Should Artists Embrace Social Media?

Nowadays, you can’t attend a music event without bearing witness to a slew of corporate sponsors or turn on the television and not hear your new favorite track being used to promote a new brand of toothpaste. The presence of sponsorship is inescapable on the music scene. Naturally, this has been met with a great deal of mixed feelings from both musicians and fans alike. Some musicians, such as the late great Adam Yauch, a.k.a. MCA of the Beastie Boys, refuse to have their music used for the purpose of advertising – whereas others, like Dr. Dre, have fully embraced this collaboration. One of the most notable endorsement deals was Michael Jackson’s 1983 partnership with Pepsi. Often described as a “game changer,” this deal proved the power of an artist to facilitate the marketing of a brand, and vice versa.

For many artists, the concept of ‘selling out’ is a fate worse than death, and those who associate themselves with corporate brands are often seen to be simply doing it out of greed (*cough* John Lydon *cough*). This is a sentiment that once rang true – however, today’s music industry is drastically different from what it used to be. Record sales have plummeted, so artists now have to source other forms of income in order to continue making music – and endorsement deals can be a brilliant way of doing so. Moreover, in the age of social media, an endorsement deal can give smaller up-and-coming artists the edge they need to stand out from the crowd and avoid becoming lost in a sea of bands.

There are a number of corporations that have come to be associated with promoting artists and live music. For example, consider Vans and the infamous Warped Tour and Carling and The Carling Weekend – these are two events which have thrived as a result of corporate sponsorship. The Vans Warped Tour in particular has been a vehicle for many independent artists to gain exposure to a wider audience, which would not have been possible without the financial support of Vans. For example, bands such as From First to Last owe much of their popularity to the exposure they gained through first playing on the tour in 2004.

There was once a time where getting a record deal was necessary to a successful career as an artist. However, with the growing number of endorsement deals available, that is no longer the case. Furthermore, the nature of record deals has also changed with the introduction of the ‘360 deal.’ Signing such a deal means that the record company owns a stake in not just the artist’s record and ticket sales, but any other income revenue generated. This can range from merchandise, to endorsements, to other artistic ventures such as acting. Hence, signing a record deal with a major label has now become a somewhat unattractive prospect, and many artists are now making it big without the help of a label, as they are able to generate large sums of income from endorsements. Examples of current artists who are involved with large endorsements are LA-based OK Go who have teamed up with Hyundai, and the Madden brothers (Benji and Joel) who are involved in the ‘Good Times’ project, with KFC Australia.

The music industry has always been a brutal and fickle business, particularly for smaller artists, so it seems silly to boycott a perfect opportunity to generate vital income and gain exposure. Besides, an endorsement deal doesn’t actually affect the artist’s creative output. If Rage Against The Machine signed a deal with McDonalds, it might slightly taint their message of anti-capitalist anarchy – but, let’s face it, if they truly believed in that message then they would have done a Fugazi and started their own label and not signed to a major). What does affect an artist’s output is signing to a major label and handing over their creative control. So, if anything, what many of today’s bands are doing is in the punk tradition, as they are rejecting the tradition of signing a record deal and instead doing things on their own terms.

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