Why Music and Musicians Are a Marketer’s Best Weapons

Opinion: They make for harmonious partnerships

Artists are starting to embrace brands and view them as an organic part of their process. Amazon Prime Video, Big Machine Records, Glen Luchford
Headshot of Jesse Kirshbaum

With a microphone in hand (instead of a ball), Drake manages to sell out basketball arenas all over the world. Despite the selling power he and his peers in the music industry have, brands haven’t paid as much attention—or advertising dollars—to musicians, particularly in comparison with the money invested into professional sports. It may seem to be easier and cleaner for a brand to invest in the NBA or All-Star Weekend than in Drake and his record label, OVO, but when it comes to value for spend, music, in my opinion, is a far more impactful marketing vehicle. After all, according to Marketing Dive, only 59% of Americans consider themselves sports fans, but 91% of Americans listen to music for 24 hours or more per week.

It feels like music is a very undervalued asset, and definitely underrepresented in the advertising world.

This is music’s moment. After an 11-year revenue decline and struggles to figure out streaming, the music business has rebounded and found its footing once again, with growth steadily climbing since 2016, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). The growth potential is endless, because music is a universal language—it connects people. And its barrier to entry is low, meaning that nearly anyone can experience it.

Still, it feels like music is a very undervalued asset, and definitely underrepresented in the advertising world. In the past, artists had a complicated relationship with brand partnerships: Though these deals were lucrative, partaking in them appeared as though an artists was ‘selling out.’

But in recent years, artists are starting not only to embrace brands, but view them as an organic part of their process. What was once considered the antithesis of creativity is now an inescapable element of building a career. Artists like Rihanna and Dr. Dre have even moved beyond brand partnerships and into brand ownership—with Fenty and Beats, respectively—which can yield a higher financial return for the artist than endorsement deals, as well as act as a booster for their personal brands. Musicians have cracked the code: They know they’re not just artists, they’re brands themselves, and they need to act accordingly.

Many traditional advertising tactics have exhausted and annoyed consumers. Embracing a new generation of artists allows brands to create a new way to effectively communicate their message. And for artists, the diminishing influence of mainstream media outlets has created a void. Brands bring artists an opportunity to develop another marketing muscle of their own.

This shift is due in large part to the changing dynamics of the record and advertising businesses. Thanks to growing popularity of music streaming (a category that saw a 30% rise in revenue from 2017 to 2018, according to RIAA), recorded music is generating less revenue—and brand dollars are a welcome tool to pick up the slack and provide artist promotion, too. And in advertising, there is so much noise—brands need as much of an edge as possible to cut through the clutter and make meaningful connections with consumers. Music can help brands reach people in ways other marketing can’t.

Music presents an arbitrage opportunity in advertising right now—when brands make an investment in artists, there’s endless potential for reward. The two players can learn from each other, too: Every brand needs to think like an artist and every artist needs to think like a brand. Whether you’re a major corporation, a startup, or a family business, you need to think like a rock star.

When brands team up with musicians, it can create iconic moments. Think of Adidas’s Yeezy line with Kanye West, Taylor Swift’s collaboration with UPS timed to her Reputation album release, Rihanna’s exclusive airing of her Savage x Fenty show on Amazon Prime Video, and Calvin Klein’s 50th anniversary campaign with Justin Bieber and A$AP Rocky.

Sound is more important than ever. As voice commerce continues to grow thanks to devices such as Amazon’s Echo and the Google Home, the question of a brand’s sound is more important than ever. Every brand should have a music strategy—or even hire a Chief Music Officer. There’s no debate about the value of a robust culture plan, and that plan should begin with music. The savviest brand managers will recognize the power of aligning with an artist—and their fan base—to capitalize on culture, at both the indie and major label levels.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 4, 2019, issue of Brandweek.

Jesse Kirshbaum is CEO of creative music agency NUE.