good art, there is a balance that needs to be struck between music and industry, between profit and purity. Artists are a kind of business in their own right – they have a brand identity, one they need to nurture and protect. It can evolve, but every decision they make will attract some fans and alienate others. The key then, is authenticity – to make sure that the partnerships that form are natural and organic, that they don’t stretch the credibility and goodwill of the very fans that built the pedestal the artists now stand upon.

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One of the best examples of this kind of partnership in recent memory is the collaboration between OK Go & S7 airlines. OK Go have built a strong following on the basis of their elaborate and imaginative videos. Having rebranded in 2006, S7 (formerly Siberia Airlines) is, as businesses and patrons have always done, looking to add to its cool factor, to generate viral content that will help it stand out from the crowd. The result of this synergy of needs is the fabulously frenetic Upside Down & Inside Out. It stands as an effective case study in how art and business can help each other without compromising on core principles, or pushing away the people who put them there.

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The Future

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Looking ahead, there are reasons to be optimistic. More so than previous generations, millennials and gen Zs accept that the landscape of music is changing, has changed, and that brands and businesses aren’t inherently untrustworthy. From festivals to YouTube channels to music videos to adverts, partnerships between arts and industry are an increasingly normal part of the modern world, a part which, after early teething troubles, we are learning to embrace. A 2015 study by Momentum & AEG found that “93 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds like brands who sponsor live music events, with eight in 10 citing branded festivals and concerts as the best way to engage with them”. What’s more, concert-goers are “more likely to trust brand partners, purchase their products, make social-media recommendations, and perceive them as authentic”.

So at this point, you’re probably wondering so what? What’s all this is about? Why is some random guy pontificating about advertising on some shiny new website that’s sprung out of the recesses of the internet, like Athena from the head of Zeus? If you haven’t visited our “About” page, or maybe even if you have, you’ll have questions about who Rapture is. Thank you for reading this far, and sorry to go all Game of Thrones cliffhanger on you, but those are questions I will answer in the next post. I promise you won’t have to wait long.