Years ago, I met Will.I.Am in a nightclub and he told me what the future of music would look like. "In the future of music," he said, "there will be no middlemen. Artists and brands will work together directly." And, as it turns out, he was right.
Since the collapse of the record industry, the band/brand partnership has indeed flourished. Artists have greater control over licensing, which frees them to work directly with companies on projects, like Fiat and Faithless' "prommercial" and OK Go's Range Rover GPS musical parade, that go far beyond the traditional corporate sponsorship model. It's financial support for the artist and bar-none exposure for the brand, a true win-win. However, if you look at all the band/brand success stories in recent years, next to none of them involve younger, developing artists. It makes sense that most brands require a band with an established base to maximize its exposure. But, aren't there smaller companies in need of lesser-known acts to partner with? To help each other grow? I know of one retail start-up doing just that and, in the process, providing the unthinkable. .. free health care for bands!
When Dr. Steven Weisfeld and his son, Evan, launched Tortoise and Blonde, their fashionable eyewear line, in early 2011, they had no idea it would involve music. While at the SXSW last year, though, they met the Pearl and the Beard, a trio of bifocaled indie-rockers, and discovered a golden opportunity.
Music is a brand's bridge to fashion. And so many musicians wear glasses. Not only that, they have the power to turn glasses iconic. If Tortoise & Blonde can provide musicians with free glasses and eye-care, they have found their bridge.
And so, T&B enlisted the Pearl and the Beard as the first band on its "music roster," providing them with tour support and glasses in exchange for music and promotion. "It's all about the licensing," Evan told me. "Bands own their own material now so there's much more flexibility."
A year later, T&B's roster has grown to five bands and a DJ pair, including Ra Ra Riot, Savoir Adore, Jukebox the Ghost, Ambassadors and the Jane Doze. Amazingly, since signing up, not one member has refilled his or her contacts prescription. This satisfaction is due, in large part, to the fact that Dr. Steven Weisfeld, a thirty-year optometrist, offers free eye care to each band member.
Tortoise and Blonde does not have tons of money to finance fancy music projects but what they do have, they use wisely. By providing eye care for bands, the company demonstrates the most important element in the band/brand relationship: common purpose. T&B shares with its bands a need for eyewear and a passion for design. And from these values, like the perfect prescription, a world of opportunity is revealed.
I'm sure there are many more examples of successful, smaller-scale band/brand partnerships. If you know of any, please mention them in the comments section.