Not any more

Looking to a Sneaker for a Band’s Big Break Part 2

In Canada on October 20, 2010 at 10:37

Artists and talent managers say that the music deals offered by brands can be fairer and more favorable than traditional label contracts. These days major labels want bands to sign so-called 360 or extended-rights agreements, which give the label a piece of nearly every dollar a band makes, from concerts to merchandise. On the other hand, most brands offer short-term deals with few strings.

When the dance-rock band Chromeo released its single “Night by Night” through Green Label Sound last fall, Mountain Dew paid for a video, remixes and a wave of publicity online and off, and the band walked away with full ownership rights; that song is now on its album “Business Casual,” which was released by Atlantic last month. Chromeo faced accusations of selling out, but David Macklovitch, a k a Dave 1, its lead singer, questioned that knee-jerk response.

Major labels’ 360 deals, he said, are “way more of a sell-out than doing a collaboration with a brand where you have full creative control and you give free content to your fans.” (Many artists on Atlantic have extended-rights contracts, but a spokeswoman said Chromeo does not.)

But not every branding deal goes smoothly. Two years ago the Island Def Jam Music Group announced Tag Records, a joint label with Procter & Gamble’s Tag Body Spray that promised a “multimillion-dollar marketing effort.” A Brooklyn rapper, Q da Kid, was signed, and the veteran producer and music executive Jermaine Dupri was established at the helm. But in less than a year the new label collapsed, Mr. Dupri left Def Jam, and Q da Kid was stuck in contractual purgatory.

“I was with a company that didn’t understand the music business,” the rapper said in a telephone interview. “They’re used to their brands flying off the shelves like it ain’t nothing, and they thought, ‘If we put enough money behind this, he’ll be big.’ And it wasn’t like that.”

Whether Tag fell apart because of a clash of corporate cultures or a more typical major-label power struggle — Mr. Dupri was known to feud with Def Jam’s chairman, Antonio Reid — is not clear. (In an e-mail Steve Bartels, Island Def Jam’s president, leaned toward the culture-clash explanation. “I think the interaction could have been more focused,” he wrote. “The nuances of developing a new artist can take years.”) But Tag Records’ fate points to the reality that sneaker and soda companies are ultimately in it to sell sneakers and soda, not music.

Mr. Cottrill suggested that the long-term success of Rubber Tracks would depend less on whether the bands that record there go on to fame and fortune than on the extent to which they keep Converse in their heart.

“Let’s say over the next five years we put 1,000 artists through here, and one becomes the next Radiohead,” he said. “They’re going to have all the big brands chasing them to sponsor their tour. But the 999 artists who don’t make it, the ones who tend to get forgotten about, they’ll never forget us.”

Critics have often complained about the influence of licensing and advertising on music. In the mid-2000s, for example, rap started to develop lots of blippy, simple melodies that would sound good in ringtones. It may be too soon to tell whether the patronage of Red Bull, Mountain Dew and Converse will warp the sound of indie rock. But if young bands are developing with their attractiveness to corporate America in mind, will they, say, avoid political content?

Chris Kaskie, the president of the music Web site Pitchfork, noted a lack of debate about the implications of bands’ working with brands.  When Nike makes a cool  mix-tape, he  said, there is little comment about the company in the  indie-rock  world.

“Young bands are growing up in a culture where there’s less off that discussion happening, less of those underlying issues being addressed,” Mr. Kaskie said. “But the experiment that these bands are doing is important to see where it goes.”

Ms. Cosentino of Best Coast said that her decision to work with Converse was not just about the publicity. She’s a fan of the company — “I’ve been wearing Converse since I was a child,” she said — and noted that when she recorded “All Summer,” the Converse-sponsored track with Kid Cudi and Mr. Batmanglij, the company gave no instructions other than that it was looking for a “summer vibe.”

“We just made something that is a fun song,” she said, “that will hopefully make people dance around in their Converse during the summer.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 10, 2010

An article on Page 1 of the section this weekend about large companies paying the expenses of rock bands to help burnish their corporate images misstated remarks made by Chris Kaskie, president of the music Web site Pitchfork. Mr. Kaskie discussed Nike as an example of a company whose work with musicians does not draw significant debate among current music fans. He did not refer to Nike’s labor practices during that discussion.

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