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In defence of Corporates backing music

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Well. That title alone should get the ball rolling.

For almost as long as there’s been music, there’s been sponsorship. Around 2000 BC, a time when deep house referred to underground grain storage and personal tablets were in fact, tablets, Egyptian monarchs used to sponsor musicians to travel around the Middle Kingdom playing banging string anthems and mean woodblock recuts, with priests on the mic and everyone high on incense balloons. Fast forward to today and the link between music and major businesses is stronger than ever before: summed up recently by Ben Pearce’s banger ‘What I Might Do’ ending up as the advert music for mega-chain Tesco.

It may be nothing new, however ever since modern music became a pillar of popular culture, some time around the sixties, musicians have remained uncomfortable with the idea of being backed by major corporates. Perhaps it’s a hangover from the ‘Youthquake’ mentality of that generation: ‘down with the system’, along with ‘reject authority’ and ‘free love but I don’t believe in condoms, we’ll see how this pans out’. Today, musicians and festivals alike still jump at sponsorship opportunities from major brands for the stability and coverage it brings. However, publicly admitting backing is a very different animal, with many artists, and their fans feeling unsure about Big People weighing in on their scene. It’s the same conundrum faced by many aspiring artists: backing from your parents may be a reality, bringing your dad down to a gig is a slightly tougher call.

Data Transmission would like to argue in favour of corporate-sponsored events. In fact, we’d like to see more, much more. Why? Because music needs the money. Soundcloud, Spotify and YouTube have followed the pattern first raised by the peer-to-peer revolution of Napster and co: they’ve created a new awareness of emerging artists and have put new music on a massively international stage. However, ease of access has already pushed down sales in an industry that already sees artists suffering from shockingly slim margins from the likes of Beatport and iTunes. Corporate backed agreements and campaigns provide emerging artists with both a degree of financial stability and coverage on a national scale that they could never fund themselves. What needs to happen now is a shaking off of any preconceptions held within certain cliques of the music community that this is somehow selling out. The traditional image associated with “corporate event” may well involve canapes and suited men too busy sweatily trying to seduce Stacey in HR to notice the music in the background, while massive flatscreens on every wall scream “Having fun yet? #BuyOurStuff” interspersed with footage of an exhausted DJ doggedly telling a camera in a back room how much he loves whatever product he’s paid to love, but, times have changed. Here are a few examples of corporate events Data Transmission attended this year, and why they got it right. 

Ghostpoet Live

Backer: Nokia

East London based rap/urban crossover oddity Ghostpoet is nothing if not original. With music based around a kind of harmonic speaking, stream of consciousness describing relationships troubles and insecurities of being young in London, its introspective, grown up Brit hip hop at it’s best. Data Transmission interviewed the man himself in March when Nokia, as part of their Lumia Live showcase, picked him as one of their backed artists and shipped him up to Bristol, where he performed live around midnight at a secret gig in a floodlit graveyard (Ghost, graveyard, geddit?).

Why it worked: Nokia have had a pretty rocky last few years, but one thing they got spectacularly right recently was music: a dedicated task force was set up to target emerging artists: with two of the most notable being Last Japan and GhostPoet. The team have ended up pioneering several other innovations, including Nokia Mixes for their Lumia phones, all aimed at exposing emerging music. Rather than go for huge-name ‘safe bets’, Nokia’s campaign to go in on the ground with lesser known artists was mutually beneficial in terms of scope and coverage.

Snowbombing Festival

Backer: Barclays

In musical terms, this event is near mythical. Set high up in the mountains, the site of an annual pilgrimage of some 5000 people in early Spring, Snowbombing features some of the world’s biggest electronic heavyweights this year including Carl Cox, Seth Troxler & Rudimental, not to mention indie-stars Kasabian. The annual event has in recent years been backed by Barclays. Barclays commandeer just one of the stages: the igloo arena at the top that this year saw Kasabian play (and freeze: there was a moment of brilliance when the lead singer announced “This is the first time ever I’ve demanded hot cider on my rider…”). Better still, rather than sluicing venues with Barclays logos and flags, instead they introduced credit-wristbands to press – with the intention of rolling these out across the festival in coming years. The idea: you log on and pre-load cash onto your wristband – making bar purchases a dangerously-easy breeze. The event ran with all the slick operation of a well financed machine, with eyesore reminders of reality via bank advertising nowhere to be seen.

The Music Academy

Backer: Red Bull

Data Transmission was in two minds whether to put this one in or not. Why? Because Red Bull is so accepted as a corporate sponsor of, well, everything that people forget it’s a corporate at all.

However it shouldn’t be overlooked that  via countless takeovers, festival stages, carnivals and music academy events, streams and spin-offs, Red Bull has continuously pushed new, emerging talent despite being in such a position it could more or less back whoever it wanted. Whereas rival drinks companies have attempted to jump straight to the top, Red Bull, whatever its own worrying ingredients are, has always headed straight to source: and with this year’s academy joiners including DT favourite  bass-investigators Koreless and T Williams, Red Bull seems continually committed to pushing new emergent genres, as it did years ago when Dubstep was yet to crack the mainstream.

Martin Solveig in Ibiza

Backer: Olmeca Tequila

It may be the least well known of the corporate backers here in the UK, but it’s possibly the most exciting. Olmeca’s premium brand tequila doesn’t have a market in the UK, however it’s the most popular tequila in Mexico (surely a good sign) as well as emerging markets Russia and Nigeria. Olmeca have gone for the top end approach to DJs, backing Markus Schulz’s adventures in Russia as well as, most recently, Martin Solveig’s appearance at Pacha Ibiza. Why does DT like? Olmeca remains hands off with music. Their corporate backing extends as far as a couple of VIP areas booked in major clubs, the odd interview, but other than that the events are more or less left to run their own organic lifecycle night to night: there’s no excessive branding, there’s no huge over-endorsement. What’s most exciting about Olmeca is its penetration: they’re shipping DJs into Russia, Nigeria and South America. You don’t need to be a full time A&R guy to realise that emerging music scenes tend to correlate directly to where money’s being made. Olmeca have an opportunity here to behave as a platform for live acts across the globe. Let’s hope they serve up a measure.

The half decade we’ve had of recession in some ways didn’t seem to affect music. In fact from 2007 until now live events and festivals have grown massively, in total opposite to almost every other industry on earth. Why? Because people can’t afford houses, or cars, so they go out. Just as they did in 1800s, just as they did in the Great Depression. Now, with the UK on the mend, there may well be a flattening out of appetite for live events. Musicians need stability to practice and work, and an acceptance of cash, wherever it comes, should be embraced by fans as much as the artists themselves. DT has been to each of the above events and can verify we like what we saw. Examples like these are total proof that The Grown Ups are working out how to join the party without damaging the vibe. This needs to be encouraged as much as possible.

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