Coachella report: Why brands need to get in the van

Coachella proves that bands need brands more than ever. Here's how to partner with artists without spoiling the show

Coachella just wrapped, and brands bellied up to the sponsorship bar with big fat wallets to integrate themselves into the festival experience. With all this corporate attention, Coachella (a k a "Brandapalooza") is dangerously close to being oversaturated by sponsors, making it harder for brands to cut through the clutter, and worse — cheapening the overall experience for festival-goers.

Instead, brands should follow the lead of legendary hardcore band Black Flag, which basically invented the modern North American touring circuit for indie musicians. Rather than bang down doors to venues that were oversaturated with mainstream touring artists, Black Flag flipped the paradigm and went to towns and cities where mainstream bands wouldn’t dare venture. They took the road less traveled and brought their live shows to underserved places with audiences that were starved for entertainment, and they built a massive, dedicated, generation-spanning audience in the process.

Brands are limited at Coachella due to the sheer volume of competing sponsors and limited number of eyeballs. So why play in the same sandbox? Brands need to look beyond festival sponsorship, and, to quote Black Flag’s Henry Rollins, "get in the van."

All touring musicians, no matter their level of success, are tasked with some combination of unique off-stage challenges: lack of sleep, boredom, cramped quarters, too little money, too much money, overstimulation, bad coffee, bad food, too much good food, too much drink, temptation and isolation. In most places — but especially on the road — musicians are living, breathing contradictions, simultaneously inspired and bored — which I’m pretty certain is the working definition of cool.

Brands have their own sets of challenges, too, and touring artists can help them achieve their own goals organically. Brands should position their products as tools to help musicians overcome their challenges — especially on the road, where there is an opportunity for brands to distinguish themselves from the cluttered festival circuit. In this day and age, brand support has become a necessary evil in the contradictory lifestyle of bands. Brand integration has become essential to bands aiming to overcome the economic burdens of touring.

So, why aren’t more brands tapping into touring bands as content creators? The reason is probably because they aren’t entirely sure how to go about it. It’s easy to follow a thousand other brands out onto the 10 to Coachella, but it’s not as easy to take a chance on an emerging artist on unpaved roads. Here are a few tips for brands entering this territory:

The Top 5 Hit Parade for Brand/Band Alignment

1. Be authentic: It’s so obvious that I feel silly even saying it, but don’t align yourself with a sensitive singer-songwriter if you’re marketing an energy drink.

2. Challenge your band: You’ve partnered with a musician, not a banker. Musicians are highly creative and interesting individuals. Don’t shirk from the out-of-the-box idea. Go big. Get weird. Do something awesome. You claim to be disruptive and innovative. Prove it. The band will appreciate it, and so will the audience you’re trying to reach.

3. Data is your instrument: Bands use all manner of instruments, effects and amplification to enhance their message. As a marketer, your instrument is data. Your version of a Marshall stack amplifier is Next Big Sound or The Echo Nest or any other third party technical solutions that exists to help you target the content you and your aligned band are creating.

4. Invest in an Audio Brand Guide: Audio is no longer the redheaded stepchild of advertising. It is as prevalent and powerful a communicator for your brand as design. Now that you’ve decided to market through music, do the responsible thing for your brand and invest in some research and strategy. The Audio Brand Guide functions much like a visual brand guide in that it serves as a musical north star for brand managers and partners on how best to utilize and deploy all future music integration.

5. Use your brand to solve your band’s problems: "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench… where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side." Hunter S. Thompson said that about 30 years ago, and, if anything, the music industry is worse today. Help your band. It’s a good look. Touring musicians especially need the help. And, they’ll become invaluable advocates for your brand along the way.

None of this is to suggest that the content needs to hammer the consumer over the head, or force the artist into awkwardly singing for their supper. This quid pro quo can be achieved creatively and organically.

A couple of weeks ago, we heard of Kodak’s partnership with indie artist Damien Jurado, whose stellar new video was filmed using a Super 8 camera. Kodak is re-launching its iconic camera this year, and partnering with Jurado makes a lot of sense. He will use the product to fill the vast spaces of on-the-road downtime by creating video content with the Super 8, and Kodak will be able to organically expose their new-to-market DIY tool to Jurado’s passionate online audience. This music integration will return way more bang for Kodak’s buck than competing in the crowded festival space. This sponsorship will create compelling original content and reach the brand’s audience more directly and effectively.

There’s a never-ending need on the brand side for influencer content, and there’s an increasing need on the band side for capital to fund tours. There’s a massive opportunity for more brands to make like Black Flag, get in the van and help solve this problem, while kicking ass with their own marketing objectives along the way.

Jake is the Director of Audio Branding & Music Integration for THUNDERS & WATT.

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