Tag Archives: Major Lazer

Brand or Band?

28 Jul

This is from back in April, but I saw this article on the Wall Street Journal site today and found it so interesting that I had to write something about it. Here’s the story:

Basically, it’s a profile of the Black Eyed Peas, the band that holds the most downloaded song of all time on iTunes (as well as third place on the same list).  Here are some highlights:

For the musician, wooing potential corporate partners has become as integral to his job as the DJ sets he does on tour at after-parties sponsored by Bacardi. Often will.i.am pitches the concepts himself using “decks” that sum up the Peas’ package, frequently in PowerPoint form.

“I consider us a brand. A brand always has stylized decks, from colors to fonts. Here’s our demographic. Here’s the reach. Here’s the potential. Here’s how the consumer will benefit from the collaboration.”

If will.i.am wasn’t in music, “He’d be the best ad executive on Madison Avenue,” says Randy Phillips, president and CEO of the concert promoter AEG Live. “I’ve never seen anyone more astute at dealing with sponsors’ and companies’ needs and understanding their brands.” He says he’s planning to have the rapper deliver a seminar to AEG’s global marketing team.

They’re a brand, and they know it.  In the past, this would make them seem to be sellouts, diluting the intimate musical relationship between bands and their fans to make a quick buck.  Not so today, the Journal says:

Once, when pop music was synonymous with rebellion, a band getting into bed with a large corporation was as improbable as a Brooks Brothers suit at Woodstock. For companies, too risky; for fans, a betrayal.

This changed when advertisers began to leverage elements of the counterculture, which was no longer threatening. First they targeted baby boomers, from the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” for Microsoft to John Mellencamp’s Chevy commercial. Cries of “sellout” diminished. As CD sales and the marketing surrounding it began to fall into a bottomless pit, younger bands rushed to find other sources of income and publicity. The Peas were among the fastest learners of the industry’s new math.”

Finally:

Last fall, the [Blackberry manufacturer Research in Motion] struck a marketing deal with will.i.am’s Dipdive site, but was reluctant to sponsor a tour, according to Peas co-manager Mr. Derella. He says the band eventually scored the sponsorship in large part by presenting ideas such as the nightly freestyle rap, [where fans use Blackberry Messaging to send messages to the band, which scroll across the stage while will.i.am riffs on them, freestyle] and a moment when will.i.am works variations of the company’s tag line, “Love what you do,” into a seemingly spontaneous monologue during one of the show’s closing numbers, “Where Is the Love.” Such gambits allowed the Peas to get away without putting any BlackBerry banners on the stage.

Of course few of these deals would have come about if the Peas didn’t have a flow of accessible hits to support them. The recent single “I Gotta Feeling,” with its refrain “tonight’s gonna be a good night,” has already become a staple of wedding DJs, sports stadiums and YouTube videos. “I’d pay any amount of money for that song,” says Marty Bandier, chairman and CEO of music publishing company Sony/ATV. An especially nice touch, Mr. Bandier says: the line “Fill up my cup, mazel tov,” which makes the song an instant anthem for bar and bat mitzvahs.

Now, I used to hate the Black Eyed Peas, for exactly this reason.  The “Bar Mitzvah Song” seems on first listen (or twentieth, since it’s on the Top 40 stations at least once an hour), to be a mindless 4-minute blend of disco-karaoke-Journey, and it is.  It’s also a hugely successful song, the pinnacle of pop in today’s diluted, unoriginal music scene. As much as their music is formulaic and unimaginative, their creative genius shows through in their success.  It’s even harder selling a bad product than a good one, and the Black Eyed Peas are the best.  So, instead of hating them, respect them for what they’re doing, lament the people who are dumb enough to fall for it, and then go listen to something better. (Like the new Major Lazer album, which is awesome.  Download it for free here.)

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