In part two of sandbox’s investigation into bands, brands and digital marketing, we look at the role that labels can play in securing the right partnership deals, as well as looking at some of the best and worst brand marriages.

When you talk to some brand managers these days about working with bands, they portray record labels as a mild inconvenience at best – something to be avoided until you really have to and then approached reluctantly for master rights.

You can understand why they might think this way. In 2016, artists and their managers have more power than ever, while labels have suffered the brunt of the collapse in recorded music revenues. However, it is a view that ignores both the expertise that labels can offer brands and the moves labels are making in the brand partnerships and digital space themselves.


For example: Universal operates its Universal Music & Brands wing, which it claims to be the “number one music and media agency” with a global network of 250 music and marketing experts; Warner has a global brand partnerships council to coordinate its work with brands; and Sony Music operates an in-house marketing agency in the UK (under VP of strategy Fred Bolza), as well as Sony Music Partnerships in France and a Brand Solutions Hub in Asia. The larger indies have got involved too: PIAS has a Licensing & Brand Partnerships division, while Ministry of Sound last year appointed its first group marketing director as it looked to increase its work with brands.

For labels, the appeal of brand partnerships is clear: they represent a relatively new and growing source of income that essentially makes use of their existing music assets. As for artists, Maria Murtagh- Hopkins, senior director of creative and innovation at Globe, Universal UK’s creative and commercial partnerships division, says that working with brands can open up new promotional possibilities for them.


“Brand partnerships are often a catalyst for unique
marketing moments – both digital and traditional,” Murtagh-Hopkins explains. “That’s a huge part of the partnership appeal to artists in 2016: that brands can open up a whole new world of innovative digital firsts and reach new audiences. Brands have had to revolutionise their own digital marketing strategies for growth and survival – so it makes perfect sense for our artists to partner with this strategic evolution and benefit from the journey.”

For brands, the equation is more complicated. They may want to work with artists in the digital space; but why would they go to a label to find a musical partner when they can go straight to an artist’s manager, sidestepping the middle man?

Contracts, of course, play a role in this discussion – an artist’s contract with a label may oblige them to involve the label in a brand deal – but there is more to this than simple obligation.


Perhaps the most obvious appeal of working with labels is their access to a roster of artists (and their recorded music) that surpasses that of even the biggest management group. This means labels can offer more widespread artist partnerships (including multi-artist deals) than brands would be able to secure by working directly with managers. An example of this is Universal’s deal with technology company HP, one of the most in-depth brand deals in recent years, which allowed HP to launch its own music platform in HP Lounge (with music from Universal artists) as well as hosting showcase gigs from Brandon Flowers and Years & Years .


Data’s branding revolution

Labels can also call on their years of experience working with music, musicians and their digital platforms when it comes to the fight for the branding dollar. Universal Music & Brands, clearly aware of this, explains in its pitch: “We don’t just know about pop culture. We create it.”

Sony’s Bolza, in a recent roundtable event organised by Cannes Lions on the music revolution in branded communications, explained why this history is so important. “We’re moving to an always-on, conversational way of engaging people. That’s quite a tectonic shift which moves us into a place where the thing that cuts through is culture,” he said. “You will hear agencies talking about how they need to transcend advertising and make culture […] We’re making culture in the music industry; it’s what artists do.”


Nowadays, of course, this experience extends to labels using digital data for everything from signing bands to working out where to put their marketing budgets. And this same information can be used to work out which bands best fit a brand’s strategy. Murtagh-Hopkins explains that Universal has a team dedicated to choosing the right act for brand partnerships, so important is the selection process.

“Digital data has truly revolutionised this process and helped to mitigate the risk of a bad partnership,” she says. “There will always be something instinctual about pairing artists with brands which is a positive thing, but we are now living in a time where data can help support and reinforce this selection.”

Camille Hackney, Warner EVP of brand partnerships and licensing, adds, “A great deal of work goes into ensuring that the values of our artists and the chosen brands are aligned. Part of this is about analysing the comprehensive data we have about the reach of our artists, but it is also about bringing to bear the years of experience we have of operating in this area.”

This global, work local

Labels can also offer global scale to brands
– in a way that managers may struggle to emulate – and this is increasingly important in the connected digital world. This, in fact, was one of the key reasons behind the creation of Warner’s partnerships council, as Hackney explained to Billboard. “Brands are looking for more of a global positioning, or music that’s at least multi-territory,” she said. “And we’ve found that in order to better serve not only our artists, but our brand partners, we needed to come together with a structure, as opposed to having one person that oversees global.”

Hackney explained that in each key territory Warner has a full-time brand partnerships executive “or someone who does double duty”, all overseen by the council. “We can go into local offices in each territory and talk about global solutions,” she told Billboard. “We could walk into a brand’s office and say, ‘We’re looking for something in South-East Asia, can you direct them to our counterparts there?’”

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Labels also, in most cases, have the advantage of overseeing artists’ digital marketing campaigns, which means that a brand partnership can easily fit into a wider campaign in a way that should be beneficial to label, brand and act.

Consider, for example, how much more harmonious the Samsung-sponsored launch of Rihanna’s Anti album might have been if Samsung, Universal and Tidal had all been singing from the same hymn sheet rather than pointing fingers about the album leak.

Labels, in fact, are generally very open to brand partnerships becoming part of an artist’s digital marketing plan, recognising the constraints of their budgets. “Partners can open the door to increased promotional budgets that labels just cannot proffer,” Hackney says.

“This means that it may be possible for an artist to shoot a wildly creative video that would normally be out of budget range – or to use tools such as VR or 360 cameras for a shoot. Or even to enhance their live show or extend their tour into territories that might not otherwise have made financial sense.”

As an example of how this can work, Murtagh-Hopkins mentions a recent VR concert from Polydor act Years & Years, which was backed by Samsung to promote its Galaxy S7 and S7 edge devices. The band played four songs from their debut album, Communion, which were streamed across Europe in 360-degree video, helping to promote not just Samsung but also the band’s forthcoming European tour.

It was the kind of promotional coup that demonstrates why digital music marketing and brand partnerships are becoming increasingly comfortable bedfellows.

“The brand can serve as the focal point, the connector or the facilitator with the goal of the brands message being heard even louder given music’s amplification of it,” Hackney concludes.

“Today, that passion and fan engagement is increasingly played out in social media, especially around live events and video- based content. As such, it is essential that today’s brand partnership deals place digital at the centre of their campaigns.” 🙂

Follow this link for Part 1. 

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Music Ally’s next Learn Live webinar will help you understand what’s required for artists to thrive in new international markets!

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