Using the Underground: Big Brands in the Music Industry
Posted at 29th of Jan, 01:40


That’s the subtle one liner Mountain Dew proudly displays in grunge lettering on its website. Indeed, it’s a nice and catchy phrase. And if we didn’t know any better we’d fall for their pandering--clearly catered towards fresh-faced hipsters in skinny jeans--and take the soda company’s record label, Green Label Sound, for a genuine actor in the music underground.


Mountain Dew is eager to sell itself as a cool and veritable investor in the careers of indie musicians. In fact, it's not the first big brand to take on this role. Red Bull, Scion, and the Hard Rock Cafe have all started their own record labels that seek out the best talent and, get this, don’t take a penny from the artists they sponsor.


Sound like a pretty good deal?


Well, maybe.


A record label that takes no profit from its artists sounds too good to be true, and it is. In an interview with Vulture, Hudson Sullivan, in charge of the Mountain Dew brand, said that the company wanted to stay away from looking like they’re “paying someone to drink our product on-camera.” Moreover, he noted that the brand wants to “create genuine loyalty.”


Obviously big brands aren’t investing in the music industry without expecting some major ROI. Blake Smith, co-head of A&R for Hard Rock Records, may have described the brand-band phenomena to Forbes as “rock & roll philanthropy”, but there is no doubt that, like all corporate charitable endeavors, the good deed done is little besides a brilliantly planned PR move.


According to IEG, LLC, last year big brands spent over $1.3 billion on music collaborations. That’s quite a figure--one that leaves us to wonder if this newfound PR tactic is effective. 


Judging by the current climate in the music industry, the answer for the most part seems to be yes. With music becoming increasingly accessible online (often for free), artists are continually seeking sponsorship that spans beyond the usual album release. Tours, radio promotion, branding and marketing all cost money--something that big brands have a lot of.


Some fans would argue that playing into the hands of corporations is basically the ultimate “selling out” point for indie musicians. But others find that--hey, why not? With the music industry evolving, what’s wrong with artists making their fortunes off of brands rather than listeners?


At the end of the day, it’s hard to make the moral judgement. But one thing we know for sure is that big brands are flawlessly keeping up with changing demands in advertising and adopting a subtler approach to PR that is getting the job done.

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