The ecosystem of music and brands is more vibrant than ever before

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GFOTY at SXSW.
GFOTY at SXSW.

McCann New York's executive music producer reports music, technology and brands are finding new ways to play together

I’ve been going to SXSW for well over a decade now, including creating and moderating panels focused on music and advertising. For all of its (minor) detractors, SXSW is where these two worlds of music and brands uniquely come together with technology in a modern culture sandbox. I’ve been calling this realm "new species" work — experiential, digital, integrated, branded partnerships, branded content, socialized, et al. — essentially, anything non-traditional.

This year was no exception. The ecosystem in which music, brands and technology exists is more interesting and useful than ever before. Music needs technology and brands, brands need music and technology, and technology needs brands and music. But as is always useful about SXSW, there were some new glimpses into how this trio of brands, music and technology will be playing together.

Tech still breaks into culture at SXSW. This year, my tech takeaway was the app Meerkat. Allowing you to stream video in real time and have it feed through to your Twitter account proved to be not only really fun but seemed to be positioned to really open up some new and amazing opportunities for users — including brands. Throughout SXSW, I often Meerkat-ed (?) many of the performances. This app is a total blast with lots of utility and potential. It’s real-time music lifting brands into a new mobile dimension.

Hey Music, here’s your future (or a least a future). Thursday night, even with all the other amazing music happening around SXSW, I camped out for about 4 hours at Empire Garage to check out the PC Music (@pcmus) showcase featuring the likes of Sophie, A.G. Cook, QT, Hannah Diamond, Danny L. Harle and GFOTY.

Many have likely not heard of this London crew, with the exception of QT (via "Hey QT") or those deep in the know. But I guarantee that you will hear of them by next year. Why? Because these young men and women are onto some really interesting and infectious hybrid-pop. Part ‘90s rave, part K-Pop/J-Pop, part EDM, their music as a collective is so super catchy and fun that sitting back and watching the primarily young crowd go crazy for it, it’s as if you could see a future path of music unfolding in front of your very eyes.

Some have called it performance art, and some have been left wondering if they may be trolling music itself. Who knows, really. In this age of the post-internet/post-post modern, an artist who creates an energy drink and then makes a song about it and makes that song the single of their act, it’s hard to tell what’s what. Except for the power of the music itself. That power of joy is undeniable. It’s only a matter of time until this genre (or this crew) finds its way to, into and a part of brands.

What does your brand sound like? This year the overall branding presence seemed to be down, at least during the music portion. There were a few brands posted up — I noticed McDonald’s, Reebok, Mountain Dew, Google and Samsung— but nothing really stood out to me, which was kind of perplexing and made me think, if I were a brand, how could I not want to be down here mixing it up? Isn’t music a strategy? It should be.

Start searching "music neuroscience," see what rabbit holes you go down, and then ponder the power of music. We are hard-wired for it. I repeat. Hard-wired. It is the universal language. It is the universal connector. Why, then, as a brand wouldn't you want fresh insights to utilizing this power? If used well, it can transmit such great context with perfect accuracy to create valuable connections to your audience.

Don’t miss out next year. I’ll see you then.

Eric Johnson (a k a DJ Bunny Ears) is executive music producer with McCann New York.

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