SXSW Reveals That Selling Out Ain’t What It Used To Be


I woke up yesterday morning at 7:15 am.

Only problem was my flight was scheduled for 8 am.  Somehow I slept through my two alarms set for 5:23 and 5:29 (even numbers freak me out).  I had gone to sleep only a few hours prior – drunk on Bud Light.  You didn’t think that was possible did you?  Me neither.  It only took about 9 scans of my chip-powered magical wristband at the Bud Light sponsored Roots jam at Brazos in downtown Austin to get there.  But as the attractive bartenders in Bud Light tanks popped open each frosty 12 oz can and handed it over (for free), I got a bit closer to a happy little buzz.

I drank more Bud Light last night than I had in my entire life.  And I enjoyed it.  Not so much the beer, but the experience.

The Roots host private, special-guest laden jams occasionally throughout the year – like the annual Grammy week Hotel Cafe jam in LA.  This past Saturday night at SXSW featured incredible talents like Emily King, X Ambassadors, Phantogram, Ashanti, Talib Kweli and Big Boi (yes they bumped “Ms. Jackson” and I lost my shit), who performed a combination of originals and covers backed by The Tonight Show band for the capacity crowd.

A video posted by Ari Herstand (@ariherstand) on

At one point Hannibal Buress got on stage and riffed with the emcee.  He said what we were all thinking, “I appreciate Bud Light supporting my musician friends like ?uestlove, but how about some vodka and whiskey?” Yeah.

A couple days prior I caught the panel, The ‘Brand’ New Patrons, with Alex White of the preeminent data tracking site Next Big Sound (recently acquired by Pandora), Craig Snyder of the VL Group, Jeff Tammes of Cornerstone, and Jesse Kirshbaum of the Nue Agency.  Kirshbaum and Tammes’s companies facilitate creative artist/brand partnerships with both emerging and superstar artists.  And it doesn’t just involve issuing a fat check for a gigantic artist to tweet about the product. Kirshbaum mentioned that it can also be about “isolating a pain point” for emerging artists and addressing that in a mutually beneficial way.


For instance, Sour Patch Kids set up The Patch houses around the country for touring bands to stay at while on the road.  It’s not just a crashing pad or a hotel.  It’s a hub for inspiration, complete with flat-screen TVs, locally roasted coffee, a washer-dryer, a graffiti-covered makeshift basement recording studio (“The Patch Lab”), a giant all-glass shower, a bin of organic lip balms and of course an endless supply of Sour Patch Kids candy.  Kirshbaum said, “More than just give them money, let’s help them in a way that can inspire them.  When you’re staying at The Patch you can be in this creative haven.”

Currently there are 3 Patches in the US open year round and over 200 artists have stayed there to date.  Kirshbaum revealed that Sour Patch Kids are now “so much more relevant in music than they ever were and sales are up.”

“We’ve seen a real shift from ‘give me the biggest name artist that you possible can’ to a world where the brands are realizing that they can get more from the relationship if they actually partner and build their career.  Instead of a superstar, they’re working with a handful of smaller artists that may have the same reach when added up in totality. And I think that trend will probably continue.”

Alex White, Next Big Sound

Taco Bell feeds bands who are on tour and Fender provides touring essentials like van, gas and gear for emerging, touring artists.

+When Labels Don’t Pay Artists, Fender Steps In 

“Originally brand partnerships with artists was a sellout play.  I think we saw the shift happening when the digital revolution set in.  Emerging artists now had a very strong voice and a very engaged fanbase.”

Jesse Kirshbaum, Nue Agency

Tammes, with his company Cornerstone, has worked on quite a few top level campaigns with superstar artists like Pharrell, Kelly Clarkson, Kanye and U2.  He worked with Converse on creating the Rubber Tracks partnerships where the shoe company gives artists the opportunity to record at any of the 12 world-class studios they teamed up (including Abbey Road Studios in London and Sunset Sound in LA) working with world-renowned producers and sound engineers, at no-cost to the artists.

“For most artists, the most important piece is them feeling comfortable with what they’re doing.  That they’re not going to be hurting their integrity in any way.”

Jeff Tammes, Cornerstone

The panel agreed that the brands that see the best ROI are those that understand that it’s about building relationships with artists and creating long term campaigns.  Instead of a short, big money, one-off project with a superstar, it is proving more effective to partner with a promising emerging act early on in their career and build up that goodwill amongst their fans (and the artist) and see it through.  Emerging artists tend to be more in need of the support overall than superstars anyway.  And oftentimes, emerging artists have a tighter bond with their fans than the superstars.  And engagement is typically higher.

Kirshbaum said that even though “Pink may have 10x the followers as Halsey, the engagement is so much stronger (with Halsey).”  Actually, Pink has 26x the following of Halsey, but yes, Halsey’s engagement level crushes Pink’s with most of her tweets getting favorited/retweeted about 20x more than Pink’s.

The idea of ‘selling out’ has evolved.  It still exists, but in a drastically different form. Previously, if an artist showed any bit of brand influence, they were called sellouts.  Now, fans expect (and even applaud) when brands sponsor their favorite artists. “The sellout happens when an artist changes their content to accommodate their brand.  If you’re changing your message, your art, in a way that compromises your integrity, then that’s a sellout play,” Kirshbaum said.

“If you’re changing your message, your art, in a way that compromises your integrity, then that’s a sellout play.”

A study released last August, conducted by live promoter AEG with Momentum Worldwide, revealed some startling results about Millennials (18-34 year olds) and brand sponsorships for live music events:

  • 93% of respondents say they like brands that sponsor live events;
  • 81% say that the coolest brand experiences they’ve ever seen somehow involved music in a live setting;
  • around 80% admitted that the best and most effective way for brands to connect with them is through a branded live music event;
  • those millennials who engaged in a branded music experience come away with a 37% better perception of the brand.

And, going to a music event that was sponsored made millennials like that brand more, while those that stayed at home didn’t have the same feelings:

  • 89% like brands that sponsor a live music experience, compared to 63% among non-attendees;
  • 89% perceive those brands as being more authentic, compared to 56% among non-attendees;
  • 83% leave with a greater trust for brands that support a live music experience, compared to 53% among non-attendees;
  • 80% purchase a product from a sponsoring brand after the experience, compared to 55% among non-attendees
  • 80% recommend brands that sponsor a live music experience to their networks, compared to 49% among non-attendees.

Snyder cited another study and said: “76% of festival goers say they feel more favorably towards a brand that sponsors a band or a tour.”

And this has not gone unnoticed at SXSW where it seems every year more and more brands line up to sponsor whatever they can at the festival.  Every venue was sponsored by at least one brand.  Many stages and showcases had multiple sponsors. Official and unofficial venues alike.  There was the McDonalds Loft, the Spotify House, The YouTube House, The StubHub stage and The Pandora Discovery Den, to name a few of the bigger ones.  Not to mention all of the exclusive, VIP, list-only parties with free booze and BBQ that were of course paid for by their sponsors.

And I have to admit, singing along to Emily King’s cover of The Jackson’s “Shake Your Body” with The Roots horns destroying the original riff note for note, ?uestlove’s unmistakable pocket, Captain Kirk Douglas’s dirty SG guitar tones and bassist Mark Kelley’s deep groove, I feel much warmer towards Bud Light.  I’m still not going to drink it if I have the choice, but I support the company a lot more than I had just a couple nights prior.

Moral of the story, brand-artist partnerships work.  And I ain’t mad at that.

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake

The post SXSW Reveals That Selling Out Ain’t What It Used To Be appeared first on Digital Music News.

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