The Relationship Between Brands And Music Needs To Evolve

Modern partnerships between marketers and artists should go far beyond just a song in an ad.

The Relationship Between Brands And Music Needs To Evolve
[Photo: Flickr user Steven Truong]

Music is what anthropologists call a “cultural universal.” It’s one of the few constants across the diverse cultures of the world that is practiced and celebrated in every society. And while it manifests differently across a wide range of industries and cultural disciplines, there is no denying the huge role it plays in people’s lives, the passion it evokes, and the emotion it can communicate, even breaking down language barriers.


For thousands of years, music has been used as a means of emotional expression. It has unique psychological qualities that can affect listeners in many ways, impacting emotions, creating a somatic effect, and even being used as a means of achieving catharsis. With such deep psychological effects, it’s not a surprise that music fans’ relationships with musicians also run very deep. And in a digital world of “always on,” music fans are connecting to artists at unprecedented levels through a multitude of platforms.

So why do only a relatively small number of brands utilize this powerful passion to connect with the incredibly diverse audiences they must engage with to boost their business?

In 2015, close to 91% of all Americans listened to music more than 24 hours a week. Last year, we even saw the music industry move back to positive growth after years of decline, as it finally began to find its bearings around streaming, with streaming revenue increasing 57.4% from the first half of 2015, to the first half of 2016.

While there is no denying that the streaming model is not yet perfect, with unanswered questions around the revenue opportunities for smaller, less established artists, there has been a shift to a place where consumers are prepared to pay for something that the digital world had previously served them for free. This is a bright spot, but one that comes potentially too late for an industry that has seen its profit model rendered unrecognizable by the digital advances of the last 20 years, leaving artists to find or invent new revenue streams wherever they can.

Looking at the world through the lens of brand marketing, we see many forward-thinking brands recognizing the need to engage their consumers through their passions. Smart marketers are no longer selling through messages alone, but rather providing experiences to strengthen the connections between themselves and consumers. When looking at the research and data, it’s clear that music and culture offer brands an advantage in consumer engagement and in commercial metrics. A study by AEG & Momentum Worldwide found that 83% of millennials leave with a greater trust for brands that support a live music experience.

[Photo: Flickr user Jennahomen]

This leaves us at an exciting intersection in marketing where brands and artists have many positive and mutually beneficial reasons to come together to create, communicate, and collaborate. In simple terms, two key events have created this new landscape. First, a shift in the commercial model for artists, driving them to rethink their opportunities; and second, the large increase in brands with a desire and necessity to create new experiences for their consumers, moving away from the traditional ad model that is being forced to evolve at a great pace.


The movement, however, is not entirely new. Artists and brands have worked together for many years, but rarely have their interests been so aligned. However, when assessing opportunities, both artists and brands must follow some key rules of engagement to ensure that the partnership is positive and rewarding for music fans, artists, and brands.

  • There is no shortcut. The best work will require insights and strategic thinking, informing an integrated creative process between all parties.
  • Brands and artists both need to respect the unique dynamic and communicate openly.
  • Understanding what artists are looking to achieve will immediately break down barriers and open up a forum for new ideas and experiences.
  • As a foundation, artists and brands should be clear on their aim and objectives.
  • Aspire to support the music ecosystem and create new opportunities for artists, with that comes respect and endorsement.
  • Understand that artists who consider opportunities with brands are not “selling out,” an outdated term. In fact, quite often, it is the approach that is outdated.

Looking at the current landscape there are some forward-thinking experiences taking place that personify these rules, and demonstrate real success and value. Identifying key insights during planning is critical, and State Farm utilized this approach to help create a relevant experience for consumers at music festivals, offering helpful services that brought their brand promise to life while also proving insurance can be relevant in a millennial-rich space. For Microsoft’s music program, the key to success is in the long-term strategic approach–the aim was to understand how they could inspire and empower artists with new technology to help create immersive and powerful experiences driven by Microsoft technology. The result is a series of inspiring collaborations that allow artists to think outside the box and feel confident that they have the full support of an experienced technology partner to help execute. Most recently the work with M83 brought to life an interactive video experience that allowed fans to explore a music video through a video game format.

Not putting music at the top of consumer passion points disregards data from around the globe that demonstrates the power of music and the impact it can have on brand marketing. Through a planned and strategic approach, implemented by an experienced partner, brands have a huge opportunity to truly integrate with artists and create experiences that have a substantial brand impact, artist impact, and take them to a wider, more engaged audience.

Andy Walsh is a founding partner at creative music agency Listen, which has worked with clients like Microsoft, Tinder, Spotify, Live Nation, and more.