For close to 10 years I’ve had my hand in music industry journalism and editing, whether it be interviewing a myriad of performers or talking to the agents, managers, tour managers and record label executives that support them.
Perhaps it’s the way that my perspective has been skewed by those years, but to me, especially in the past little while it’s been hard not to draw parallels between the worlds of music and of business branding.
The successes, the failures, the backlash and the redemption of celebrity, the expectations created by successful launches and the disappointments and outrages that stem from those that failed – it’s not arrogant for successful companies to call their brand a form of rock star, because it’s as much a curse as it might be a blessing.
Make or break
We see young bands come from out of nowhere, because of course others had been working tirelessly to make that happen. And they’d need a name, and consciously or not, a style. Even before anyone heard a single song they’d be on covers and we’d read critiques.
And then we’d hear these songs eventually and that’s where a band would make their impression, blowing away the cobwebs or leaving us utterly unimpressed.
Our covers are the websites that introduce and welcome the market to what we hope to achieve. The critics are if anything a more brutal crowd – the bloggers and commenting masses who can form opinions following even a shred of contact that are public and international. Our name and style choices can be equally acclaimed, or rubbished, or even vilified before we have a hope of making any further impression.
And now – especially now – people can sample what we do for a minute or two, then throw us away or keep us on the playlists that make up their business schedules. The speed in which we can be assessed and judged makes us more potentially disposable than ever – ‘just another song on the radio’.
That difficult second album
So we make the right impression, and people know the name and they see the potential. We have fans – those who will stick with us no matter what we do, and those who will barely remember us when we next have something to say. The ‘second album’ period of a brand’s life is, just like music, the most important. You got our attention: what now?
Sometimes we go with more of the same – we sing the same songs, operate within the same genre. We keep the fans we had and maybe get a few more, although perhaps our songs aren’t quite as relevant.
Sometimes we risk it and change everything, from frustration or genius or paranoia or panic. The style changes, the tones change – it’s just our name left. Nail-biting and pacing ahoy as the market reacts.
Will our old fans ditch us from anger, and if they do will the new fans make up for the deficit and up the numbers? Will we please everyone or no-one?
And at this point, much like the record labels keeping an eye on the promising artists making waves but cautious of big risks, are investors taking notice?
Securing the legacy
Once an artist has established a back catalogue, it’s enough for the audience to remember them for their past glories and think of them for time to time. For the artist, however, there is a need to stay relevant, and to still impress, surprise and redefine. This is where the potential for embarrassment arises, and even our life-long fans can turn away. A phoenix-like rise from the ashes, however, brings with it a credibility and do-no-wrong legacy that will all but ensure success.
If we do make a mistake, it’s a long road back to redemption. Association with others who are credible can build that reputation back up in time, but people will always remember the moment we messed up – we can only hope that it’s in a jovial light. There’s no rehab for businesses (yet).
How many businesses cite Apple or Microsoft or Amazon or Starbucks as influences? These are the true rock stars - those who spawn a legion of copycats, some of whom will involve and some of whom will be ridiculed. Since we became so much more social, we’ve become favorites and least-favorites, heroes and villains.
So band and brand are maybe more than a letter away. That being the case we can no more anticipate the turbulence of stardom than the rock gods up on stage. At most we can ask for fair rewards on the rider and hope that it’s waiting in the dressing room tonight.
This blog is by Rob Sandall, Head of Content at blur Group.