The government’s Culture Recovery Fund recently managed to ensure 89% of grassroots music venues received the funding they applied for. On paper, this looks like a massive result, but the music industry voices we polled recently paint a more nuanced picture. We’re hearing of gaps in funding, performative acts from brands during moments of crisis, but new and innovative ways for brands to revaluate their relationship with communities in music as we head into a second lockdown.
Simply put, brands who’ve benefited from culture need to start giving back to that culture. And while the party’s on pause, how can they reflect change and help the industry flourish in meaningful ways? How can they tap in when the industry is on the brink of tapping out? And who can they learn from?
We have this phrase in the office that’s almost become a bit of an in-joke: "Be More Bandcamp”. The online marketplace for artists and labels has been the definition of a slow-burn success, growing steadily and ensuring the makers are compensated fairly compared to the major streaming sites. Crucially, when it came to the crunch and Covid-19 hit, they waived their usual 15% fee for one day in order to support artists affected by the shutdown of live music. We’re a firm believer in the mantra of “do good and the rest will follow” and Bandcamp’s ability to put ego, profit and rampant growth aside to support the artist long-term is something brands could learn a lot from.
It’s this philosophy that led us to developing what we call the ‘activist mindset’. For brands, it’s about making sure their actions speak louder and ensuring the ‘doing’ is being done. Not just when the camera's on, but behind the scenes, too. We took a look at five ways brands playing in the music space could benefit from this philosophy:
Listening is a skill that seems almost too obvious that you could take it for granted. However simple it sounds, if you really want to understand the communities you’re looking to represent in culture, then maybe it’s time you got talking to them. When our network is repeatedly telling us Pride campaigns turn up in their inboxes with no community input a week before launch or brands look to work with them on International Women’s Day but nothing the rest of the year, we know there’s an issue. As the music industry picks up the pieces, think about how you can create a two-way dialogue with artists, labels and institutions to see what they need in the short and medium term so that you can solve problems together. Our Active Listening interview sessions for brands are designed to create actionable insight from the voices shaping culture.
Once you’ve listened to communities in culture, then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. From venues-under-threat to the lack of support for music’s self-employed engine room, the business isn’t short on problems needing solved. Every brand has a unique set of values and tools at its disposal to provide meaningful and authentic support. Think about the platform you have – is it relationships with talent? Media investment? Logistic infrastructure in venues? When we saw Lily Allen call out Wireless Festival’s lack of women talent on their lineup, we were able to work collaboratively with Smirnoff and the festival to bring in a three-day stage to showcase some of the UK’s best new and established female talent.
With the current scene on life support, much attention has rightly been on providing attention to those in current need. But do we risk something of a ‘lost generation’ of artists that didn’t get a helping hand up? Are brands to fixated on working with talent with reach figures to justify the investment? We spoke to electronic music booker Carin Abdulla about how brands and media platforms could better support the grassroots, who said: “The idea of artists becoming free content machines needs to be banished forever. The ways in which things like ‘success’ and ‘talent’ have somehow become synonymous with social media numbers and engagement… they also need to go.” We like the approach Kopparberg takes here. The company balances out bigger artist collaborations (Kojey Radikal and their efforts to support the Music Venues Trust) with authentic #ArtistShoutouts for up-and-coming talent across social platforms.
Level the playing field
Pre-Covid, the music industry had been making major strides in diversity and inclusion – PRS Keychange’s pledge to ensure 50-50 gender representation in the industry being a perfect example – and while Black Lives Matter highlighted the need for a total systemic overhaul, the job is about continuing the momentum created in the summer and ensuring it’s rolled out across organisations when budgets are inevitably feeling the pinch. Increasingly, we’re urging our clients to amplify the efforts of activists already doing great things here.
When we caught up with Girls I Rate founder Carla Marie Williams, she said: “We started GIR BLK, where we’re targeting Black girls 16-30 that were already part of GIR, and because Spotify and PRS Foundation recognised there was a need to support more Black women, they gave us sustainability funds for that targeted group. It helped drive our numbers and our memberships and support all the girls. It was a great way of a brand supporting and it gave the girls back something.”
Leave no one behind
Always be asking yourself, “What are we missing? Who are we missing?” For obvious reasons, brands have gravitated towards the shiny-shiny artist endorsements. But with the music industry ecosystem under 360 threat of collapse, legions of live event freelancers have been ineligible for government support and urgently need help. Pressure campaigns like #WeMakeEvents have helped spotlight the need for action but if there is a time for brands to join the cause it’s now. We particularly admire the activist mindset from Niall Horan, who will be donating proceeds from his forthcoming Albert Hall streaming gig to his touring crew. “My stage manager is working on a building site currently," he told the BBC. "A couple of lads are working in Tesco and Sainsbury's. If there's no touring, they don't have a job. They've been left behind."
Read exclusive interviews with some of culture’s most urgent voices on what’s next for brands in culture in our report Active Listening: Culture’s New Rules. To view in full, read here.
Rob Mathie is founder of On the One.