Rumors were abuzz yesterday that Brooklyn-born megastar Jay Z had died. Turned out the story was he was dead inside, from having “sold out.” It used to be the case that any reputable musician having any thing to do with product endorsement was seen as some kind of traitor to the arts. Nowadays, though, more and more musical legends are teaming up to lend their name and their songs to consumer goods. Is it “selling out” or is it good business sense, and good for the music industry too?
Universal now has a dedicated in-house team whose sole job is to negotiate these sorts of deals. The Performing Rights Society (PRS) has announced that £100 million was invested back into the UK music industry last year by big brands in the UK, willing to fork out serious money to get a “name” to collaborate in their marketing. This figure is up by 6% on what was spent the year before. This is a practice that isn’t going away, and as it gains in popularity, is it also gaining in credibility?
Professor Green has been 18 months working alongside energy drinks manufacturer Relentless. He is far from apologetic about his association. The music industry has to adapt with the times. It has been struggling with a “dinosaur” mentality as its old methods of selling albums and records have been hit by downloading. Pro Green explains, “There’s not as much money in certain areas and really it’s just trying to find a way to move things forward.” Professor Green is pro the new priorities. He says that working alongside a brand is a new way to reach fans that might not otherwise get to hear his music. It’s creative, innovative and interesting. It’s progress.
Professor Green is clear on his motives, and is sure he is not just doing it for the money. He has said it becomes all too clear to people if that is your goal and “you do things purely for the money despite not having any belief in what you’re endorsing.”
Which begs the question, if the artist believes in the product, does that make it OK, and not “selling out?”
He’s not the only one who’s happy. Relentless bosses are chuffed to be capitalizing on Pro Green’s huge following. They may not be so abreast of the times as to know the size of his Twitter fan base but they know its huge. And that makes for more potential customers for them.
Marc Robinson of Universal Music put a further perspective on the new thinking. “Everyone thought file-sharing was the death of the music industry” he said. “But actually it has given us a whole new lease of life.”
Robinson has a team at his company working exclusively on artist and brand deals. “There are so many different platforms and ways to communicate music and get it heard.” He is delighted with the way things are going, ”Working with brands” he explains “sometimes brings platforms that we won’t get through traditional media.”
Someone who agrees with Marc Robinson is Dom Hodge, from the agency Frukt, a go-between in the deal making process, matching up singers with products. He claims “Almost every singer in pop, and increasingly outside of that, is working with brands in some way.” Hodge is on the side of the artists in this. “They need new income,” he says “and brands can give them that income.”
Professor Green is clear that “you can’t be financially driven” and he is cool with his collaboration. Other well acts that have taken the deal for the dollar include One Direction, who have worked with Pepsi, among other deals. Emeli Sande has endorsed both MasterCard and O2. Are they accused of being dead inside, and selling their souls? These brands are putting money back into the music industry. Is that a bad thing? It means more money to support new acts as well as making money for existing ones, and helping their careers to grow.
Which brings us back to Jay Z. OK, so he may have put his name to more products than most, but then, Jay-Z is a bit of a polymath. He insisted that his new album Magna Carta Holy Grail be formally launched in Salisbury Cathedral in England, as he knew that was where the original Magna Carta was kept. The album is chock-a-block with cultural references. Some, like Andy Silver of the NBA say this is why he is a cultural icon, with unique crossover potential in both entertainment and sports.
Jay Z’s work with the search engine Bing, was pretty interesting, and fully exploited the use of the new social media possibilities. The site made a kind of virtual treasure hunt for fans, who would have to go onto its maps facility to locate various pages of the star’s (as yet unreleased) autobiography. This makes an interface between the user and the musician that couldn’t have existed pre-internet. “Decode Jay-Z with Bing” ran the posters. Sure, it’s different, but to today’s digitally literate generation, it’s a fun new gimmick to try out.
Carols’ Daughter, a beauty firm that started in Brooklyn, selling products developed for the African-American market is another Jay-Z endorsement. Along with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, he invested $10 million. Hard to disagree with the goodwill inherent in that gesture.
Hublot watches sales went through the roof when Jay-Z word checked them in his song Otis. Can you blame him for liking them when his wife, Beyonce, bought him such a nice one for his 43rd birthday? It was studded with over 1,000 diamonds. No lover of bling is going to resist that arm candy.
He also endorses Budweiser, Reebok (despite not being an athlete), Samsung of course, and the Brooklyn Nets. Those are not highly controversial choices all told. Who doesn’t enjoy a beer, wear sneakers, use a phone or support a team? He has since had to relinquish his take in the Brooklyn Nets, playing by the rules
Set against the increased wealth these deals have brought in for the already rich Jay-Z and Beyonce, they were under fire, notably from Harry Belafonte, for not giving enough back to charity in 2012. Jay-Z ‘s Shawn Carter Foundation helps kids from low-income backgrounds to go through college. Students can get $12,000 towards their costs. One Connecticut College freshman, Laquisha Springer, 21, who benefitted from this, said people can’t “literally expect him to change the world.” So far the Shawn Carter Foundation has given out $1.3 million in scholarships.
Jay-Z may not be dead, but is he “dead inside” and is he wrong to amass more wealth through product deals? What about all the other musicians who are doing it? Are they “selling out” and selling their souls, or are they keeping the music industry very much alive and kicking? You decide.
By Kate Henderson