Monthly Archives: January 2011

Music vs The Music Industry

Interesting piece from the BBC, courtesy of Herdmeister:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8097324.stm

The music industry say that they can’t develop new acts. Well, I’m not sure we need them to. “Developing new acts” often means “finding acts that sound like someone else that’s broken through.” Maybe not if you’re Bella Union, but most labels aren’t Bella.

The main reason we don’t need their help is because recording has become so cheap. We’ve never needed label help to define a sound – not really. The only help we’ve needed is recording dollars. Because recording used to mean going through a half a million dollars’ worth of equipment.

But the current vogue for music that sounds basic – Fleet Foxes included – reduces the requirements for recording. At home I have a set up worth a few hundred quid. That plus a laptop, and I can basically record an album which would be of releasable quality. (I may not have the talent to use it, but then there are a lot of people out there who do, and who are hungry for work.)

In fact, that right there is the real problem. What the current vogue for downloading IS doing is harming the prospects of good quality producers. Studios have been shutting down at a scary rate. Those that remain are offering recording space, with engineers, for hugely reduced rates.

So don’t spare a tear for labels that don’t think they can develop new acts. But do worry about the livelihood of the producers, and the studios – the people that really do create new sounds.

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Brand Bravery

It’s annoying, isn’t it, when agencies bang on to clients about being “braver”. In my experience, clients react quite badly when you imply the reason they’re not buying your game-changing creative idea is their cowardice. Rather than their good sense, for example, or unwillingness to gamble millions of pounds’ worth of revenue.

But here’s a reason brands should be brave: peacocks.

If you’re interested in evolutionary theory, some of the most fascinating bits are the condundrums, like how eyes have evolved when half an eye wouldn’t work, or why we grieve after death.

And one of the stupidest conundrums in the animal kingdom, from a Darwinist perspective, is the peacock’s tail.

It’s big. It’s cumbersome. It offers no survival advantage at all, and lots of costs: easy for predators to spot, hard to keep clean (I imagine), and not easy to run with.

But the “peacock theory” suggests its stupidity is exactly why it’s evolved. If you’re a peacock, and you’ve managed to survive this long with a great big pointless tail, you must be (forgive me) quite some cock.

In other words, stupid displays of bravery make you attractive, because they show others that you’re strong.

I think that kind of bravery is quite interesting from a brand point of view.

If brands take certain visible risks, it can be a good thing. When Google visibly try, and fail, with new products, it says they care more about innovation than cost control – a powerful statement of their values.

When Apple bring out a product with no visible market, it says “we understand human interaction better than humans”.

When Henry Ford said that if he’d asked his customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse, he’s telling everyone from shareholders to history writers that he doesn’t need focus groups, because he’s a visionary.

When pretty much any brand does something “offensive”, it says it’s certain enough of its appeal among a certain group that it doesn’t have to worry about pleasing the masses.

Bravery implies strength. But it has to be bravery about the right things.

Risking people’s lives, or your ideals is not good. Cavalier pharma companies aren’t strong and admirable, they’re just cavalier and dangerous. But risking your own personal safety, or your own bottom line, is fine.

So brands should be brave. But they should be brave selectively, in a way that’s driven by principle. They should appear to play maverick with their cash flow. They should try stuff that’s well-intentioned but might not work. Then talk about it. They should prototype publicly.

And maybe agencies should try taking some risks too. Rather than asking our clients to buy “braver” work, maybe we should bet on it financially. That’s a far more credible idea of bravery than the one we usually mean…