Quite a bit of speculation-fog continues to loom over the future of the music industry and its hierarchy. Arguments can be made that, soon, brands will work directly with artists – omitting record labels and changing the definition of A&R completely. There was no better place to sift insight than at Social Media Weeks’ panel discussion thrown by SoundCtrl and No Longer Empty (the non-profit that fills vacant NYC store fronts with amazing art and exhibits) titled “What Is Your $ocial Currency?” – the only event of the week focused on music AND new media. Held at the old Tower Records space on 4th and Broadway, DJ Zeke spun a crowning mix of old school and modern hip hop as former Columbia Records exec and Co-Founder of BeEverywhere.tv James Andrews moderated panelists QuestLove of The Roots, Pepsi’s Senior Marketing Manager Andrew Katz, and Marisa Bangash of Uncensored Interview.
When asked if Tribes were intentionally built into DNA of The Roots business model, ?uestLove asserts that it wasn’t. Social media made it possible for him to have “personal interaction [that] wasn’t necessarily a fan club.” Dissatisfied with fan clubs of the past where you’d sign up, mail in, and get an “autographed” photo of Whitney Houston or whomever, ?uestLove wanted to “create a place to communicate with fans.” It wasn’t until 2 years went by did he realize what an impact this conversation had on the bands’ bottom line. “The power of our following on the net is what convinced the label to let us out.” Concerned with the amount of money their label was pumping into the band in relation to the yield, ?uest made the case for Geffen’s more efficient approach. “Your audience is on the internet!”
“Do brands want to be famous?” Andrew Katz expressed Pepsi’s commitment to “adding value to the conversation” today’s consumer is having within its culture. “The world doesn’t need another Britney Spears,” he says. They don’t want to just staple themselves to what’s hot now, but embed themselves into the very nature what’s NEXT. “We want to be iconic.” B.B. King, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe – not simply famous. “What he said,” ?uest says in agreement followed by a roareous laugh from the crowd – he couldn’t have said it better himself. I’ll note that Pepsi announced in December 2009 its plans to forgo the traditional route of Super Bowl ads this year and will pump the $20 Million dollar budget into online and social media. The boldest move by any major brand, yet.
Marisa Bangash and Katz agree that labels are just middle men and that the days of “brands as content distributors and curators” could be in sight. “The Roots album – brought to you by Downy!” ?uestLove chimes in with a chuckle. But this could very well be the most viable way for all parties – the artist and consumer – to be satisfied with the music experience. “Music should be a utility bill,” ?uest says. The argument for artists to be empowered by their content – and not a slave to it – is very much here. “The Roots have always operated outside of record sell,” ?uestLove states proudly. “I learned from the beginning I have to produce, write, drum, blog for others…[I had to] be ubiquitous…be so spread out that the label couldn’t drop us.” He’s surprised that most artists are still relying solely on record sales. His advice? “Artists must change their mentality – be more creative. What else can you do? Can you blog? Can you teach?”
And the A&R guy? “He’s the new ad agency,” says Katz. ?uestLove references the breakout success of hot new artist Santigold being measured not by album or single sales – but by licensing deals inked (Prefixmag.com estimates that up to 75% of her debut album has already been licensed to the likes of beer and hair product commercials). “It’s the new platinum record.”
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Photos by Nick McGlynn