Tactics for “breaking” bands have evolved significantly as the music industry has changed. For decades, radio was king. Then, in the 1950s and ‘60s, tens of millions of Americans’ viewing habits were concentrated across three networks and TV took over. MTV, festival slots, and synch licensing have all enjoyed their time in the spotlight, as well. And while each of those tactics is still an important piece of the puzzle, if you talk to any manager or label executive these days, the most coveted prize for a developing artist is clear: a brand partnership.
Thousands of brands, big and small, are looking to align themselves with tastemakers within a number of different categories. Most of these deals take months (or even years) to confirm and come with seven-figure paydays. That said, these deals are more about exposure than dollar signs—at least in the early days of an artist’s career.
So, how does one align his or her developing artist with a brand? It all comes down to positioning and packaging. When you pitch an emerging artist to a brand or agency executive, it’s likely the first time they’ve heard of your act, making the initial introduction critical. Like a blind date, you’ve only got one chance to make a good first impression. If you blow it, the relationship might end before it ever begins.
The biggest mistake artist representatives make when approaching brands is to think of things only from the artist’s perspective: how will this brand boost their reputation or market saturation? Is the brand a great fit for their upcoming tour, single, or album launch? Instead, savvy reps approach the conversation from the brand’s point of view. They vet the mutual benefits. They ask how can the asset—AKA the artist—help the brand reach its objectives? Those objectives might be to drive sales, increase brand awareness, or connect to consumers via digital content.
In order to reach the brand’s objectives, it’s imperative that the artist has something to offer. Usually, that means an ongoing opportunity to get in front of people: an opening slot on a big tour, lots of confirmed press, or super-engaged social accounts that are getting a regular flow of new content. Without those tools, the artist essentially has no inventory—which means they have no capacity to create impressions. Brands will not be excited about partnering with an artist who isn’t bringing some amount of momentum to the table to help achieve the goals of the campaign.
Above all, authenticity is key. Pairing the wrong artist with the wrong brand is a bad look for all parties involved, and it can be detrimental for the artist in the long run. If the artist does not use the product or isn’t aligned with the creative, it’s probably not a good idea to do the deal. If something isn’t a good fit, pass. Period. No level of exposure or paycheck is worth the potential blow-back that can (and usually will!) come on social media if a partnership proves to be inauthentic…or appear to be inauthentic to consumers.
Many campaigns that launch with a more established artist can provide springboards for developing artists later on. For example, Tennessee Tourism launched its Snapchat channel last September with a partnership with Garth Brooks. More than 6 million viewers watched authentic Snap stories over a three-week period that helped highlight the importance of Tennessee in Garth’s career. The campaign culminated with 15,000 people from 46 states and 5 countries making the trip to Nashville for a free downtown concert.
Although Garth helped launch the channel, it’s now serving as an outlet for Tennessee to spotlight some of the state’s brightest emerging acts. Each month, FlyteVu and TN invite another new star to take center stage. The Snap-umentary series has featured Whissell, Seth Ennis, and Drew Holcomb in recent months. All of these artists have an authentic story about Tennessee. This campaign helps keep Tennessee Tourism’s channel fresh, while giving new acts access to an engaged audience to share their music.
Bottom line: brands can be an invaluable resource for artist development, but it’s important to get it right the first time. Go for the long play and treat it more like your first date. Also, follow all existing rules and regulations (so you don’t inadvertently commit an FTC violation). If you don’t, you can ruin a young artist’s partnership viability, and therefore one of today’s most powerful promotional platforms. When in doubt, look to an expert (or agency of experts) who deal full-time in these types of partnership.