April 13, 2010

Bands and brands... a change we can believe in?

Sellout_500pix

In an article featuring Will.i.am and The Black Eyed Peas in the WSJ last week, the rapper reveals, no - not only reveals, but takes great pride in -  the band's corporate sponsorships as a key element of their success. For example, at live concerts he freestyle raps, taking cues from text messages sent by fans while Blackberry runs the texts on stage. The Peas' "Hey Mama" was also the first hit to be featured by Apple in their now-famous Dancing Silhouettes campaign for iTunes - a milestone Will.i.am reflects on in the same way I would image a band member might recall their first #1 hit that "got them noticed." 

Will.i.am is definitely not hiding it. He's proud of his accomplishments as an ad man and even pitches the Black Eyed Peas brand, complete with PowerPoint decks he creates, to prospective sponsors.

Hang on.

What happened to the musician culture we all know? When "selling out for the suits" would lose an artist his respect? When signing on with a corporate sponsor lost a musician his authenticity and loyal followers? Part of me still wants to hang on to that belief - that maybe Will.i.am is part of a pop music wave that will hopefully bypass the rest of the music world. But maybe Will.i.am is simply being smart, in a world where musicians can no longer rely on record sales to keep afloat.

You have to admit, the man's brand has power. His "Yes We Can" video in support of the Obama campaign, for example, has more than 20 million hits on YouTube. While you can't claim those hits as votes, you can't deny that it had influence.

What do you think - is branding the band still taboo, or simply a smart business practice?

--Kate

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